Jun 30, 2010

It's been a long week, and its only Wednesday night

Saturday night I was on a boat of the coast of Mexico, partying wildly with family and contraband liquor. Monday morning I was back in the office. Sunday was a long day.

Yesterday, I found out my office is changing its health benefits again, which is never a good thing. It's almost to the point where I may just try to find my own insurance. I have no faith whatsoever in insurance companies. I fully expect them to try to get the most money they can out of me while providing the minimum amount of care they are legally obligated to provide, and to fight me every step of the way. Our new fringe benefits company actually brought in reps for each of the health companies they were selling us, so we were subjected to the dog and pony show. My mistrust level went through the roof.

Then I went to the dentist for a tooth cleaning, although I didn't tell him my coverage was expiring in two days.  It was uncomfortable, the dentist asked me to not brush my teeth so hard, to take out my aggression elsewhere. But on the shiny side, at least I don't have any soft spots or cavities.

At work, I was assigned to a Revit committee, where I was bemused to finally get upgraded to "Revit Guru" status, joining the ranks of the other three or four Elite Reviteers. No badge though. Just a long meeting to try to figure out how to standardize and implement better Revit practices within the firm.

Today, I also wore a tie as I had to present some glass samples to the head of our biggest client. That was a little nerve wracking as I usually don't have a lot of face time presenting to clients. In fact, I almost never present material. I really really need to work on my speaking and presentation skills. My intent is to join the local AIA in Missouri and see if there's any groups that would help that, or all else, toastmasters.

Tomorrow is one of my coworker's birthdays, so he, Saori and I went out to celebrate during lunch. We went to Gallo Blanco, a Mexican cafe in uptown Phoenix in the swanky Clarendon boutique hotel. The food was really good. I got a pork torta (sandwich). Highly recommended for lunch. Not sure if they have dinner. Afterwards, coffee ice cream before heading back to the office. My coworker is turning 30, a milestone that doesn't stand too far off from where I'm at, and when I asked him about it, he said that he was happy with what he had done with his 20's.

Tomorrow is July 1st. It is a deadline to log in hours over six months old in the IDP (intern development program) for NCARB (National Council of Architectural Registration Boards). This means that if I want to get credit for work I did before January 2010, I have to get it in. I was pretty close, but I still scrambled a bit last night to log my hours. The website is still really buggy since its under the internet pressure of all the other people scrambling to get hours logged in, so they extended the deadline by a day.

Another thing related to that is that I realized my NCARB registration will expire at the end of August, and that because its less than 60 days away, I can't renew online. I was worried initially that I might lose my hours, but I think the worst thing that could happen if I can't renew is that I will have to pay an additional $40 a year after I re-establish my registration. It adds up, especially if I keep my registration current through taking the ARE (architectural registration exams). I've sent out some emails and I'll make some calls to nail that sucker down though.

Next Thursday, I'll be flying out again to St. Louis to look for apartments/houses. The only thing I've done is bought a plane ticket and arranged to meet a friend to see his apartment. I still need to line up places to visit, maybe locate an agent, figure out whether I'll need to rent a car or if I can take local transportation, and reserve a (cheap) hotel room. Or, I need to make close friends in St.Louis in very short order.

Can I please go back to this?

Jun 29, 2010

Highlights Dos

This week, I could really use some of these cruise highlights again. Bueno, here we go:
  • Watching the US-Ghana game of the World Cup on the giant LED screen. It was originally only going to be screened in the sports bar but enough people complained to get it bumped up the big screen in front of the lido deck pool. (On a side note, why do all cruise ships have a Lido deck? I've been to the Lido in Venice, and its not that great.) It was a shame US lost but it was fun to stake out deck chairs, eat greasy pizza, and cheer and moan with the other 300 or so passengers who also showed up to watch the game.
  • The final show at the main stage (called the "Spectacular Spectacular" since just calling it the "Spectacular"  just doesn't convey how spectacularly spectacular the stage is). This show featured ten other passengers who had auditioned two nights before in the karaoke lounge for various famous singer positions. With a pool of 3000 passengers pared down to the percentage who auditioned, there were some interesting results. James Brown, for example, was played by an Asian man. My 16 year old (famale, in case you were wondering) cousin played Britney Spears. It was the best show I saw on the trip. The passengers were far better performers than the employed singers and dancers. The James Brown routine was fantastic, and Britney Spears was not bad either, although I'm not sure my grandmother approved of the schoolgirl outfit they gave her. 
  • We sucked it up and payed the $70 to go on an excursion. Cabo's known for diving and snorkeling so we jumped on a sail and snorkel package, which took us and a dozen other people out on a big catamaran where we drank and lay out on the 40 minute trip out to the Santa Maria cove. The snorkeling wasn't bad. Lots of fish. I saw trumpetfish, rays, and various other unidentified fish. After about an hour of snorkeling, they took us back and opened up the bar, so we drank tecates and rode the wildly pitching boat, generally enjoying the hell out of the sun and spray and the sea. We even saw a whale shark on the ride back. That was pretty cool.
  • Final night of drinking where everyone in the family got their smuggled bottles of booze back from the cabin steward and lay them all out on one of the beds, like we were badass contraband rum runners. There was a fair amount of drinking afterwards, which was also fun. 

