Columbusing

Buzzfeed Food published an article asking, “Have you heard about the new kind of pie that’s all the rage lately?” It’s a hand pie, a little foldover pie that you can fit in your hand. They have flaky crusts and can be sweet or savory. You know, exactly like an empanada, a Latin American culinary staple.

On face value, it seems stupid to get worked up over an empanada. I mean, it’s just a pastry, right? But “discovering” empanadas on Pinterest and calling them “hand pies” strips empanadas of their cultural context. To all the people who grew up eating empanadas, it can feel like theft.
—Brenda Salinas, ‘Columbusing’: The Art Of Discovering Something That Is Not New
Columbusing reminds me of one of my favorite psychological terms, ‘cryptoamnesia’:
Cryptomnesia occurs when a forgotten memory returns without it being recognized as such by the subject, who believes it is something new and original. It is a memory bias whereby a person may falsely recall generating a thought, an idea, a song, or a joke, not deliberately engaging in plagiarism but rather experiencing a memory as if it were a new inspiration.
Human brains are crazy.

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History

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Retronauting

Jonathan Jones on why we can’t stop Retronauting (sharing old photographs):

What is nostalgia? For me it’s triggered by the sense that my parents might be young people in Butterfield’s deep colour vistas of the West End of London. For enthusiasts who post historic photographs on Twitter, it’s more broadly scattered. These pictures reveal the wealth of photographic documents, memories and arcana that these sites have dragged into the 21st-century limelight, from an 1890s portrait of Cornelia Sorabji, India’s first female advocate and the first woman to study law at Oxford University, to the building of the Hoover dam in Roosevelt’s America.
I won’t lie, I love old photographs—and old illustrations, old typography, old car manuals, and kitschy ads in the back of early 20th century magazines. I’ve been in orbit retronauting for many years now.
The idea for Daily Exhaust and The Combustion Chamber came from a 1950’s booklet on cars from my father.
In other news, Getty added another 77,000 images to it’s open content archive and the National Library of Ireland added 10,000 images to their online archive.

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History

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Hamburger Icon

Geoff Alday talks to the creator of the ‘hamburger icon’:

You’ve done your homework and found the right guy. I designed that symbol many years ago as a “container” for contextual menu choices. It would be somewhat equivalent to the context menu we use today when clicking over objects with the right mouse button.

Its graphic design was meant to be very “road sign” simple, functionally memorable, and mimic the look of the resulting displayed menu list. With so few pixels to work with, it had to be very distinct, yet simple. I think we only had 16×16 pixels to render the image. (or possibly 13×13… can’t remember exactly).

Interesting inside joke… we used to tell potential users that the image was an “air vent” to keep the window cool. It usually got a chuckle, and made the mark much more memorable.
Air vent. Love it. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were people who actually believed they truly functioned as vents for windows.
Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were people who believed that now.

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History

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Synchronic!

A few weekends ago, while I was visiting my parents I decided to see what antique stores I could find near me in northwestern New Jersey.
My problem is always finding shops with printed matter. There’s fewer and fewer antique shops with good collections of books and magazines. Then I stumbled upon Get a Grip & More–a shop specializing in tools, antiques & electronics. What?! It didn’t seem likely I’d find a lot of printed matter, but the attitude this shop seemed to have wasn’t something The Combustion Chamber could pass up.
I was right that they didn’t have too much printed matter (although they did have some great old manuals for old 70’s Camaros). Regardless, I still managed to hit the jackpot with a 1911, second edition of History Made Visible: Croscup’s Synchronic Chart of United States History by George E. Croscup (you can find them on eBay too, if you’re interested).
The cover was a bit warped and stained but the inside pages–specifically the maps–were in great shape.
I mean, shit, look at these maps:
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*A version of this post originally appeared on the The Combustion Chamber.

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History

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Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson: A Huge, Missed Opportunity. Really Huge. And Poorly Written.

(Note: I began a draft of my review of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson back in 2011. This week I dug it up, rewrote a lot of it, but the core of my review is the same.)
Summary: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson is nothing but a huge, missed opportunity.
Steve Jobs was written by a man who not only didn’t know Steve Jobs, but has no understanding or insight into the world of computers Jobs helped create.
Isaacson had a lot of sources to pull from when he began this book. There was a handful of times where I knew exactly where he had pulled a story or quote, whether it be from Jobs’ commencement address at Stanford in 2005 or story from Andy Herzfeld’s (one of Apple’s first employees) Folklore.org. Or the introduction of the first Macintosh. Or his ‘Values’ talk in 1997 after his return to Apple. Or the awesome interview with him at Wired in 2002.
Isaacson managed to badly summarize the key moments in Apple’s history and Steve’s life because he didn’t have a thorough grasp of the computer industry. I also noticed inconsistencies in how he referred to different computer acronyms and functions within computers and operating systems.
Despite the persistent sense of unease I felt, paragraph after paragraph, I continued reading through the book. Occasionally I was rewarded with anecdotes and details I had never heard before—like the fact that Jobs wanted to rename the Macintosh to be ‘The Bicycle’ (inspired by my favorite Jobs quote).
It wasn’t until I finished the book and listened to John Siricusa’s reaction did I realize how badly Isaacson botched it. Siricusa gave his review in episode #42 of his podcast, Hypercritical, with Dan Benjamin. It’s the best and most (hyper)critical review you’ll ever read on Steve Jobs. As I listened to Siricusa list out all the problems and errors in the book, I kept thinking to myself, “Damn, that’s what I was thinking too!”.
Before getting into all his nit-picky problems, Siricusa first summarizes his take on the biography by referencing an interview with Steve Jobs in the documentary, Triumph of the Nerds (1996). In the interview, Jobs is asked about his fallout with the guy he hired to run Apple, John Sculley. The board of directors at Apple eventually voted to keep Sculley and fire Jobs. Jobs replies, “What can I say, I hired the wrong guy.” (Here’s an excerpt, around the 3:41 mark)
In reference to Isaacson, Siricusa says (my emphasis):

