Aug 30, 2010

Fall Schedule

Here's what I'm taking next fall (hopefully):

Architecture Studio: This is the last of the "core" studios, which means beyond this studio I can take whatever studio I want. We'll be joining a group of students who came in to the school a year ago, most of whom have undergraduate degrees in things other than architecture. Up to this point, they have had a year of studios which focus on basic design concepts, but not an actual building. This will be their first studio to focus on habitable spaces. The studio centers on housing, which I'm looking forward to since I've never had a housing studio before. 6 credit hours but really I'll be spending the vast majority of my time here.

Environmental systems I: I think this is the old "landscape and site design" class about climate, environment, site, and building. 3 hour lecture.

Digital visualization workshop: More Rhino. Plus plug-ins to make it even more obtuse and detached from reality. On a Sunday. Yay. This is the one that required that no one knows about. At least its only 1 credit.

Metabolic City: Drawing and Urbanism. This sounds like a really fun class. Its part history, part theory, focusing on Japanese Metabolists, Situationists, Archigram et al, and mid-century modern architecture. Lots of work, lots of research, but its been highly recommended and I think that the focus is really fascinating.

Reconsidering the Margins: Creative practice on the fringe. This sounds like a class heavily to the left considering they used the word "radical" about nine times in the course description. Its essentially a re-evaluation of the relationship between architects and society, and architecture and business, especially in consideration of economic cycles.

"You came here to work, St.Louis is dead."

Last night, everyone in the pre-semester studio returned at 9 pm to bring their models downstairs. Most groups were done, although there were a few groups who took a while longer- one group actually worked until 4am to complete their amazing model- which was completely laser cut and looked like a fantastic teardrop shaped spaceship.

We all wandered around the studio, looking at each other's models until Sung Ho showed up and started telling people to bring their models downstairs. We brought our models down and he showed us where he wanted them, stretched all along the full length of Givens hall, the main thoroughfare of the architecture school.

As we were making final adjustments to the models, it came out that we would not have studio until friday of this week, which would give us effectively four free days, unless you count our other required classes. People were tongue-in-cheek talking about perhaps getting out to actually do something in St.Louis, maybe finding a good restaurant, exploring their neighborhoods, finding out where the grocery store it, etc. mostly small barbs that we've basically been tied to this studio the past two weeks. As he strode away, our instructor commented "you came here to work, St.Louis is dead."

Anyway. It was fun to see the row of models. On the stands, in the hall, they looked good. It was interesting that while there were a few shared typologies of form (the vertical box) most of the models in fabrication and form looked radically different. There was one that was covered in bondo to form a smooth Naguchi blob that reminded me of the crashed alien spaceship from Alien, there was one that looked like a wooden tornado, there were models that looked like complicated machines.

I had a professor once who dismissed basswood as a material because of its propensity to make things look attractive, in his view, that a weak design could be hidden in basswood. He referred to a studio of basswood models rather dismissively as a "basswood parade", and that name has stuck with me.

Anyway, that was sunday night. Today is monday, registration day where we met with out advisors. I hate to say it but registration is a frustrating affair. We were given no indication of how to register or when to register apart from being directed to a certain website. We have to wait to meet with our advisors to register for classes. Classes begin tomorrow. We were supposed to review courses that we want to take and discuss them with our advisors but they only put the booklets out with the information this morning. Yes, this information was also online, but difficult to find and access. It is nice that our advisors are actual professors- mine is a PhD with degrees from Harvard and MIT, and that there's only a handfull of students for each advisor, but at the same time, he didn't really have that much info on the process. I threw out a few course titles I was interested in after hurriedly perusing the catalog, and he recommended most of them. It was a pretty quick meeting.

We actually register ourselves for the classes we want to take, they just 'unlock' our registration accounts. Registration was not so tricky itself, but by the time we got around to it, two of the classes I wanted to take threw me on a waitlist. Also, all of the 2+ waived out of certain classes, but these classes were automatically added to our class schedules. Some of the classes changed names to make them more obscure- "site planning" became "Environmental systems" for example, and one class is actually mandatory but only mentions that it is mandatory in the course description and nowhere else. I tracked down the registrar and confirmed that yes, it is mandatory, and that more information would be forthcoming. Even though it is a 1 credit hour class on weekends, considering that we're registering for classes TODAY, when exactly would this information be more forthcoming? I also learned from inquiring that there is a 2 week drop/add period, which is also, not mentioned in any of the material given to us or easily found online.