Jun 27, 2010

Highlights Uno

I did actually have a really great time on this vacation. Here are the highlights:
  • Getting good mojitos at the bar and taking them back to our cabin, which had a balcony. The balcony was the best thing about the ship. Narrow, sure, but large enough for two chairs and a small table, and that was fantastic, for watching the docking and the waves, listening to the surf and wind, and enjoying the cool ocean breezes.
  • Room parties with family. We had a series of rooms side by side, so even with some opened bottles of wine and energetic conversation, we didn't disturb anyone. 
  • Lunch at La Bodeguita del Medio restaurant in Puerto Vallerta. We had done some silver shopping (since our group was mostly ladies) and we were hot and thirsty and tired. We passed a restaurant with a good live band in playing in front of an open window, two guitarists and a drummer playing Cuban music. However, we were looking for someplace to get out of the heat and the 'authenticity' of the place suggested that they didn't have AC. I was going to give it a pass but the waitress invited me to check out the upper floor. Upstairs, the patio was open on two sides, with a great view of the beach and the air moving nicely though, so I called everyone up. Mom had cautioned everyone about drinking water and ice in Mexico, so of course the first thing we all did was to immediately order a round of mojitos. Then we ordered some food. Best damn Cuban food I've ever had. Roast pork leg, fried plantains, moros y christos (black beans and rice), fried beef, it was incredible. The band came upstairs and started playing wonderful Cuban music for us, and the waiter danced with grandma and aunt Brenda, and I even took Saori out for a quick salsa spin.
  • I gambled for the first time on this ship. I took out $20 in chips from the blackjack tables and proceeded to lose it over the space of about twenty minutes with Saori and Tay. It was surprisingly fun. I was actually up $15 at one point. I can understand the attraction and thrill that gambling has, although given the speed at which my money slipped away, I don't think I will seek that thrill often.
  • In Mazatlan, I really enjoyed walking around the renovated old town, with the pastel stucco walls and shady, leafy cobblestone streets. 
  • Also a lot of fun in Mazatlan was running around in the little souped up golf cart taxis. Lots of fun. Zipping across the town in basically a golf cart at speeds around 40 miles an hour. The first ride, there were five of us, so we had to load up around the corner, out of the view of the nearby police, and Saori had to sit on my lap. That was one packed golf-cart.
  • Drinking Mexican beers at a cheap beachside resort bar in the "Zona Dorado" (Gold Zone, so called because the tourists flock there) of Mazatlan, eating tortilla chips wth fresh salsa, guacamole, and shrimp cerviche. Tay was kind of stuck there while David, Saori and I talked about architecture, art, and drawing, but at least he had a long island to keep him entertained. 

Carnival Splendor: The Fun Ship

Sunday, we caught a Carnival cruise line out of long beach on board the Carnival Splendor. If you love the Olive Garden, you would probably like this cruise. There was tons of food, a party atmosphere, and the waiters danced almost every night. They were almost, but not quite, as good as the stage performers. The ship decoration was very different and exotic. I've never seen such a wide range of materials, colors, and finishes. It was even more wild than Las Vegas!

They really cared about you on the ship. Although there were only a few water fountains for the 3,000 passengers on board, you could pick up your room phone and have room service. In less than an hour, they would bring you a cup or water or a hamburger, completely for FREE. They even showed the USA world cup game against Ghana on the big screen above the pool. That was the most important one, so it didn't matter that they didn't show any of the other matches or post scores.

The theme of the ship was "the Fun Ship" and they made several fun announcements every day to tell you where you could find fun bingo games, the fun dining options, or what the latest fun revue show was. All the other passengers were enjoying their fun too. On the one sunny day we had at sea, it was almost impossible to find an open deck chair, and buffet lines were like huge conga lines. All the announcements were made by the Cruise director, a wacky guy whose nickname was "Goose." He was really full of fun!

Jun 18, 2010

A Brief Nautical Interlude

Tomorrow, we will be driving to LA to catch a cruise ship for my grandmother's 80th birthday. I've heard that internet connectivity expenses are astronomical on the boat, so to my regular readers, I do apologize for the brief interruption in this regularly scheduled content.

On a side note, it occurs to me that we will be traveling via a highly conspicuous tourist vessel, to a country in the midst of a massive drug war, in the immediate aftermath of raised US/Mexico border tensions vis-a-vis the shooting of the teenager and the Arizona Immigration Law. All I can say is thank God US and Mexico aren't in the same World Cup group.

Game to Game

Yesterday at lunchtime, Mexico was playing France, so one my Mexican coworkers and I went to go watch the game at a sandwich shop called Tortas El Guero ("Blondie's Sandwiches"). Saori and another one of my coworkers, Kiyomi, met us there and we at great sandwiches and watched the game along with a small but vocal crowd rooting for the Mexico side. It was a great game, Mexico delivered, leaving France, the runners up of the last world cup, on the brink of not even making it to the round of 16.

