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The Interval: Long Now’s New Home

Posted on Tuesday, May 13th, 02014 by Mikl Em
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The Interval at Long Now is almost ready for you to visit. We’ve shown you design comps and construction images before, but at last we can share photos of the real thing. Almost the real thing. There’s still some more work to do, but the end is in sight.

We’d like to thank to everyone who made this project possible especially our donors. Your support at every level helped us build a place where Long Now’s fans, members, and the public can gather. But more than that The Interval is also Long Now’s headquarters, our offices are right upstairs. And we are so proud that this beautiful space is our new home!

Our funding goal is also in sight. There’s still time to become a charter donor. At any level you choose to give, charter donors names will be listed on our donor wall and you’ll get invites to some pre-opening parties, amongst other benefits.

Now we’d like to show you around with a brief photo tour of some of the features that we think make The Interval special. All photos are by Because We Can, the fantastic design-build team we’ve worked with on the Interval renovation. Their work and that of our builders, Oliver & Company, have been essential to making The Interval a reality.

The Interval view from the backroom

In 02006 we moved into Fort Mason Center, a campus of former military buildings on the north shore of San Francisco which now houses arts groups and non-profits. Our building dates to the 01930s, the youngest at the Fort by 20 years.

The room we are in was originally a forge and machine shop. When we began to convert our old museum and store space into The Interval, we discovered the shop’s original concrete floor and knew we could never cover it up again.


The floor’s industrial imperfections somehow match perfectly with the natural variances in the specially quarried stone that serves as our bar top.

The long stone bar of The Interval at Long Now

On the ceiling above the bar you’ll find The Interval’s “bottle keep” featuring custom-made bottles by Adams & Chittenden Scientific Glass.

The Interval bottle keep closeup

Each bottle represents a generous donor who helped fund The Interval. At our pre-opening party just for bottle club donors, they can choose whether to fill their bottle with limited edition gin or whiskey, or instead select a rare, aged pu-erh tea. Both exclusive spirits are made for us by St George Spirits, while the tea is sourced by Samovar Tea Lounge.

And if you’d like a bottle of your own, or give at any level there’s still time to give to The Interval. Everyone who gives in May will get charter donor benefits including invites to various pre-opening events in the next three weeks.


The bright, slowly changing object behind the bar is an original creation of Brian Eno. One of a very limited set of “ambient paintings”, this is the only one in America and the only one on permanent public display anywhere.


Similar to Eno’s 77 Million Paintings and his “Lighting the Sails” project at the Sydney Opera House, this generative artwork continuously evolves in different patterns, never repeating itself in millions of vivid chromatic combinations.


Below Brian explains the background of his interest in generative art. The footage also includes many examples of his work that are similar to what you will see at The Interval.

Brian created music especially for The Interval, which will be played on our Meyer Galileo 616 system. More details about The Interval’s incredible sound system will be featured on the blog soon.


As you may know, Brian Eno is a co-founder of Long Now and sits on our Board. Another distinctive feature of The Interval comes from his work enabling our 10,000 Year Clock to play a different bell sequence every day for ten millennia. Eno and Danny Hillis designed an algorithm that will ring over 3.5 million unique bell sequences from 10 bells.

The Interval: view through the chime generator

The Chime Generator is the mechanism that controls the bell sequence. An analog computer featuring a series of beautifully machined geneva wheels, it manages the Clock’s daily algorithmic song production. A decade ago we built a one tenth scale prototype of the Chime Generator. For The Interval we’ve converted that prototype into a table–a museum piece that you can also rest your drink on.

The Chime Generator Table seen from above


We’ve posted a lot recently about the Manual for Civilization, our project to select 3,500 books that could help sustain or rebuild civilization. The Interval will be the home of this collection with bookshelves stretching from floor to ceiling. In addition to selecting the books, we need to acquire them. That’s one of the continuing costs that tax-deductible donations to The Interval brickstarter will help us fund.


The Manual won’t just live at The Interval. Thanks to our partners at the Internet Archive the books will also be available in their online collection. The list of books is growing with the help of our donors, members and some special guests. You can follow our blog for the latest details.


