Dec 22, 2009

Graduate School

As some of you may be aware, Saori and I are applying to graduate schools to finish our academic education in architecture. It's been a long time coming. Last year, I began the application process, originally intending to apply for fall 2009. That fell through, in part over my internal conflict as to what type of school to apply to, in part because I started late enough in the year that I told myself that I didn't have enough time to put together a good enough application package.

Speaking of which, there's a lot of components, and while there is some overlap in what college require, most of them have unique and specific applicaiton parts. Mom was telling me about her experience with applying to Law School was a lot more simple. You signed up on a central clearinghouse for law school applications, and filled out a form, and the system took care of the rest. WIth architecture, these are the standard application materials:

GRE scores- some schools impose a minimum, other schools are more lax about it. Some schools don't even require it.

Transcripts- most schools require official copies to be sent directly to them from the undergraduate university. Berkeley required you send a copy AND also to scan and upload an official copy.

Portfolio- this one is the standard. Every architecture graduate school requires a portfolio of work, and only one school I'm applying to has a digital submission. Every other school requires you have your portfolio printed and bound, and shipped direct. Length seems to vary widely. I started with around 30 pages and whittled it down to 25 including a table of contents/coversheet. Some I've seen online had as many as 60 pages, and some fewer than ten. I tried to keep the page count down to showcase the best projects while also showing a wide range of project types, scale, and representations.

Application- Most schools have switched over to online forms. These vary in complexity and depth. Berkeley's is a nightmare to figure out as theres no linear progression from page to page, and the applicaiton menu lists additional items and forms not required by the application. It takes many visits just to understand the layout and what to complete. Yale School of Architecture was incredibly simple and straightforward. Utah's application asks for your drivers licence and where your parents live. Most of the applications ask about work and educational history, ethnicity, grade reports, etc. Actually, I was surprised how often forms asked for information reported on standard forms you have to send in anyway, like official transcripts and GRE scores.

Statement of Purpose- This one is tricky. Every school wants to hear about your personal background, and your academic and professional interests. Sometimes they ask for three letters to express this, sometimes one or two, so it takes some carefull disection and stitching to get the essays ready to go. According to one academian, reviewers only look at the first paragraph anyway. By the "first paragraph" standard, I think I've got a pretty good short paper.

Oct 14, 2009

a night in jail

This blog post is posted out of sequence- it was actually written on Janurary 10th of 2014.

One night sitting with dad and Tay in his house in Houston a few weeks back, he told us this remarkable story about being jailed in the UAE.

He was living in Switzerland and making occasional business trips to the middle east in his position as a manager for Honeywell. One day, after a long flight into Dubai, he was passing through customs and immigration.

"Larry Perkins?"
Yes.
"You lived here on [such and such date]?"
Yes, that sounds about right.
"Come with me, please."

The customs officer led him to a secondary screening room where he had to surrender his passport and was held for several hours. Occasionally, various officers would come out, ask him a question or two, and refuse to answer any of his questions.

Finally, two police officers arrived, and formally arrested him without stating the charges. He was taken from the airport to the Dubai jail without an inkling of what he had done to incur the wrath of the middle eastern state.

He did however, have his cell phone, and through various calls to his office while waiting in different holding rooms, began to piece together what happened.

My father had continued to live in Abu Dhabi for a few months after he and my mother divorced. They had been living in an unbelievably huge 15th floor apartment with 14' ceilings, marble floors, and probably around 4000 square feet of living space including a maid's room. The rent on this place was astronomical, but it was heavily subsidized by Honeywell.

Dad moved to Switzerland with a few months still left on the official lease. The company had moved him to his new position, and dad had given responsibility of the apartment over to the Abu Dhabi office, so he thought that they would take care of the apartment. Actually, Honeywell stopped paying the rent on the apartment, either through a deliberate cost-cutting measure or sheer negligence.

The unpaid rent accumulated and the landlord attempted to collect from whoever it could to no avail, so the landlord sold the debt. The landlord sold the debt the UAE police, who apparently supplement their department's income as debt collectors. Besides, who you gonna call? Dad comes back to town, his name is flagged a criminal debtor in the government system, and they arrest him.

