I’ve seen this before

http://www.flickr.com/photos/jeremyengleman/158189094/I just finished reading an article in a recent issue of the New Yorker entitled The Ponzi State. It talks about the collapse of the real estate market in Florida, specifically in and around the suburbs of Tampa.

The talk of plotted out but undeveloped (or underdeveloped) subdivisions, with streets and street signs and street lights but no houses, or a few scattered houses surrounded by overgrown empty lots, all struck me as eerily familiar: it sounded just like Salton City, California, a place I’ve blogged about and made music about, visited once a decade ago and learned about in a great documentary called Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea.

You see, Salton City was once a speculator’s dream, a boom town that never boomed, a suburban paradise-to-be that never quite managed to happen. In the 1960s a city that would ultimately boast a population of well over 100,000 people was conceived, laid out, and to some extent even built — the streets are there, and in many places even the necessary water, sewer and electrical hookups — but now it’s virtually a ghost town, or at least it would be a ghost town, if it had ever really been a town in the first place.

The Salton Sea is a strange place, a cautionary tale to the rest of us, but few have even heard, much less learned from, its lessons, and it seems now that we’re watching the same story unfold — on a much larger scale — throughout Florida and elsewhere in the wake of the housing bust.

I knew my tunnel through the center of the Earth wouldn’t have ended up in China!

GlobeAs a kid I often wondered if the whole “dig a hole to China” idea really held water. I was suspicious that my hole through the center of the Earth wouldn’t actually come out within the boundaries of Asia’s most populous nation.

Of course, at the time I was probably so young that I wasn’t aware that China was Asia’s most populous nation, considering that I also somehow thought such a hole would actually be possible to dig. Oh yeah, and I never just, you know, looked at a globe to prove that it was a ridiculous proposition.

For a long time now, I’ve realized that line drawn from Minnesota through the center of the planet would emerge on the other side somewhere in the remote vastness of the southern Indian Ocean, but I never knew where until antipodr came along. Now I know that it would be roughly midway between Perth, Western Australia and the Kerguelen Islands, a place I have known about for approximately 5 minutes now, and which is apparently populated predominantly by feral cats, rabbits and sheep introduced by human visitors over the past couple of centuries. Sweet.

Well… I’m off to the garage for my shovel. Gotta start digging sometime!

No, iPhone, my house is not located in the middle of the Arctic Ocean

Not the location of my houseIt goes without saying that I love my iPhone. I can geek out on just about any Apple device but the iPhone trumps them all. Yes, when I first heard the rumors circulating early last year that an Apple cell phone was in the works, I dismissed and denied them. “Impossible. That sounds totally stupid and Apple would never do something that totally stupid.” Of course, not only was I staggeringly wrong in my assumptions about the device, but by the end of the keynote I was already coveting one.

Fast forward to March of this year. Although no official word had yet come out that a 3G iPhone was on the way, it was fairly obvious. Nonetheless, the time was right, and I had to move on it, so I bought an iPhone while my window of opportunity was open. I certainly haven’t regretted it, and I admit I’m pleased that the 3G isn’t a revolutionary leap forward. That its most interesting feature — the new software — is fully compatible with the old iPhone means that not only did I not regret not getting a new iPhone this past weekend, it meant that in some sense I did get a new iPhone this past weekend. And it’s what I was waiting for since March.

But, sadly, the most peculiar flaw in the iPhone’s software, for me anyway, endures.

The Google Maps app has a cool little button that, when tapped, triangulates your current location from cell tower and public Wi-Fi hot spot data. Awesome. And it almost always works. But the one place I’ve discovered so far that it absolutely does not work is in my own house! For some reason, whenever I’m at home and I tap that button, I am dropped deep in the frigid depths of the Arctic Ocean beyond the northern coast of Alaska.

Now, given the fact that the map uses (*gack!*) Mercator projection, it’s darn near impossible to tell where exactly that’s supposed to be when you get that far up there. My guess is it’s simply dropping me into the default location it returns when both latitude and longitude come up null… probably 90 degrees north 180 degrees east (i.e. the “upper left” corner of the map, at least in terms of the coordinates they actually plot).

I am decidedly unhappy about this, far beyond any rational justification. That’s because it taps into my absurd and long-standing fear of blank spots on maps.

The best quote about the Ryugyong Hotel yet…

As you probably know if you’ve read any of my writings here, or have by chance listened to my album, Unnatural Disasters, I have a morbid fascination with North Korea’s never-to-be-completed Ryugyong Hotel. So I was pleased to see that this wondrous failure has achieved a new level of notoriety, having been designated earlier this year by Esquire magazine as “The Worst Building in the History of Mankind.” Sweet. Like the best Onion articles, it’s worth reading to the very last line, but since I can never hold back on a punch line, I’ll save you the trouble: “[The Ryugyong Hotel] is the closest humans have come to building a Death Star.”