The faculty and advisors are very friendly, I ended up getting some of the registration information from the dean of the school himself, and despite the fact that this is their second busiest time of year, they were all nice and happy to answer my questions. It would be nice to have a little more direction, but as my downstairs neighbor pointed out, we're in grad school, and you pretty much do what you want to do.

Aug 29, 2010

Pre-semester "Orientation" studio

Done! (again)

I changed my mind about the base. Or to be more accurate, I talked to a few people including my TA who nervously asked if I'd cleared my choice of a canvas topography with Sung Ho (our instructor), and also Saori who strongly recommended I do something to upgrade it. 

I went into to studio around 10 this morning and helped Saori build her group's model stand. Nan, my partner, was just leaving after taking photos of the model herself. Then I went outside and took about 100 photos of the model in the sunshine from various angles and orientations. There are really two modes of thinking about studio models. You can hold on to them forever until they start to break into smaller and smaller peices until you are effectively transporting a model entirely in plastic baggies or you can trash the damn things after a semester and after you've taken about 100-200 photos of it. I used to be the former category, but then when I couldn't store models in my parents garage anymore, I switched modes of thinking.

It's hard to throw away an architecture model. They are quite literally the embodiments of huge amounts of time, thought, and money. They are beautiful and interesting objects of art that are also usually the capstone of a design studio, and until a final presentation, there is no more sacred object in the proximity of the architecture building than people's final models. There are unwritten rules to architecture school and one of them is basically "Thou shalt not touch other people's models" written right above "Thou shalt not kill." Given all this in mind, it becomes very difficult to simply toss it in the dumpster like an old lamp, which is why most people start with the Keep mentality.

Anyway, looking at our model, photographing it, and then comparing it to the other finished models, I started to feel pretty crappy about having a crappy canvas base. Not only does a crappy base make the model look, well, crappy, but its also a crappy reflection of your group to the rest of the studio, who most of which took the time (and expense) to make nice basswood bases. So I tore up the canvas and booked it for Art Mart, a store on Hanley which sells (surprise) art materials. Really fun store. Dangerous, as Saori would call it, since there's so much for sale that creative people want to buy immediately. Great variety and selection. I picked up a roll of cork board, a disposable fountain pen, and a tiny penguin eraser for Saorichan.

Took about two hours to glue down the new cork topo but it turned out much nicer than the canvas. Afterwards, Saori and celebrated the end of the pre-semester studio with Thai pizza- small thin crust pizzas with Thai food covered with mozzarella cheese. Really good. 

Aug 28, 2010


For better or worse, we're calling the pre-semester project "done."

In addition to providing a model and the base, we were also required to build our own 3' tall model stands. So today I took a break from studio and drove down to Home Depot. I picked up a sheet of 3/4" plywood and had them rip it into two 3' boards which I threw into the Prius and headed back to studio. One of the 4'x3' sheets went to Saori's group. It's a pretty good deal- it breaks down to about $5 a person.

Back at school, me and my partner on this project, Nan, took our sheet of plywood down to the workshop and student monitors helped us chop the board up into the constituent parts for our model stand. Our studio teacher gave us plans for the standard platform, and thankfully they were about as minimal and uncomplicated as you can get for a plaform- essentially the two boards interlock to form a rigid X on top of which you secure the table top. I aped another group's design of using wooden dowels to attach the top so that when we're done, we can break the platform down easily for storage and transportation. It did take some extra effort and I didn't do a really clean job (its hard, drilling a 5/8" hole into the edge of a 3/4" plywood board!) but it worked and its effective. Nan sanded down the sides and the top so we have a slightly more finished look than rough ply.

We decided to go the easy and cheap route with our model base. Originally, our studio teacher said he wanted us to use basswood for the base, but that is just not happening for us. Neither Nan nor I wanted to shell out the dough, and secondly, while it would be good to use the laser cutter, its an additional pain in the ass to make the damn thing. So we opted to stretch raw canvas over cardboard topographical sections, and used small brads to secure it in place. The overall effect is like a dune or a sandy hill.

