Lovecraft is Winning

I was standing in the SF section of a bookstore the other day, looking at the anthology shelves.   Of the 74 short story collections they had there, 7 were based on H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthuhlu Mythos.   “The New Cthuhlu”, “Shadows Over Innsmouth”, “Future Lovecraft”, etc.  10% of active anthologies are based on the work of a writer who died in 1937, almost 80 years ago.   In the novel shelves, he had 16″ worth of space, more than Heinlein or Asimov.   He was still behind his contemporary Tolkien (40″) and way behind the biggest genre author today, George R. R. Martin (100″), but that’s still a lot of attention for a guy who only had one book published in his lifetime.

HPLovecraftMechanical2.inddBeing in a Halloween frame of mind, I picked up a massive volume there: “The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft”,  edited by Leslie S Springer.   It covers the 22 Arkham stories out of his 70 published works, including “At The Mountains of Madness”, “The Color Out of Space”, “The Call of Cthuhlu”, and my favorite, “The Shadow Out of Time”.  Each story has a sidebar that expands on obscure references, and there are appendices on subjects like the faculty of Miskatonic University, HPL’s notes on the Necronomicon, and the 30 or so films that are based on his work.   The whole is beautifully printed and bound.  Jonathan Franzen would kill to get such an edition.

So why all this attention?  In his introduction, Alan Moore thinks it’s because Lovecraft’s racism, misogyny, and anti-Semitism made him just an ordinary white guy in the modernizing America of the 20s and 30s.  What?  Do ordinary white guys die of malnutrition because they’re too proud and nervous to hold a job?  Do anti-Semitic misogynists marry Jewish women?  Moore does, however, do a nice pastiche of Lovecraft’s convoluted and near-impenetrable writing style.

No, it’s not the fear of immigration by degenerate Others that prompts the present-day interest.   I think it’s more Lovecraft’s sense of the vastness of the universe and our insignificance within it.

Take a prolific modern admirer of his, Charles Stross.   He wrote a brilliant update of Lovecraft in “A Colder War” (1997), where the US and Soviet Union make a secret agreement to hide the discoveries made by the Pabodie Expedition to Antarctica in 1931.   Now it’s the 1980s, and there’s conclusive evidence that the Soviets have used weaponized shuggoths in Afghanistan.  Worse still, they found something at the bottom of the Baltic, something they barely contained in an enormous concrete pyramid.  There’s a wing of US nuclear ramjet cruise missiles pointed at it, and they’re not sure that 300 megatons will be enough when it wakes up.

The Atrocity ArchivesThat story was straight-up horror, but Stross has also written an entire comic series, the Laundry novels, about a hapless IT guy drafted into Her Majesty’s Occult Service.  It turns out that magic is a branch of mathematics, a branch that allows you to communicate with creatures from other planes.  They can do wonderful things for you before they seize your brain’s BIOS.  Our hero travels around the world dealing with such incursions, and praying against the day when the Old Ones finally notice humanity.

For Stross and other modern writers, Lovecraft is interesting because he knew that the universe was huge and ancient, and therefore filled with huge, ancient sentients, intelligences vast and cool and unsympathetic.  We’re crawling around on this one rock beneath this thin skin of air, while they’ve been out there for billions of years.

This cosmic dread is the SF version of the general feeling of doom that pervades our culture.   Here we are, as happy and successful as humanity has ever been, and literature is full of disaster and dystopia.   Young adult books are nothing but.  Everyone seems to be waiting for the axe to fall.  There must be a German word for this!  Everyone is as anxious as that lost and lonely man in Providence, looking up at the sky in terror instead of wonder.    He was a crank and a failure, but he was onto something that resonates today.

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Microsoft Buys the Brains of Boys Everywhere

So Microsoft just bought Mojang, the studio that produces Minecraft, for $2.5B. That sounds like a ridiculous amount for a video game, particularly one that looks so crude, unless you happen to know some boys.

Minecraft Steve with his friends and diamond pickaxe

Minecraft Steve with his animal friends and his diamond pickaxe

His world

His world

For my 10-year-old son and his friends, Minecraft is mesmerizing.  They’ve been through Angry Birds and Skylanders, but Minecraft is sticking.  They play it on their game consoles, they play it on their tablets or phones, and they play it in the car when going someplace, connecting together to share a world through a local wireless link.  They play in Creative Mode, where you just build things, and they play in Survival Mode, where you defend yourself against the monsters that come out every ten-minute-long night.  They excavate huge caverns, looking for algorithmically placed gold and diamonds, craft weapons and tools, and build vast gravity-defying structures.