That evening, Saori and I picked up Mai from her apartment and took her to Kiyomi's house for Korean-style BBQ. Kiyomi's backyard is fantastic, tropical, lush, overgrown like a jungle with interesting things everywhere. Their entire house is kind of like that. In the middle of the backyard, there is large wooden covered pavilion that is mostly screened in, with a big table in the center with old wooden folding chairs, cobwebs everywhere, and hanging pendant lights. After a round of beer, our hosts set up a large cooking station in the middle of the table, which is essentially a large frying pan on top of a propane stove. We then proceeded to fry up shittake mushrooms, sliced green peppers, onions, Japanese squash, thin-sliced beef and jumbo prawns. Everything served with a kind of rice that has more wheat or barley in it, so its a bit like a cross between grits and regular short-grain rice. Delicious. After we'd eaten our way through most of the pan, Kiyomi brought out soba (wheat noodles) and fried them up, and then I regretted having eaten so much before. The yakisoba (fried noodles) soaked up the flavors of the cooked meats and veggies. Good stuff. For dessert, Kiyomi brought out a Japanese dish, shaved ice with condensed milk and sweet red bean paste.

We ended up talking past 11, and then we took Mai back to her apartment where we said goodbye. She'll be on a jet to Japan next Tuesday, while we'll be on the cruise. It was a sad moment, but we said "mattane" (see you later), not "sionara" (goodbye).

This morning I got up at my usual time to go into work, but the US was playing Slovakia, and when I tuned in, we were DOWN by a goal, so I had to stay and watch and lend my psychic support to the US team. Even my little brother Taylor, who is rarely up before noon, texted me to see if I was watching. It was a tense game, the Slovakians fought hard and tackled player after player after player. It was almost like the US team had never played a European team before they just looked unsophisticated in that regard. A very sleepy Saori made her way to the living room and watched with me. After a thrilling comeback with two goals to tie the score, the US scored again, but had that victory snatched from them from a terrible call from the ref, ending the game in a draw.

Jun 17, 2010

Play by Play

It's been another busy week, where I have been having difficulty to find the half an hour it takes to sit and write a blog posting. However, the World Cup has been fun to watch- I race home for lunch and Saori has the Univision channel up and we catch the end of the first half and the beginning of the second half of whatever the third game of the day is.

Sunday was a hard day of work for Saori. One of her long term patients was a 30 year old quadriplegic, E, who had been crippled after an accident in his early 20s. Apparently a very outgoing guy who still enjoyed the Scottsdale nightlife and socializing with friends and family. After hearing so much about me from Saori, he wanted to meet up for drinks at Trader Vic's. We were going to get together last thursday, but the other caretaker had something come up and called it off. However, he neglected to tell E, who had taken the several hours it takes to get ready to go out on the town, and so he called up his parents instead and they went out together. It would be the last time they saw him. The next day, he collapsed, and by the following morning he had left this world.
It's another quiet reminder that life is a ephemeral gift, and every loved one, and every moment is dear.

Monday, reminded of the value of friends and family,  after work we joined mom, Tay and Grandma at "Cheuvront", a "wine bar," to celebrate Tay's friend's birthday, where we had somewhat-off "blackberry mojitos" and really good "flights" of wine and cheese "pairings" until we were so "sophisticated" that we were having difficulty "operating" doors.

Tuesday was relatively free of engagements so Saori and I took the time to hit up the grocery store to stock up on stuff for the cruise and to get a roll of quarters for laundry. The cruise ship will only allow you to bring on a bottle of wine per person, plus a small amount of soft drinks, so we picked up some tonic water and cokes. If I can find a fresh lemon or lime, a tonic water does not cry out so strongly for some gin. We did a few loads of clothes at the apartment complex when we got back home, and filled out our cruise "FunPass" which included fun questions like "who do we notify if you get hacked to bits by machete welding drug gangs?" and "what is your credit card number so we can charge you $34.18 for each can of soda you drink on board?"

Wednesday, yesterday, we went to my friends' apartment for a small going away party. One of them, Mai, is a Japanese girl who is going back to Japan after not being able to find work in her field of industrial design out here in Arizona or California. What strikes me as more sad is the fact that she really did love being in Arizona. With my recent blog posting on souvenir in mind, I asked her what she was taking with her, and she pulled out a small bronze Arcosanti bell.

Jun 14, 2010

The Other White Media Player

What is a good alternative to Windows media player? What is a good alternative to iTunes? In a short answer, Winamp.

I've used iTunes for a very long time, actually, as long as I've had an iPod, but my patience with it is wearing thin.  It's marginally acceptable as  a computer media player, and really the only reason that I use it is because its the best software to use with an iPod. Like other Apple products, its superbly designed to do one thing in one way only. [I actually ranted for several paragraphs about this before realizing that this blog is supposed to be about media players and deleting them here. Sorry.] Suffice it to say, its a weak program that has severe limitations about what it will and won't play, although it is more than happy to duplicate every song you own, reorganize it for you in new folders in its own hierarchy and convert them to file formats only playable through Apple products.

Windows media player is actually worse. Not intuitive, without even the option to converting media files to something playable, its a clunky, awkward interface that seems to be built around the idea that people play music only to watch the pulsing bands of color in the visualizer.

Enter Winamp:

There are several reasons I prefer Winamp over iTunes or Windows Media Player.