In Dubai, dad's thrown in the giant holding cell with all the other recently arrested people in Dubai. Apparently its a representational demographic: there's lots of foreigners and a few national Emirati. The other people in the cell try to help him, giving him advice on meals and where to sleep and how the system of the jail works.

In the course of his work, dad works with a lot of highly placed Emiratis. Honeywell gets in touch with him: don't pull those strings, he's warned. The company is in the middle of a very high-level, high-stakes business negotiation, and it could get awkward if dad starts trying to work on some officials to get him out of jail. Just hush and don't make a fuss, they tell him.

Dad convinces his jailors that some huge mistake has been made. They move him from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, and he is given a somewhat nicer jail cell. In Abu Dhabi, he meets with one of the jail negotiators. Just pay up 20,000 dihrams, he is told, and we'll consider the debt paid and let you go. In cash.

Dad's not in the habit of carrying large sums of money in cash and his carry-on isn't stuffed with the six grand. He calls up some other associates and friends in Abu Dhabi and they pool their resources to come up with the cash. That afternoon, the jailor comes back to dad, and says, Ok, you're paid, you can go, and dad walks free.

The Honeywell did eventually reimburse everyone for the money they'd raised to get dad out of jail. The purpose of business, after all, is business. If you have to burn a few people along the way, so be it. Dad was laid off a few years later, and had to fight hard to get Honeywell to move him back to US and not just abandon him in Europe like an old paperback.

It is also a reminder of some of the privileges we enjoy as Americans, and a reminder that the vast majority of the world still languishes under draconian, autocratic, and arbitrary judicial systems. I have been to the UAE several times and I see no reason to ever return.

Sep 3, 2009

Worst Case Scenario

I recently read a paper published by the World Wildlife Fund, which discussed the current status and direction of the "green" movement. It was really disturbing. Basically, it said that the current approach of marketers of "small steps," like swapping out your incandescents for compact florescents, effectively adds up to not much.
1) Because most people will only go "green" if it doesn't inconvenience them too much
2) The small steps rarely progress to larger steps
3) There's a rebound effect, e.g. people leave thier lights on all the time since the bulb uses less energy. Or people buying more and disposing of more recycled products than they would have with non-recycled products

Fundamentally, the kinds of change that people are going to need to make in their lifestyles if there is to be any attempt at combat climate change, or to react to the collapse of life as we currently enjoy it, is so radical that we need a different mindset other than consumerism. We can't buy green ourselves out of this mess.

Aug 27, 2009

Hives, Guitars, Saori, Canalscape

Let's see.... what's been going on lately....

Hives: I had an odd outbreak of hives about two weeks ago. I'd never had hives before, so I had no idea what was wrong with me. When I woke up, I had big angry wheals on my legs and arms. No other symptoms to speak of. I'd eaten some prepared roe from Japan the night before, so that's what I assumed set me off, although with a food allergy, it seemed like it should have struck me immediately after eating, although I didn't really react until the next morning. At any rate, I went to a TakeHealth clinic at a Walgreens, was saw immediately by a PA who diagnosed it as an allergic reaction and sent me home with some perscription steroids and directed me to aisle 1 to pick up some Wal-Dryl. A bit surreal. Anyway, that cleared my hives up after about a week. However, my hives have returned a bit over the two weeks, more irritating than serious, but patches of red itchy skin and small clusters of bumps that form and dissimilar. I really really really hope I'm not developing an allergy to cats. Or an autoimmune disease. Anyway, I've scheduled another visit to the doc (an actual MD this time) to try to figure this out.

Guitars: Among Saori's other musical instruments, she had a guitar that she never played. Apparently she got the guitar from a friend of hers who went back to Japan and understandably didn't want to lug the thing along. He got the guitar because he was taking a class in Scottsdale on guitar making, and he apparently bought a guitar for the express purpose of disassembling and re-assembling it. Saori got the guitar and it hung in our closet for awhile until I started playing around with it, and in one misguided attempt to tune it, I snapped a string, which were pretty old by that point anyhow. Anyway, I was driving around one saturday, when almost on a whim, I stopped in at Ziggy's music, a old brick music store on 3rd st and Osborne. I wanted to get the guitar fixed/ restrung whatever, and I saw a sign for guitar lessons. My weekends have been painfully free (see Saori's item below) so I went in thinking, what the hell, I've always wanted to play guitar.