At 54 million copies sold, it’s the third best-selling game of all time, after Tetris and Wii Sports, and it sells for a lot more than they do.  Mojang was privately held, but was said to be making upwards of $200 million a year.  Merchandise is everywhere: T-shirts, cardboard Steve heads, guides, and even novels.  There’s even a nice papercraft version that turns the virtual world into a physical one – it lets you fold together actual blocks printed to look like the virtual ones, and assemble the animals and monsters to populate its world.

Its success is dismaying if you’re into computer graphics; it looks like renders from the 80s.  That’s a feature, actually; the simple graphics let it run fast on a huge range of platforms.  There has been an enormous improvement in graphics hardware and software over the last 20 years, all driven by the perceived need for most realistic imagery, and all ignored by this game’s fans.   The kids don’t need landscapes to look like landscapes; they need them to look like blocks that they can move around.   Real worlds wouldn’t look like they could be manipulated.

Scott McCloud talked about this in his seminal 1993 book “Understanding Comics”:

pg 31, click for link to site

pg 31, click for link to site

Abstracting away detail makes images more universal.  It lets people project more onto them.   If they become too abstract, one’s imagination can’t get started, and the image is boring.  If they are too specific, their interest becomes too narrow.

I’ve seen this go both ways with actual building block toys.   There’s a toy called Kapla Blocks that consists of nothing but identical wooden pieces that are about 5 x 15 x 75 mm.   It’s a completely minimal building set.  Adults love them, and you see them in science museums, because they’re utterly open-ended.

kapla block shipKids, though, tend to be baffled.  They don’t know where to start.   Mine at least are happier with kits that are already customized towards being castles or spaceships.  This is the guilty secret behind LEGO – they promise the parents that they are a completely universal building kit that will spark their children’s creativity, but the kids actually only ever build the X-wing fighter.

Minecraft is also playing towards parents’ desires.   The last thing they want is for their kids to be playing the #6 best-selling game, Grand Theft Auto.  It’s bad enough that they’re staring at screens instead of running around with each other, but at least here there’s some social interaction in the shared worlds, and some scope for imagination.

So $2.5B was not actually a lot for Minecraft.   At the current run rate, that’s about a 10% yearly return on the money.   If they put some effort into it, it could get bigger still.  I expect that they’ll do a Kinect version soon, where you can dig, craft, and fight by moving in front of the 3D camera.   It could ultimately become a Microsoft-controlled Second Life.  Have your users build wonderful, share-able worlds, then sit back and let money roll in.  Maybe the original Evil Empire of software still has some diabolical schemes left in it.

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Paying for Bad News: Funding the Keeling Curve

Here’s one of the most frightening charts in all of science:

keeling_curveCO2 has risen by a quarter just in my lifetime, and we all know the consequences.

The chart comes from a remarkably sustained effort by Charles David Keeling: Keeling-pier-web-body_0and his son Ralph:

keeling, ralph

who were/are professors  at UCSD.  The elder Keeling was experimenting with measuring CO2 in the 1950s, and found that he couldn’t get consistent results when he took measurements around California.   He needed to get someplace where the natural greenery didn’t vary randomly.   A friend at the US Weather Service suggested the slopes of the massive volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island, where they had just put a new weather station.   The high winds there mean that the CO2 is nicely mixed from all of the Pacific.   Keeling set up his instruments during IGY in 1958, and tended them until his death in 2005.  His son took over early on, and has kept the series going.   It’s unheard of to run a single experiment for almost 60 years.  Here’s what it actually looks like:

CO2 Extraction rack.  CO2 level is measured by shining an IR light through a tube of test gas and a reference tube, and measuring the difference in absorption

CO2 Extraction rack. CO2 level is measured by shining an IR light through a tube of test gas and a reference tube, and measuring the difference in absorption

The whole Scripps CO2 Program is measuring levels at 11 other places besides Mauna Loa, and is also measuring atmospheric O2 levels, and seawater CO2 levels.