  1. It plays all files. Give it windows media files, mpeg4, whatever, it comes with codecs to play pretty much anything you can throw at it, and it doesn't even have to convert the file.
  2. It syncs iPods. You can manage iPods on it, and even better, you can pull songs off of your iPod into the computer.
  3. Customizations. The player window above is one of FOUR very different configuration/styles that come pre-loaded with the player. This particular style, or skin, also has about 30 different color schemes that are easily changeable. Winamp also allows you many more options about how to see your information. You can make this window transparent from 10% opaque to 100% in 10% incriments. You can scale it up or down. You dock it to the side of the screen and it will dissapear unless you mouse over to the edge. It can compact down to a tiny sliver only showing the buttons and the name of the song. Best, you don't even have to stick with the 4 options. There are literally hundreds of other skins that people have made for this open source interface. Some look like giant insects, some look like cars with the headlights controlling volume, etc, some look like old radios. It really explores the room with the cowbell, if you take my meaning. Pixels are infinitely recyclable, why stick with the same boring interface?
  4. Sound quality. Out of the three media players, Winamp has the best sound. Its the best virtual music machine I've found. If you like, download it free and compare the same song in iTunes. 
Downsides, some people don't like high levels of customization, or fine tuning. Some people just want to click on a song icon and have music come out the comptuer speakers or headphones, and they dont care what they're looking at it. Winamp is definately not for them. 

Jun 13, 2010

Novelty Dust

Where did the weekend go? Why am I so tired?
Saturday morning, Suki got me out of bed early to feed her, and I whomped back into bed for a little more shut eye before heading into the office. We have a major set of documents going out next week and I needed to get a jump start on coordinating some stuff with our electrical and air conditioning engineers, so I went into the office. 

It's kind of nice to be at the office by yourself. I brought my speakers to play whatever music I wanted, and wandered around in my sandals. When I'm there alone, the silence is just too creepy, so I like having music. Anyway, I called it quits at 11 to go check out the USA vs England World Cup match. Originally, I wanted to go watch it at the English pub, the George&Dragon, but driving by, I saw that the crowd of people had actually spilled out onto the sidewalk from their outdoor patio and so I opted to watch in my own little pub, the Couch&Samsung.

With rabbit ears, we have a pretty good signal from ABC, since we don't have cable. However, since everything switched over to digital broadcasting, the game came across in HD, as good as anything you'd pay for.

It was a good game, the US held it together against the UK and in return, the UK essentially gave away a 1-0 game to a draw. I'd invited a friend over to watch it with me, but unfortunately he called around halftime and then showed up just after the match ended. There was a communication gap, and he thought there was 90 minutes left in the second half. It was all good, we watched the recap and analysis, and just talked. He'd brought beer, salsa, and chips, so we dipped into that stock a little bit before he left. 

I left shortly after to go pick up my Grandma from the airport, which was inexplicably packed on that Saturday afternoon. I don't have any idea of what was going on in town that might account for the crush of people. Waiting for her to arrive, I browsed through the Arizona Highways gift shop, doing some pre-departure souvenir hunting, but honesty it was all trinkets and crap. Petroglyph tee shirts, novelty shot glasses, copper and turquoise jewelry, tequila flavored suckers with worms.

What is the best AZ souvenir? I guess it really depends on how you see AZ. Here's what I'll be bringing to St.Louis:
  • weathered skin from so much time in the sun (hope I'm not unwittingly packing skin cancer)
  • a small Navaho pot I picked up at the heard museum
  • a large bronze Arcosanti bell
  • some CDs of a Tempe-based, all-Japanese rock/punk band (Toybox)
  • numerous metal and acrylic water bottles
  • several tons of desert dust that settled into everything
Anyway, I picked up Grandma and we drove to mom's house way out in Ahwatukee where mom made us dinner. I stayed until around 9 and took off back to Phoenix. I swung by the apartment to pick up some beer, and drove down to my co-worker Raun's house for his birthday party. That was a lot of fun, he'd set up a projector and speakers in his backyard, so people were playing RockBand. I stayed there until around midnight, and drove myself home. 

Today, I got up and drove to Tempe to meet mom and Grandma for breakfast at Harlow's Cafe, one my favorite "Eats" in Phoenix, at least as far as breakfast goes. Got a really spicy chorizo burrito plate. I hope I can find good Mexican food in St.Louis. Afterwards, we drove to Fry's Electronics to look for cameras for Grandma and netbooks for mom, or at least to look at prices. After that, we drove up to Kierland Commons in north Scottsdale. 

Nothing I really need there, I ended up picking up two books for our upcoming cruise, The Master and Margarita, a Russian book mom and Tay recommended, and Main Street, one of the bitter satires of Sinclair Lewis. For me, Lewis seems to sit between Ayn Rand and Kurt Vonnegut. His protagonists are always characters that fall from idealism into a compromised world. Where Vonnegut satirizes with laughter and buffoons, Lewis seems only to find bitterness. So, light, fun reading for the cruise. Along with the bubbly, uplifting Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Global Public Health, I'll have plenty of lighthearted entertainment to while away those carefree hours.

I headed back to work afterwards, and got a few more hours of work in before heading back home and collapsing into a nap. 

More Pie a la Node

Steelcase is one of the major furniture companies in the world. They recently designed an update to the traditional school desk/chair unit called the Node. As part of the updated features, they also designed the chair much much wider, and built it to withstand a 300 pound high school student plopping into it. The photo on the right is from the Steelcase website.

