Mar 30, 2008

Unusual Phoenix

This week, my company sent me to two days of Revit training. Revit, for those not in the building trades, is a computer program for designing buildings. See the end of this post for info about Revit. I was going to write just a bit about it, but its a complicated program and I have mixed feelings about it.

The class was held up in Peoria, a bit of a drive from work, but at least coming and going, we're in the opposite direction of rush hour traffic, which was gridlock. West Metro Phoenix is definitely the less charming half of the city. For the most part, its either low rent or low quality knockoffs of Scottsdale suburbia, which is pretty revolting in its own right. If west Phoenix were a SimCity game, it would be endless blocks of beige "mission style" subdivisions interspersed with a "center" block consisting of a 1) Starbucks, 2) Home Depot, 3) Blockbuster Video, 4) Target/Bed, Bath, and Beyond, and 5) Papa Johns Pizza. I say for the most part, because I still haven't seen all of it. Old town Glendale is nice. I actually like it better than Mill Ave in Tempe.

Anyway, class was all day, but it went pretty fast since its active learning with the software, and at the end of the two days, I got a Certificate for Having Completed the Class. Feels like I should keep it in my bag of holding. The instructor was very good through, and stayed after the class to answer our individual specific problems.

It's been a fairly busy weekend, Saori's been working overtime both today and yesterday on her company's entry to a Valley-wide design competition to "Flip-a-Strip." The competition, hosted by the SMoCA, is to have local architects take an existing (retched) strip mall, and turn it into something better and more "engaging." Conceptually, I like strip malls, especially when you compare them with the megacenters. Small businesses, variety, and you can drive and park right in front of the store, instead of in the center of a burning lake of asphalt. However, they can also really suck. The one Saori's working on is six small rectangular boxes in the middle of a lake of asphalt. Not a blade of grass or even sidewalks. The competition entries are due Monday, so Saori is still at work, slaving away with her colleagues.

Today, I drove up with her and drove over to my old elementary school, the Montessouri way up north of Dunlap and 14th St. I had not been back to the area since I left second grade. This was the Phoenix I fell in love with. This neighborhood, tucked up against the mountain, has a great organic network of streets which rise and fall with the land. No grading at all. The houses are all different and vary from a collection of shacks to cutting edge architect designed homes. Desert trees and flowers everywhere, and the desert mountain landscape a tangible presence. My old school should be a model of desert architecture. Cinder block or brick construction, low pitched roofs with 4' wide overhanging eaves, circulating water pools, overhead sun screening, and high clerestory windows. I would have hopped the fence to look around inside if it were not for the security cameras. (Strangers poking around elementary school campuses just don't look good.)

Also today, plenty of study for the GRE which I take next weekend.

I moved my discussion and opinions about Revit to the end of this blog since it tends to key to a more estoeric audience.

What makes Revit (short for "Revise It") different is that it is a category of BIM software, or Building Information Modeling.

Basically, everything you draw has information attached to it. Historically, if I drew a brick wall on paper or in a basic drafting program, then it would just be two lines with the space between them filled in. I would have to indicate elsewhere in notes that it was a two wythe thick common brick wall with a running bond. With a BIM program, if I want to draw a brick wall, I click a "wall" button, select the type of wall I want, and draw a line and the computer generates a 3D wall along the line I drew. The advantage of this is that now, all the pieces of the wall are there to the finest details. I can see it very generally in a floor plan, or I can zoom in and see the individual bricks in the wall. Because its in 3d, I can cut sections through it at will and the program generates all the drawings I will need to build this wall.

If you want to look at it this way, before BIM modeling, the building as a whole existed in the collective minds of the designers which various 2d drawings supported, in varying accuracy. With BIM modeling, the architect builds a 3D model of the entire building and the program generates the 2D drawings. All the information is stored parametrically and in databases which can be sliced and diced and any shiny new thing you can do to data.

It's exciting to me because it automates a lot of the tedious things you typically have interns or low-level drafters (like yours truly) do. Theoretically, its supposed to drastically reduce the amount of work you have to do because any change to the model gets instantly reflected in all the sheet drawings. I say "theoretically" because it depends on how much you play by Revit's rules.

For me, Revit feels like it was designed by an advanced race of robots. When you play exactly by its rules, its incredibly easy and the work flies. When you want to do it your way, when you have a particular way you like your stairs to work, or a certain way a wall connects to a floor, then you have to wrestle that bull to the ground and beat it into shape where it still growls at you. Yes, its wonderful it calculates and generates stairs and railings for you, but what if you don't want one of the three types of stairs that it comes with (or ten for that matter?). There's a laborious process if you want to alter a standard piece, and you have to have a lot of experience with Revit to do it with any competency at all.

