Monday, April 30, 2007
This is a covered inlet at a river embankment. One can swim into this channel, covered by metal grating, and then climb stairs to gain access to the split shotgun house above. There is a small waterfall where the stream transitions into the river, and at that point also is a tree, its roots wrapped around a column going into the water. If I remember correctly, the yard of the house was filled with 10-gallon drums. Read into this as you may.
Saturday, April 28, 2007
The ink drawings of Adam Dant are intricate, humorous, and dark, to name a few.
I like to imagine these are the inhabited prehistory of Paul Noble's deserted cities and landscapes, immense crowded landscapes of danger and strange obselescence.
This kind of omnitient-view drawing, like in the picture books of my childhood, is both thrilling and oddly sad. One can't really inhabit this space or connect with the inhabitants, there is only pity and a quiet terror that they will never escape this enclosure.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Artificial intelligence researchers love to compare intelligence to animals. "Human intelligence is 50 years away," they might say, "but something equivalent to a rat or small dog is just around the corner." This is an easy analog that anyone can understand (and also acknowledges the subjectivity of measuring intelligence.)
While I still can't quite imagine my trash can or car exhibiting any kind of animal intelligence (or I am too afraid to really consider it), I find the idea that my house is as smart as my dog to be almost plausible. There are, after all, lots of places in my house that I've never seen, and plenty of things that it does that are beyond my consideration. It makes noise on it's own from only solar and wind energy (especially at night), and has lived for over 60 years. Probably half of the elements on the periodic table are in my house. In short, it is ancient, unpredictable, and immensely complex. For all I know it's doing the domestic equivalent of wagging its tail right now.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Compare this with disputing inches of fenceline between suburban homeowners, and it may seem that the heroism in this profession has leaked away, or at least has been transferred into the lasers that measure the (ever-changing) distance between the Earth and the Moon.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Miniature golf, while of surprisingly ancient (19th century) origin, came into it's current "windmills and wishing wells" form only in the late 1930's, at the hands of Joe and Robert Taylor from Binghamton, New York. Here, the game of golf was compressed and mechanized, becoming more like pool. The greens were made plastic, and metal bumpers, tubes, and moving obstacles created a game in which pure physics play a greater role than the weather. All of the chintz and themery conceals a game which is played with needle's-eye precision.
In 1985, Nintendo released Golf, a video game. This game featured a simplistic computer modeling of the physical complexities of the live game, in which angle, club, and a few taps on a button were the input. Subsequent video golf games have added topography, wind, spin, player ability and even, with the recent development of the Nintendo Wii, physical aptitude and luck. It is, essentially, a game of perfect physics, purposefully marred by a careful modeling of naturally chaotic variables.
Monday, April 23, 2007
The Wall in figures*
Overall length : 103 miles
Wall passing through inhabited areas : 23 miles
Wall passing through industrial areas : 10.6 miles
Wall passing through wooded areas : 18.6 miles
Wall passing through waterway areas : 14.9 miles
Length of concrete wall (13' high) : 66.6 miles
Metal fencing (9-13' high) : 40.5 miles
Anti-tank ditches (16'6" deep) : 0.6 miles
Anti-vehicle ditches (8' deep) : 65.5 miles
Surveillance tracks (20-23' wide) : 77 miles
Tracks with sliding cables for dogs : 259
Number of dogs : 600
Watch towers : 302
Concrete shelters : 22
Border guards : 14 000
Number of shots fired by border guards : 1 693
Bullet marks in the West : 456
Persons successfully scaling the Wall : 5 043
of whom members of the armed forces : 574
Persons arrested in the vicinity of the Wall : 3 221
Fugitives killed : 239
Soldiers and policemen killed : 27
Persons wounded : 260
Attacks against the Wall : 35
Building any kind of border wall is obviously a violent and incendiary event; however I'm not sure that the Berlin Wall is the best analog. The people discussing the Israeli/Palestinian border "systems" are probably more on track (morphologically and operationally).
I have to say, however, other than being struck dumb at the (escalating) hubris of our military, the most striking moment of this story was the way in which the military tried to spin the news: by referring to the walled area as a "gated community."