I am willing to be that our instructor, Sung Ho, is not going to like it. We actually hid the material during the desk crit time. In fact, I would predict that he will tell us that it sucks, that it looks cheap, and that it detracts from the model. He'd be right about a lot of that- however, I'd like to have at least one last day of freedom before the semester starts, and Nan is excited for seeing the St.Louis arch, who, despite having lived in St.Louis for over a month now, has never left the 2 mile radius around the school due to the studio.

On a lighter note, the architecture grad student assoc. put on another happy hour yesterday. At 5:30 we all came downstairs from the studios to munch on the Pappy's BBQ chicken and pork and to buy $1 Schlafly beers. We drank, we ate, we mingled, we enjoyed the late afternoon sun, all in all the best cost to happiness ratio I've found in St.Louis. The best part is: its a weekly event.

Aug 27, 2010

Basswood parade

I think this project is kind of a mixed bag of sucesses and failures. At this point our model is coming together nicely and we have our terrain figured out and people including instructors stop by and tell us how good it's looking. This is the basswood effect. Build anything out o the stuff and it automatically looks fantastic. I'm not really challenging myself there other than the challenge of high levels of craft (crafting models). I felt pretty good today until I was talking with another classmate. Her project is kind of an amorphous blob cut out of thick layers of chipboard. They were attempting to use bondo body filler on it to make it smooth and at this point I actually mistook it for her site. She was upbeat because, as she exained, they had really learned how to do complicated blobby nurbs in rhino in a team where no one had done it before. Additionally she got the experience if attempting of translating those computer generated blobs into physical models via laser cutter, a method I avoided basically because I was unfamiliar with the process and I was worried about the time of learning how to use it. So I basically did the same process I do for every project. :/

So soon you will see a very nice model that taught me nothing except basic rhino usage. There are other lessons that I am learning from this pre semester studio.

Aug 25, 2010

Pre-semester whining

This pre-semestser studio is throwing me a little bit for a loop. I can understand wanting to get us prepared for the studio environment by doing an actual little ungraded project, but this is really going too far. There are many good reasons to have a pre-semester studio- get students aquainted with the studio environment, learn the software, find out where you can buy materials, figure out how to laser cut, establish standards, etc. However, I cannot understand why we are being pushed to spend upwards of 16 hours a day for the last two weeks of freedom before classes being in an ungraded orientation.

A lot of these students just arrived from China for the first time. You would think that you might show a little consideration in letting them perhaps get a little more settled, hmm? I consider myself lucky that we got a week and a half to settle in and explore the town a bit before these silly studio shenanigans.

Our pre-semester studio instructor, Jung, really wants us to have something interesting and nice to put on display so that when the architecture faculty come in on the first day of school monday, they will say, "F***, I want these students in my studio." I appreciate his dedication to the academic and theoretical field but I dont really feel that his area of interest and my area of interest in architecture coincide much.

Oh well, time to sleep.

Aug 23, 2010

Our Observation Truck

This post goes out to Chase K, who just got to Shanghai a few days ago to teach Chinese kids to speak English. Since blogspot is blocked by the Great Firewall, he can no longer read these posts.

Got back home from studio around 12:30 am last night, and the studio was still about halfway full. Everyone else's model has crazy curves, angled walls, sails or soaring towers. At this point, our model looks like a bus, and I'm kind of wondering where we went wrong. Our concept of an observatory as a place for meditative and focused looking was pretty simple but perhaps too boring. Or at least the initial concepts we attempted to develop never really went anywhere to our satisfaction and it eventually became an endless game.

At least we don't have to do series of drawings, like the class below ours. They have to draw sections of vegetibles and map the universe. We got to jump right into the more fun stuff of modeling and building. Anyway, back to studio.

Aug 21, 2010

Before the Beginning of the Beginning or Sleep Alec Rambles a bit

It's 10:30 pm on a saturday night, and I consider myself lucky to be at home cooking dinner. Saori's still stuck in studio. Me any my partner finally arrived at an idea we both liked and quickly called it a day and took off. It's been a not so much fun studio so far, which I need to work on. I jumped right back into my old studio habits of leaping before thinking. It tends to happen instinctively when the studio instructors throw an impossible task in front of you. I need to have more discipline of taking the time to sit down and plan out what my phases of design are going to be and scheduling them better. Its also difficult with group work where I'm working with a person who has never before been to the US and for whom English is a school subject. There's the challenge of the language barrier on top of the challenge of collaborative design work. However, my partner, Nan, has been very easy to work with, and we've both been working hard to try to really understand each other, which may account for the ease of working with her. Perhaps people working together who speak the same language take too much for granted in their conversations, or don't articulate thier ideas as well. For my part, in this project, I've tried to be pretty open, and to be honest, I haven't really developed my ideas at the right time.

