Monday, March 24, 2008

shiny new things

On the happy future front-- while this technology seems almost too good to be true, this paint seems (to my nonscientific mind) to be quite feasible, and beats that chalkboard stuff any day of the week. In the performative brushed surfaces category, these two are pretty awesome as well.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

perfect-bound ghosts of my past

I am speaking, of course of the full scans of the Useborne Book of the Future that surfaced recently on the internet. This, along with sister volumes featuring only transportation, or cities, or robots, were an odd imported staple of my youth. Basically, they stole every imaginable future prediction in the 60's and 70's, digested it for young minds, and illustrated it in completely awesome cutaway illustrations that I still remember in perfect detail. The arcologies, hydrofoils, wrist radios, and elevators-to-space still pop up occasionally in my dreams. I hope dearly that someday this, as well as other especially formative books from my childhood (The Children's Iliad, the Illustrated works of Edgar Allen Poe, Farmer's Almanacs, the Undabridged Grimm's Fairy Tales) will someday be reconstituted in perfect condition in my bookshelves. Here me, Mom and Dad? I've left room...

[Found via Coudal Partners' Blended Feed. Awesome.]

Monday, March 17, 2008

science fiction double feature

While Katy's out of town, I've been using my newfound extreme boredom to catch up on some recently old sci fi.

For one, I watched Primer. Before I move on, I want to note that this is a very good movie. This may be some of the best cinematography and acting I've seen in a $7,000 film, regardless of genre. That being said, I have two criticisms. For one, the film struck me as being kind of reactionary in it's intent: to create a science fiction movie that did not dumb down to it's viewers, that contained zero special effects, and that made no attempt to explain either plot machinations or the (tenuous) mathematics and physics it exploited. Which gave the whole thing a kind of angry, "let them have it" cast. I'd much rather the director use a few recognizable film tropes to meet the viewer halfway, than feel like I was being corrected in some way.

The other, more important thing I was bothered by has to do with the praise heaped on the film due to it's complexity. And it is a complex movie-- at least 7 different simultaneous timelines, with an equal number of "versions" of the main characters, made it nearly impossible to untangle. It is a movie that will only get better with subsequent viewings, although I admit I chickened out and read up on the plot after the fact.

However, the people who made this film made the conscious decision to prioritize complexity of plot over complexity of character, at nearly every point. Most of the depth was in the machinations of where and when, not in showing the (considerable) change in each character, as flaws are revealed and conflict blooms. Which made it a lot closer to a few episodes of 24 than to Memento, which manages an equal concentration on both. Which, to me, seems like a waste. This sort of concentration on surface complexity is an annoyance that seems endemic to the genre, handed down from almost every forebear from Philip Dick to H.G. Wells. It's usually easy to overlook because there is little character development to really show in a lot of SF, but here there was clearly plenty going on, a fact that was highlighted by the sparse sets and near-constant facial close-ups. The total lack of any continuity between scenes made the slow dawning of each character's growth difficult to parse. Still, if you haven't seen it, do.

I also ran to the library and grabbed the latest William Gibson reference, Spook Country, which ended up pretty solid, if nowhere near as great as Idoru, or even Pattern Recognition. Gibson's done a pretty great job of transitioning from cyberpunk prophet to contemporary commentator, while still keeping things entertaining. A lot of this is due to the fact that he writes very similar sentences to Raymond Chandler, able to make a bit of interior decoration or landscape have as much backstory as the people inhabiting it. I do wish he'd remember that Chandler wrote some pretty goofy shit into his books as well, though-- too often in this book the characters were going about their actions so soberly that it seemed like everyone was on Paxil. Maybe less stepping back, less awareness would do some good.

But credit where it's due: Gibson is still the best male SF writer at writing women naturally, the best SF writer at weaving in cultural references (and inventing new ones) without seeming awkward, and the best SF writer at doing what I thought lacked above-- not only giving the internal some presence in the book, but tying it into the surface of the plot in an important way. He is still writing the books that, from his nonfiction statements, one wishes Bruce Sterling would write. That being sad, Billy, I did cringe when you tried to justify your earlier technological missteps by bringing back VR helmets for some tacked-on scenes. Weak. Don't let it happen again.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

i'm in!

