Drew here, back for another guest edit. I hope you’re staying safe and making the best of this strange time.
Architecture & Urbanism.
- Derek Thompson surveys the pandemic’s implications for the future of urban retail, identifying a variety of forces that will homogenize the public environment: More e-commerce and food delivery, the increasing dominance of corporate chains, and even potential immigration restrictions. “The American cities waiting on the other side of this crisis will not be the same. They will be ‘safer’ in almost every respect—healthier, blander, and more boring, with fewer tourists, less exciting food, and a desiccated nightlife.”
- Anna Wiener’s reflection on San Francisco’s Salesforce Park after its 2019 reopening, as the spatial nexus of contemporary (pre-pandemic) Bay Area urbanism: “vertical, expansive, ecologically minded, expensive, sponsored, and surveilled.”
- An eloquent argument for the importance of building things in the physical world and why doing so is unavoidably political.
- As Southern California faces a glut of unused vehicles that continue arriving at its ports despite plummeting new car sales and rentals, the excess inventory has filled the region’s large parking lots, especially at sports stadiums. Aerial photos of the lots create the illusion that major events are still happening, but it’s just automobile storage.
- Lockdown has turned the nation’s highways into speedways. Citations for driving more than 100 miles per hour doubled in California during the first month of quarantine, suggesting that a broad decline in traffic may have encouraged those still driving to increase their speed (although increased traffic enforcement does not necessarily indicate a corresponding increase in the behavior itself). Another side effect of less travel is that traffic reporters have nothing to talk about. “One of the most exciting moments for Mike Inouye, of KNTV...was when he got to alert viewers to the report of a wooden pallet on a near-empty freeway.”
Energy & Climate.
- A thread listing real-time indicators of oil demand, ranging from Apple’s Mobility Trend Reports to NASA’s daily snapshots of NO2 emissions to TSA passenger screenings (this doc at the end of the thread compiles all of the resources).
- An old interview with Will Wright, the creator of SimCity, in which he describes a never-released SimRefinery game he helped prototype for Chevron. “It wasn't so much for the engineers as it was for the accountants and managers who walked through this refinery every day and didn't know what these pipes were carrying.” You can read a more thorough description of SimRefinery here, and that post’s author has also tracked down a floppy disk containing the game.
Distribution & Logistics.
- Sudden pandemic-driven shifts in behavior patterns are causing confusion in AI models, disrupting predictive algorithms for e-commerce inventory management as well as ad targeting and streaming entertainment recommendations—and affirming humans’ complementary role in those systems. “Many of these problems with models arise because more businesses are buying machine-learning systems but lack the in-house know-how needed to maintain them. Retraining a model can require expert human intervention.”
- Pizza arbitrage becomes possible when third-party delivery apps like Doordash price certain items below the prices charged by the restaurants themselves. “Third-party delivery platforms, as they’ve been built, just seem like the wrong model, but instead of testing, failing, and evolving, they’ve been subsidized into market dominance.” Josh Barro expands on these platforms’ shortcomings, suggesting that their core problem is their failure to improve workers’ productivity, and this comment on the original post (apparently by the former head of innovation at GrubHub) compares the business model to that of payday lenders. See also: GrubHub’s practice of hijacking restaurants’ phone numbers and charging them fees for incoming calls.
- A virtual exhibit from the Center for Land Use Interpretation on the Minor Outlying Islands, the uninhabited fringes of the U.S. territory where “human visitation is restricted or banned outright.” Many of the islands have played significant roles throughout history, particularly as sites of military activity and bird guano mining.
- How to draw the coronavirus. Depicting the invisible is an art as well as a science. “The CDC illustration is both yarn-like and sinister, which is an interesting combination, but I wanted something crisper with a bright red that almost vibrates onscreen.”
- The mascot of Gunkanjima, an abandoned Japanese mining island, is a lump of coal with a row of derelict buildings as a hat (the Twitter account is worth a follow for many more depictions of equally colorful Japanese mascots).