Our first assignment was to form three definitions of what an observatory is and to make 3 models in Rhino expressing these concepts. As it turns out, what they meant by that, was, they wanted you to make three observatory concepts at a very intimate human scale that express experiential qualities in a sequence, to wit, what would your ideal observatory be, your own place to escape to. So when I got up and showed my work it was a bit of swing and a miss. Other people didn't seem to have this same sort of problem.

I've basically been working in studio from 9am-10pm every day since Wednesday, except for an hour-2 hour break each day. Originally, Saori and I intended to ride our bikes to school and back each day, but so far this has only happened once. We are, of course, expected to work through each of the weekends until school actually starts. I'm happy to note that I am getting very involved in the design work, at least to the extent that if I didn't really care about a 2 week pre-semester doesn't-really-count studio, I wouldnt be putting in the hours and the effort.

Anyway, for monday, we're expected to build a quarter scale model, which for my project, will be approximately three feet long. At least this one will be built out of cardboard and chipboard. Less than a week later, we are expected to build another model, this one in basswood, and have a 3' tall basswood base AND a 3D model in Rhino with handrails, stairs, etc. everything one would expect on a quarter scale model. In a quarter scale model, just for perspective, 1" = 4', so a regular door would be 3/4"x1 3/4". It's a pretty large scale to work in.

What else is going on...
We got our futon finally delivered. It was Saori's shift when it arrived. She had her partner over at our place working on the project while she waited, and when the package finally arrived it was about 8o pounds and in a huge box. I'd just had curbside service, but the driver took one look at the two girls and carried it up the stairs for them, which was very nice of him, so wherever you are, sir, you have my regards. I assembled the futon wednesday night, and it looks pretty spiffy for a $115 couch. Not uncomfortable either.

Its a pain that this apartment/duplex is so far from school- it takes about 15 minutes to bike it, but I'm happy that it kind of removed from the school, just like a spacious quiet retreat. It's so nice to walk on wood floors after a long day in studio.

Yesterday, there was an amazing storm at night. We were the last people in the studio and it was incredible to watch from the second floor as the waves of rain thrashed their way across the parking lot, whipped around by winds. Before that, the tornado warning siren sounded, and I followed the national weather service website  advisories until they ended the warning about fifteen minutes later. We drove home in pounding rain and watched the incredible lighting and thunder rattle the house from our dark apartment sitting on our new futon.

Its amazing to me that I'm back in studio. Sitting in reviews, shopping for supplies, sitting at my desk, etc. etc. I need to think more, relax more, work more effectively and efficiently. As Saori pointed out, this is simply studio. Its not even considering the OTHER coursework I'll be doing when the real semester starts. All I know is that I'm already tired. Its going to be a long 2 and a half years.

Aug 19, 2010

the cardboard cutouts

Today we rode our bikes to school, took about 15 minutes. Not bad, timewise, but there's a serious quantity of hill around here, which makes me really think about prioritizing a route that doesn't involve so many hills vs traffic. Worked for a few hours this morning. I'm slowly getting the hang of Rhino, although I'm still using a trial copy with 23 saves to go. It really is like autocad crossed with SketchUp. Much more powerful than sketchup, but also lacking the simplicity and intuitiveness of sketchup.

Anyway, we're on to our first project- an observatory. Very open ended, very free and open to whatever we want to do with it. We were asked to form groups of 2-3 people and by the end of next week have a 3D model and a basswood model at quarter scale. I was approached by one of the Chinese students to work together, and then we got another Chinese student who missed yesterday so now our group "the Cardboard Cutouts," has three people.