So you’d think that a program that is giving such an important data for so long would be securely funded.  Ha.  The Keelings have always had trouble maintaining the grants for the work.  In the 1980s it almost shut down as part of a bureaucratic squabble between NOAA, the NSF, and the DOE.  Everyone thought this was naturally under NOAA’s purview, but they didn’t have the money.   In the larger view, it has had problems because it’s not providing new results; it’s  just tracking the oncoming disaster.

Yet they have recently had a much worse time of it.  Several grants had ended.  The GOP has gotten much more rigid in opposing climate change.  In North Carolina the legislature actually passed a law forbidding the use of climate science in estimating sea level rise, since it gave an answer, a 1 meter rise by 2100, that coastal developers didn’t like.  The GOP also insisted on 8% cuts across all federal agencies as part of their Budget Sequestration bill of 2013.

So in December 2013, Ralph Keeling sent out a general appeal for public funding.   He hoped that interested citizens could do what the paralyzed federal government could not.   Here’s the actual appeal page:

Keeling Curve Button

Please press

I chipped in $500.  Unfortunately, UCSD isn’t really up on this whole crowd-sourcing thing.   They refuse to install a PayPal button, saying that it’s not secure enough.    They don’t offer any tchotchkes for supporters, unlike Kickstarter.   I decided to remedy that, and made up my own coffee mug on Zazzle:

Keeling Curve Coffee MugIf you email me a proof of donation, I’ll send one to you!  They’re handsome 11 oz mugs.

The campaign has gone both badly and well.  Badly, because they’ve only raised about $20,000 from small donations.   The ALS Ice Bucket challenge raised that much every ten minutes last August.  It’s gone well because they recently landed a big fish: the Wendy and Eric Schmidt Foundation.   That’s Schmidt as in Google.   They agreed to give $500,000 over five years.  The total burn rate of the Scripps CO2 Center is about $1M per year, so this helps a lot, but cannot be the only funding.

How crazy is it that key science has to be supported by such a volatile method as public funding appeals?  Sure, you’re paying for bad news, but that’s the kind you should most want to hear.  It’s the kind that should get general social support in the form of government funding.   James Conant and Vannevar Bush, founders of the NSF and of Big Science in general, would be spinning in their graves.

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Phineas and Ferb Go To MIT

Because of course they would.   This is what they built over summer vacation:

Pic by Rachel Davis, '15, click for link to blog

Pic by Rachel Davis, ’15, click for link to blog

It’s a 130-foot-long roller coaster!   Students at the East Campus dorm built it for a freshman introduction activity.   The above is one end, and here’s the other, where you actually climb up to the top:

Entry end of coaster

Entry end of coaster

Once up there, you ride one of these:


The red chair is a one person ride

It zooms down the plywood track, goes up and down over two bumps, zooms up the other side, and then rolls back again.  The chair has wheels on the top and bottom of the track to hold it on, and all riders wear motorcycle helmets.  Here’s a ride:

My friend Paul pointed me to this story about it in Boston magazine.  I got to see it in person last Friday, just when they were taking it apart.   Sadly, I didn’t get to ride, but a guy there said that about 400 people had.  Some quite obscene things had been painted on it, though, so these Millenial-generation students are not all about good clean fun.

A much smaller one was built in 2010, but the city of Cambridge shut it down for safety violations as soon as they heard about it.  This time the builders were careful to get permits and an inspection by a structural engineering firm.

One of the designers, Ben Katz, built a 1:60 scale 3D model of it during a summer job at a 3D printer startup, Formlab:

Photo by Formlabs' Zach Booth

Photo by Formlabs’ Zach Booth

This is way cooler than the things undergrads did in my day!   Why is that?  Maybe:

  • MIT has a much more diverse student body today.  There are a lot more women, naturally, but maybe more art people than straight-up technicals.
  • Students are probably richer, and so can afford $10,000 of material for a hack like this
  • There are better design techniques, like the 3D printing above
  • There’s a lot more DIY art out there now, like Burning Man and Makerfests.   Students grow up with that instead of Heathkits.

I wonder, though, if something bigger isn’t happening.  A project like this would take at least a dozen people to design and build, and would take months.   You couldn’t have gotten a dozen of us to agree on doing anything.   We were solitaries, not solidaries, and still are.   As in Milorad Pavic’s novel of 1990, “Landscape Painted With Tea”, we were much more like the self-directed idiorhythmic monks on Mount Athos rather than the communal cenobites.  Students these days already know about working in teams, know that cooperation is critical to accomplishment.  We had to learn that in course of our careers.   Yet if learning cooperation early lets young people build stuff like this, I’m all for it!

