Google’s New Design: White and Black and Red All Over

When I was looking for our friend Chad Hogg’s Lehigh University profile, I discovered that in addition to the fancy schmancy black Google bar, the search pages now have a red text motif and look streamlined. They even have new icons. Observe:

I’ve decided to call this Google Wolfpac. Yes, Mom, I’m 31 years old and reasonably well-educated, but this is where my mind goes:

Someone hit the Big Kev theme.

Chad Hogg Owns the 2000th Comment on The Daily Cocca

Chad Hogg, ABD (BBD, The East Coast family)

Chad Hogg, you honor me!

Friends, if you haven’t spent some time on Chad’s excellent blog (excellently named, by me, The Blogg), you simply must.

More about Chad, in his own words:

I am currently a research assistant and doctoral candidate at Lehigh University, working under Prof. Hector Munoz-Avila. I was a visiting faculty member at Mansfield University of Pennsylvania for the 2010-2011 academic year. Prior to coming to Lehigh I earned my Bachelor’s degree at Ursinus College. I maintain a more personal web presence at [That is to say, The Blogg].

The topic of my dissertation research is learning knowledge artifacts for HTN planning (decomposition methods) from annotated tasks and plan traces. Files and other information on this work can be found at the HTN-Maker project webpage. See below for related publications and other resources. My General Exam document would be a good place to start.

In addition to this primary topic, I am involved in a number of other projects related to planning, case-based reasoning, reinforcement learning, and computer games as part of the Intelligent Decision Systems and Technologies (InSyTe) Lab at Lehigh. I am also interested in pursuing other broad topics in artificial intelligence, including automated planning systems; classification, clustering, and other machine learning techniques; collaborative filtering systems, data mining, and web search; and heuristic music composition.

The humble Mr. Hogg refrains from mentioning that he plays the sickest bass this side of Flea and/or Les Claypool, but let me assure you that he does.  Especially exciting to me is the recent news that Chad will be returning to our mutual alma mater, Ursinus College, as visiting professor this fall.   Good job, Chad! And thank you for being the most faithful reader and commenter on the various iterations of this blog!

Just In Case You Thought I Was Kidding About Stripmalls and Greenspace in the Suburbs

You didn’t, did you?  My good friend Joe just sent this along from the New York Times: 101 Uses for a Deserted Mall.

I didn’t use the word “retrofitting” in my discussion, but that’s what we’re really talking about, here, isn’t it?  Retrofitting in the present and redesigning the future?

See also: DeadMalls.Com

Here’s the beginning of a press release from 1984 I found via DeadMalls:

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Hess’s Department Stores, Inc., has agreed to purchase the Rices Nachmans Department Stores, an eight-unit chain in the Virginia Tidewater area owned by the Phillips-Van Heusen Corp.

Irwin Greenberg, president of Hess’s, said the price would be determined Feb. 4, following completion of the transaction. He said he expected the price to be in the $10 million range.

Earlier this year, Greenberg announced that Virginia would be a major growth area for Hess’s, either through acquisition or new store openings. Negotiations with Phillips-Van Heusen started last March, he said.

Rices Nachman units, averaging 60,000 square feet each, …


Does SteelStacks Have Its Head in the Sands?

Bethlehem Steel
Image by Marty.FM via Flickr

Yes. Yes it does.

The skinny:

Once upon a time, Bethlehem Steel built something called America.  It also won some wars. Later, Bethlehem Steel went bankrupt and a lot of people got screwed. Around here, this is no footnote to the decline of American industry.  This is the whole sordid tale writ large in the Steel’s iconic blast furnaces, now owned by Las Vegas Sands, who also owns and operates Bethlehem’s Sands Casino on the former Bethlehem Steel grounds.

The blast furnaces are one of the biggest unprotected pieces of American history I can think of.  The feds don’t own them, nor does the Commonwealth nor some historical society or the city itself.  They’re owned by the casino corporation and not the people.  As such, they’ve been a big bargaining chip for the Sands.

We’ll give you access to your precious furnaces.


If what, exactly?

The usual.  You’ll see. 

Being the very picture of corporate beneficence, the Sands sold land to the Bethlehem Redevelopment Authority (that’s another way of saying “the people,” or “the public,” isn’t it?) for $1 so the city could develop its plans for an arts and cultural center.  That arts and cultural center, SteelStacks, continues to come to fruition.

But here’s the catch, reported by the Allentown Morning Call: Under the terms of the $1 sale, public fomenting of anything disagreeable to the casino is not permitted, including, say, labor rallies and public debate about the efficacy of casinos as economic incubators (or dire social externalities).  From the Morning Call piece:

In the 15-page deed signed last week, the Redevelopment Authority agreed that labor unions can’t organize on the property. There also can’t be activities that would promote “a theme” that a “reasonable casino operator” would consider “offensive.”

Similar restrictions were written into the deals with nonprofits ArtsQuest and PBS39 for their properties at SteelStacks.

According to the Call, PBS39 (the P stands for “public”) has said their deal will not interfere with  programming and editorial choices.  That sounds like shorthand for “we’ve got an army of lawyers and a ton of cash you don’t know about,” which, of course, they don’t.  I wonder who at the Sands has the job of monitoring 39’s broadcasts?  Do they get nervous when Bruce Springsteen concerts from the 70’s run in the wee hours of the night during pledge campaigns?