Ziggy's music is a great little shop with accordions everywhere and guitars on the wall. Apparently, its one of the last places in Arizona where they can fix accordians. The few customers browse instruments, but mostly chat with Dionne, the woman behind the counter. Under the counter, more accordians, dusty CDs of music, and few black cats which prowl around the store. There's an old rack with "Guitar for beginners" from 20-50 years ago, along with boxes of guitar magazines. In a small room in the back, I see a guy playing an accordian.

I ask about lessons, and Dionne directs me to another gentleman, Raul. Raul looks strikingly like a laid back version of William Shatner, but he takes me back to his tiny office where there is room for just himself, and an empty chair for me. We sit down and talk about what I want out of lessons (the basics, to start with), when's a good time (30 minutes on Saturday works for me), and the cost (pay a month's lessons in advance, and its $15 a session. Fantastic cut rate), and I go ahead and commit to come in later the day for my first lesson.

I return early, bringing the guitar. Dionne helps me pick some new strings, cleans, and restrings my guitar for me while I take my lesson. The basics, you know, this-is-how-you-hold-a-guitar, this-is-how-you-hold-a-pick, and a few chords to start. C, Dm, Am, Em, F, G7.

I also get to pick out a guitar pick, which makes me kind of excited. For some reason it hammers in the point, I'm going to be a guitar player. I ask what kind to get, and Dionne asks Raul if I should get the $300 pick or the $400 pick. Raul suggests a medium pick, which ends up $0.25.

After the lesson, Dionne prods him into tuning my newly restrung guitar for me, and he does so, admonishing me to practice at least 30 minutes a day. And I have been. Saori's gotten into it too and we take turns playing, (it helps that she's very musically gifted and knows a lot more chords). She can actually play recognizable songs. At this point, I'm still struggling to connect the chords, but the callouses forming on my left fingertips indicate I'm closer to my goal.

Saori's new job: Saori got a new job, which is fantastic. She really likes the people she works with, the long hours go by quickly, the amount of time she spends running around and lifting makes the time go by, but she's also noticed shes slowly losing weight and gaining more muscle. Best of all, the people she works with and her coworkers adore her. She was going to be nominated as a company wide award winner except she didn't qualify for the short amount of time she'd been working. The major bummer of the job is the hours. She works very early in the morning to very late at night on both Saturday and Sunday, so I've been really missing her on the weekends. It's been hard as the weekends don't really feel like weekends without her. I know what she must have felt, the long months where I was at work and she at home during her job search.

Canalscape:
I got involved in a valley-wide design competition called Canalscape through some co-workers. Saori was also invited to join, and we made up a team of five (technically six) designers. The competition was to design a development at the intersection of a canal and a street that would 1) attract developers and 2) celebrate the canals of Phoenix. The driving force behind Canalscape is Nan Ellin, a woman who has spent years working with ASU and city officials to make more of the canals of Phoenix. To be fair, Phoenix's canals are seen as ugly, stinking, filthy infrastructure and we should be doing more to celebrate the near miracle of the water that makes the city exist. However, Nan's track seems to be "lets make Phoenix Venice, or Amsterdam." Last time I checked, California had not fallen off the map and flooded everything west of Apache Junction. We are in the middle of a desert, and to tell you the truth, Venice's canals ARE as bad as streets. Filthy and also ignored as much as possible, the canals of phoenix should aspire to more. I'll post a photo of the board we entered to the competition sometime. We didn't win, although we'll be in the newspaper this sunday (I think).

May 2, 2009

LEED AP

It took awhile, but I passed the LEED AP test last thursday, so I can now officially call myself a LEED Accredited Professional. What does this mean?