Jokes about accuracy aside, the equating of this controlled military compound with an Atlanta suburb makes my mind reel. Not because of the implication that people that live in suburban enclaves are self-imprisoned. It's rather the opposite that is staggering, the application of psychology of exclusivity to this violent rupture of one street from another. It makes me think: are we exporting fear along with "democracy?" Does the officially proclaimed and branded "American Way" have an intrinsically xenophobic core? It's true that our society (from any side) seems to have a new found obsession with purity, privacy, and control, and a growing fear of the collective and unconstrained. But is it perhaps this mindset, as much as a blindly jingoistic Washington, war profiteering, or a national thirst for oil, that is undercutting any kind of diplomatic success in these last eight years? We've never been that good of a people at self-understanding. Maybe we're all more fearful of our neighbors than we let on to ourselves.
*All numbers are from the incomparably fantastic book "The Ghosts of Berlin" by Brian Ladd.
Saturday, April 21, 2007
I'm going to propose an alternate scripting. I think that talking to oneself would be immensely boring, and probably a waste of time. Do you ever write down word-for-word what you think in the shower in the morning, or right before you go to bed? When read back, 90% of the time it comes out mostly gibberish. Now imagine if one half of this self-conversation was even less mature, and there was the added confusion of time travel. After the (I can only assume) intense anticipation of the event, it would probably seem awkward and diminished. The fact that we naturally romanticize the past and future would also probably lead to a slightly disappointing self-impression as well.
So, should time travel become possible, stick to the dinosaurs and spaceships. As you've probably been told, one of you is more than enough.
Friday, April 20, 2007
It's partially, of course, the collective pressure of the Dwell/DWR/Apple Store world that bounces off my naturally reactionary psyche. And I'm sure if I went deep enough I'd find some moralizing against conspicuous consumption. But I think the real reason I avoided looking at designs smaller than a house (or at least a taco truck) until recently was a (mis)perceived lack of depth-- I was always looking for the "real" innovation behind the scenes. I couldn't be convinced that something that was purchasable immediately and in mass quantities could be pushing the boundaries of possibility in any way. To put it simply (and kind of offensively), it didn't look difficult enough. This is condescension born of ignorance, I know. It took a gradual shift in a very stereotypical path - from furniture to lamps down into silverware - for me to realize that there are direct analogs that I was willfully ignoring. In some of these things there may be a lack of physical assemblage, but there is perhaps a greater mental assemblage, or at least a denser one-- more considerations, from ergonomics to copyrights, per cubic inch than in anything else in the world.
This is what makes these things suddenly so appealing -- to realize that they were forged, as it were, under intense mental pressures that extrude a unique object of ineffable value.
Thursday, April 19, 2007
For the last two days I've had this freakish totem waiting for me on my daily commute, stopping traffic and causing general unease. And while it has enacted an enormous transformation on its small dominion of road, I am beginning to get used to it being there. It makes me wonder if, in the future (pronounced fue-TCHA!), when all of our streetlamps levitate, how long it would take me to start ignoring them completely.
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
"Over and over again the photographer walks a few steps and peers, rather comically, into the camera; to the exasperation of family and friends, he inventories what seems an endless number of angles; he explains, if asked, that he is trying for effective composition, but hesitates to define it. What he means is that a photographer wants form, an unarguably right relationship of shapes, a visual stability in which all components are equally important. The photographer hopes, in brief, to discover a tension so exact that it is peace.
"Pictures that embody this calm are not synonymous, of course, with what we might see casually out of a car window (they may, however, be more effective if we can be tricked into thinking so). The form the photographer records, though discovered in a split second of literal fact, is different because it implies an order beyond itself, a landscape into which all fragments, no matter how imperfect, fit perfectly."
The full text of the essay is here, and is chock-full of other readable revelations on photography that manage not to sound anything like Susan Sonntag.
Monday, April 16, 2007
1. "Prosumer" digital SLR cameras become relatively affordable.
2. Said cameras are given as presents to housewives.
3. Hundreds of pictures of children are taken.
4. Clever web programmers make some great templates for fantastic looking and user-friendly flash-based photographer websites.