As the Call points out, any talk of unionizing the Sands workers is prohibited on SteelStacks grounds by the terms of the casino’s “generous donation.”   My, how history repeats.  Just over a hundred years ago, labor toiled under management with similar attitudes and political muscle on this very spot.  This isn’t ironic, friends.  It’s Orwellian.

I should point out that many people blame part of the Steel’s downfall on the eventual excesses of power-hungry union heads. This narrative has been applied across all sectors of American industry and with reason. But it’s also the case that before the unions came, the hands that built America had no protection, no voice, and no organizing strength. The same is true for the casino’s workforce on these grounds even now.  And if you’re inclined to believe, as the numbers show, that casinos in low-income areas like South Bethlehem do more economic harm than good to people on the margins, this is all the more egregious.

Give us your tired and your poor so we can bilk them.  

Give us your jobless so we can bilk them, too.  

Give us your free-speech so we don’t scrap your history.

In the freest country in the world, what kind of choice is that?

In Allentown, Sustainabilty Can Be the New Cement, the New Silk, the New Steel. It Can Even Be the New Hess’s.

Totally a salamander.

If you were into civics as a kid, “gerrymandering” is one of the words you learned in 10th grade and still remember. You probably even remember the practice’s namesake, Elbridge Gerry, and that he endorsed the creation of oddly-shaped voting districts that favored his political party in the early days of the Republic.  The practice produced a cartographic chimera of sorts, the so-called Gerry-mander, and the practical side American political science began in earnest.  For all the time they must have spent outside, you’d think that early 19-century Americans would have known that salamanders don’t have wings but do have arms.

Today, I came across a map of Allentown that Damien Brown edited to show the city’s different sections (East Side, Center City, Downtown, South Side/South Allentown, and West End):

Now, if you live in Allentown, you know that a small pocket of South Whitehall Township (those white polygons) cuts into the West End on the east side of Cedar Crest Boulevard from Washington Street to Parkway.  A closer look:

What’s the story here? What political machinations are afoot??? Just the long-term visioneering of Allentown industrialist Gen. Harry C. Trexler, patron of the Allentown Parks System, the Golf Course, the Trexler Nature Preserve and lots of other things we take granted.  The space that is now Trexler Park was, before his death, a family summer estate in South Whitehall Township.  This land and the land immediately around it (including the Golf Course) only became part of the city because of Trexler’s work and generosity.

Longtime Lehigh Valley residents know most of this already. What I didn’t know: Trexler is probably also responsible for preserving the Lehigh Valley’s home-rule culture.  His mistrust of Philadelphian power (antagonistic as it was to the Lehigh Valley’s Pennsylvania Germans) led him to champion the development of a regionally-based economy.  It makes me stop and think: even as we recall Allentown’s decline from unique, mid-sized, industrial and commercial base of economic power to a city searching for a new identity and a sustainable economy of the future, if not for Trexler, the plus side of the Lehigh Valley’s history might not have happened at all.

In pioneers like Trexler and, later, the Rodale family, the Lehigh Valley has fine models for conservation and sustainable business.  Even though the national economy is groaning, it is also greening.  100 years ago, Trexler and others converted a vacant, run-down city lot into what we know today as West Park.  Leaders from all aspects of Allentown’s public life need to keep taking these cues and continue embracing the opportunities financial trouble brings.  If we need to build, we must (and can) build sustainably.  If we need to tear down, we can do it beautifully. I imagine a city that is increasingly walkable in all quarters, and one where junked lots and vacant parking lots become a patchwork of parks and public spaces.

No one knows how long the current economic crisis will continue.  What we do know is this:  the days of retail excess are over, and rising generations want walkable, bikable, beautiful urban spaces in which to live and work and spend.  We want sustainable, hyper-local options, we want good news for the city and we want to be part of that transition.

On a long enough timeline, chronically closed spaces will green themselves, but cities across the country are starting from scratch with new sustainable ethics and visions. Thankfully, we don’t have to start from square one.  If stakeholders are committed, our region, led by our cities, can be a national example of the new economy even it was once a beacon of the old.  And unlike silk or steel or cement or retail, sustainability is a business for all times and all seasons.

Is This The Rest of the Rebooted Justice League?

Via Graphic Policy, this image is out and about today, but does it show the rebooted Justice League’s full roster?:

Who knows. But the statement about DC’s new “Big 7” is clear: Green Arrow out, Cyborg in. I still want the League’s Green Lantern to be John Stewart, but I hope he gets a big starring marquee role somewhere else in the new DC Universe.

A few thoughts on aesthetics:

By now, we’ve had some time to get used to all the lines and panels in these costumes. I still don’t like them. There’s too much quasi-realism going on, especially with Superman. Then look at Flash’s boots. Them compare them to whatever Hal Jordan has on his feet (classic boots? Fine, but next to the overwrought and inexplicably shiny things the others are wearing, they look like pajama feet).

I do like how the S-shield pops on Supes. Still not fan of the red seat-belt on his waist.

The Blue Beetle
Remember that time I got one good story ever and died at the end? The WORST.

What we can’t tell from this image are the places of the secondary and tertiary heroes on the side panels in the new DCU. Are they JL subteams? I like that idea. Are they field agents? I’d like that, too. Side question: How do Hawkman and Green Arrow feel about not having a place at the leadership table? How about their fans?

In short: good image, good team, still some mystery. Please, less panels and piping. We’re not making movies, here.



(Blue Beetle/Ted Kord image by Lunchbox Photography via Flickr)