April 2016

  • The potential for SEPTA to restore service to West Chester has been talked about for years. Candice Mongolian reports that a feasibility study will be underway soon:

    The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), in the middle of laying out its five-year financial plan and 2017 budget, is planning to do a feasibility study about restoring rail service to West Chester. …

    West Chester’s last commuter train ran in 1986, even after the Market Street station was demolished in 1968. …

    Currently, SEPTA plans to restore three miles of track to Wawa in Delaware County, which will be the new terminus for the line. The project, budgeted at $150.6 million, will begin construction in 2017 and should be completed by 2020.

    The tracks from Wawa to West Chester run 9.4 miles.

    The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) estimates the restored service would attract almost 2,000 passengers for weekday trips by 2035 and capital cost estimates by the borough believe it would range between $100.3 million to $111.9 million.

    Restoring SEPTA service to West Chester and reconstructing a station there is one of those things that’s so obvious it should have been started years ago.

    I bailed on driving to West Chester from the city last night mostly because I wanted to avoid the 1.5 hour round trip, and didn’t want to lose that time driving instead of reading/working. SEPTA can change that.

    Will it happen before we can take an autonomous Uber pool there instead for nearly the same price?

  • iPad-first computing

    Steven Sinofsky writes on his transition to iPad-first computing:

    Unlike many “use a product for month” tests this is not an experiment. For me this is a deeply held belief that the rise of smartphones (specifically starting when the iPhone launched) would have a profound impact on the way we all use “computers”.

    The transformation spans hardware (thinner, lighter, smaller, cheaper, longer battery life, instant on/off, touch, sensors, connectivity, etc.), operating systems (more: secure, reliable, maintainable, robust, etc.), and app software (refactored, renewed, reimagined, etc.). It is the combination of these attributes, however, causing a change as fundamental as the leap from mainframe to workstation, from character-based to graphical OS, from desktop to laptop, from client/server to web — perhaps equal to all rolled into one shift if for no other reason than the whole planet is involved.

    Sinofsky and Benedict Evans go through the nuts and bolts of this in a recent A16Z podcast which is worth listening to if you’re curious about making this leap.

    If you doubt those changes are happening now, then consider how much of your work life/process/culture has changed by the introduction of smartphones. Tablets just took longer because they are not just additive but substitutes.

    Sinofsky’s “OK, Some Things Were Much Easier” section echoes my experience. When I got the iPad Pro, I got the model with built-in cellular with my T-Mobile plan. It’s an extra $10/month for unlimited service on the iPad, and it’s the single best aspect of using iPad as my secondary device after iPhone.

    No more hunting for and struggling with WiFi networks or wondering about their security. Always-on connectivity. Simple.

  • College communities, somewhat like airports, are transitory places. An enormous number of the people who dot the Penn State landscape today will be gone tomorrow—or next year, or in three years.

    The transient nature of student life is both a renewing force in a college town, ensuring freshness and vibrancy, at the same time that it is a corrosive force, quickly breaking down and wiping away personal and institutional knowledge about who and what has become before.

    In the spirit of combating some of those corrosive aspects, the Penn State Media Alumni Interest Group exists to sustain and share a bit of institutional knowledge for the benefit of each new generation of students. That’s what these “Public Archives” are about. These archives contain a bit of the history (including documents, photos, video, and audio) of The LION 90.7fm and its predecessors dating back to 1912. These archives are—to put it mildly—incomplete. But they’re what we have at the moment. They’re a start.

    I encourage anyone to get in touch and share whatever materials from their era that belong in these archives, especially if they are likely to benefit the knowledge and decision-making of the next generation of students.

  • File_001

    The Inspiration Mural is a distinctive part of Downtown State College, telling some of the most powerful stories of the people of the Nittany Valley in a visual way. As downtown continues to change and transform, the aesthetic and cultural value of the Inspiration Mural will only grow as an important means for Penn Staters, townspeople, and visitors to understand some of our shared stories across time.

    An aesthetic thorn for the Inspiration Mural has been an unattractive, slowly rusting USPS mailbox. It has sat for years directly in front of the most iconic part of the Inspiration Mural—the section featuring Coach Paterno. Its placement makes it nearly impossible to take a photo of the entire Inspiration Mural directly from the front. It just detracts from this unique downtown spot, and would limit public appreciation of the space.

    It won’t be there much longer. A friend had reached out to the State College Borough about moving it, and got word yesterday that the postal service has agreed to move it. It’s a small thing that will help the Inspiration Mural be a more distinctive part of the State College landscape.

    Getting the little things right helps make the big things even bigger.

  • Alan Jaffe reports:

    In a city whose identity is so closely associated with its historic sites, the effects of climate change and storms like Katrina and Sandy pose nightmare scenarios. What would Philadelphia be if its landmark buildings and historic districts were washed away?

    Since those hurricanes in 2005 and 2012 and because of the increasing severity and frequency of major storms, preservation planners and government agencies have been taking a proactive approach, particularly in Pennsylvania, one of the most flood-prone states in the nation.

    Philadelphia is the first major urban area in the U.S. to begin developing a plan to protect its historic buildings from natural disasters, and three other counties in the commonwealth are the targets of pilot projects that integrate surveys of historic resources and protective measures into their hazard mitigation plans.

    Partners in the “Disaster Planning for Historic Properties Initiative” are the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office (PA SHPO) and the Philadelphia Office of Emergency Management (OEM), along with other governmental agencies.

    It’s fitting that the work is coming together this year – the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act, which created the National Register of Historic Places, the historic landmark list, and the state historic preservation offices. “So while we’re reflecting on our heritage, we’re also looking forward to the next 50 years with a strategy for climate change issues,” said Jeremy Young, project manager of the initiative…

  • Trust and reputation

    Adriana Stan writes that “the future is the trust economy,” and puts recent economic choices into context. Trust is the basis of healthy community life, and the more of it that’s baked into our economic system, the better.