I received a nice packet in the mail today from UCLA-- apparently I will be a student in their M.Arch II program over the next year! The head of the studio is Neil Denari and the first phase of the program (and maybe the entirity?) is titled MEGAVOIDS. In all caps. I think that MEGAVOID is a rejected Transformers character, but I'm not sure. In any case, my natural inclination for the fantastic might need to be checked, otherwise I might end up writing a science fiction graphic novel instead of a thesis.

Friday, March 14, 2008

an upper with your downer

...and now that I'm done being angry:

"Six-Word Reviews of 763 SXSW Mp3s."


Oh, Steve. Oh, Hillary.

Like many sub-30 folk, I have spent a disproportionate amount of time this election season parsing hype and slogans, attempting to get a hold on my opinions and how they might translate into something as definite as a vote. And while I did get sent this t-shirt by the fantastic Coudal Partners in a sweepstakes, my mind is nowhere near as made up as my clothing might suggest. I got a hell of a lot closer yesterday morning, however, when H. Clinton was interviewed on Morning Edition during my commute. I don't think that it is shallow to want a President that I can listen to in the car. A good road trip President, if you will. I can't hear two words out of GWB's mouth without switching to the oldies. With Clinton, I gave up after about two paragraphs.

I'm already somewhat weary of the "I AM NOT ALLOWED TO HAVE INFLECTION AND IT IS MAKING ME HOARSE" tone she takes during speeches, but this is far worse. Maybe one of her advisors told her that she has to sound confident and inevitable. Things started off fine--she said some (debatable) things about redoing the primaries, and deferred on the "Obama Veep" question. But the minute Inskeep got the tiniest bit confrontational (about experience, what else) she got all brash and swaggering and, well, kinda douche-y. And I had to turn the radio off.

I follow the issues the best I can. I keep up with national politics on a daily basis. But when it's all said and done, I'm just going to pull the lever for the person that makes me feel the least embarassed. Sad but true.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

bird's nest of iniquity

“Literally everybody in the Western world trades with China. This is a fact. So why should an architect not?”

So Jacques Herzog said at the Tate Modern yesterday, reported by Tom Dyckhoff for the Times Online. The Times has has always been reliably pro-behemoth and pro-superstar (see the sidebars: "world's ten most ambitious new buildings, from CCTV to the Freedom Tower," "View a stunning slideshow of buildings designed by architect Frank Gehry,") even if they are also reliably critical of the blandness of common development. Thus H&dM justifying their choice to build for the Olympics was given a quick gloss rather than a more in-depth editorial. "Whew!" Dyckhoff seems to say, "glad we got that out of the way!"

I really wish I was there to hear the rest of the lecture. Here is a longer snippet from the same article:

“It's very cheap and easy for architects and artists and film-makers to pull out or to make this kind of criticism,” Herzog says. “Everybody knows what happens in China. All work conditions in China are not what you'd desire. But you wear a pullover made in China. It's easy to criticise, being far away. I'm tempted almost to say the opposite...How great it was to work in China and how much I believe that doing the stadium [and] the process of opening will change radically, transform, the society. Engagement is the best way of moving in the right direction.”

“It would be arrogant not to engage,” de Meuron adds. “Otherwise no politicians could go there, no athletes. You would just close the borders.”

I appreciate the forthrightness above, even if I'd like to see more concrete examples of how the "bird's nest" is transforming political and social realities in China. The closest the article gets to quantifying anything is to mention the broken-down scale and lack of hierarchy in the structural system, followed by Herzog claiming “The Chinese love to hang out in public spaces. The main idea was to offer them a playground.”

