Monday, March 30, 2009

Coffee Research and Deco in Buffalo NY

As I mentioned in an earlier post, last week I attended the MIT Industrial Liaison Program's Europe Conference in Vienna. One of the people I met does R&D for Illy Coffee in Trieste and so we talked a little bit about coffee research. He knew about my favorite San Francisco (sorry, Berkeley) coffee Peets, but (incredibly!) had not heard the story of Buffalo NY's Deco coffee.

Deco was a famous chain of diner restaurants that claimed to have Buffalo's best cup of coffee. They developed a special blend in New York City that tasted great, but when they brewed it in Buffalo it tasted awful. They quickly figured-out that it was because the water was different, so they brought Buffalo water to New York and repeated the process. I never drank Deco coffee, but when my parents owned an art gallery next door to a Deco on Elmwood Avenue, they did, and I remember the nice glass jar cups - much better than Styrofoam.

There's a nice history of Deco Coffee including the take out cups on the Buffalo History Works website. That's where I first read the story and where the illustration comes from.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Vienna Spanish Riding School

Last night I attended a dinner at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna as part of the MIT Industrial Liaison Program Europe Conference. It was a great dinner in a fantastic space. We sat at tables that were placed on the floor where the horses normally perform - so we had a horse's eye view of the building. The space is wonderful, the food tasty and the company engaging - a perfect evening.

Tram 49 - Vienna - The Night Sequel

Last night I had my camera and was able to make a night film of the Tram 49 in Vienna. Click the link above to view the film.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Franz Kafka Airport - Onion Video

Prague's Franz Kafka International Named World's Most Alienating Airport

Here's the Onion's news report on Franz Kafka International airport being named the world's most alienating airport.

PLEASE SEE COMMENT - THIS IS NOT A REAL AIRPORT! Prague is a wonderful city to visit and the people are very friendly - the opposite of the video! See:

In a related item we are looking forward to attending the Wiener Festwochen presentation of Franz Kafka's The Process in May. We won't be flying through via Franz Kafka International!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Tram 49 - Vienna

I ride the Wienerlinien Strassenbahn 49 (Vienna public transport streetcar line 49) almost everyday. It's a fun ride because there are four 90-degree curves on the short section between Neubaugasse and Volkstheater. Some tram drivers really enjoy the curves and the trip becomes like an amusement park ride ... be sure to hold on! The best place to enjoy the trip is on an old tram at the front of the trailer car - I sat there today and here's my video of the journey.

My Campaign Poster

Last week I was taking some photos of my office for Alain de Botton's office photo contest - he has just written a book about work called: The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work and I noticed my campaign poster sitting on the couch (we unpacked it and put it there about a year ago). The poster is from 1992 when I ran for election to the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) Board of Directors. I received over 30,000 votes, but unfortunately the incumbent received over 60,000. However, I think I had the best campaign slogan: "It takes an engineer to run a railroad."

The campaign was very interesting for me on many levels. I learned the techniques of politics. I learned a lot about what people want from their public transport system. (You might be amazed to learn how many people mentioned broken escalators as a problem - I remember that every time I see a non-functioning escalator today.) Finally, I almost learned to ask people for money, but not quite. In short, I learned a lot of things that they don't teach you in graduate school!

One of my campaign goals was to make the BART Board a non-elected position, filled by people elected to a higher office (i.e. city councilpersons or county supervisors). I say this because, while democracy is great, I think that the people managing public transport systems should have a broader perspective than just transportation. They should be involved with land use decision-making and other aspects of local government.

It looks like a tough fight for Vienna Mayor

Last week I noticed the sign "Out with Häupl" appearing at tram stops and subway stations for Vienna's 2010 Mayoral election. The incumbent, Michael Häupl, is from the Social Democrat party. The poster is from HC (Heinz Christian) Strache, a candidate from the Austrian Freedom Party (FPOe), one of Austria's far right political parties.