I'm currently missing the second day of studio, sitting at home for a few inopportune hours, waiting for the delivery of our large futon. When we bought it online, we didn't think the processing and delivery time would be that bad, and at that point we didnt know what we would be doing for the pre-semester workshop. The delivery company called me up and basically let me know that they only deliver during business hours, M-F, and only starting today for availability. With a project DUE next week, our cars unable to fit the futon, we decided to suck it up and stay at home for the "delivery window" of four hours (of course, which ended up coinciding nearly perfectly with the studio desk crit time). So we're alternating. I'm taking the first shift and if the futon doesnt show up in the next half an hour, it will be Saori's turn to wait for it. It's very annoying. 

Yesterday we had our shop orientation, which gave me a very good impression for the school and faculty. We were split into small groups of a few students and taken around to each major piece of machinery to be shown how to safely operate it and to actually do some test cuts with wood to make sure we really were comfortable with it. The school provides free screws, hardware, and tons of pieces of scrap lumber, MDF, plywood, you name it, just lying around. They also gave us our own pair of safety glasses, ear plugs, and a small tape measure, which was a nice touch. 

Aug 18, 2010

Nurbs Nerds

Day 1 of Pre-Semester Studio:

We were asked to create three concepts representing our definitions of what an "observatory" is, in Rhino (a 3D modeling program), for tomorrow afternoon's homework. Three major challenges.

  1. I don't have a copy of Rhino
  2. I've never used this relatively complicated modeling software
  3. "tomorrow afternoon."
Additionally, I have some issues with the philosphy driving the homework, namely the intent to get us to learn Rhino and use it. Rhino, for those not in the industry, is a computer program for making 3D models that primarily relies on NURBS. From Wikipedia:

Non-uniform rational basis spline (NURBS) is a mathematical model commonly used in computer graphicsfor generating and representing curves and surfaces which offers great flexibility and precision for handling both analytic and freeform shapes.
More simply, NURBS are special curved surfaces. People tend to use them to design very radically warped surfaces, rather than simply warped surfaces. For obvious reasons, NURBS are primarily used by industrial designers, aircraft designers, and shipbuilders. I have issues with architecture derived from NURBS for the following reasons:

  1. NURBS architecture tends to be unbuilt architecture. I think architecture should be about the built environment.
  2. Difficulty of fabrication- if the skin of a building is a wacky curve, the wacky curve does not just show up on the site. If its a concrete skin, a form work must be erected with the same curve. If its panels, each panel must be individually milled or fabricated to its own unique shape, which then must be placed in precisely one location. All of these things mean huge added costs and usually more waste material.
  3. Extra structure- everything goes back to a building structure, which means that there is going to be a lot more steel, wood, or concrete to make the wavy distorted skin attach back to the secondary and primary structural elements. That's also added costs and additional material. 
  4. A famous architect apocryphally looked at a brick and asked it what it wanted to be. A brick suggests brick-like buildings, or with more skill and imagination, systematic curves a la Eladio Dieste, but still with the idea of the brick in mind- moving from the material to the form. NURBs give a form fully independent from the constraints and advantages of actual materials.
However, I will stick to my own advice of "Be open to new tools" and shut up and learn the software and use it, and THEN I'll complain about it.


Yesterday was my second day of orientation which was not nearly as long as the first. Once again, we walked to school, although this time we left earlier so we wouldn't be late. [2.2 miles] We got more specific curriculum information and a long lecture from the workshop head about the philosophy of safety, which was reassuring to hear. And that was about it. We then went to pick up our U passes which entitle us to free public transportation around the metropolitan area (and also regionally I think), and we walked back home [4.6 miles]. Once back home, I got a call from the bike shop letting me know my bike was ready, so I headed back outside and walked back down the hill to the bike shop [6 miles] and biked back up the hill [7.5 miles]. It's good to have my bike back.

Later in the afternoon, my RAM arrived. I realized I've been using 2 G of RAM in my computer, when really I should be using at least 4G considering the processor and graphics card I'm packing. My Dell came with two slots for memory, unfortunately one of which was located underneath the keyboard. The keyboard is secured by three tiny screws, one of which absolutely would not budge no matter what I did. Considering the large chunk of laptop innards below the screw I was trying to take out, I did not want to put all my weight on it as a skewered laptop has even less use than one with 2G of memory. I ended up stripping the tiny screw and with no other option, I used a very small pair of wire cutters to snip the small metal tab off the keyboard, thereby freeing it for removal. Once that was done, swapping out the memory and reinstalling the keyboard was a snap.