I oftentimes struggle with the idea of designers as enablers. There are some who believe that it is the responsibility of the designer to reflect the culture and customs of its users. American kids are fat and it would not surprise me to soon see federal prohibitions on discrimination against obesity, similar to the Americans with Disabilities Act. Additionally, I think everyone should go to school, and to that end, that they should be encouraged and feel comfortable in school.

However, I worry that the gradual oversizing of all seating will lead to complacency with obesity. If you don't fit into a standard seat, there's a problem. Real and immediate, and a direct consequence of being unhealthy. I do believe that most people who are overweight wish that they were more thin. However, wishes do not translate into direct action and while many think lean thoughts, America as a whole gets wider and more unhealthy.

I believe in individual responsibility, but at the same time, I think that American culture has enabled this obesity epidemic. People make choices about what to eat and how much exercise to get, but our work and food and city environments strongly influence those decisions. Designers have a direct hand in the expression of material culture. It is worth stating my own belief in the matter that "if you build it, they will come," or in other words, if you start designing gun racks at restaurant entrances, you're going to see many more people packing heat to dinner. Maybe that's just a designer's conceit, and that really we are marionettes who dance on the end of the strings. I believe that we can jerk the strings back.

Jun 11, 2010

Viva la FIFA

I'm actually kind of excited for the World Cup. I don't know who is on the US team (although I'm rooting for them), I didn't really pay much attention to Olympic soccer, and I don't really follow sports. Sometimes, I think that I really should for networking and businesses purposes, like some people take up golf. It's a safe topic of conversation for breaking the ice, meeting people face to face and talking about something other than business. It strikes me almost as a standard of normalcy, especially for men, and especially in the midwest. If this guy can talk about the latest baseball or basketball or football game, then I can understand him, I can work with him. I feel really awkward when people in the office make small talk with me, opening with, "man, that was really tragic with the suns, huh?" and I'm gulping and nodding, "I know, right?"

So why am I excited about the World Cup? Part of it is being part of something the entire rest of the world gets swept up in. Sure, North Korea issues press releases that sound like someone's been smoking banana peels over there, but they still sent a team. Argentina, France, Brazil, Italy, most European countries go completely crazy during those two months. Yes, the Olympics are nice, but there's much more emphasis on country's performance as a whole rather than on the individual events. It feels more egalitarian, more formal, more ceremonial, like the parade of nations. The Olympics are like the UN.

The World Cup is all about soccer. It comes down to the games. Two teams, facing off against each other as they work their way to the top. There's only one event, one master tournament to determine who is the best in the world, and our country is there. It's got action, nationalism, passion. You never see fans rioting and setting cars on fire after their country wins the Ice Skating Couple Dance.

Sure, there's also a bit of eclecticism, the fact which landed soccer on the list of "Stuff White People Like." Let's face it, soccer is not a popular sport in the US, definitely not as popular a spectator sport as the baseball, basketball, or football, and trails even behind hockey. It's a yuppie/hipster thing to "appreciate" foreign sports that don't have mass appeal.

There's been some really good commercials associated with the World Cup. My favorite was from the last one, although there's a fantastic commercial from Nike which you'll find below that one.

Mai and Mai Tai

Yesterday was a really busy day. I worked through lunch on a design charette (design brainstorming) with a group on how to develop the NE corner of Mesa-Phoenix Gateway airport. There's going to be a huge resort/conference center moving into the massive property to the NE of the airport, which it made sense to tie into with our schemes. So that was kind of fun. The rest of the afternoon was not so much fun as we discovered some problems with our building and what we needed to do to fully understand and remedy them. Not fun discussions, but interesting ones to sit in on. The after-work beer on the patio was definitely deserved. 

After, we decided to pick up a friend of ours, Mai, and go out for some drinks. Mai's been one of our good friends for awhile, a Japanese industrial designer. She really loves Phoenix, so its a real shame that the economy is so bad. She's flying back to Japan next week. Anyway, we took her Trader Vic's which was oddly hopping for after 9pm on a summer thursday night, including a live band which thankfully went away after about half an hour.Good time for drink and food specials too. I grabbed a Mai Tai (my favorite drink) and Saori and Mai grabbed some other tropical libations, and we munched on beef cho-chos and panko shrimp. It was nice.

I had one beer when I came home, and one mai tai several hours later, so tell me why I still felt hung over when I woke up. Sand and grit behind my eyeballs, stomach is tight, water, toast, aspirin, back to bed for a few more hours. 

Just in time for the World Cup.

Jun 8, 2010


After an unusually beautiful May, June settled into Phoenix like a tidal wave of flaming hydrogen. You can almost smell the heat in the air- you inhale deeply, and the inside of your nose stings and burns. When you step outside of the shadows, into the direct 110 degree sunlight, there's the feeling all over your body of your skin tightening up as the pores open and the sweat rushes to block the openings. The dry, overwhelming heat almost feels like a cleansing fire, burning away everything and filling the world with brilliant white light. This powerful direct light also makes buildings look great- brilliantly defined surfaces textures and colors, the phenomenally crisp shadows. It's almost like a studio lamp on a sculpture.

I'm going to miss this brand of light and heat. I do enjoy the summertime here. There's no one outside on the streets, its the perfect season to sit in a shady porch with the misters, and let the afternoon while away while you enjoy a pitcher of Arizona Peach beer, or a local Hefewiesen with a slice of lemon. The blistering silences and dust make the world feel thin and unreal, like there are things in Phoenix that only awaken and stir when its too hot for people to be outside.

