This American Life

This American Life is a Public Radio International show (also available as a free podcast from iTunes) and is unlike any other television or radio program I know. I’ve been listening for years and no two episodes are alike. It’s not a current events or documentary show per se; rather, each episode dives head first into the details of a situation — any situation — and gives us a perspective we’ve never had before.

When “toxic assets” were famously ruining our economy last year, This American Life and Planet Money bought one (nicknamed “Toxie”) and spoke with some of the homebuyers whose mortgages they now owned. Each had a different and unexpected reason for falling behind on their payments.

In 2009, the Princeton Review named Penn State the “#1 Party School in America” so This American Life went there to find out what it’s like for students, administrators, and residents of the surrounding community. A surprising number of drunken college students wander into strange homes at night and pass out.

Mr. President

Mr. President

And just two weeks ago the show aired what may have been its best episode to date: Kid Politics. What would the world be like if it were run by children? In one segment we hear about a simulation where students become president, press, and Navy in 1983 when something’s about to happen in Grenada. Now, Mr. President, would you like to invade? And would you like to change your plans now that the press has leaked news of your “covert” invasion?

In another segment, we visit The Brooklyn Free School: a real school where there are no traditional classes and the students are in charge. At one point a student calls a meeting of the entire school because she’s just been called a whore again. If you’re thinking that’s an overreaction, some of the other students agree. But the victim’s justification makes a lot of sense: these boys just used a very offensive word without even knowing its meaning, and she wants them to understand the severity of that action. Essentially, she’s able to react with as much force and impact as every student who’s ever been called a name has ever wanted to. And perhaps those boys will be wary of doing the same thing again.

You can listen to every episode of This American Life ever aired for free in the show’s Radio Archive and you can subscribe to new episodes through their free podcast in iTunes. Perhaps Kid Politics is a good place to start. When you’re sufficiently impressed, don’t forget to donate some money to the show (through PayPal if you want).

Itty Bitty Applications Only?

Oh, hosting provider. I understand why you want to impose a limit on how much memory PHP applications can use on your servers, but you may be taking it just a little too far:

Fatal error: Allowed memory size of 64 bytes exhausted (tried to allocate 54 bytes)

For the non-programmers out there, that means the application is asking for 54 more bytes of memory to store some information, but is being told it’s already used up the entire 64 bytes available to the entire application.

To put that in context, that error message (having 71 letters, spaces, and punctuation marks) takes up 71 bytes. So 64 bytes isn’t even enough to store a single error message, much less an entire application.

Put another way, when VisiCalc (often described as the “first killer app” for personal computers) came out in 1979, it wouldn’t run on low-end Apple II computers since they had only 16,384 bytes of memory available.

Then and Now

Toronto 1977-2007

Toronto 1977-2007

Photographer Damon Schreiber posted a fascinating series of photographs a few years ago titled Toronto 1977 – 2007. Perhaps the title gives away the premise: after discovering online a set of photographs taken in Toronto in 1977, Schreiber set out to photograph the same locations again in the present day (then 2007).

He took great care to find not just the same location but the same camera angles and even the same subjects. If a bus happened to be pulling away when the shutter clicked 30 years ago, the retake will capture a new bus in the same place. This brings striking clarity to the real changes that three decades have brought to the city.

What I found absolutely fascinating was that the pairs show neither a steady decline throughout the city nor a constant improvement toward sleek modernity. Some locations got better, some got worse. Some sidewalks became crumbled and chipped while others were replaced with beautiful brick and shrubbery. We see buildings erected and torn down. New signs are installed while others have stayed exactly where they were placed half a lifetime ago.

The end result is a wonderfully comforting sense that the dilapidated sections of our cities today will be vibrant and clean in another few decades, even if the new brickwork we see workers laying down today may have degraded.

Freckleface Strawberry

Any rational person upon hearing Kimiko Glenn perform Nothing from A Chorus Line in 2002 would have concluded that she was bound for a proper Broadway stage. Through her YouTube channel we can now see her performing a song from a new Off-Broadway musical titled Freckleface Strawberry based on the children’s book by the same name. (Skip to 1:45 to hear just the song.)

The entire original cast album is available on iTunes. The musical is also playing (open ended) at New World Stages in New York, with tickets through Telecharge.

While I probably can’t rush all the way to New York for a show at the moment, it’s definitely on my list for the next time I’m in the city.