5. Said housewives show pictures to friends, get comments, improve their craft incrementally.
6. Housewives begin taking pictures of friends' children. Or maybe their pets.
7. Photos are posted on said fantastically easy websites.
8. Home-based child/pet photography business are born, by the thousands.
Hence a MoWAC explosion. Many professional photographers seem peeved by this phenomenon. While I can appreciate how it could be obnoxious for someone with lesser skill and training to be appropriating one's vocation, and it is definitely true in most cases that the MoWAC photos probably do not measure up to the professional standard, this seems a little bit silly. None of these people were going to blow a grand on a pro for their kids' 3rd birthday. The Wal-Mart photo studio is probably losing some business to this. Not you, Mr. Avedon.
This is happening across the creative spectrum-- things like garage band and digital cameras are making the ranks of enthusiasts (and subsequently appreciation in general) swell for music production, photography, journalism, etc. However, the people attempting to make cottage businesses out of the same enthusiasms is undercutting the lower end of the market, while simultaneously eroding professional quality at that same end. I'd still rather have a lot of interest and a little overcrowding than some kind of Pro Himalayas, high above the masses, preaching to the choir.
Will rapid prototyping and the rapid democratization of 3d rendering lead to a whole new community of prosumer architects? It's already starting to hit the world of 3d animation and motion graphics. I'd better build some cred and get licenced before the masses drag me down.
Sunday, April 15, 2007
At one point I was lost in quasi-suburban Kansas City, and I mentioned that the area looked different than the one I was searching for. Fifteen minutes later, I remarked that I'd finally found the right neighborhood. "This looks more like it," I said. Katy told me she couldn't really tell the difference.
As I was driving home I started to think about what distinguishes one suburb from another. I'm not talking about whether the shopping center has a red tile roof, or the fancy water-jet-cut metal-and-stone welcome sign. I'm talking about the generic streets between subdivisions, the fabric of the area. And this is exactly what makes the difference. Curb cuts, streetlights, medians and retaining walls. Once you start looking for these things they begin to take over, as the secret language of exurbia. It makes me want to see a place where these typologies are liberated, where the curbs fly off into a field, escaping the road, and the streetlights suddenly are only 8 feet high, marching up a lawn and onto the sidewalk. If these things are going to define my hometown, I'd like for them to be a little less subservient.
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
The sky is measured with invisible lines called "Victor airways." These are direct vectors between points of navigation called VORs. From 1,200 to 18,000 feet, planes use these vectors like roadways. Traffic is stacked vertically, and opposite directions are alternated. The minimum vertical clearance is 500 feet. Jet travel is above 18,000 feet, and these planes generally have sophisticated enough avionics to be cleared for direct navigation, triangulating between VORs to make their own route.
This system is built on technology over 50 years old. In many cases GPS is just as accurate; with the direction things are going VORs will probably be obsolete within the decade. This marks a phase shift in navigation; we are no longer marking out lay lines on the globe; once again we are turning to the sky to find out where we are. The points of reference are in constant motion above, instead of fixed below. Distance is once again relative, not absolute.
The older VORs cone-shaped housings for antennas that spin at 1,800 revolutions a minute, changing its broadcast continuously to mark different directions. One of these sits just up the hill from our house at the Santa Monica Airport. Pretty soon it will stop marking the earth, and its continuous whine will stop, replaced by silent points of reference above.
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
This is not to say that I need a rough-hewn iPod. Like i said, a sustainable and high-tech future is going to rely heavily on composites and advanced forms of production. But why is everything proprietary? I'd like to know what is in my plastics and alloys, no matter how complicated. What country does it come from? Who made it? What was left over? Anyone who doubts the intrinsic emotional value in this kind of data has only to go to any consumer product-rating website: we are obsessed with our stuff. We want to know every detail about our purchases, not only from an accountability standpoint (will this coffee maker give me thyroid cancer?) but because we are in love with our things. This is not the evils of advanced capitalism, this is human nature. Think of Excalibur, or the Maltese Falcon, the Holy Grail. Yes, these objects stood for something greater, but they also have faint echoes in every knife, cup and tchochke in existence. All I'm asking is that we forgive the things we own, and maybe get to know them a little better.