There's something that strikes me architecturally about the desert too. In nature, form is a slave of function, but it seems most striking and apparent in the desert, where plants and animals have surprising forms and adaptations to survive. And its elegant. There's so little resources, and the conditions are so extreme, everything is taken to its most simplistic level of survival. Regular trees lose too much moisture through their big leaves, so we have trees that have very coarse bark to shade the skin, and billions of tiny tiny leaves, or trees that have no leaves, but only green skins to capture the sunlight.

Jun 7, 2010

That's INTERN ARCHITECT Perkins, to you

I finally got to take a look at the presentation that my office presented to the ASU graduate students, and I actually was able to pull some of the photos from it. In no particular order:
The website photo of the office. Unfortuantely, some of the people in the photo (including the photographer) are no longer in the firm. However, I was bemused to realize afterwards that the principals tended to congregate at the back, and they pushed the young guns up to the front. 

Me and my coworker, Brad, who actually went to the ASU presentation. It seemed like a lot of the office photos were the two of us. I like these photos: they make me look semi-professional, like I'm some kind of hotshot designer. (I do actually get to do some design work, which is more than I can say for a lot of my peers, but 90% of the time, I'm doing other stuff than designing. But thats true of the profession in general).

Here's Alec again, working on a design charette (quick study) for an ASU residential community. I don't remember why I'm dressed in jeans and a tee shirt. I think I actually wore a sweater to work that day, and it happened to be really hot in the conference room. Anyway, of course the photo is relatively staged. Nobody can un-self-conscientiously present while people are snapping photos. 

I'm not sure why this photo was included. Maybe they were looking for something they could caption: "Collaboration" or "Teamwork" or "Empowering the design of young professionals." Or "Casual Day." I also like this photo since it looks like my desk (its not my desk really) has a huge stack of rolled drawings. It also looks like Brad isn't listening with his headphones on. 

Jun 5, 2010

What's great for a snack and fits on your back?

Today I was up pretty early after Saori left for work, so I ended up getting some laundry done at the community coin operated laundry room downstairs. It's not killing me so much right now, but once school starts, having our own laundry machine will be fantastic and free up so much time. Bumming through the Netflix instant streaming listings, I found the original season of Ren & Stimpy, a cartoon we 80's kids grew up with. I'm sure its a generational thing, but there was a lot of really surreal programming for kids then. Ren & Stimpy, Rocco's Modern Life, The Adventures of Pete & Pete. It seems like what followed was much more direct and less esoteric. The legacy of the oddness and boundary pushing Ren&Stimpy show was just gross out stupid humor, although some of the same animators and staffers would go on to work on Dexter's Lab and Spongebob Squarepants. Ok, we're not talking Masterpeice Theater, but the early seasons of these works have endured and I would really hold them up to anything being currently aired on Nickelodeon.

And while I'm on the topic, why did so many American animators suddenly decide to imitate the look of  anime? Samurai Jack was the first example I saw, and really that took more inspiration from brush paintings and the whole thing was so stylized, it was really a style unto itself. But look at what they did to Batman Beyond, Teen Titans, Ben-10, etc. People just assume that the movie The Last Airbender is an Asian import- in fact, its based on Nickelodeon cartoon series created to look like a Chinese anime series. It's probably cheaper to animate this way, and studios unwilling to take a risk on originality stick with the look of the hot imports.

I submit these two clips: the first is of the "American" version of the animated Batman series. The second is of the new "fake Anime" versions. Which is better?

Anyway, after folding laundry, I fixed a small frame displaying a gilded carved Chinese wooden panel, and hung it above our headboard. Afterwards, I drove to mom's house and she took me out to the park and ride to learn how to drive stick.

I've never touched anything other than an automatic transmission before, and my feeling is that most of the cars I will be driving in the future will also feature an automatic transmission. However, it's always kind of bugged me that I don't know how to drive stick. I feel like people look at me and are surprised that I don't know how to drive stick, and it's always been something that's intimidated me. What if there's an emergency and I really need to drive someone else's car? I'm sure the rest of the developing world drives stick shift cars, so what my guide/driver gets shot while we're in Somalia? As the pirates and militants close in, I turn confidently to the other terrified passengers and say, "sorry, I don't know how to drive stick." Ok. An absurd example, but it still seems like a skill set I'd like to develop. 

I sort of got the hang of starting the car and taking it into first gear and from first to second. Only killed the car a few times. I'm taking it pretty slow since I have the time to learn- if I really wanted to learn quickly, the best way to do it would be to drive from mom's house to some other destination that puts me in very uncomfortable situations. We did that for about an hour, and called it good.

It was about lunchtime so we grabbed a bite to eat at a relatively new BBQ place off the Warner-Elliot loop called Hawg n Dawg. Got a platter that included pulled pork and chopped smoked links and they were both pretty tasty. Fed the two of us with decent appetites for less than $10. 

Back at mom's house, I pulled down the terrible drapes over the entry door and installed wooden blinds for her. She says I'm getting to be an expert at blinds installation. It's not quite rocket science, as the custom blinds she orders are pretty much idiot proof and pretty forgiving in terms of overall tolerances. The entry/foyer does look a lot better.