Afterwards, we went for a drive to target to pick up some insulated mugs. There's a coffee shop at the architecture building that will fill your mug for 70 cents, so that's a pretty cool, cheap option. Today is our first day of pre-semester "studio" which feels like a cheap trick considering that classes aren't supposed to begin until the 31st. Without having been the class, which begins at 1, I am assuming that we are going to be given a mini project to complete in order to bring us up to speed, familiarized with the studio and classmates, so that when classes start on the 31st we can hit the ground at nearly full speed.

This is my 700th post to this blog, which, starting from about 7 years ago, is roughly equivalent to a post every three and a half days. Readership is slightly up lately, from all across the globe, although the main search querries that take people to my blog are still the Mansion on Kyrene rd in Phoenix, and how to get to Jungfraujoch from Lausanne. Sadly, I have learned from experience that whenever I'm put high on the search response list for a querry, it usually means that I have spelled it wrong. If you did a google search for "onomatopoeia" for example, and spelled it "onomatopea," if google doesn't correct your spelling for you, its going to pull up all the more obscure web pages which have also spelled it wrong. You're going to get "" instead of "" and more's the case with place names.

Aug 16, 2010

Guidelines II

Personal guide to graduate school, revision II
  1. Ask many questions and don't be afraid to follow them. 
  2. Risk more- growth only comes with discomfort. Don't be afraid to fail.
  3. Embrace new ideas, new tools, and new methods of making and designing.
  4. Be bold, be daring!
  5. Let professional experience support, and not hinder, experimental design
  6. Embrace collaboration and criticism- everyone has something to teach if you listen.
  7. Sleep is a priority. So is food and exercise.
  8. Follow fun and interesting, but don't let them distract from necessity.
  9. Take advantage of professors, libraries, online resources, workshops. They're paid for- use them!

Orientation Day 1

Today was the first day of orientation.

We had been given no indication as to what to expect or how long the day would last, other than that we were to show up at 9am at the main auditorium. As Saori and I walked the 2.2 miles to school, we joked that we'd go in and they'd point out the cardinal directions and that would be it. If only that were the case.

It was a beautiful walk to campus- at 8 AM, the air was cool and crisp, the heat and humidity were way down from the last week, and it was really the most pleasant weather we've had since we got to town. It's also a long walk to campus- it ended up taking us about 50 minutes each way, but I think that may not be a bad thing considering how we don't really get any other exercise.

When we got to the building, we were about five minutes late (but not the last ones in!) and (surprise surprise) they handed us:

  • The Student Orientation Handbook, which includes an incredibly helpful section on where to live IF IT HAD BEEN DISTRIBUTED WHEN PEOPLE WERE ACTUALLY LOOKING FOR PLACES TO LIVE, not that I'm annoyed about it or anything. It also includes helpful hints concerning student insurance such as "if you cut yourself, do not walk to the student center" and warning that if you go to any other facility within 50 miles of the campus, your medical expenses will not be reimbursed.
  • The orientation and pre-semester calender of events which pretty much indicated that our summer is over, ha ha.
  • A few pages of notes on getting metro passes, ID cards, etc. and a map of the campus.
  • An overdesigned social calender made by the architecture graduate social committee including dinners, bike rides, jazz nights, and picnics.
In the seminar room, we listened for about three hours as major faculty and professors introduced themselves and the college. The associate director of the college, Peter, took the lead as MC and after all the introductions were made gave a very awkward and euphemistic speech about "academic integrity" as well as "unpleasant situations" including the school's policy of intolerance for any form of racism, sexism, discrimination based on religion, nationality, or ethnicity, as well as any form of physical or sexual violence or intimidation. And then we got the same speech again from the head of the student judiciary, who was more comfortable talking about it.

Then a representative from the writing center came in and spent about an hour emphasizing that going to the writing center doesn't mean that we have writing disabilities or incurable social disease. "Lots of fantastic writers come to the writing center," she pointed out brightly, "you know why they are fantastic? Because they know that their work can be improved with revisions." 

The unspoken running joke of the morning was that because all of this stuff was taking place a week earlier than previous semesters, many of the faculty and students on the student council committee were not back in time to be a part of the orientation.

Anyway, the rest of the day was lunch, wandering around campus, tours of the library and printing rooms. (3 laser cutters, 8 main plotters, milling machines, etc etc.) and we all got our student ID's made.