Monday, April 09, 2007
Sunday, April 08, 2007
In the last 24 hours, I have been accosted by 24k cars. Three more blasted by in the left lane on the way to Encinitas. Parking spaces have been crowded in by gilded Jeeps and Oldsmobiles. I think they're replicating behind my back, silent automitosis. Like killer bees, they will terrorize the country before eventually settling in Mexico and the desert Southwest. So prepare. The allergic will want to stock up on extra epi-pens and better insurance. They will attack in swarms, without provocation. No one is safe.
Friday, April 06, 2007
Architecture, as it is taught, is obsessed with dimensions. This is rightfully so; the first step to telling someone how to build something is to tell them how big it is. But, given my current employ as a midcentury modern crusader, I am left wondering if perhaps we're not a little too obsessed with precise alignments and modules. When architects talk about "flushing things out," they're not discussing ritual purging. In all of this painstaking work nudging surfaces into position, we might be missing something equally vital about other characterizations of the space. Like, for instance, what it is for. Or how it sounds.
Or maybe we should just go metric so I don't have to deal with sixteenths.
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
2. The negative traits you notice most vocally in other people, and with the most particular revulsion, are most likely the ones that you exhibit yourself.
3. The Pixies get better the louder they are played. If there was a stereo that could be infinitely loud, than they would approach infinite awesomeness.
Tuesday, April 03, 2007
It reminds me of a subway ad I used to see all the time for a school of "applied philosophy." It seemed to imply that there is a lesson-planned way of escaping what it called "habitual existence." As opposed to "occasional existence?" I do like the idea that through philosophy I might be able to escape existing altogether, but I'm not sure that's what they meant. In any case, if I go a day without introspection, I'm going to feel guilty, but I probably shouldn't. Case in point.
Monday, April 02, 2007
Jones College, Rice University, Houston: blue-tinted film over single-pane, overlooking courtyard under construction.
W 119th Street, Leawood KS: Some odd plastic/fabric hybrid shade, milky white, blocking a golf course.
North Blvd, Houston: Homemade muslin curtains, tea-dyed with tiny brown spots, vinyl with snap-in muntins, parking lot beyond.
37a Bedford, NY: none. flaking overpainted wooden frame with fan. brick courtyard.
Rue Taylor, Paris: fraying yellowed gauzy grandma-drapes, ancient full-height windows, third floor, rainsoaked asphalt.
Beethoven Street, Los Angeles: vertical blinds hidden by gold drapes with a red pattern that is sometimes flower shapes, sometimes intersecting circles. guava and limes, ferns and flowers and chainlink beyond.
Sunday, April 01, 2007
Afterwards, we went to our new favorite beach, where Katy took this picture. Yes, our favorite beach is at the end of the LAX runway. Planes take off at predictable intervals: 2 1/2 minutes when it's not busy and around every 20 seconds when it is. Due to the magnetic effect of Manhattan and Venice Beaches (and the near-constant rumble), this little stretch gets very few visits, and that suits me just fine. Jetwash and wave action make a remarkably meditative sound combination, and watching steel float is sublime in a complementary way to endless saltwater and powdered seashell. Add in the distantly visible power plant, and a parade of barges and sailboats, and this it's like being in the jaws of some industrial recreative machine.
Mid-Period REM = the upper half of my white laminate stereo cabinet in my old house. Acrid smell. Middle School.
Soul Coughing = My high school Volvo. At night.
First two Modest Mouse albums = my freshman year dorm's lofted bed.
Gang of Four = KTRU. 2am. Looking out the tiny window while eating a granola bar.
Allman Brothers = Katy's car, long road trips in the Western U.S.
Any This American Life Episode = any delicate model work involving tweezers. Overcaffeination.
Belle and Sebastien = See above
Built To Spill, Perfect from Now On = Dodge Neon, pine forest smell, windows open.
Neutral Milk Hotel = sublet apartment in Houston, neighbor would play Two Headed Boy at 2am on the piano and trumpet.
Johnny Cash = pretty much anywhere post-freshman year of college.
Velvet Underground = NYC (obvious but true)
Otis Redding = the kitchen in my current home.
I could go on but I think you get the point.