Aztec Fridays

Yesterday on my recession Friday, we started off with a breakfast at our local Jack-in-the-Box, which was kind of nice as the uptown one on central made an attempt to upscale itself with high, cafe-style tables by the front windows. Next stop was the giant Fry's Electronics, the big box store that for some reason looks like a Aztec temple. It's beyond kitch, with the giant fake stone snakes, and the life size tableus of natives bearing consumer electronics, but the whole thing is so surreal and arbitrary, I actually find it much more preferable to the typical steaming piles of stucco I see everywhere. I'm sure I'm reading too much into it, but the fact that its an electronics store in the form of a temple strikes me as commentary on consumerism as nearly religious worship. Make sacrifice unto HD.

[Actually, I am reading way too much into it. Apparently, Fry's Electronics attempts to theme most of it's stores. There's a "pre-1960's Indianopolis 500" theme in Indiana, an oil-derrick theme in the Houston store, and oddly, stores that use an Alice in Wonderland motif with life-sized characters. Aztecs were a native group in Mexico, but as we're in Arizona, I don't see how they could make the connection. Saori was wondering where do you even find contractors who carve giant foam sculptures.]

Anyway, after Fry's we went to PV mall to look for a swimsuit for Saorichan. We had mixed luck- she found a suit she liked for a price she didn't so its off to the internet for some comparison shopping. I picked up a new hat, and we wandered through the various stores. PV seems to have stablized itself. Last time I was there about a year to two years ago, there were a lot of shuttered stores, and it seems like there were only one or two closed storefronts.

Fortunately or unfortunately, the indoor mall typology is on its way out the door. The retail trend which follows the financing trend is that they are being supplanted by outdoor malls. Typical form is a "district" or short pedestrian street lined with boutique retail, dining, and entertainment surrounded by a lake of parking and the entire thing ringed by a chain of big box retail stores. If you're in Phoenix; Desert Ridge, Tempe Marketplace, Mesa Riverview, San Tan, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

We finally got around to watching our latest Netflix disc, Chungking Express by Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai (In the Mood for Love, 2046), which tells the story of two Hong Kong cops and their love lives. Tony Leung stars as one of the cops, and there was another Japanese actor I saw in John Woo's Red Cliff who played the other cop. Apparently shot in two months while Kar Wai was editing another much larger epic, this is a much simpler, lighter movie than his other works. The story centers around a food stand which sells everything from fish and chips and chef's salads to pizza, where the two cops, who never actually share the same screen, come to eat and relax. The story is okay, its more about the characters and their relationships. Singer and model Faye Wong is a lot of fun to watch as she plays one of the food stand staffers who secretly loves one of the cops, and she is constantly grooving to the same song, "California Dreaming." I liked it more than Happy Together, and 2046, but I didn't think it measured up to In the Mood for Love.

The style is great, his camera loves the culture and city of Hong Kong, its internationalism, its frenetic pace and neon signage, the packed vegetable markets in the tropical heat and concrete, the incredible density and labrythine urbanism, even the griminess. It makes me want to pack up and head straight to Hong Kong. American filmmaker Quinten Tarintino geeked out over this movie so much, he introduces the film, and actually created a line of special US releases to make sure that the film would be exposed to US audiences.

Thinking about Tarintino, it makes me wonder if there are "filmmaker's filmmakers," or possibly, "architect's architects." Can they be judged in the same way? Or is it only valid to evaluate and compare works? Tarintino might camp out at the theater to see the latest Wong Kar Wai work, as George Lucas might to see a Kurosawa film, or John Lasseter (Pixar) for Miyazaki (Ghibli), but so would so many other people. The cinema is so accessible and directly experienced that it makes me think that the reasons the Tarintino's and Lucas's go to the movies is not so different why you or I go to the movies.

Fundamentally, maybe its not so different with architects and architecture. Yes, if Tadao Ando designed a gas station a hundred miles from my house, I would drive to go see it just because it's Tadao Ando's work. Like a movie, architects and designers would be interested in the details and craftmanship, but I think really at the end of the day, what is most compelling is the spaces that are created, and I think everyone really does appreciate architecture in that same way, whether or not they even notice it. Perhaps people like being certain places and its just that industry people pay closer attention to the causes of what makes a space nice. There's differences of taste, and also of ambition of course. Scottsdale Fashion square mall has a nice atrium, you could say the sliding glass roof and ambient daylight and bridges are nice architectural features, but no one but architects will pay close attention to them. But people pay money to see Gaudi's unfinished Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona, which is a space that grabs you and shakes you. Designer or no, most people say "wow."

Jun 3, 2010

Poster Boy

My coworker that I've been helping with the park and ride was also pulled to help one of the company principals give a presentation at ASU. I idly wondered what it was all about, and my coworker disappeared for the morning while I finished up some minor stuff for the park and ride and headed out to the client meeting.

Just before I arrived, I got a funky text from a friend of mine who is in the ASU architecture masters program, to the effect that today he learned that I'm the poster boy for the company. Apparently, due to the fantastic architecture market, it should be little surprise that there are few internships available in the valley, if any. So, ASU's architecture program offers a 2 week professional practice substitute, where industry professionals come in and speak. One of our principals was there today, along with Eddie Jones of Jones Studio, and it is my hunch that his calender is wide open, too.