As exciting as these pictures are, what’s missing are the people. Our first donor events start within the week. Please consider a donation if you’d like to join in the opening celebrations. Regular day and evening hours begin in June, and public events will start imminently.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this sneak peek at what The Interval has in store–you’ll find even more images on our Flickr. We look forward to sharing more details in the weeks ahead and we can’t wait to welcome you to our new home: The Interval at Long Now.

Tony Hsieh Seminar Media

Posted on Sunday, May 11th, 02014 by Andrew Warner
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This lecture was presented as part of The Long Now Foundation’s monthly Seminars About Long-term Thinking.

Helping Revitalize a City

Tuesday April 22, 02014 – San Francisco

Video is up on the Hsieh Seminar page.


Audio is up on the Hsieh Seminar page, or you can subscribe to our podcast.


The downtown company – a summary by Stewart Brand

The business advice that Tony Hsieh most took to heart came from an ad executive: “A great brand is a story that never stops unfolding.” With his own company, Zappos, he determined that “brand equals culture,” and made quality of culture the top corporate priority, followed by customer service, and then selling shoes and clothing. The formula worked so well that Zappos outgrew its collection of buildings in suburban Las Vegas. Time to build a campus.

Other suburban corporate campuses—Google, Nike, Apple—struck him as isolated and insular. He wondered if a company could be like New York University, embedded in downtown Manhattan, with all of its buildings and no end of urban amenities within a five-minute walk. Edward Glaeser’s book The Triumph of the City described how cities unfold forever, driven by density and intense variety, while companies all eventually go stagnant and die. Maybe immersion in a downtown could help keep his company unfolding, and maybe bringing company start-up culture to a decaying urban core could restart its vitality.

Zappos bet the company on the idea. They took over the abandoned city hall in the dead-end part of Las Vegas known as Fremont East and spent $200 million buying up nearby properties, $50 million on local small businesses, $50 million on tech start-ups, and $50 million on education, arts, and culture. Hsieh’s strategy is to increase: “Collisions” (serendipitous encounters); “Co-learning” (a community teaching itself); and “Connectedness” (density, diversity, and reasons to engage).

They built a Shipping Container Park with three stories of shops, amusements, and tech start-ups wrapped around a courtyard for food, play, and hanging out. They planted Burning Man mega-art on corners throughout the neighborhood “to keep you walking one more block.” Inspired by TED, the Summit Series, and especially SXSW (the South by Southwest festival in Austin), they built a theater for frequent talks and organized an annual “Life is Beautiful” music festival attracting 60,000.

Hsieh figures that “collisionability” can be quantified and designed for. He thinks that street-level interaction can be made so rich that it compensates for the lower density of low-rise buildings, with 100 residents/acre. Thus he blocked off the skyway from Zappos’s parking lot to its headquarters in the city hall. Use the street. Make street activities really attractive. Active residents, he calculates, will experience 1,000 collisionable hours a year (3.6 hours/day, 7 days/week, 40 weeks/year). Ditto for “purposeful visitors” (12 hours/day, 7 days/week, 12 weeks/year)—you are invited to be one.

If Zappos helps foster an urban “culture of openness, collaboration, creativity, and optimism,” Hsieh says, then the city can prosper, and the company with it, and both can keep unfolding their stories indefinitely.

Subscribe to our Seminar email list for updates and summaries.

Sylvia Earle & Tierney Thys Seminar Tickets

Posted on Monday, April 28th, 02014 by Andrew Warner
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The Long Now Foundation’s monthly

Seminars About Long-term Thinking

Sylvia Earle & Tierney Thys present Oceanic

Sylvia Earle & Tierney Thys present “Oceanic”


Tuesday May 20, 02014 at 7:30pm SFJAZZ Center

Long Now Members can reserve 2 seats, join today! General Tickets $15


About this Seminar:

Land animals on an ocean planet, we have a lot to learn about how the world works. The microbes of the sea are Earth’s dominant life form. Ocean currents and temperatures drive climate and weather. Come ride a current to view bad news (dead zones, rising sea levels, melting sea ice, acidification, coral bleaching, fish piracy and overfishing) and good news (marine protected areas, functional ecosystems, megafaunal migrations, mid-Atlantic ridge, community involvement, citizen scientists) and continuing mysteries. Land is mercurial. Ocean abides.

