Monday, July 28, 2008


I got caught out in a downpour last week - one of dozens that passed through Boston over a few days. I'd been observing cell towers on building roofs, looking up, trying to get to high places where I could see the equipment clearly. Details would bore you - it was a mapping thing.

The storm came in fast with a lot of rain, and I took cover under an awning in University Park. The lightning quickly became constant, and the thunder was ominous and unusual - not bangs and cracks but more of a sustained hissing, like something enormous and angry struggling to form its first words.

Before long the lightning struck this...

...which was no surpise. Just look at it. The Tech-Gothic prow of the Meridien Hotel just sits there like a kind of invitation to electrical storms. And here I was tampering with RF antennas and beacons on the tops of buildings, tempting fate. That's what I thought while I stood there under that awning, getting a creepy kind of Nikola Tesla, stealing-secrets-from-God vibe.

After some particularly menacing hisses the lightning reached across the sky laterally like fingers on a witch's hand in a kind of confirmation of the storm's strangeness. The noise was outrageous. There was no sign of another human being - not even a moving car - anywhere in the Park or along Sidney Street.

The worst of the rain ended and I hopped on my bike and rode the three blocks home. When I got there I found a maple limb - 6" wide at the base, maybe 20 feet long - split from its tree high above the street and smashed through the windshield of my car.

It had pushed straight through the glass and impaled the driver's seat. The car was parked precisely where I had seen her back in February.

That was July 19, which is the day Margaret Fuller drowned in 1850.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

urbanDefect: the great unpositioned

The transportation swarm needs to know where all of its individual participants are.

I'm not talking about some great centralized scheme here. But in cities, in neighborhoods, the machines that are moving people and stuff around the roads want to know, with some urgency, where they are relative to all of the other machines participating in this crowded, fast-moving local relationship.

And it's sort of silly that so much of the great mobile mass remains positionally unaware, that so little has happened yet. Hence the defect. Because just about all the necessary technology is available now for cheap or free. Lots of interesting companies are converging into this meshy, swarmy, flocky future. Inrix. Dash. Zipcar. TeleAtlas - er - TomTom. Navteq - er - Nokia. Garmin. SiRF. Blah, blah, blah. Blah, blah. Blah.

Before very long the machines will be positioning themselves without human interference, of course. Satellite and RF signals provide location. Cruise and Lane Control handle the easy driving. We need to help with intersections and special situations, but mostly we won't be so involved with the driving details any more. Because the cars know where they are, where they're going, how to get there.

Because this is how it looks when the machines start waking up, silly passenger.