30 June 2008

The Boston Molasses Disaster

I have been to Boston once in my life; it was one of the stops in my "visiting colleges" trip of 1998. While doing some research last week, I was suddenly reminded of one of the strangest stories I've ever heard – the one and only thing I remember from the bus tour I was made to go on while there – the Boston Molasses Disaster.

Nearly 90 years ago – ironically, as I'll explain, one day before the Prohibition – a 50 foot-tall molasses tank exploded, sending 2.3 million gallons of the stuff down the streets of Boston. Imagine a 15 foot-high wave of molasses coming at you at 35 miles per hour. It flooded a few blocks up to waist level, crushed and swept away buildings, ultimately killed 21 people, injured 150 and killed 20 horses (some of the horses had to be shot because of how deep into the molasses they were, unable to move). Here is a shot of the NYTimes headline from the next day:

NYTimes headline, 16 January 1919

Apparently there were some structural problems with the tank, and it had been painted brown to camouflage the molasses leaking out. The irony I referenced earlier: this molasses was being fermented to make alcohol. Another theory is that the fermentation increased the pressure inside the tank, causing it to burst. Can you imagine how terrifying this must have been?
Envision a disaster scene with smashed buildings, overturned vehicles, drowned and crushed victims, and terrified survivors running away covered in molasses. Like the modern-day disasters with which we are unfortunately familiar, there was chaos, terror, buildings in ruins, victims to be dug out, trapped survivors to be rescued, rescue workers among the victims, and anguished families rushing to relief centers to find their relatives. It was like any horrible disaster scene, with the addition that everything was covered in smelly sticky brown molasses. [source]
In the end, it took 87,000 man hours to clean up the mess, and Boston Harbor ran brown for 6 months. Apparently all there is to mark the spot is a tiny plaque by a recreational complex. Why this isn't more widely known, I don't know. I was so fascinated by all the details just now that I kept interrupting a meeting to talk about it (sorry Eric).

Soon to be x-posted to House of Naked.

18 June 2008

Found in books /your own bookmarks

Last week, I read the most interesting thing on Gothamist... there is a bookstore called Unnameable Books in Williamsburg with a display of assorted things that have been found in used books over the years. "There are postcards, shopping lists, and concert tickets but my favorites are the cryptic notes." For those who can't make it to Unnameable Books, AbeBooks has compiled a list of things found in their books (including printed lists of upcoming surgeries at a hospital). I haven't been so lucky to find anything interesting (or anything at all, really) in used books, do any of you have stories about your own experiences?

What do you use as a bookmark?

Maybe an easier one to answer: What do you use as a bookmark? I've heard about people attaching ribbons to the inside of spines, baseball cards, putting a rubber band around the pages you've read already, etc. What might someone in the future find in a book you sold back?

16 June 2008

Calorie laws & growing pains

For any who may not know, there is a new law in NYC that requires "any eatery with over 15 locations nationwide to display calorie information on all food and beverages." There's been some controversy over it, but for the most part businesses seem to be slowly complying. I know it's going to take a while for all companies to transition into this and there will be growing pains, but check out this ridiculous image:

Dear Dunkin' Donuts. O Rly?

I took both of these pictures in Penn Station, in two different Dunkin' Donuts right next to each other. Let me caveat quickly: I'm a Dunkin' Donuts fan. I like their coffee, I like the strategy they took to bring themselves back into relevancy with people. But come on, it's not like they made a mistake and put the wrong donuts behind the wrong signs – these labels obviously had to get printed somewhere. Some of you might be thinking, "Duh, you twit, of course a chocolate glazed donut isn't 80 calories." But still, creepy. Chains are complying, but are they telling us the truth? Will there have to be auditing as a part of this law? hm.

EDIT | Thank you to all who picked this story up: Gothamist, Eater, Midtown Lunch and NY Magazine! I also have to thank my friend Meredith, who noticed the discrepancy in the first place & gave me the photo opportunity.

10 June 2008

Snap Shot City

Last Saturday, a few of us got together to compete in Snap-Shot-City, an "urban photographic treasure hunt" competition between NYC and London. Teams got six hours to photographically interpret a list of 20 words and phrases. I was in a team called Tastes Like Couch, organized thankfully by the lovely Faris.