Reading the Walter Isaacson Steve Jobs bio, if I had to summarize my take on the book, I would say, what can I say, he picked the wrong guy to write his bio because Walter Isaacson, for whatever his strengths might be, was absolutely the wrong guy to write the official biography of Steve Jobs.
He continues:
I can’t emphasize this enough—the thing that’s special about this book, because many, many books have been written about Steve Jobs and Apple, is that this is the one book, with the one guy, who had official, authorized access to Steve Jobs. […] It was notoriously difficult to pin down Steve Jobs. He doesn’t like doing interviews. He doesn’t like talking about his personal life at all. So this is the one time that he says, “c’mon, I want you to do a book about me, you can ask me anything.”
And (my emphasis):
The reason I say he’s the wrong guy is Walter Isaacson does not know this industry. The industry Steve Jobs grew up in and defined. That’s strike one. But strikes two and three is that he doesn’t know and he didn’t bother to learn about it. That’s the most egregious sin. It’s like he didn’t feel the responsibility of, “I’m the one guy with the authorized Steve Jobs biography, I know nothing about this industry at all, but I better buckle down and learn.”

[…]

If you don’t know the industry, how can you know what’s important in the life of this person? What Walter Isaacson came in with is sort of a generalist, lazy-person’s knowledge of computers and what he ends of focusing on in the bio are sort of human interest, general interest stuff. Family, friends, relationships, money, gossip. Things that are sort of common to the human experience and he should write about those, but it’s impossible to have any real insight in a life like Steve Jobs if you just look at the parts that are common to all lives. […]

You’re missing out on what’s special.
First, I recommend every read the Steve Jobs bio if you haven’t already. It might suck, but there is knowledge in the book you won’t find elsewhere.
Once you’ve done that, check out episodes 42 & 43 of Hypercritical to hear Siricusa’s full review. It’s awesome.

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History

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This Is Now

Welcome to today’s world, where you can use Über to hail a cab where ever you are in a city, computers come in a tablet form factor and you can buy the original Schindler’s list for $3,000,000 on eBay.
Huh?
via Open Culture

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History

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Jurassic

While my brother was in town visiting me this past week in Los Angeles, he requested we hit the Museum of Jurassic Technology on Santa Monica Boulevard. We both loved it.

A poor description would be to say it’s odd.

Here’s a bit from their introduction:

Like a coat of two colors, the Museum serves dual functions. On the one hand the Museum provides the academic community with a specialized repository of relics and artifacts from the Lower Jurassic, with an emphasis on those that demonstrate unusual or curious technological qualities. On the other hand the Museum serves the general public by providing the visitor a hands-on experience of “life in the Jurassic”

And:

The Museum of Jurassic Technology traces its origins to this period when many of the important collections of today were beginning to take form. Many exhibits which we today have come to know as part of the Museum were, in fact, formally part of other less well known collections and were subsequently consolidated into the single collection which we have come to know as The Museum of Jurassic Technology and thus configured, received great public acclaim as well as much discussion in scholastic circles.

The Museum, however, not content to rest on its laurels, kept pace with the changes in sensibility over the years. Except for the periods of the great wars in this century (when twice portions of the collection were nearly lost) the Museum engaged in a program of controlled expansion. Walking through the Museum, the visitor experiences, as it were, a walk back in time. The first exhibits encountered are the contemporary displays and reaching the far end of the Museum, the visitor is surrounded by the earliest exhibits.

It’s a small museum and will take you around an hour to see everything. If you’re into overlooked scientists obsessed with magnetism, pseudo-science home remedies and a brief history of the mobile home (complete with little dioramas) then you’ll love this place.

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History

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Time Control

The image below is a scan from Rules and Regulations Governing Employees Engaged in Operation of the New York City Transit System (Whew). It belonged to my grandfather who worked for the Transit System in the 1940’s and 1950’s.

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I’ve posted more over at Famous But Unknown.

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History

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