Mar 22, 2008

Bits and Peices

Thursday night, Saori and I met one of her coworkers for some live music at the Rhythm Room, a small venue close by. It was a bit of a spur of the moment thing, but Saori played me some of the band's music the night before, and I was intrigued. The band is called the "Asylum Street Spankers," hailing from Austin, Texas, and they are a kind of folk/old country/ jamboree bears kind of show complete with a washboard vest, saws, jugs, and of course steel pot lid guitars and banjos. Its fun and refreshing music and the band is incredibly talented both musically and also vocally. Check out thier website if you get a chance. The songs are a mix of original bawdy or socially satirical tunes, or very old music from the 2o's-40's. It's really great and they put on a great show.

Interestingly, Saori and I have built up an impressive camera collection out of $20, which we paid for an old Practika SLR from the 70's. We're up to five cameras now. The most recent acquisition is an excellent canon EOS SLR. I've spent the last few days playing around with its automatic focus and different zoom lenses.

Cassie, an old friend of mine from high school, was in town yesterday, we met at a Starbucks and caught up. It's a funny coincidence, she works in a bioscience laboratory, and I happen to be in the middle of laying out one at work. Her main complaint was the amount of stuff they have on the floor, and not enough storage space for large pieces of equipment.

This morning, Saori and I got up early and hit a tiny coffee and donut shop before striking out for the Chinese grocery store Ranch L market. Ranch L used to be Ranch 11 market, although neither name makes sense to me, especially for a purveyor of oriental groceries. This afternoon, (contain your excitement!) we worked on our taxes together, and I actually finished mine. The free software helps.

Mar 19, 2008

oh, yes, I have a Prius, but I walk to work

I found a really good website today,, basically a very wry social commentary on modern yuppies, of which I confess I am one. I'm a college graduate working in a corporation, and I live in in the middle in a major city. Call a spade a spade.

The blog cheerfully discusses its namesake, with entries like "Dinner Parties," "Toyota Prius," "Study Abroad," "Apple Products," and "Minority Friends." It's funny and especially biting to me because I find myself saying things like "when I was in Singapore..." or "why no, I don't watch TV." I love websites like these because they are amazing mirrors.

Basically the underlying drive according to the website, is that we are seeking self-assuredness, to feel good about ourselves, to justify the state of affairs to ourselves. Perhaps the boomers and early Xers saw the world as it is and rationalized it by saying, I need to worry about me first. I can't do anything about the Balkans or Poverty because I have a job to do and a family to feed.

The new generations, just as bad or worse, see the world as it is, and say, look, I'm Helping. We drive Priuses, we occasionally talk to the Poor. We buy our Starbucks 'fair trade' chai teas in 40% post-consumer recycled content cups. We'll circulate emails about Darfur to friends, and continue to do nothing.

The desire for "authentic" food, items, and experiences is perhaps based on a fear of living an "inauthentic" life, if such a thing exists or is a complete fabrication. Maybe that's the thing- we're part of a generation that is Experience based. "Don't trust anyone who's never backpacked in Europe"may be the new mantra.

Mar 14, 2008

Cul-de-sac Cowboys in Pumkinville

Saori was telling me about a sickness in Japan that strikes the workforce at a certain time of the year, where hundreds of people fail to turn up for work. By pure coincidence, those days are the most beautiful, with clear warm skies. These days have returned to Phoenix.
Thursday I met Tay and mom for lunch and decided it was so beautiful out that I could not afford to miss it, so I spent the afternoon hanging out with them. I took them on a driving tour of downtown Phoenix, and we took a very entertaining tour of the Arizona capitol, probably the cheapest state capitol in the United States. They founding members of our state were so cheap they made legislators bring their own chairs to work, and housed them in a building smaller than most of the governer's houses. The docent who led the free tour expressed sadness in the fact that the state tie is not a bowtie, and is spearheading a grassroots movement to change the name of Phoenix back to "Pumkinville."

I just did a search for "Pumpkinville" to see if our friend had set up a grassroots website, but instead I got website about the dark side of Arizona history. Very funny and acerbic. I love the term "cul-de-sac cowboys" and if you live here, you know exactly what I mean. Check it out.