How bad is the market for architects? A former coworker got hired by a small boutique firm that slowly laid everybody off except for him and the principal. And then they cut their hours back, and finally, he had to be laid off and the firm closed. Two architects who owned and leased a strip mall finally tossed in the towel and opened a coffee shop in uptown Phoenix called "Urban Beans." The vast majority of the students I graduated with either left town, changed fields, or are unemployed. The good news is that things are finally starting to look a little better.

Personally, I've been astronomically lucky. I've swum in the center of concentric rings of luck. I was lucky to get an internship at this firm, I was lucky that when I was ready to find work, they were hiring. I was lucky that the firm has been working in the valley for 60 years and so had a pool of relationships wide and deep enough to sustain their business. I've been lucky to work on a lengthy profitable project, while many people in my office who did not have the luck to be attached to a major project were gradually let go as their smaller projects finished and were not replaced. I've been lucky to have worked with excellent coworkers and supervisors who look out for me and who say nice things about me.

By choosing to go to college now, and leave this position, I don't feel like I'm abusing my luck, since my position will probably be filled people already at the firm who really need the billable time. Luck isn't totally random either- there's a saying:
Luck is when preparedness meets opportunity.
 It suggests you can effect your own luck. It also suggests that there are two types of unlucky people- people who are either unprepared for opportunity, and those who are prepared, but for whom the opportunity doesn't come.

When I was traveling around Europe with my friend Chase, we seemed to be surrounded by an aura of incredibly fantastic luck. Despite frequently showing up at the wrong train stations, we made every single train we intended to catch, sometimes with minutes to spare. The one day we bought a subway ticket was the day that the subway police checked it. We thought we'd missed a night train out of Berlin, but we hung around the train station thinking about what to do for the night, when the train conductor came running after us. On an unscheduled detour to Budapest where we had done no research on where to go or stay, Chase happened to run into the English-speaking city director of tourism. I was almost to the point where I started looking around for Chase's "guardian angel." I think now that really, Chase was just very, very open to opportunity, and flexible enough in the backpacker mindset that we were prepared for almost anything.

I think that's really one thing I love about travel- its not so much a trip outside of your home as it is a trip outside your mind. Some people don't really travel this way- the ones that go to Hawaii every summer, mentally, they never leave home, the old mental roadblocks are always there, and the wiring is fused tight. Travel shakes that up for me. It rewires my brain, makes me a different person that I enjoy being. At risk, in danger of opportunities, open minded so that everything is new and nothing is strange.

Technical difficulties

While I felt really accomplished to design the perkinsyamane.com website, I did all my editing and testing in Google Chrome, which, unfortunately, does not handle web pages the same way as Microsoft's Internet Explorer, which still has the greatest market share of browsers. So when I open www.perkinsyamane.com in internet explorer, I get the photo of Saori, but nothing else, since it moves the white text to jammed up in the top left corner of the window, and since its white text, on the white background, it simply dissapears. Also, Internet Explorer adds blue boxes around any image which is a link, so now there are these ugly blue boxes everywhere.

And silly me I thought the point of having a universal language was that it would be understood and interpreted universally.

Back to the drawing board.

Park & Ride

It's been a few busy days. Memorial day was nice and sleepy in the morning, and then we went to a cafe and on to mom's house in the late afternoon for dinner and a movie. We watched Porco Rosso, another animated movie by Miyazaki, the director of Spirited Away and Ponyo. It's a very different kind of movie- it has the look of a kid's movie, with ridiculous air pirates, but its actually much more geared to adults with lots of ambiguity and nostalgia.

Tuesday Wednesday were long days where I jumped off my current project to help out my coworker with some design options for a park and ride. Park and rides are basically bus hubs for commuters with tons of parking. There's actually a lot of fun designing them, since only real thing they need to do is provide shade and seating. Revit has been very helpful with this- basically the program is being used as a conceptual design tool. Monday, I took a hand sketch of a plan, and by wednesday night, I had a relatively photorealistic rendering of what it would look like, complete with people, plants, cars, etc. I actually developed two designs simultaneously. And then this morning, we generated shade studies. 

We picked a perspective view of a bus stop, like you were standing there looking at it, told the computer that the location was Phoenix, AZ, and asked the computer to show us how the shadows would be from sunrise to sunset on July 17. It took about 40 minutes for each design, but at the end, we got a nice, 30 second long animation of how the shadows move around the platform. All this was done with the same program. I'm actually debating getting a student licence for Revit, since its less than $200 and usable for up to five years. That's cheaper than SketchUp was when it first came out, before it was bought by Google. 

Anyway, this afternoon, I went to a client meeting, which is always very interesting. I wear a nice shirt and a tie, and the glossy shoes, and we sit at the biggest table I've ever seen in person. You could probably get 30 people comfortably around this table. It fills the conference room. The meetings are interesting because the top administrative staff, the people who make all the decisions for the large organization, are also there as well as their counterparts in my firm, and from the construction firm. And its interesting to see how they communicate, how they present ideas and discuss things, and really, just witnessing how top-level decisions are made that have the potential to affect hundreds, if not thousands, of people. 

That probably sounds a lot more insidious than it actually is, if you consider the fact that the corner circle K affects thousands of people in some way. I'm just happy I can tag along and listen and see firsthand.

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