The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces

William H. Whyte did extensive research in 1980 on what makes city plazas popular or unpopular.  He published a book called The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces detailing his team’s findings, which are, generally, fascinating.

There’s a companion video, which is surprisingly difficult to find.  Direct Cinema Limited sells a DVD for $95 licensed for public performances, but no ordinary (and cheap) “home use” copy seems to be available online.

Fortunately, through the magic of YouTube, you can watch the first 10 minutes, which will make you want to immediately pay the $95 for your own copy.  My favorite remark in that introduction:

The number one activity is people looking at other people.

Here are the “girl watchers.”  They’re a bit disdainful, looking down their noses as though the girls aren’t worth their talents.  But it’s all machismo.  We have never ever seen a girl watcher make a pass at a girl.  We’ve seen very few others do that for that matter.

But of course!  They’re girl watchers.  Actually talking to a girl would inhibit their ability to watch them!

(via Kottke)

1 + 1 is 872

In the era before online searches and instant information, airline fares defied comprehension.  Travelers, through their travel agent, would learn universally that they, like everyone else aboard a given airplane, had overpaid.

Gone are those days!

Now if I want to fly to Phoenix, I can learn instantly that US Airways is the only carrier with non-stop service from Boston.  Instantly too can I learn what they charge for the route.

Flight 654 to Phoenix + Flight 220 to Boston: $399 plus taxes and fees

And instantly once more I can learn what one of those segments costs if I want to fly US Airways in only one direction:

Flight 654 to Phoenix.  $872 plus taxes and feex.


A one-way flight is more than double the price of the round trip on the same dates.

It’s a good thing we have computers.

I Believe That Children Are Our Future

Milton J. Valenca and Jenna Nierstedt write in this morning’s Boston Globe:

Nearly half to the 200 Boston teenagers interviewed for an informal poll said pop star Rihanna was responsible for the beating she allegedly took at the hands of her boyfriend, fellow music star Chris Brown, in February.

Of those questioned, ages 12 to 19, 71 percent said that arguing was a normal part of a relationship; 44 percent said fighting was a routine occurrence.

Classified: Awesome

Our help desk got a question this morning that began:

Classification: UNCLASSIFIED

It ended with an Army Major’s signature.

This leads me to wonder what should happen if we ever get a CLASSIFIED question from the Army at our help desk.


From my own code:

if ($ok) {
    // ... snip ...
} else {
    // ... snip ...
// ... snip ... 50 lines of unreachable (and buggy) code

That can’t be good…


You must watch Juno.  This independent movie stars Ellen Page and features Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, and Allison Janney (for starters), and tells the story of a girl who gets pregnant.

I expected to see either “an emotional roller coaster” or “a heartwarming tale of a young girl’s battle to overcome family adversity and raise a child alone.”  This movie is neither.  It’s a charming story, in fact.  A girl in a loving family finds herself pregnant, and works through the situation.  She’s funny, her family at no point threatens to kick her out if she doesn’t get her act together, and the film never takes itself too seriously.  It’s the best of what independent cinema can do.

Bleeker: So what do you think we should do?

Juno: I thought I might, you know, nip it in the bud before it gets worse. Because I heard in health class that pregnancy often results in an infant.

Bleeker: Yeah, typically. That’s what happens when our moms and teachers get pregnant.

Plus, I discovered just after watching it that it’s mentioned in an episode of The Big Bang Theory, where Rajesh Koothrappali is featured in the same magazine article as “Ellen Page, star of the charming independent film Juno.”

Snakes on My Plane

On my way onto my Northwest Airlines flight to Phoenix on Friday, I passed a row of small, screaming children, who were having a heated argument with their parents about (I hope) which toys they were allowed to have while the plane sat at the gate. All I heard as I walked by was:

Kid #1: I want to see the snake!
Kid #2: It’s not a snake! It’s not a snake! It’s not a snake!

Somebody get those monkey-fighting snakes off this Monday-to-Friday plane!

(That, for the record, would be Samuel L. Jackson’s line from Snakes on a Plane as aired on television, according to the Internet Movie Database.)

What a Crock

In marketing classes as an undergraduate, I studied how strong branding can sometimes worsen sales. Certainly one expects to avoid distrusted brands.  Windows Vista has to masquerade as Mojave to even get people to look at it, and ValuJet had to rebrand itself as AirTran after a fatal crash in 1996.

More interesting are trusted brands that still apply poorly to new products.  In class, the first example was the hypothetical “Campbell’s tomato sauce.”  Campbell’s is a respected name in soup, but that makes it too easy to imagine their tomato soup, which wouldn’t go well on pasta.  Hence, the Campbell Soup Company uses the name Prego to sell sauces.

Country Crock needs to study this concept in detail.  They sent me a coupon for their “new to me” line of Side Dishes, such as the essential Four Cheese Pasta. I’ll buy just about any multi-cheese invention, but unfortunately for Country Crock they’ve packaged the meal in exactly the same format as their famous “spread” (i.e., butter substitue).  Looking at it, I can’t stop picturing myself eating an entire tub of butter with a spoon, and I get a lot less hungry.

(I’m making myself try it anyway in my next Peapod order to give them a fair chance, but they’re starting off with some heavy negative marks in the “appetizing” category.)