James and Amber bought medieval guys on horses,


The prompts ranged from things like "green" to "a river runs through it," "life in the fast lane," "squares" and "multicultural." I thought that a photo scavenger hunt would be easy in a place like New York, but these words and phrases set themselves up for being interpreted in such predictable ways! That was the point, probably.

stuck in the sidewalk

Here was another wrench thrown into things: Saturday marked day one of a massive heat wave we're having in New York. It was 97°F at one point, with something like 50% humidity. We were wilting and kept ducking into air conditioned stores, like FAO Schwartz.

If you think you're cuter than Amber,

We ended up in Central Park at the end (in the shade, of course).

Central Park

You can see our and other teams' photos from New York here; the London day doesn't happen until the end of the month, so we won't know the winning city for a while. It's funny how some things aim to put London and New York up against each other, and others try uniting them.

Thanks again to Faris for being the organizer and uploader! I don't even care who wins at this point, the day was fun and awesome and we got to look at things differently and with a purpose instead of wandering around the city just taking pictures aimlessly (which is also great).

09 June 2008

More on Looking Up

Hope everyone had a great weekend, guys. There was a heat wave in New York and everybody wilted, but there were always payoffs – iced coffee, the Mr. Softee truck, a highly air conditioned FAO Schwartz and the shade in Central & Madison Square Parks.

On to my point: Inspired by my last entry, I have created a Flickr pool called On Looking Up, for all of those top halfs that people pass by without noticing every day.


Feel free to join & contribute if you like.

06 June 2008

On looking up

looking up
Originally uploaded by tokyohanna.
My parents were in NYC last weekend, and one thing my mother kept mentioning was that people don't look up enough as they walk around this fine little city.

She's right. One day last summer, I decided to walk a different way home than I always do, and I noticed so much. It almost felt like my first time in New York, ever. By the time I got to more familiar surroundings, I was so accustomed to noticing new things that I looked up to keep the momentum going. The streets that I walked down every single day looked completely different. I had no clue that a certain apartment building in the East Village had Hellenistic-style sculptures on the top of it, for example. It was during this walk that I got the idea for week color food, actually. I don't think it was a coincidence; by exposing myself to a completely new environment, my mind seemed to open up and be receptive to possibilities.


I was just reminded me of this whole "people don't look up enough" thing upon reading this fantastic post on PingMag on the street lamps of Tokyo. I guess I didn't look up enough over there either, because I don't remember seeing all these wonderful ones. As they wrote, "We take them for granted, yet they have been carefully designed and engineered to shape our impression as well as our behaviour in the cityscape."

The post is really great, talking about different reasons for lamp posts, the different kinds, the fact that levels of brightness or color intensity can make people behave in different ways, and more. Urban planning is so damned cool.

Try it out on your way home tonight. Look up, and you'll see the other half of everything you pass by every day.

05 June 2008

Untitled, Anonymous

The London office has gone and done something really cool here.

It reads:
How well does creativity function when it has to speak for itself, stripped naked of everything but the expression – no title, no statement, no background?

You are invited to a one-night-only exhibition featuring works where the titles, creators and inspirations will be revealed only after the show has finished.
Faris has written about it on HoN and quoted the two brilliants who thought this up:
We briefed everyone who works at Naked London (the strategists, the creatives, the founding partners, even the cleaning lady) to create a piece of original art to be shown in an exclusive, one-night-only exhibition.
As you read in the image, nothing was titled or attributed to anybody during the one-night-only exhibition. After the event, everything was put up on its own site – Naked Anonymous – where you can click on each piece to see what it's called, who it's by and what it means.

I'm so happy with how this turned out. Ivan was in NY a few weeks ago and I almost bounced off the ceiling when he told me about the project.

I e-mailed him today to congratulate him, and got "I think you should do exactly the same event but beat us by the brilliance of the work." I think we're ready to take on the challenge, right guys?

03 June 2008

Looking at things differently

Last week, my friend Michael asked me how I consume media. When blogs came up, I paused and tried to explain my logic for how I group the feeds I read (there is no logic to it). I then started panicking about watching that "unread posts" number creep up every day. Then he said something that changed everything. He recently followed our friend Adrian's advice and organized all feeds into six groups: Daily, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

closeup of feed organization

Imagine that! Taking a step back and removing oneself from the expected (organizing feeds into things like Friends, Marketing, Visual, Frequently-updated, etc.) had never occurred to me before. This works for me because now I only focus on a handful of assorted feeds each day rather than all of them; now everything gets read. Maybe I deal better with organization in the parts of my life that have lots of stimuli attached to them.

This made my life infinitely better.

In either case, this part of my life is now infinitely more lovely, and I have no more stress and "mark all items as read" feed bankruptcy panic. Thank you for this bit of genius, guys.
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