In Memoriam: Neil Peart (1952-2019)

“At the end of the song, he throws his stick up high into the lights and catches it right before the final cymbal crash”  This was my introduction to the legend of Neil Peart.  Older kids, teenager family friends whose walls were plastered with posters of all the bands parents warned their kids about; Iron Maiden, Quiet Riot, Van Halen, Ozzy Osborne. In 1980’s suburban Houston, there was still some concern that rock was a gateway to the temptations of the Devil.  (Spoiler alert: turns out that’s true, and it’s awesome).  But I loved drums and the mystique of this virtuoso planted a seed.

It wasn’t until middle school in the late 80s before I listened carefully to Rush and was hooked by drumming that stood as an equal alongside the guitar and vocals, just like I thought it should be.  Neil Peart’s fast fills and propulsive beat asserted a mastery through control, precision, and power; the holy triumvirate of virility to this adolescent looking for a glimpse into the adult world.  If his multi-tiered, impenetrable wall of percussion served as an easy target a la Spinal Tap, even a casual familiarity with Rush’s music reframed it as a testament to Peart’s dedication to a precision of sound.  Should a certain sound be needed even once, it would be worth devoting a place in the set for it.  There would be no substitute.

If punk is the epitome of musical impetuousness, Rush was the polar opposite: a sound that was borne of an assiduously calibrated instinct and repudiating the chaotic emotionality of intuition.  That was where I was at the time and Rush, through Peart’s intellectual approach and lyrics, met me there.

For the many miles ahead on your journey to a new universe, miles of smiles Mr. Peart.

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Transit Easter Eggs à la Montreal

There’s a school of thought that thinks of design as primarily a visual medium.

Haven’t many of us been seduced by the thin, sleek profile and attractive finish of a MacBook enough to lay down the bills to buy one?  The fit and finish are exquisite, yet the chintzy clatter from the keyboard come as a shock.  The taps from the keyboard made me wonder, is this is quality computer with a dinky keyboard or just a nice shell enveloping sub-par components?

The contrapositive is when a mundane experience is ennobled by unexpectedly thoughtful touches.  The morning commute can be the most forgettable part of every day but good design can leave subtle reminders that someone was thinking of you and wanted to make your experience more convenient, safer, or expressive.

During a trip to Montreal this summer I was struck by some very empathetic design elements in the transit system. Check out the slide show below.

Station doors

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There's never any ambiguity about whether one should push or pull on a door in the Montreal transit system. Simply follow the arrows to push on the right side of the door, whether coming or going. And you'll never run into someone going in the opposite direction. (photo courtesy of wikipedia) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Portes_papillon_station_namur_metro_de_montreal.jpg#filelinks

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The Human-Powered Last Mile – DHL Delivery Bike

In the future, all your packages, food, and possibly children will be delivered by an intelligent, perceptive, box-on-wheels or flying machine that will gently deposit your package upon your doorstep and then float away.

That is the dream, and there are literally dozens of companies developing solutions for the most complicated and uncontrolled portion of the delivery chain. By uncontrolled, I mean in contrast to the massive automated sorting and scanning operations occurring inside carefully designed and efficiency-optimized distribution warehouses, the actual process of getting the object to your door is confoundingly complex and varied. Gates, curbs, stairs, weather, doors and other impediments to placing an object on the threshold demand that customers have to come to the sidewalk to receive their delivery, negating much of the claimed convenience.

Yet it is taken for granted that the postman and postwoman drop packages to your door everyday.

All this is to say that humans are very adaptable to unknown and changing contexts and conditions, qualities that the computer mind does not have (machine learning is an attempt to address this). This makes them very well suited to the task of last-mile delivery. So why not refine and leverage the part of the delivery equation that already works and address the noisy, polluting and obstructive part of the problem in a way that produces less emissions and better health outcomes for the worker?

DHL’s last-mile delivery bike, along with similar efforts by UPS and DPD is the outcome of that line of thinking. Currently deployed in Europe, plans to rollout in NYC have been stymied by regulatory hurdles but are still in the works.

Combining the flexibility of a human deliverer in the loop with a vehicle that is safer for pedestrians and other road users, won’t block a lane of traffic at a stop, and improves the deliverer’s health is a GHG-reducing last mile delivery solution that can be implemented now.

Check out the gallery below and in a follow-on post I’ll get into the design details. These pics aren’t as well-composed or exposed as I’d like as they were taken in a dark exhibit hall near a bay door open to the very bright day outside at the FormulaE race in NYC.

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