It was interesting to see the makeup of the incoming students. Apparently the school received around 600 applications of which they selected around 116 incoming students to fill in three different sections of the graduate program track. I was amazed at how many Chinese students there were. I'd say there were at least a dozen Chinese, and from the ones I spoke to, most of them had just arrived from China and had never set foot in the US before. For all that, their English was phenomenal. They comprehended my regular speed speech and responded fluently in conversational English with few mistakes in pronunciation. It hints at incredibly intense English education over there, complete with language immersion.

I can't believe it was only seven years ago that I was an eager-beaver freshman, enthusiastically chomping at the bit as I got ready for classes. I've felt a lot of things in the move and in the preparation for school and studio, but enthusiastic isn't one of them. At first I thought it was related to the stress of moving, or settling in, but now, with orientation, there's just not that level of excitement. It makes me a little concerned if I'll still have that level of enthusiasm once studio gets underway. That collegiate rush is missing, replaced by a kind of resignation mixed with determination to work hard. Post-professional graduate apathy? We'll see.

Aug 15, 2010

The Socialites

Tomorrow will be the last day of the second week since we came to St.Louis. In that time, we have hosted not one, but two dinner parties, and also our former ASU professor whom we took out to dinner in the Loop. I've actually gotten to enjoy throwing get together's at our place. I like showing off our apartment, our prima donna cat, and I like not having to worry about being sober enough to drive home. I think entertaining is a good skill to develop.

Today we hosted several new classmates who literally moved into St.Louis yesterday. We picked up a bucket of chicken and some sides, and they brought beers and salads. There was enough booze and food to go around, and it was nice to compare notes on the city and on school, and to just chat and toast the success of a new semester and a new return to school.

It made me really glad we moved here a week and a half before we had to, as it gave us time to explore the city, get official stuff done on our own pace, and even do a road trip outside the city to see Hermann and its wineries. While I do miss that paycheck, its been nice to have the time to really get settled in.

Tomorrow is begins the two days of orientation and the two weeks of pre-semester workshop, the content of which I cannot even begin to guess. It feels odd to be going back to school after three years of working.

Today we went to the mall, the Galleria mall of Brentwood, which is pretty nice, equvilant to Chandler fashion square in Phoenix. We stopped by the Gap, Forever 21, Urban Outfitters, J Crew, H&M and a few others, but I successfully avoided buying anything, and Saori succeeded in replacing a shirt that went missing in the move, so it was a pretty successful trip.

Photos of Our New Apartment

Aug 14, 2010

"What do I owe you?"

After we moved in, we realized that our dishwasher was not working. We loaded it up, put soap in, and all we'd hear was this humming for the duration of the cycle, and at the end, the bottom of the basin would be completely filled with water, the dishwashing detergent would still be in the cups, and the dishes would still be dirty.

So we called our landlord's go-to guy, his father, M, who lives nearby. Both our landlord and M have Croatian last names, so I would assume that based on his very heavy slavic accent, M probably grew up across the pond and then some. It just makes him a little more difficult to understand sometimes.

M wasn't really wild about coming over. He asked several times if there it was flooding. I explained that it was not flooding the kitchen, but that we still had a problem. Then he insinuated that maybe the problem would go away if we just ran it a few times. I explained that the problem was definitely not improving, and I was also not real wild about his suggestion that I call up the dishwasher tech support and talk to them. We reached a kind of compromise when I said that I would do some more research and he would come over in about an hour.

Saori pulled out the slender operating and troubleshooting guide that came with the apartment, and we went through the list of problems, which didn't include the specific multiple symptoms of an unknown malfunction. When M came over, he looked at the dishwasher, felt the pipes for leaks or stiffness, and pulled the dishwasher out halfway before conceeding defeat and pushing it back into place. He suggested that perhaps by running a few more cycles, we could somehow jog it or otherwise warm it back into use.

In the meanwhile, Saori reminded me of the same problem we had when we came back from vacation in Phoenix, a long time ago that I don't even remember. The dishwasher had not been used for over a month, and we had the same problem. Our maint. guy came over, took off the bottom panel, reached in and jiggled something with the motor and then it worked fine.