Two of the most eloquent voices of ocean science are Sylvia Earle and Tierney Thys. Both are National Geographic Explorers, both are stars of the TED stage. They have collaborated on original and adventurous research. For this talk they are collaborating to tell (and show) sea stories of deep waters, the deep past, and the deep future.

Mariana Mazzucato Seminar Media

Posted on Wednesday, April 16th, 02014 by Andrew Warner
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This lecture was presented as part of The Long Now Foundation’s monthly Seminars About Long-term Thinking.

The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Private vs. Public Sector Myths

Monday March 24, 02014 – San Francisco

Video is up on the Mazzucato Seminar page for Members.


Audio is up on the Mazzucato Seminar page, or you can subscribe to our podcast.


Government as radical, patient VC – a summary by Stewart Brand

The iPhone, Mazzucato pointed out, is held up as a classic example of world-changing innovation coming from business.

Yet every feature of the iPhone was created, originally, by multi-decade government-funded research. From DARPA came the microchip, the Internet, the micro hard drive, the DRAM cache, and Siri. From the Department of Defense came GPS, cellular technology, signal compression, and parts of the liquid crystal display and multi-touch screen (joining funding from the CIA, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Energy, which, by the way, developed the lithium-ion battery.) CERN in Europe created the Web. Steve Jobs’ contribution was to integrate all of them beautifully.

Venture Capitalists (VCs) in business expect a return in 3 to 5 years, and they count on no more than one in ten companies to succeed. The time frame for government research and investment embraces a whole innovation cycle of 15 to 20 years, supporting the full chain from basic research through to viable companies. That means they can develop entire new fields such as space technology, aviation technology, nanotechnology, and, hopefully, Green technology.

But compare the reward structure. Government takes the greater risk with no prospect of great reward, while VCs and businesses take less risk and can reap enormous rewards. “We socialize the risks and privatize the rewards.” Mazzucato proposes mechanisms for the eventual rewards of deep innovation to cycle back into a government “innovation fund”—perhaps by owning equity in the advantaged companies, or retaining a controlling “golden share” of intellectual property rights, or through income-contingent loans (such as are made to students). “After Google made billions in profits, shouldn’t a small percentage have gone back to fund the public agency (National Science Foundation) that funded its algorithm?” In Brazil, China, and Germany, state development banks get direct returns from their investments.

The standard narrative about government in the US is that it stifles innovation, whereas the truth is that it enables innovation at a depth that business cannot reach, and the entire society, including business, gains as a result. “We have to change the way we think about the state,” Mazzucato concludes.

Subscribe to our Seminar email list for updates and summaries.

Explore Urban Infrastructure at the MacroCity Conference, May 30-31

Posted on Tuesday, April 15th, 02014 by Charlotte Hajer
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We rarely see in full the cities that we live in. Focused on our daily lives, urban dwellers are often only dimly aware of the numerous, enmeshed layers of critical infrastructure that quietly hum in the background to make modern life possible.

Come and explore the amazing stories and surprising histories to be found lurking just below the surface of our cities at MacroCity, a two-day, whirlwind tour of this bigger picture of urban life. The event brings together a diverse set of panelists, speakers, and participants to explore the vast, often overlooked networks of infrastructure that surround us. The line-up includes rogue archivist and Lost Landscapes creator Rick Prelinger, as well as Laci Videmsky of the New California Water Atlas.

The schedule also includes a variety of field trips, offering an opportunity to explore first-hand some of the vast networks of infrastructure that sustain the Bay Area.

Organized by the Bay Area Infrastructure Observatory, the conference will take place on May 30-31 at SPUR and the Brava Theater in San Francisco. The Long Now Foundation is partnering with BAIO on the event, and Long Now members receive a 25% discount on tickets – please check your email for your discount code.

Field trips will take place on May 30th, with most of the speakers scheduled for May 31st. A basic pass to the talks can be reserved for $100; the deluxe pass for $150 includes access to a field trip, as well. Half-price tickets are available for members of the nonprofit community; please see the event registration page for more information.