The most surprising thing on the tour was actually the silver service used on the USS Arizona. In typical stingy state fashion, Arizona wanted the cheapest silver possible, so they cut a deal with some silversmiths who were willing to cut fees in exchange for artistic control. The result is reportedly the most beautiful silver service in the navy. There is an inherent conflict between the navy themes and the portrayal of the desert, but it is beautifully and elegently resolved, and I almost feel strange calling it a conflict at all. The stylized dolphins next to the shields surrounded by prickly pear work. The prize of the collection was a punch service, with a copper tureen accented all over with silver saguaro cacti.
After the Capitol, we drove up to the Biltmore where Tay and I helped mom buy the wrong iTrip that wouldn't work in her car. Then we went back and got her the right one. Afterwards, we met Saori for some really good Vietnamese food.

There's this place called Pho Bang up on camelback and 17th ave that is great. Its a little place, with a TV always on, and usually turned to a vietnamese or dubbed chinese movie, and the entire family works there, or hangs out there. Go in the evenings and they are always at one of the tables in the back. Food is great. Get the summer rolls ($3) with shrimp and one of the beef soup bowls with more cow parts than I can name ($4). Delicious. They serve it with fresh basil, cilantro, lime, and the whole thing is really refreshing and good. Also soda lemonade. Good stuff, unbelievably cheap prices. Apparently won the best Vietnamese restaurant in Phoenix for a long time. Not sure who is the current contender.

Suki is good, almost done with her medicine. After 20 days of being orally injected with bad tasting medicine 4 times a day, she has finally learned to avoid the kitchen and the sound of me shaking the bottle up. Not the speediest cheetah.

Mar 2, 2008

February I

About a month ago, the guy living in the apartment below and to the right of ours died. He was an elderly gentleman in his 70s, apparently with a history of heart problems, and he died quietly in his sleep. The problem was that no one noticed until three days later. Our neighbors, the ones directly above his apartment, noticed a smell coming up, and they complained to our landlord, who discovered the body. I arrived from work just as the police were cleaning everything up.

People live at this apartment complex a long time. The guy right below me has lived here for ten years, and the woman next door to me, fifteen. Its definately a strange mix of characters. Most of the residents l00k over 40, there are some like me who are younger city people, and a lot of gay people.

About a month ago, my friend Chase came back into town to visit his grandmother and see what was the valley was like in the throes of Superbowl fever. While the event took place in Glendale, all the action was in Scottsdale. We walked around the new Optima Camelback apartments, one of the "Best Buildings in Arizona for All Time" (but Hoover Dam and a children's hospital also won), and actually it is kind of cool, if not incredibly expensive. From there we walked over to the Riverside development which has lately sprung up around the unpicturesque canal near the Scottsdale Fashion Center. There were booths, tons of crowds, several stages, and unbelievably expensive parties going on in bars that looked like you'd be beaten for ordering anything more sophisticated than a Corona.

There was a celebrity poker tournament going on, and so Chase and I joined a small crowd to see which celebrities would walk past on the red carpet on their way in. It was actually the highlight of my day. The way the setup worked was: celeb would arrive, sign in at the celeb desk, and then meet two young women escorts. The entourage would proceed to the photo point where the photographers waited, and then they proceeded onward, waving to the crowd until they reached the end of the carpet, where the two escorts would retract, like an aircraft carrier deck launcher.

It was wildly funny, especially the fact that nobody in the crowd recognized the majority of the celebrities. I thought at first that it was just my lacking cable that I didn't recognized anyone, and gradually realized that NOBODY recognized these people. I recognized a total of three celebs who arrived out of the two dozen we watched walk by. Jared, from the Subway ads, still looking trim, Paris Hilton, who actually looked better in person than most print media I've seen her in, and Alice Cooper, who looked like this whole event was kind of hazy.

All the while, some clever marketer was dropping what looked like folded $20 bills but were actually ads for some business. People were constantly picking them up off the ground, looking at them, and dropping them again. Others would pick them up without looking at them closely, and offer them to people standing nearby who probably dropped them in the first place. One man, who came across a pile of at least 10 "bills" quietly scooped them up and quickly walked off. People even picked them out of the garbage.

I didn't see the game, just the end at Mom's house, after dinner with Sally and Jonathan et al and Grandma. It was a good ending, especially since I didn't give a flying dime about either team.

Grad School
At this point, I'm studying for the GRE and researching colleges. I'm looking at Stamford, Yale, Berkeley, MIT, Columbia, Rice, and a few others. I'll take the test later this month.

Valentines Day
Valentines day I took Saori out to dinner at Coronado Cafe. She got me the boxed season of Cowboy Bebop and the Cowboy Bebop Movie.

Medium is the message

I moved the blog again. I deleted the Tumblr account and moved everything to, a more writing-centric website.