Monthly Archives: February 2012


Posted by Ezra Glenn on February 18, 2012
Code / 1 Comment

For those of you who’ve noticed that I’ve started being a more active blogger over the last few weeks, there’s a good explanation: I’ve discovered org2blog.

Given that I try to live as much of my life as possible in emacs (or at least as much of my virtual life as possible), org2blog is a godsend. Using the emacs’ excellent org-mode has already revolutionized my writing, coding, and the way I organize my time and my projects, and now – through this intuitive and clever extension — it is helping organize my blog activity as well.

Others (for example, here and here have already written extensively on the how and the why of org2blog: basically, you install org-mode (already built-in to most modern emacsen), load a few more special .el files, and with a little customization you’re good to go.

The real magic, however, comes in the use of org-mode to bring order to the chaos of your thoughts, so that blog posts are planned, scheduled, and reflective – and the resulting blog is actually organized and structured (as opposed to the random “shopping lists of my thoughts” model).

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World on a Wire (Fassbinder, 1973)

Posted by Ezra Glenn on February 13, 2012
Film / No Comments

Janus/Criterion has just re-released a beautiful print of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1973 two-part film, World on a Wire, and I was fortunate enough to have 210 minutes free on a Saturday afternoon to go to the Brattle to watch it. It’s great.

Plot-wise, the film covers much of the same ground as The Matrix and Inception – although it was made 30 years earlier – but this aspect is covered pretty well by other reviews. That said, the themes of living in the dream-like reality of a world of simulacra – and the ultimate dream of escape to a higher reality – take on a special richness in Fassbinder’s work, infused with the pathos of counter-cultural 1970s Germans.1

Visually, the entire film (originally shot in square 16mm for television, like an instamatic photograph) is beautifully fake, presenting the veneer of the world that was the 1970s: plastic molded offices full of plastic molded furniture and plastic molded people with plastic, blank faces – with the exception of our hero, Fred Stiller, the new Director of the Simulacron Project at the Institute for Cybernetics and Futurology. Stiller’s work, known as Simulacron 1, is the most sophisticated computer simulation ever made, a massive program modeling a world of 10,000 “identity units” for the purpose of making accurate scientific and government projections. It’s a planner’s dream: a simulated world where real life plays out for the purposes of forecasting future conditions and testing varios alternatives (“How much steel production will the economy require in 30 years?”; “Should we build more housing units in Baden-Württemberg or Schleswig-Holstein?”; and so on).

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Mel King Institute Training: ACS for CDCs

Posted by Ezra Glenn on February 11, 2012
Census, Good Causes / No Comments

On March 14, 2012, I’ll be working again with the Mel King Institute for Community Building to offer a half-day training in “Making Use of Local Census Data.” We designed the class for planners and community development practitioners working at the neighborhood-scale, and we’ll talk about ways to access the latest data from the U.S. Census American Community Survey (and how to use it responsibly).

Unlike earlier versions of the training, we’ll be working exclusively with the New American Factfinder (previously discussed in this post) to download data. We’ve also moved the class to one of MIT’s computer labs, and added an hour at the end as a “clinic,” so participants will get some hands-on time to dig up data on their own community.

For more information about the Mel King Institute, or to register for the training, see this page. See you there!

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Somerville Community Corporation Annual Meeting

Posted by Ezra Glenn on February 10, 2012
Good Causes / Comments Off on Somerville Community Corporation Annual Meeting

Last night was the annual meeting of the Somerville Community Corporation, which is always a great event, and this year was no exception. In addition to me being elected president along with a great slate of officers and new board members, it was a great chance to showcase some of the work of the organization over the past year.

One of the most exciting new efforts is the new Interactive Somerville website, which is helping to engage the community around the challenge of planning for the new MBTA Green Line extension. In essence, SCC and our community partners are working to crowd-source the entire planning process in a fun and collaborative on-line space. There are some great ideas there, and as with all good planning processes, the community we develop around the plan is as important as the community we will develop through it. At the meeting, we gave a special award to MAPC’s Christian Spanring for the countless hours he has put into getting this project off the ground and into its current state of excellence.

Another new on-line effort that was presented was the launching of our new Everyone’s Somerville site, which helps make the case for keeping Somerville affordable. This is the cause that brought me to SCC, and it provides the foundation for all the work we do, whether it is bricks-and-mortar housing development, community organizing campaigns, or new virtual spaces for community building.

If you are as inspired as I am by the work of SCC, please consider helping us out by Donating to SCC.

(I also need to give a huge thanks to Janine Lotti, our outgoing president, who has done so much to lead us over the past four years. Luckily, she is staying on the Board and I know she will continue to be a great friend to both me and SCC.)

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Waste Land (Lucy Walker, 2010)

Posted by Ezra Glenn on February 03, 2012
Film / No Comments

As part of last month’s noon-to-midnight Urban Planning Movie Marathon, we screened Waste Land, which has already won a number of awards, including the 2010 Audience Award for Best World Cinema Documentary at Sundance, an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature, and the Amnesty International Human Rights Film Award given out in Berlin. It is really a great movie: clever dialog, complex characters, a well-paced story that develops over the course of the film in unpredictable ways, a compelling (but not overpowering) soundtrack, and stunning camerawork that makes great use of the entire screen. Added to all of this, it calls attention to a global policy problem that is all-too-easy to ignore: what happens to the waste we all create, and what are the environmental and human consequences of our very way of life.

The film follows Brazilian-born Brooklyn artist Vik Muniz as he travels to “Jardim Gramacho,” a sprawling landfill located outside of Rio de Janeiro. He’s a fun, interesting protagonist – clearly believing in the importance of his work but also able to see the absurdity in the entire world of art – and he seems comfortable navigating easily between the slums of Rio and the art galleries of London. Early in the film he dreams up the crazy idea of making portraits of Gramacho’s garbage pickers – not with film or paint, but by literally drawing them in garbage.

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