    Trust was once an expensive pursuit. Banks were built from luxurious materials in bold architectural forms, with sturdy marble pillars and adornments to provide the most powerful declarations of solidity, tradition and trustworthiness — and to project a sense of enduring history. “You can trust us — look how much money we can spend on our buildings!” …

    Likewise, expensive educations from Ivy League schools represented not just a level of intellect or achievement, but an aura of excellence one can derive from investing in a trusted academic institution that came with a built-in reputation. It signified the social status and financial ability to spend more than necessary to be part of an elite group, and, like a stamp of approval, projected specific qualities to potential employers.

    And think about the hospitality industry. Historically, hotels found success through standardization — guaranteeing a level of comfort and quality under an umbrella brand or chain, often built on emblems of safety, trust and tradition.

    Reputation is now carried by a new system, which takes rather elusive notions of credibility, influence and status and turns them into measurable scores. It’s “digitizing” relationships and social connections, extracting value and insights from our associations and both codifying and commodifying trust — signifying it and selling it.

  • This Benedict Evans tweet came across my Twitter stream earlier: “New to the country, I am still at the stage where everything I see has a value precisely because I don’t know what value to give it.”

    It’s a perfect way to think about experiencing any new place. Familiarity gives rise to complacency, and characteristics to place that might be genuinely remarkable become literally the opposite: unremarkable and unremarked upon aspects of the character of a place.

    In considering what this looks like in my own daily life, it’s a reminder of the value of getting away from the normal and into the new—of experiencing new places, new adventures, new friendships—so that on returning to a familiar place it can be unfamiliar again, for a time.

  • Shakespeare at 400

    Daniel Hannan, British politician, writes on Shakespeare’s 400th birthday:

    The truly magical quality of Shakespeare’s plays is that, as Harold Bloom once put it, whatever experiences we bring to them, they illuminate our experiences more than our experiences illuminate the plays. Whenever we read his words, they seem narrowly aimed at our circumstances. The same passage can speak to us in opposite ways at different moments in our lives. How this sorcery works I shall probably never understand; but, if you’re familiar with the canon, you’ll know what I mean. …

    We sometimes write too loosely of people having ‘divine inspiration’ or ‘divine genius’. But Shakespeare created worlds and souls in a manner that makes lesser metaphors seem inadequate. In a short essay, Jorge Luis Borges imagined Shakespeare meeting his Maker after death, and being told, ‘I dreamed the world as you dreamed your plays, my dear Shakespeare.’ …

    If even God recognises Shakespeare as an equal, it is hardly surprising that the rest of us should see something ourselves in him. Today, exactly 400 years after the date that, with some uncertainty, we assign to his death, Shakespeare is claimed by every faction. To Tories he is a Tory, to radicals a radical, to monarchists a monarchist, to Europeans a European. And, in a sense, they’re all right. Or rather, as T.S. Eliot put it, ‘the most anyone can hope for is to be wrong about Shakespeare in a new way.’

    Of only one thing am I absolutely certain: not a day passes without my being grateful that the most complete intellect evolved by our species speaks to me in my own language. A time will come when our nation wanes, and all our pomp of yesterday is one with Nineveh and Tyre. But, as long as English is spoken, and Shakespeare’s canon is preserved, we shall never be just another country.

    We were never exposed to much Shakespeare in the course of my 12 years of Catholic education. Bits and pieces here and there—Hamlet, for instance—but no great in-depth into his canon.

    I’ve read more Shakespeare in the years since, including all of his sonnets a few years while riding the New York subway for 24 hours on Valentine’s Day. A few ago I saw hipster Hamlet in South Philadelphia, which was fun.

    I want to come into contact with him more. To Hannan’s point, Shakespeare has always felt like one of the “permanent things” of our civilization. A critical part of our common cultural vocabulary.

  • Hominins

    Steward Brand of The Long Now Foundation reflected on his “ecological wildfire” post earlier this year with a fascinating insight:

    “Hominins” is the right term for the long us — includes pre- and post-human. We hominins mastered fire and may master fusion.

    What’s the context for this thinking? Understanding The Long Now Foundation:

    The Long Now Foundation hopes to “creatively foster responsibility” in the framework of the next 10,000 years, and so uses 5-digit dates to address the Year 10,000 problem (e.g., by writing “02016” rather than “2016”).

    I pay attention to the “futurist” crowd as much as possible. In part, following conversations among futurists has led me to adopt a skeptical attitude toward the Ray Kurzweil/transhumanist crowds.

    We humans mastered fire, and we seem destined to master fusion. These will be epochal points in our history as creatures. We’re still people, though. And I think the fantasy (and explicit goal of some) to create “post-human” people is really a convoluted means of engineering our own extinction for the paradoxical and contradictory goal of human enlightenment.

    The problem is that enlightenment doesn’t come from transcending our realities, but instead from coming into contact with our realities.

    Anyway, this sort of discussion can quickly lead down a rabbit hole.

  • Art in unexpected places

    After leaving my office in Narberth, I realized I arrived a few minutes early to the train station heading into Center City, Philadelphia. It was a beautiful spring day, and I noticed the garden with a weatherproof reproduction of Camille Pissarro’s Fair on a Sunny Afternoon:

    I’ve always liked the idea of public art being more publicly displayed to ensure the average citizen is more likely to come into contact with it at some point in life. I doubt I ever would have come into contact with Camille Pissarro if it weren’t for this “Art in unexpected places” initiative.