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The Fun Economy Displaces the Stuff Economy

The other day I took my 9-year-old son to gymnastics class.  The gym is in an industrial neighborhood of Waltham, Massachusetts, which was pretty much the original industrial town of America.   The Industrial Revolution in the US started here when Francis Cabot Lowell and Paul Moody built the country’s first major textile mill in 1814.  You can visit it today as the Charles River Museum of Industry.   Every year they hold fun steampunk festivals.    So what is the town like now?

The gym is on Clematis Ave, which is lined with 1970s-era industrial buildings.   At first glance it looks like a thousand other anonymous places in the country, a mix of old and new manufacturing operations.

A view down Clematis Ave, Waltham

A view down Clematis Ave, Waltham

Here’s an old operation, a machine shop.  There’s an electro-plating plant, and here’s a heavy equipment parts warehouse.  Then there’s a new firm doing water-purification tech, and a distribution center for a solar panel installer.

Yet they’re now the minority of the storefronts.   What you also see are the Boston Fencing Club and a Planet Fitness.  Here’s a tennis and badminton center.   Here’s a place that does “Canine Aquatic Fitness and Rehabilitation”:

A happy customer at FlowDog

A happy customer at FlowDog

The Farm Baseball Academy.   Champion Physical Therapy and Performance.  Ah, and at last we come to the Massachusetts Gymnastics Academy:

A dismal old factory, now filled with bouncing children.  Leo is in the center in the black and orange shirt

A dismal former factory, now filled with bouncing children. Leo is in the center in the black and orange shirt

This used to be a big space for shelves or machinery. It’s still got the standard steel-truss roof and cinderblock walls: cheap, durable, and ugly.  Yet now it’s all primary colors and soft floor mats.   Instead of a wall of tools on the left, there’s a wall of trophies.  Instead of grim middle-aged guys tending to their jobs and watching the clock, it’s full of buff young people and excited kids.

The young people are undoubtedly paid less and have no benefits.    The space no longer makes things that are exported from Boston to bring other goods in.  Instead, there’s a money transfer from harried parents to anonymous owners.

It’s now making fun instead of stuff.   That’s what has taken over even a drab industrial area like this.   The fun businesses have moved in because the stuff businesses are so unprofitable that the area is cheap.    All they need is a large uncluttered volume of climate-controlled space.   They need room to bounce around, or to lunge and parry, or to hit shuttlecocks, or to set up tanks for dogs to swim in.  An art gallery needs a much more finished space, but these firms don’t.

Is it wrong to make fun instead of stuff?   It does seem frivolous, and unserious.   Compare carving an engine piston out of a cylinder of steel at a machine shop to mopping up after a swimming dog.  The latter seems, well, unmanly, sad to say.

But there are machines in Michigan that carve millions of engine pistons a year.   Those machines get better all the time.  We just don’t need as many small machine shops scattered around the country as we used to.   More automation and better transportation has undercut them.  We also don’t need constantly greater amounts of stuff in our lives.  At some point the stuff needs annoying amounts of our attention, and we throw it away.

Still, there’s also only so much fun we can have in our lives.  The fun economy will also stall out at some point.  Then it’ll be replaced by, I don’t know, spiritual yearning centers, or something else that satisfies other human needs.   Yet for now even an old stuff-based town like Waltham seems to be shifting over to fun.

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Solectria – Achieving Goals By Lowering Them

A few days ago some good news finally came to a guy who has been trying to save the world for a very long time.   James Worden is the founder of the Massachusetts company Solectria Renewables, and it just got  bought by  Yaskawa Industries of Kitakyushu, Japan.  SE makes a key component of solar cell arrays, a box called an inverter.   This converts the DC power from the solar panels to the AC power of the grid.  They’re being built here in Mass, and so are a good fit for Green Economy initiatives.   Here’s Worden standing next to Governor Deval Patrick in 2012 at the opening of a 240 kW array on top of the Cummings Center, an old shoe factory now converted to office space:

James Worden, CEO of SE, and Deval Patrick at ribbon cutting of a solar array

Worden is at the front left; Patrick has the green tie.   The inverter is that white box behind them on the right.  They’re tricky to build, since they have to be totally reliable, highly efficient (any power lost in the inverter can heat it up enough to set it on fire), and safe in case of accidents.   Current models have 600 volts DC going into them – enough to kill you instantly – and they’re scaling up to 1000V to save on copper.