The poster comes right out and says Strache wants: "... jobs for citizens (only), to stop the Islamization and immigration" and blames Häupl for "record criminality, an avalanche of price increases, a wave of unemployment, massive immigration and mosques and minarets." It reminds me of some of the rhetoric behind the scenes in US political campaigns, but I can't remember ever seeing such blatant racism and immigrant bashing on campaign posters in the USA.

While Vienna has had a long history of left leaning governments, many people I talk with are worried. A couple weeks ago Austria held elections in two states (Bundeslander): Carinthia and Salzburg. In both elections the left-leaning parties lost ground and the far right gained. Eva Menasse wrote an interesting analysis of Carinthia's vote: Haider in their hearts that was published in Die Zeit on March 5, 2009. (Haider was formerly a member of the FPOe before starting the (also) far right BZOe party. He was Governor of Carninthia before suffering a fatal car accident in 2008.)

Anyway, given the economic crisis and growing support for right wing parties it looks like a difficult and ugly campaign for Vienna.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

More on Eine Strasse als Museum

Yesterday I wrote about attending a workshop given in conjunction with the Wien Museum's Eine Strasse als Museum exhibition.

In the discussion we had following our attempt to develop ideas for exhibits/programs similar to those developed by Hong Kong's Community Museum Project, I suggested that the Naschmarkt was not a good place to do this. My point was that the Naschmarkt is too touristy and atypical of Vienna.

On the other hand, as several others argued, the Naschmarkt changes over time: Monday at 10 am is quite different from Saturday at 1 pm in terms of locals versus tourists, and in other ways as well. Also, there's probably a lot to learn from the mixture of foreign people working and products sold at the Naschmarkt. Good points.

I still, however, believe that another site might have been better for us to use in developing a concept. Not because the Naschmarkt is not worthy of such an analysis, but rather because it's too complex a place to start with.

Although, when I explained the day to my wife, she came up with a great idea: doing a survey of what shoppers purchase at the Naschmarkt. Sort by time of day/day of week ... compare to other markets in Vienna ...

Friday, March 20, 2009

Street as Museum - Wien Museum

Today I attended an extremely interesting conference titled: Museum as a Method. Eine Strasse als Museum organized by the Wien Museum and Museumsakademie Joanneum.

Three members of Hong Kong's Community Museum Project (Howard Chan, Siu King-Chung and Tse Pak-Chai) made a presentation on several of their projects including documentation of protest 'props', a major project they did documenting the demise of Lee Tung Street (Hong Kong) as the area was redeveloped by the city (the subject of the Wien Museum exhibition) and a 'refrigerator project' that consisted of analyzing the contents of 24 households' refrigerators. They described their methods and techniques they have used and what they have learned.

Then we broke into groups and attempted to develop ideas for creating a similar project in Vienna. We focused on Vienna's Naschmarkt, a market for fresh food quite nearby the Wien Museum. The two groups identified several different ideas, the common thread seemed to be learning more about what goes on 'behind' both literally and figuratively at the market. This includes everything from social relationships between the shop keepers (it's one of the most diverse places in Vienna) to how they haul the garbage. We did not really come to any conclusion, but the discussion was quite interesting. Here are my Naschmarkt photos from Flickr.

My own hope is to develop some sort of infrastructure museum where people can learn how different urban infrastructure systems work, about the people who built and operate them, about the social life that takes place in and around these systems ... somewhat similar to the Heathrow Airport class I took last fall. I got lots of good ideas from today's conference.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Pogue on Electric Cars - It's the system not the car!

The NY Times' David Pogue has a great blog post about a group of people developing a 'system' for making electric cars happen. The basic idea is that they rent you the batteries for your electric car. He titled his posting Electric Cars for All! (No, Really This Time) that about covers it don't you think?