1) I can add it to my business card, except for the fact that we just got issued new business cards with the company logo change, so it probably won't get changed unless I get title promotion or I run out of cards. Both a long way off.
2) I can work on LEED projects in the office, along with the other dozen or so LEED AP's already working in the firm.
3) It adds marketing appeal to my resume, and I can say I was officially working sustainably since I was 24.
4) With my LEED AP card, I get a 10% discount at Whole Foods. No, not really. There isn't even a LEED AP card. They mail you a certificate.
5) As a LEED AP, if I work on a LEED project, the project gets to add a point if there's no other LEED AP's already working on it.
6) One of my inital reasons to get accredited was to stay ahead of the curve of my peers, to keep myself abreast of the current trends in architecture. By the time I took the test, a large percentage of my graduating class were already LEED AP. I suppose, ultimately, that its a good thing.

That's about it. There were other advantages to the accrediation, such as it serves as a good course the relationships between client, architect, contractor, and consultant. Its also a general course in "sustainab;e" design for a variety of different fields- you have to study stormwater management (civil enginnering), lighting, building automation systems, landscaping, plumbing, finish materials, basically every aspect of designing and building a building.

I studied for about six weeks, a little bit at a time at first, steadily ramping up the intensity until the very end. I read the book, make a spreadsheet of all the credits, made flashcards, and took numerous practice exams. Saori helped me a lot in this as she was constantly studying as well, and we got to argue and quiz each other on LEED minutae, of which there are thousands. Incidently, Saori passed the test as well.

The other incentive to take the test is that they just changed over to LEED 3.0, which involves TWO tests to reach the LEED AP level, and is supposed to be a lot harder, so there was a big rush as the opportunity to take the test ends in May. At any rate, I'm glad to have it over with.

Mar 13, 2009

Went to Build it Green convention and Expo today at the convention center downtown. A few good speakers, a lot of stuff I've already heard, mostly directed at developers. Didn't see too many architecture types out there. The first lecture was so-so. The second was interesting, more focused on green lab design, which is right up our alley. Its a shame we're really not incorporating any of the sustainable elements into this project. At least I'm getting better at understanding what we could do, and the technologies and techniques at the forefront of lab design.

Anyway, the third speaker was really good. A professor from Thunderbird School of Management, recently published in Harvard Business Journal, talking about the business side of sustainability. An odd lecture, he talked about the sweep of human history from hunter-gathers to agricultural societies to industrial, and the trade-offs we've made along the way. He used a stock portfolio analogy to describe the levels of productivity in these stages. Hunter-gathers, when the fish stocks are down, there are still deer to hunt = diversified. Agrarian states, which specialized in five grains, and three major animals to domesticate, specialized, and so stability was replaced by feasts followed by famine. Industrial societies specialized further, and so all the prehistoric knowledge of how to exist in the natural world diminished to practically nothing.

He made some other interesting points, but basically it came down to industry, in order to survive, must adopt the same rules which allowed the biosphere to exist since the advent of life on this planet. Namely, a radical simplification in the number of materials we use, which ties into his second rule, that everything must become cyclical, a value cycle instead of a value chain, where the consumer returns the product at the end of its commercial use to the producer who breaks it down and re-fabricates it. Lastly of course, is that these transformations must ultimately use solar power to do so. The lion dies and becomes food for the grass, the antelope eat the grass, the lions eat the antelope, etc. Circle of life as industrial model.

So that was fun. The expo was kind of slow. Mostly products for homeowners and developers. We got some silly putty, some recycled pencils and office supplies. And a green tote.

Mar 1, 2009

Patios, Malls, and LEED

Here are a few of the things I've been up to lately:

Saori and I cleaned out the patio yesterday and went to world market where we picked up a bunch of small colored glass cubes for candles, and another hanging moroccan lantern to go with the lanterns I picked up in Abu Dhabi. At night, with all the candles, its very nice and relaxing, s we've been spending our evenings outside enjoying the light.

Today, we drove around, went to Buffalo exchange and PV mall. Paradise Valley Mall was pretty nice as I recall back ten years ago when I lived in Phoenix. Since I've been gone, its gone downhill, probably with Fashion Square and Kierland Commons taking the wind from its sails. It feels tired and weary, weakly fighting, even with a few higher end fashion stores. Fiesta Mall actually had more energy and vitality to it, and feels like its socially climbing. Metrocenter is hitting the bottom of the barrel with many storefronts vacant.