Yaskawa also builds inverters, but they’re smaller ones for the residential Japanese market.    They’re almost a century old, and their main business is motors and robots.    The term Mechatronics – electronically controlled mechanical parts – was actually coined by one of their engineers in 1971.  They want to expand into North America, so this is a good fit for them.   Inverters are a busy area in general – Google recently announced a $1M prize for a design that can handle 2 kW in a box the size of a laptop.

Still, they’re not that sexy a product.  They don’t cover a landscape, like the panels themselves, or tower over the world like windmills, looking like Martian death-machines.   They’re mainly boxes that live in basements, although they do occasionally explode.

So Worden didn’t start out working on them.   He knew as far back as high school how he was going to save the world – by finally making electric cars a reality.    While studying mechanical engineering at MIT, he built the first ever solar-powered car at an American university. the Solectria 3, in 1986.  He  went on to build  a series of subsequent cars like the Solectria 4B:

Solectria 4B

and the Solectria 5, 5B and MIT 5X.   He took them to solar races all over the world.   Here he is getting pulled over by a state trooper for breaking the speed limit:

James Worden getting pulled over for speeding in his MIT electric car

When he graduated in 1989 he founded Solectria to make an actual commercial electric car.   He started out small, by converting an existing car to electric drive.  Unfortunately, he picked one of the most boring cars ever built, the Geo Metro.

Solectria Force owned by Will Beckett of Palo Alto

Solectria Force owned by Will Beckett of Palo Alto

He needed something small and something that had otherwise standard components.   The  lead-acid batteries of the time only gave one 40 miles of range.  The converted car sold for $29,000 in 1991, which would be about $50,000 today.  That’s a lot for a slow, dull car.   The company only sold 400 of them.

So by the mid-90s he came up with something much flashier, the Solectria Sunrise:

solectric_sunrise_staylor01It still wasn’t fast, but it could go 300 miles on a single charge, thanks to nickel metal-hydride batteries from Ovonics and a 1500 lb weight due to a composite monocoque body.  Solectria built it on a contract from Boston Edison.   It had the interior space of a Taurus, and was supposed to sell for $20,000 in mass production.   It looks a lot like GM’s EV-1, which came out around the same time, but the EV-1 wasn’t as aggressive a design.  The Sunrise story is described in Joe Sherman’s 1998 book “Charging Ahead”.

Solectria hoped to ride the California Zero Emissions Vehicle mandate of 1990, which was to require 2% of the cars sold in the state in 1998 to be either electric or hydrogen-powered.  The car companies sued to block the law, and managed to push it off and complicate it wildly.   There is still such a law on the books, and companies do have to build a few electric models a year (called compliance cars), but its delaying squelched EVs for a decade.  The EV-1s were seized by GM and sent to the compactors.   A few protos of the Sunrise were built and shopped around, but no one picked it up.

It looked grim for Solectria.  They survived on research contracts, but had no products.  By 2005 they threw in the towel.    They sold all the tech to an Alberta company, Azure Dynamics.   They tried to build electrified Ford vans with it, but in turn filed for bankruptcy in 2012.

Still, Worden had learned something important in his long, painful quest for EVs – how to build reliable and efficient power electronics for inverters.  Cars have the same problem as solar arrays – they have to match a power source (a battery or a panel) to a load (a motor or the grid).  They have to be cheap, efficient, and reliable.   Cars have some extra requirements on them like weight and volume, and the need to support regenerative braking, but that just made the solar inverters look easier by comparison.   Worden started Solectria Renewables with his wife Anita in 2005, and has been going strong ever since.

Maybe it was always a fantasy to do big manufacturing like cars in a state like Massachusetts.    Cars were built in Mass up until 1989,  when the GM plant in Framingham closed, but first IT and then finance and pharma made it much too expensive for older industries.   Still, it’s surprising that Tesla is successful at building cars in California, and right next to Silicon Valley at that, across the Bay in Fremont.

I wonder what he thinks of the current success of EVs.   There are now three major ones: the Tesla Model S, the Nissan Leaf, and the BMW i3, and a number of plug-in hybrids.  It’s a lot easier to build them now with lithium-ion batteries than it was in Solectria’s heyday.   There’s also far more money available for development.  Is he glad that the dream is finally coming true, or irked that it’s not him?