Richard Florida on Bailouts and Stimulus

Richard Florida, one of my favorite 'planner economists' has been writing about the bailouts and stimulus plans on his blog in the last couple days. It's particularly good because he addresses several of the questions that always seem to come up regarding his work "everyone can't be in the creative class, what about the others?" etc.

I am especially concerned that we are wasting a great opportunity to create a more future-oriented economy. We should be using the stimulus to move towards a more environmentally and economically sustainable future. Of course, if we don't someone else is likely to do so, as Florida puts it:

The clock of history ticks on. Over time, it tends to leave behind those places who get stuck, get trapped, or try too hard to breathe life back into the old order, neglecting the new one that is emerging. And that’s what really worries me.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Spotted by Locals

I just found out about a great website/blog called Spotted by Locals it consists of postings by people living in different cities. It's similar to some of the postings I have made for restaurants and things to do in different cities (i.e. my San Francisco pages and Zurich pages), but better organized! I checked a couple of cities I am familiar with and they had some good tips.

5 Ways to Misery

Great video about how to be and stay miserable. The best is at the end,
"Misery loves company, the more you share with others the more you end up having!"

Friday, March 13, 2009

When comedy becomes serious - Jon Stewart vs Jim Cramer

Jon Stewart host of The Daily Show on the Comedy Channel interviewed Jim Cramer from CNBC's Mad Money show last night. A couple weeks ago Stewart said that CNBC, as well as other 'business' oriented TV shows essentially served as cheerleaders for the mindless economic behaviour over the last several years.

Cramer, to his credit I think, agreed to appear on the Daily Show, and Jon Stewart did a fantastic job interviewing him. He nailed his point that journalism is about digging behind the issues, finding out what's going on and pointing out how to improve things - not simply parroting what big CEOs are saying. The clip above is especially devastating - I thought Cramer would start crying after one of the clips.

I don't know what to think when the best journalism today is being done by people like Jon Stewart and the Comedy Channel, but I am glad someone is doing it.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Something about Buffalo

Sam Newberg (Joe Urban) has an article today There's Something about Buffalo that discusses some of Buffalo's advantages and problems. One thing he likes is the Buffalo City Hall (photos on my Flickr site). I agree, I think it's one of the finest city hall buildings in the world ... really different from the classic style used in so many cities. I guess I just wish that whatever creative spirit was behind selecting that design for a city hall had done more to create a sustainable economic future for the city.

streetsblog: wiki wednesday

My posting about Zürich on Streetsblog made the WIKI Wednesday feature today! Check out: Zurich, Where Transit gets Priority on the Street.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Brûlé: Rail Transport Quality and Market Streets

Tyler Brûlé's weekly column in the Financial Times today World-class city or grim ghost town? addresses two of my favorite subjects: quality in rail transport and vacant storefronts on shopping streets.

First, transport. Brûlé is right-on in his questions about EuroStar and Belgium's rail stations. My favorite Belgium railway story is that in the International Airport - picture thousands of people coming from all over Europe every day to do EU business - the automated ticket machines don't take credit cards (photo above is of the ticket machine, photo on right is of the lines waiting to buy tickets - note they don't even use customer-friendly queuing system).

You can use your VISA card to buy gasoline at every gas station in the world ... when will railways learn?

By the way, I've written a song about the railway ticket machines, music video coming soon!

Second, empty storefronts. Again, Brûlé raises some interesting questions as he praises the large number of home-grown businesses on Lisbon's shopping streets. I have always thought that landlords are short-sited when they throw out solid local businesses in favour of chain stores.

But, crisis brings opportunities. We need to develop business models, call them market 2.0 streets. These streets would be managed using a cooperative approach: say one chain store, five local businesses with the six landlords sharing the profits. Add-in ideas like locally-based programming, extra cleaning and more safety - paid for jointly by the cooperative and we may be on to something.

Better yet, cheap storefronts on these streets for local businesses would be incubators - helping creative people to develop new ideas and products ... real products and services that people need. Could these market 2.0 streets be a path out of today's economic problems?