Work: a few bugs in the system. Basically our computer program makes work very easy and occationally very hard for us. Today and yesterday (saturday and sunday) I spent two hours a day working to fix a major glitch.

Revit is great but when things go bad things go real bad, especaially for our model. If you designed a cube in CAD software, you would draw a bunch of boxes on different sheets to show the different plans and sections. If you designed a cube in Revit, you create a 3D cube and the program slices and interprets it for you. If you screw up one drawing in CAD, you've only screwed up one sheet. If you screw up part of the cube, the error propegates itself through all the interpretations of the model on all the sheets.

The latest thing is that Revit lost all the dimentions between things and gridlines, which means we now have many hours of work ahead of us to make sure things tie back to the gridlines.

LEED accredation- I'm sure many of you have heard about "green" or "sustainable" buildings. In the United States, building construction and use is second only to industrial manufacturing in terms of energy and resource use. In an effort to set an industry standard of sustainability, the US Green Building Council (USGBC) set up a system of quantifying how green a building is based on a point system, called LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). There are four levels of LEED certification, Platinum, Gold, Silver, and certified, depending on how many points your building gets. Some points are very easy to get. If you are building on a site that used to have a building, you get a point because you're not despoiling new land, for example. LEED is actually pretty broadly encompasing- there are credits for making buildings that are easily accessible to bus or mass transportation routes, credits for improving air quality, efficiant water systems, etc etc. The tricky bit is where credits work against each other.

For example, there are a lot of credits based on reducing energy use, which is great. But there are also credits associated with indoor air quality. To improve air quality, you need to move more air around more frequently, which uses more energy. So you have find an appropriate balance.

Anyway, you also get a point if the project has a LEED accredited architect/designer associated with it. LEED accredited people can be anyone who passes the LEED test, a large portion of which is basic knowlege of how to use the LEED system. So it is a little self-serving. But with a lot of interest in green design and construction, individuals, universities, and municipalities have been pushed to mandate percentages of new buildings that have to be LEED certified. So, Saori and I are going to take the test and become certified to 1) increase our marketability, 2) so we can put LEED AP at the end of our buisness cards, 3) because sustainabilty and green design will become more of an issue in the future and not less so, and 4) because they're going to make the test harder later in the year.

Enough LEED for now.

Feb 19, 2009

merged images

Merged images from personal photos along themes- Arizona, Green, Japan, Architecture, etc.




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Feb 15, 2009

Busy weekend

It's been a busy weekend. The rundown, counting back from

Thursday night, we met up with Mike and Ryan at the George and Dragon in central Phoenix. They were both classmates of mine and both working for the same small architecture firm. They both live downtown, which makes me start to wonder who else graduated from architecture school is living downtown. Ryan got married to a very nice woman, and it no longer feels strange to be hanging out with married couples my age. They've got enough work in their office to keep them employed at least for now, which is good to hear. We had a few drinks, and took the light rail home. George and Dragon is a nice place, a little expensive, long-standing British pub and a lot of the wait staff is either British or faking it well. Very good fish and chips.

Friday afternoon, we met a coworker of mine for lunch and he talked about working as an architect in his many years of working in AZ, which was mostly for Saori's benefit, but I enjoyed sitting in too. That evening, we went to mom's house to play bananagrams for a few hours, and left around 9 for Fiesta Mall.

For the past month, I've been part of a CANstruction committee at work. CANstruction was an event which is organized nationally by a design marking firm as raising awareness for local design, engineering, and construction firms and also to raise hunger awareness. Basically, firms compete to design large sculptures or scenes out of canned foods which are then donated to local food banks. This year, there were about a dozen firms participating in the valley, and ours raised about $5000 for cans. The committee, which was huge this year, voted to use Wall-E as a sculptural figure; not my first pick, but oh well, its for a good cause. We purchased a lot of cans and spent about a week working a few hours a day on a practice build, basically figuring out how we were going to lay it out and build it up. Last wednesday, we took it all down and loaded all the cases of cans into a truck and sent it to the food bank. The food bank, in turn, put all the cans on pallets, wrapped them, and shipped them to Fiesta Mall in Mesa for the event.