So here’s hoping that he made some real money in the sale to Yaskawa.   And here’s hoping that he tries for something big again!





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First Steps in Japan and Antarctica

I happen to be in Japan on business, and the office I’m visiting is on the pleasant Sumida River where it empties into Tokyo Bay

Looking west towards the Rainbow Bridge

Looking west towards the Rainbow Bridge

It’s right next to the Takeshiba Passenger Terminal, which takes people on sea trips to the Tokyo Islands, about 100 km out in the Pacific.   But what’s this in the middle of the plaza outside the terminal?


Mast monument in Takashiba Passenger Terminal

A sailing ship mast?   With a white dude halfway up it?

sailor on recreated mast of the whaling ship Manhattan

Could this have something to do with Admiral Perry, and his Black Ships that forced Japan to open to the world?

No, it turns out to be a much nicer story.  In 1845, the American whaling ship Manhattan rescued 22 Japanese sailors from those same Tokyo Islands.  Some had been stranded on an island, while others were picked up from a sinking junk.  The commander, Captain Mercator Cooper, then took five weeks out of his voyage to return them to Japan.   He sailed over to this very stretch of Tokyo Bay, and lowered a boat with four of the sailors and a note describing the situation.

At that time Japan was strictly closed to the outside world by order of the Shogun, a policy known as sakoku, “chained country”.  This was instituted in the 1630s, largely as a response to unrest caused by Jesuit missionary work.   Catholicism had hit Japan like a bomb.  Their native religions hadn’t been competing ferociously the way creeds had been in the West.   It was an invasive species to which the native-born memes had little resistance.   They must have seemed like pretty thin gruel compared to what the Jesuits offered.   Forgiveness of sins!  Life everlasting!   A saint for every occasion!  An immense theology backed up by a wildly diverse sacred text, with a story in it for everyone.  The shogun’s response was to take a flamethrower to these invasive weeds, and he ordered the execution of all Christians, usually in as gruesome a manner as possible.  He then closed the country to limit future contact.  That had the other salutary effect of cutting off trade and therefore wealth for provincial barons who might turn out to be competitors.

thousand-autumnsThe only source of contact with the outside world was a small Dutch trading post on the island of Dejima near Nagasaki.  Interestingly enough, the main impact of the Dutch on the Japanese was through medical textbooks, which were furtively passed from hand to hand like samizdat.  This was indeed secret and powerful knowledge. For a brilliant fictional version of life in Dejima in the early 1800s, see the David Mitchell novel “The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet”.   It’s got romance, intrigue, sea battles, ninjas, and one honest man trying to make his way through a corrupt world.    When Napoleon conquered Holland in 1806, Dejima was the last outpost in the world of the Free Dutch Republic.  Its residents came home to a hero’s welcome when their country was finally freed in 1813.

Anyway, when the governor of Edo received Captain Cooper’s note, he allowed him to land.  His party were the first Americans to ever visit the mainland.   The lost sailors were received with much rejoicing.   Cooper stayed for four days, visited the governor himself, and was much impressed.   His ship was re-provisioned, and when Cooper offered to pay, the governor waved him off.  However, the shogun’s Imperial officers were less hospitable.   They thanked him for rescuing their people, and told him never to return.

His story made its way back to Washington.  The US had long wanted Japan to open, mainly as a coaling station for trade with China, which was flourishing.  Officers in the US Navy argued that the people of Japan were much more open to trade than the Imperial government was, and would welcome an opening.   That led to the Perry expedition of 1853, which had almost as dramatic an effect on the country as the Jesuits.

Captain Cooper himself seemed to have a taste for exploration.   How could you not with a name like Mercator?   In January 1853 he was commanding a whaling and sealing voyage in the Ross Sea near Antarctica.  They spotted an ice shelf backed by a high mountain.  He ordered a boat lowered, which landed on the shelf.  This was the first reliably documented landing on the continent of Antarctica.  He stayed in the area for several days, but found only penguins, rather than something valuable to hunt.

His trip seems to be remembered fondly in Japan.   They built the huge plaza above with a recreation of his ship mast.  The Tokyo Rotary Club also put up a monument to the occasion:

English side of Manhattan monument

English side of Manhattan monument

A century later, in 1945, US-Japan interactions were less pleasant.   Still, how nice to see this in the middle of this huge, bustling city!


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