Los Angeles River, Concrete Utopia

Geoff Manaugh, normally of BLDGBLOG has a piece at inhabit.com on the Los Angeles River as a concrete utopia. Where other cities are content to put their errant rivers underground, for the most part Los Angeles displays its watercourse on the surface but encases it in concrete, like so much of the city's terrain. As we gaze on the images Geoff has collected and visit the web sites he recommends, we are led to ask, ass he does: is the river something dreamt up (retroactively) by Superstudio?

Death and Taxes

Last night I ran across a graphic, titled Death and Taxes, a thoroughly-researched visual explanation of where our tax dollars go. I think Edward Tufte would be impressed.

blackstar revisited

At the blog he maintains at the Encyclopedia Astronautica, by far the Internet's best site on spacecraft, Mark Wade remarks on the Blackstar controversy, suggesting that if there are problems with the Aviation Week article, it is not as weak as its critics suggest. What really bothers Wade is what bothers me. That this story””?which certainly is far more interesting than, say the Monica Lewinksy scandal””?has received virtually no attention in traditional press venues. That, unfortunately, says quite a bit about culture today and the lack of interest in space and aviation in the public at large.

how to build a glass staircase

Digg.com rarely puts works of architecture on the front page, but if Steve Jobs is listed as lead designer, that's another story. Ifoapplestore.com has a large collection of information on the Apple Stores, good reading for anyone interested in retail design. The highlight, however, and what brought me to the site is their analysis of the glass staircases at the flagship stores.
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The Red Book of the Peoples of the Russian Empire

Originally published in Estonia during the last years of the Soviet Union, the Red Book of the Peoples of the Russian Empire chronicles the many small cultures in the Soviet Union””?many now in Russia””?under threat of extinction. It makes fascinating reading.

Annenberg Principles on Network Neutrality

The Annenberg Center for Communication, where I am a resident fellow this year recently brought together a group of senior communication experts from industry, academia, and consumer groups to discuss how to begin to bridge differences over the issue of network neutrality. Together, this group developed the Annenberg Principles for Network Neutrality, a set of key points to serve as a base for discussions on the topic in the future.

Map of the U. S. internet

What does the Internet look like? To some degree, this question is impossible to answer. The infrastructure of the Internet is invisible and much of the information about telecom links is proprietary. Nevertheless, it is possible to make a map of sorts and there have been numerous attempts to do so. A blog post at Information Aesthetics links to a remarkably detailed map produced by CIO magazine. Unlike most other such maps, this one carries actual names of the 134,855 routers represented. CIO Senior Writer Ben Worthen, who produced the map with Bill Cheswick of Lumeta suggests that what it tells us is that the debate on net neutrality needs to be understood not only in terms of the last mile, but also in terms of the backbone. The players are increasingly the same.

saskia sassen lecture 24 march @ networked publics group

Saskia Sassen will be at the Netpublics research group, speaking on Networks, Power & Democracy, March 23, 2006, 2:00 ”“ 4:00 pm

at the Annenberg Center for Communication, 734 W. Adams Blvd.

Between Hoover and Figueroa, street parking available on Adams.

Saskia Sassen is the Ralph Lewis Professor of Sociology at the University of Chicago, and Centennial Visiting Professor at the London School of Economics. Selected publications include Denationalization: Territory, Authority and Rights (2005), Digital Formations: Information Technologies and New Architectures in the Global Realm, Princeton University Press (2005), Global Networks/Linked Cities (2002), Guests and Aliens (1999), Globalization and Its Discontents (1998), Losing Control? Sovereignty in an Age of Globalization. (1996), The Global City: New York London Tokyo. (1991. New ed., 2001), and The Mobility of Labor and Capital (1998).

Her books have been translated into thirteen languages. She has served as co-director of the Economy Section of the Global Chicago Project, a Member of the National Academy of Sciences Panel on Urban Data Sets, a Member of the Council of Foreign Relations, and Chair of the newly formed Information Technology, International Cooperation and Global Security Committee of the SSRC.