Friday, Saori and I arrived around 10 PM and jumped into canstruction. We worked for about four hours, stacking cans of butter beans, black beans, kidney beans, and baby potatoes. I was responsible for making the cubes of trash that Wall-E makes, so I make about five or six of them. Wall-E's body was created out of cans of spam ( rectangular AND yellow) so we had a spamular Wall-E. This entire project, the "Spam" song from monty python kept playing in my head. We taped together spagetti to form the treads and used coffee and large cans of beans for the wheels. The head was created from potted hams and two serendipitously black salmon cans. We piled random cans all around him to create a "trash" heap. It was pretty effective. While the entries from this year are better than last years, I think we still are in pretty good shape for most of the prizes. We went home extremely tired around 2:30 in the morning.

Saturday, I woke up late to discover Saori had already gotten me flowers, coffee, and made me breakfast. How have I deserved such a wonderful woman? She also prepared chocolate moouse and home made lava cake. After a liesurely breakfast, we went out shopping in Scottsdale, where we browsed American Apparel and laughed at the bleach blond, lamborgini lifestyles of the rich and tasteless who inhabit Skanksdale, sorry, Scottsdale.
I was white enough to walk to a nearby Urban Outfitters where I stumbled across a really cool jacket, marked way way down from $150, and Saori picked up a few nice things too.

We drove from Ghetto to ghetto, Scottsdale to Metrocenter, where we had great dinner at Fajitas. The last time I was there, if memory serves, I was 13 years old. After dinner, we spent the evening at Castles n' Coasters, playing a round of mini-golf and riding the rides. It was surprisingly fun, except for the numbly terrifying free-fall ride where its all you can do not to wet yourself as you drop twenty stories in about three seconds. But other than that, it was a blast.

Sunday, I made omeletes for breakfast and we hung out at home until we met Sal for coffee and he and Saori went to talk to a client. I wandered around downtown which was packed with pedestrians and sports fans who are all here for the NBA All-Star game tonight.

Now, I'm just relaxing on the couch with Saori and Suki, enjoying a warm and peaceful sunday night.

Jan 24, 2009

Phoenix Street Rail

Looks like I need to do a bit more research... or does it say something about me when I'm quick to jump to certain conclusions.

The story about Phoenix Street rail is a bit more complicated, as it turns out. Apparently there were actually two fires which burned the old rail cars, and it apparently the rails and infrastructure for the system were falling apart. This was all taking place amidst a time when people were getting away from the rail as it was no longer affordable, or riding a private bus line which ran through the city. Business, politics, and economics. So the decision was made to switch to busses and several companies were bought out and created. Goodyear probably just saw a golden opportunity and jumped on it.

Given Arizona stingy past, I should be happy that this city has had public transportation at all.

Speaking of which, light rail was packed this morning, which is a very good sign, hopefully someone is paying attention.

Jan 18, 2009

Light Rail, Again

Some people may be surprised to know that the light rail that opened at the end of 2008 was not the first in Phoenix, but the second. The phoenix street railway operated several extensive lines powered first by horses and then by electricity between the years 1887 and 1947. When a fire destroyed most of the trolly cars, the city decided to switch to busses. I have heard that the Goodyear Tire corporation, which was building up in the valley, approached the city and made a deal to supply tires to busses, which probably pushed the city to adopt a bus service instead of a rail line.

I don't know what a rail car cost, but I can't see it as being more expensive or requiring as much maintainence or energy (which may not have been a factor at the time) as a bus. If the rails and infrastructure, power lines, crossings, etc. were all intact, it would seem a better investment to simply buy new trollys instead of creating an entirely new public transportation system from scratch. Goodyear must have made them a hell of a deal on tires.

It makes me wonder what phoenix would have looked like if we had stayed with the light rail we had had.

Medium is the message

I moved the blog again. I deleted the Tumblr account and moved everything to Medium.com, a more writing-centric website. medium.com/@wende...