Watermark: New Film by Edward Burtynsky

Posted on Monday, April 14th, 02014 by Charlotte Hajer
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Every living thing requires water. We humans interact with it in a myriad of ways, numerous times a day. But how often do we consider the complexity of that interaction?

Renowned photographer and former SALT speaker Edward Burtynsky explores these questions in a new film. Co-directed by Burtynsky and filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal,

Watermark is a feature documentary film that brings together diverse stories from around the globe about our relationship with water: how we are drawn to it, what we learn from it, how we use it and the consequences of that use. … Shot in stunning 5K ultra high-definition video and full of soaring aerial perspectives, this film shows water as a terraforming element and the scale of its reach, as well as the magnitude of our need and use. This is balanced by forays into the particular: a haunting memory of a stolen river, a mysterious figure roaming ancient rice terraces, the crucial data hidden in a million year old piece of ice, a pilgrim’s private ritual among thousands of others at the water’s edge.

The film is part of Burtynsky’s larger Water project, which also includes a book and an exhibition of dramatic large-format photographs. Watermark will be playing at theaters throughout the United States this month and the next; you can find a list of screenings here.

In San Francisco, Watermark will be screened at the Opera Plaza Theater  for one week, starting this Friday, April 18. Come see the film on opening day for a chance to hear Burtynsky speak about the film: he will attend the 4.30 PM and 7.00 PM shows in person for a post-screening Q&A with the audience.

More information about the Water Project book can be found here, and the accompanying photographs will be on exhibit at the Rena Bransten Gallery in San Francisco through the end of the month.


The Interval at Long Now: Opening in May

Posted on Thursday, April 3rd, 02014 by Charlotte Hajer
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The Interval is the name of Long Now's new salon space in San Francisco. Opening Spring 02014

We are excited to announce that we will be opening The Interval at Long Now in May. We have our first event scheduled for May 27th, but our doors will open prior to that. In June we’ll present Rachel Sussman, a previous Seminar speaker, at the Salon. We will announce that as soon as the date is finalized. Details on a series of opening events in May–including some member and donor-exclusive ones–will be forthcoming.

We are offering some special thank you gifts to charter supporters who give during this critical phase of the project, in the lead-up to opening. Everyone who donates prior to opening will be considered a charter Interval supporter.

Here are some of the benefits, besides the gifts you may have already received:

  • Special opening events in May
  • All (new) donors over $500 will receive a Long Now etched shot glass.
  • All charter supporters will be listed at the space on our donor wall.
  • Every donor ($10 or higher) will receive a digital copy of the Manual for Civilization book list with an exclusive forward written just for the charter supporters.

If you have been waiting for the right time, this is it – every donation counts. We really need your support now to finish this project: please spread the word. And if every one of our existing donors can inspire a friend to give at the same level, then we will exceed our goal.

At Long Now we have high standards for design, and we wanted to build a venue that we’d be proud to put our name on – a venue that would inspire and welcome both our members and the general public. We think we’ve done it. Here are some of the highlights of what we are all building together:

  • Ambient music and video installation by Brian Eno, played on a custom-designed Meyer Galileo sound system
  • The Manual for Civilization library: 3,500 essential texts, crowdsourced from our extended community
  • Chalkboard robot built by Swiss artist Jürg Lehni
  • Salon-style events to complement our Seminars About Long-term Thinking
  • A robot that makes bespoke gins from specially distilled botanicals
  • Tea list by Samovar tea lounge, including special aged Pu-erh tea
  • Coffee by Sightglass coffee
  • Specially distilled gin and whiskey by St George Spirits
  • Aged St George whiskey served from the barrel
  • Bar and beverage program designed by Jennifer Colliau (Small Hand Foods)
  • Mixologist-quality non-alcoholic concoctions (one of Jennifer’s specialties)

The Interval building also serves as Long Now’s headquarters. It is a place where anyone can come for some long-term thinking and conversation; a place to be inspired and surrounded by the long-term ideas that have sustained global civilization; and a place to hear (and talk) about new ideas coming from the fields of science, technology, art, and culture.