Incredible Railway Information Technology Story

In an article entitled How RailCorp's derailing commuter 'apps' the Sydney Morning Herald reports that RailCorp, the railway operator there, has sued independent developers of applications that enable real time schedule data to be read from mobile telephones. RailCorp says that the schedules are out of date and might confuse passengers.

Hmm ... maybe RailCorp should provide up to date schedules?

This is a good example of the types of social and institutional problems preventing railways (and public transport in general) from being as successful as they could be. As ETH Zürich Professor Ulrich Weidmann said in the 2008 IT08.rail conference, railway customers expect a very high level of information since that is what they have in their cars with GIS etc. Just today, the NY Times in Have Smartphone, Can Travel about the latest applications for drivers. If railways don't provide quality information using new technology, they will lose customers.

Fighting new technology and the social systems that grow up around these new technologies (e.g. open source, Web2.0) doesn't work. Just look at how successful record companies have been fighting music downloads. Only iTunes has worked because it makes it easy for users and is based on new technology.

Companies, especially railways, need to embrace new technology and support developers of applications that make their systems better and more attractive to customers. More about information technology in the railway industry in our papers: Can Information Technology Help Rail Play a Greater Role in Preventing Climate Change? and From Engineers to Entrepreneurs: The need for social innovation in high speed rail systems.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Transport Simulation Games - Free

I everyone thinks they are a transportation 'expert'. I mean, how many times have people come up to you at a party and, once you tell them you are a transport planner, say something like, "Why don't they add another lane to Highway 66? That would solve the congestion problem."

Usually at this point I excuse myself to get another glass of wine rather than getting into a discussion about the ins and outs of simply 'adding a lane' or 'running more trains' (yes, transport experts are multimodal!).

Anyway, I just read about two free transport planning simulation games that are available on line. I can't vouch for these games, but they sound interesting. Maybe next time a transport expert starts giving me suggestions for solving transport problems I will refer him (or her) to the site!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Web 2.0 Reward System

Josh Bernhof, one of the authors of Groundswell, a book about using Web2.0 applications in business, just wrote an interesting blog piece Will online volunteers transform our economic recovery? on how reward systems are changing from money to more intangible, and I would argue more healthy, things, here's a quote from the article:
Amid the rubble of foreclosures and layoffs, this may just be a little green shoot that transforms the recovery. But in this new economy it will be reputation, support and sharing -- not just money -- that will make the whole thing go 'round.

I think it's always interesting to think of how these Web2.0 approaches will change the economy, Josh's ideas are very nice beginning.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Alsace Wine Trail Google Map

View Larger Map
Jim from Chicago's question got me thinking about learning how to use Google's My Maps feature. So I created a map with the route I hiked from Ribeauville to Bennwihr. The program doesn't give you lots of control, but you have to admit it's quite a cool application when you consider it's free and intuitive to use. Anyway, here's my map: Hiking Alsace Wine Trail, Riquewihr France. It's collaborative, so feel free to add to it.

Alsace - Les Perles du Vignoble - Brochure

Several months ago I blogged about hiking in the vineyards just to the west of Colmar France. It's one of my favorite regions and I have grown to really love the wine. See my previous posts Riquewihr, Ribeauville, Alsace hiking and public transport options from Colmar for photos and more.

Anyway, Jim from Chicago, asked me to try to scan the map guide I picked up several years ago that illustrates the 'trail'. As he says many of the signs on the route are now gone, so it's good to have a map. (I got lost on my hike last year from Kientzheim to Riquewihr - not on this map - and found myself walking through the fields adjoining the motorway ... not really my idea of fun.)

The picture above is one of the smaller city maps on the back of the brochure. Pages 2 and 3 of the brochure are the area map. Note that even with the map the trail is not really clear because the map does not include street names ... combine it with another map or use your best judgment.

Here is a pdf version of the entire brochure: Les Perles du Vignoble (2003). (Big file - 12 mb).