For more information please contact
JoAnn Hanley
Networked Publics
USC Annenberg Center
213 743-2524

SAVE THE DATE: The Networked Publics Conference is on April 28 and 29!

eyal weizman on the politics of verticality

In 2002, Tel Aviv-based architect Eyal Weizman posted his fascinating thesis on the politics of verticality at opendemocracy.net. This project is a remarkable analysis of the three-dimensional battle over the West Bank. Weizman's declared goal is to explain the conflict through spatial terms, something that he hopes counters the complexity of the situation which, he argues, serves Israel politicians seeking to maintain the status quo. As he explains, West Bank settlements are built on hilltops to serve as "urban-scale optical devices" that overlook Palestinian communities below. Reading this project, we begin to wonder how other forms, more familiar forms of sprawl play political roles.

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Blackstar Real or Fantasy?

One of my secret obsessions is the history of space programs. I've never managed to do anything with it in my academic work, but I have my hopes. Late last night I was browsing through sci.space.history, a USENET group that still is a great source for information on the topic when I ran across this thread, referring me to a lengthy Aviation Week and Space Technology story on a secret government space plane called Blackstar.

Now AWST isn't the Inquirer. On the contrary, it's published by McGraw-Hill and its usual readers are people in the industry or the government. But if this piece, by William B. Scott, a senior editor of the journal, is to be believed, a two stage-to-orbit space plane was developed in the 1980s and may have become operational in the 1990s only to be cancelled recently.

As the piece details, the program was built in response to the loss of the Challenger and subsequent military concern about access to space. During an ultra-secret crash development program, the SR-3, a mothership based on the XB-70 Valkyrie bomber and the XOV, a low-Earth orbiter derived from the X-20A Dynasoar were developed.

xb-70 taking off

This isn't all that far-fetched, Scott suggests, both projects were well under development in the 1960s and there was talk about launching the Dynasoar from the XB-70 at altitude, much as SpaceShipOne was launched from the White Knight carrier (wondering aloud: is Blackstar something an inspiration for Rutan? … of course White Knight flies at sub-Mach speeds and the Blackstar mothership would have flown at Mach 3 or above and SpaceShipOne is incapable of orbit, but still … if anyone could take the general idea of Blackstar and run with it, if only to taunt the Feds, it would be Rutan). The small orbiter would be able to slip into space, make a lightening-fast overflight of a site and return to a horizontal runway. Other applications suggest launching small satellites from its payload bay and retrieving and servicing satellites and perhaps even a role as a weapons platform.

dynasoar x20

Pentagon officials, the article reports, think that the project may have been owned and operated by companies, not by the government to ensure plausible deniability of its existence. Top military space commanders remained in the dark about Blackstar, which may have been operated by an intelligence agency. Blackstar's existence would explain the mysterious retirement of the Lockheed SR-71 reconnaissance plane in 1990. Observers have long wondered why this program was cancelled. The article concludes with a discussion of sightings of mystery aircraft.

The article is certainly filled with conjecture and speculation. Noted space analyst James Oberg was skeptical, and cites sources saying it was simply unworkable due to the laws of physics. Dwayne A. Day in The Space Review ripped the Aviation Week article, suggesting that the journal also published a mistaken story about a Soviet nuclear bomber in 1958 and then giving evidence as to why the story couldn't be true. Maybe Oberg and Day are right, but AWST is a major publication, not the Inquirer and if Day suggests Scott has been barking up the wrong tree since the 90s, Scott's position is that he has 16 years of files and wants to present that research. Day makes a lot of noise about the government officials being anonymous, but last I heard, it was still illegal to reveal classified information.

Some of the posters on USENET suggest that there is a reason for this leak now. Perhaps it is because the program is operational and in being cancelled will deprive some corporation of a large contract. Perhaps it is an attempt to force reconsideration of the Apollo-style CEV, which seems to many like a move in the wrong direction when a smaller Dynasoar like vehicle, especially air-launched, seems like a much more attractive possibility. Maybe it's just that some old Cold Warriors started thinking that their work wouldn't make it into the history books.

Remarkably, however, the mainstream media have barely picked up on this story. Google news delivers very few hits on the topic, leaving me to wonder if we will ever learn the truth about Blackstar. Is it merely misguided conjecture? Or has the most important story of the US military in outer space just been broken?

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