So this means that this project won't be under the kind of permanent security lockdown that characterizes ever other major area I can think of? Using attached public space as a justification for buildng sports arenas is rarely taken seriously in the U.S., so why should it in a country with less personal freedom?

I am in total agreement with H&dM in their insistence that creative and artistic engagement with countries like China is an important way to keep a dialog open and (perhaps) enact some sort of latent transformation. But it takes deliberate action to tie the built environment to a progressive social agenda. If they had some awesome plan for this arena to be converted into, say, some awesome Chinese philosophical agora, a "special information zone," if you will, now that would be something. You could mount TV cameras to the roof with direct satellite linkage to CSPAN2. Anyone could run to the middle and declaim or support or propose anything they wished, as long as they checked their opinions going back out of the gate. If it makes sense to the Chinese to run their economy that way, why not their society? Why not open dissent recorded for posterity, visible to the entire world, instead of quiet rumors of oppression and human rights abuse?

Hell, I might want one of those in LA.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

back on the blogowagon

Okay, I'm going to attempt another run where I do a post-a-day until I get lazy... I'm shooting for a month of this but we'll see how fast the sloth returns. Even if the posts are lame linkages (I might even embed a YouTube video... I know.)

For today, I present the impeccably curated Paimio Sanitorium tour on Alvar Aalto's official website. This slideshow does a better job of presenting Aalto's ability to create a harmonious "total design" - in this case including the iconic Paimio chair, as well as light fixtures, handrails, and a pretty awesome door handle, and a whole host of other furniture and hardware. Paimio is one of the few early modern projects that has maintained almost all of its immediacy. Someday I will visit this building, and it will be fabulous.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

haircuts = architecture

I was getting shorn today and realized that what I go through to get my hair cut is a miniature analog of what most people endure redesigning their homes. No, follow me for just a second:

The stress starts before I even go in, because the risks and expectations are so high. This is something on the surface that strangers will use as a starting point for judgment from the first second. It says loads about my character, my income, my sexual preference... all to people that I might never get to speak to. It's like having a second face-- one that needs to periodically be remade.

I walk in and start the consultation, and immediately hit a snag. I have no idea how to communicate the desired outcome. Hell, I'm not even sure what the desired outcome might be. I begin gesturing vaguely and punctuating my sentences with "you know" and "kinda." In a panic, I begin using words I have heard other people using, words that don't really understand but hope will convey that this person is talking to an expert, someone who knows exactly what they want and will be furious if their high expectations are not met.

This is not going well. My song and dance routine seems to have simply confused matters more. Exasperated, I point to a picture featuring some fantastic result, usually belonging to some model or celebrity: "there. I want that." This seems to work, but the anxiety has not lessened at all. After all, my circumstances are completely different from the person in that photograph. And I'm almost certain that I am not hiring the same person as Mr. Fantastic in the picture. How can this person possibly replicate what I have asked for? I didn't do any real research before I walked into this place. A friend said that they did an okay job, and they didn't seem too expensive at the time. How can I have gotten this far without asking for references? Or a diploma? Or maybe even a quick chat-- this person is going to be awfully close to my life for a short while, and I barely know their name! But I'm too far in-- the cutting has already begun and all I can do is shut my eyes and pray.

The actual operation is messy and unpleasant, during which everything looks terrible and I can barely move. They can clearly tell I'm in incredible mental pain, but seem totally oblivious and focused on their job. Focused, that is, except when they're on the phone with someone else-- how can they be talking to someone? My job is only half done! They've clearly moved on mentally to the next customer-- how well can this possibly turn out?

At last there is the final reveal, and... it looks great! Or terrible! I really have no idea. I make up my mind very quickly and rush out the door... I over tip, rudely rush out the door, and talk to Katy, who in fifteen minutes has told me whether I paid for a masterpiece or a fiasco. Regardless of the outcome, it's too late to go back. It's done, and I have to live with it.

Luckily for me, haircuts cost less than $20 and grow back in a month. For people wanting a new home, the stakes are a little higher. I'll try to remember this the next time I have a meeting.