Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Calidad de Vida

Spin the globe. Once! Twice! Now... stop!

It´s a big-city Metro station, rush hour. The mosaic Virgen La Senora del Silencio demurely watches arriving passengers. Riders in suits and tight jeans pass Metro custodians in maid uniforms of white dresses with aprons and white tights (salaries unknown). Metro floors are as spotless as their dresses -- so clean they gleam. Shining! Like the smiles Metro´s construction brought to some locals´faces 15 years ago when it first enabled expanded employment options. Now a gondola-like system extends from Metro´s two ends, gliding over stairs and winding, steep dirt roads that formerly served as the only avenues for displaced persons in high-elevated, low-class neighborhoods.

Passengers queu behind Metro employees with stop signs. A PA politely reminds riders to stay behind the yellow line. (A local joke says, if you want to limit movement, draw a yellow line.) The train that arrives within 10 minutes bears the name of local artist Fernando Botero, as well as a Metro ad: a teenage boy and teenage girl face each other, eyes closed, lips puckered, accompanied by the caption, ¨Metro is a place to be met.¨Inside the train car are commercial ads, small posters of local artists and authors, and a bio of a bootstraps-type beloved former president. He might have liked the Metro as much and supported its developing partnership with local bus lines that riders use to supplement its three lines. He might have also suggested that the Metro be open past 11pm.

A few minutes more -- the train stops -- Les deseamos un buen viaje -- and riders bustle out, past the welcoming Metro library outpost and student photo exhibit that explores the violence of deprivation and the passion that endures.

It´s the end. Let´s go! Thanks to two nice Colombians for the Metro tour! Spin the globe a final time to leave the cultura Metro in Medellin, Colombia, and return to the first world where the Ford and Chrysler freeways dominate Detroit and old cars are involved in fatal crashes in DC.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Search Engine Wars

A few weeks back, the internet was abuzz discussing the potential of Wolfram|Alpha. Other than a great opportunity for those of us who are not Unix programmers to locate the | (pipe) key, Wolfram|Alpha, being a "computational knowledge engine", was supposed to present information in a unique and more useful format that Google. Fascinating. So fascinating that they even discussed Wolfram|Alpha's potential on Talk of the Nation Science Friday.

Last night, I was treated to a commercial for Microsoft's new search engine Bing. Like Wolfram|Alpha, Bing is not really a search engine at all, but rather a "decision engine", whatever the hell that means. Apparently it means the term "search engine" is out of vogue with Google's competitors.

Gentle readers, I know you are all wondering how these new search contraptions stack up against Google's search. Based on my very scientific testing this morning I can tell you that Wolfram|Alpha and Bing are both crap. By that I mean that neither will link you to Grown Ass People. Wolfram|Alpha, in its defense wasn't designed to handle such queries and suggests looking in the "people" or "earth sciences" section. Bing, links to a MySpace page and to some other web pages that have linked to us. Mostly, though Bing just produces links to crap that is even less relevant than GAP, and that's really saying something.

In all seriousness though, when looking at the queries that Wolfram|Alpha was actually designed to handle, the results it produces look a lot like boring Wikipedia entries but without the typos. And Bing? Well, sometimes I just get the feeling like Microsoft is just trying to hard. I mean who spends $ 100 million to advertise the launch of their new search engine?

Monday, June 1, 2009


Detroit is indeed a city of potential renewal. On its East side especially urban meadows grow in decrepit lots. On the East and West side, Woodward Avenue runs through the city to surrounding suburbs. A downtown drive on Woodward affords a view of the baseball stadium, the art museum, and the main library -- and the Local Detroit Grocery window featured here. I was initially very excited by the display. So cleverly generic! So welcome in a grocery shop desert and overabundance of liquor/lotto/pizza stores! And I, so gullibly optimistic. Local Detroit Grocery is an example of the Detroit Storefront Competition organized by associations of interior designers, architects, Downtown Detroit Partnership, and financially supported by Downtown Development Authority. The displays vibrantly fill vacant avenue storefronts. Created for the Final Four, they remain today. Still, exciting, no?