With that in mind, we ask you to take part in this project, whether at the $10 or $10,000 level. Every gift helps as we approach opening day. You’ll gets lots of benefits, including the Manual for Civilization master list, and your name will appear at this unique venue that you helped make a reality.

Thanks for your support of Long Now! We hope we continue to inform and inspire you.

Tony Hsieh Seminar Tickets

Posted on Thursday, March 27th, 02014 by Andrew Warner
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The Long Now Foundation’s monthly

Seminars About Long-term Thinking

Tony Hsieh presents Helping Revitalize a City

Tony Hsieh presents “Helping Revitalize a City”


Tuesday April 22, 02014 at 7:30pm SFJAZZ Center

Long Now Members can reserve 2 seats, join today! General Tickets $15


About this Seminar:

Can a successful company and a run-down downtown vitalize each other?

Tony Hsieh, CEO of the phenomenally successful Zappos, is betting exactly that in Las Vegas.  He moved his company headquarters into the former city hall and is integrating the Zappos campus into the surrounding neighborhood, meanwhile investing millions to provide a dense urban experience for the locals as well as his employees.  His “Downtown Project” declares: “We’ve allocated $350 million to aid in the revitalization of Downtown Las Vegas. We’re investing $200 million in real estate, $50 million in small businesses, $50 million in education, and $50 million in tech startups.”

The fantasy is well along into impressive reality, according to a January 2014 article in Wired.  What is being learned may change how cities and companies think of themselves—and of each other.

Hsieh’s theory of urban vitality comes from Edward Glaeser’s book The Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier.  His theory of company vitality he has spelled out in his own book, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose.

Alexander Rose Speaking at Chabot Space & Science Center

Posted on Saturday, March 15th, 02014 by Andrew Warner
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future-fridays2013On Friday March 21st, the Executive Director of The Long Now Foundation, Alexander Rose, will be speaking about The 10,000-Year Clock at the Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland. The talk is part of their Future Fridays speaking series, which brings science and technology leaders to the Bay Area for conversation with the community. Past speakers include Bill Nye, Michio Kaku, and Robert Weiss; upcoming 02014 speakers include former SALT speakers Ed Moses and Will Wright.

alexander-roseThe Chabot Space & Science Center is offering Long Now Members discounted advanced tickets for this talk. Tickets can be found here, and the member discount code is “RSVP1014”.

For more information on the talk and the series, please visit the Future Fridays website.

We hope to see you there!

The Chalkboard Robot for The Interval

Posted on Thursday, March 13th, 02014 by Alexander Rose - Twitter: @zander
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Viktor – 5000 Years of Chairs, by Jürg Lehni

One of the features we’ve included in our design for The Interval at Long Now from the very beginning has been a chalkboard robot. To be located next to the presenter screen, we imagined it could be used live in presentations, write Long Bets challenged at the bar, or write live messages and menu items. We had thought that we would be developing this robot ourselves, until we were introduced to the work of Swiss artist Jürg Lehni. With support by Swissnex, Jürg recently visited San Francisco to participate in shows with SOMArts and the SFMOMA with his very own chalk drawing machine called Viktor (shown in the video above). We contacted Jürg while he was in town, and as chance would have it, he was just then including references to Stewart Brand, the Well, and the Whole Earth Catalog into the live drawing event he would be participating in that evening (click on the image below to see what it drew that night).


We invited Jürg to Long Now the next week, and discussed how we might work together. We are now pleased to announce that we have commissioned Jürg and his team in Switzerland to build a custom version of his chalkboard robot for our space, as well as the software to interface with it. We will also be working with Jürg to develop content for the robot and figure out how to make it a platform for use by visiting speakers and artists.


The design is extremely elegant and robust, using an unconventional system of pulleys that is driven by high-quality Maxon Swiss servo motors to triangulate the drawing tool. The motors are coordinated by an open-source controller developed by Jürg himself. We will be bringing Jürg back to San Francisco for installation and commissioning of the robot this spring. All we need now is your help to finish fundraising for the space, so we can make this happen.

We are in the home stretch. Every donation counts! Please donate to help us raise the last $100,000 and create an amazing place for us all.


You can see more about artist Jürg Lehni and his amazing robots at his site here.