I Googled "dishwasher wont run after a long time of not being used" and on the first page of the results was a forum thread detailing our problem and solution, which involved moving the motor blades. So M and I took off the bottom panel, M shut down power to the kitchen, and I reached in and found the motor. True to internet descriptions, the motor was open ended, such that you could see the "blades" of the electromotor inside the loops of wire. With my pliers, I grabbed one and rotated the motor. It was really stiff at first, but then I could feel it suddenly loosen up to spin more freely. We put the panel back in place, switched the power back on, and voila, we had our dishwasher back.

M was beside himself, he asked "how much do I owe you?" and I told him that this first one was free. We probably saved him at least $50 from having to have someone come out and take a look at it. Anyway, it was kind of funny, and its always a good thing to have your landlord like you. Plus I learned a new home skill.

Aug 13, 2010

St.Louis Day Iteneraries: 1

Start your day off early with breakfast and coffee at the Saint Louis Bread Company, which is reasonably priced with good baked good and most importantly, free wifi. Apparently, elsewhere it is known as Panera bread company, but since it got its start in this city, it kept the name.

Next stop, see the City Museum. It's around $12-15 for adults, and don't forget to factor in the $5 parking nearby, but this odd place kept us entertained for four hours, and we didn't even see the whole thing or the renowned Aquarium with the stingray petting tanks. The museum is primarily an art project composed of an urban junk yard of salvaged buildings, tanks, and bits of metal, wood, and concrete. It's interwoven as a giant vertical playground into an old shoe factory which also holds a mini-circus, curio museum, and exhibition of old architectural decoration. It was overrun with children so be forewarned, although it was expansive enough to find quiet moments and spaces. Also highlighted was the Used clothing store up on the third floor, which has great prices on retro clothing, including a $5 scarf box. We spent nearly twenty minutes in that store alone. The museum is best experienced with the eye of a young explorer as the numerous slides, ladders, creep and crawl spaces, hidden corridors, and burrowing holes tunnel through the entire complex inside and out. It left me exhausted and bruised at the end of it.

But it's now lunchtime, so head on over to Pappy's Smokehouse for a wait and some BBQ. I've only been there for lunch, but every time I've been (during the weekday) the wait is at least half an hour to 45 minutes of standing in a single line that threads through the restaurant, around the corridor, and out the door. The long line is due to the single cashier and high demand. By forcing people to put thier orders in one party at a time, the food is ready two minutes after you order it, and there's enough seating available to sit down and eat, so the whole thing works. And, its so far the best BBQ in town. The best hot links I've ever had, but not the best BBQ, which still belongs to Head Country BBQ although you'll have to go to Ponca City, Oklahoma to get it.

If you're not too sleepy after the BBQ, drive back downtown for a wander through Laclede's Landing, which is a small, cobblestone, historic district famous for Laclede landing there at some point. I'm not sure who he was or when he landed, but I was assured it was quite historic. There are a few good places to sit outside and drink, and it looked like there was also a Wax Museum nearby although we didn't check it out. It's also a good place to see the Mississippi River up close and personal, and then wander the hell away from the brown muddy flow of water and hideous Floating Casinos. From Laclede's Landing, you are only a short walk away from the Arc d'Triumph St.Louis Arch, which is kind of cool to see from the ground, and the heat and humidity and the long lines waiting to go inside make you realize that you'd rather be drinking back in Laclede's Landing.

In the heat of the day, the last place you want to go is Forest Park, but you're trying to fit in all the things I've done in St.Louis into one day, so you go there anyway. It's a very large park with a lot of walking involved, although the beautiful, classical monumental buildings set into the rolling manicured landscape will remind some of Versailles, if they have a very vague memory of Versailles. You will also not want to miss the Saint Louis Zoo, which is one of the best ranked zoos in the US according to the latest US Zoos & World Report, although we did miss it since we were pretty lost after walking around in the heat.

And if you're lost and dazed from the heat, wander over to Kayak Coffee, a colorado skiing themed coffeeshop on the corner of the park, where you can get pretty good iced coffee and more free wifi to figure out where you made that wrong turn.

Once you give up for the day as night begins to fall, you should head over to the Loop, a section of Delmar road filled with unique shops, bars, and restaurants. The loop is so called, because due to a freak accident at the SLU relativistic cyclotron in the 1970's, the end of the street actually joins back to itself through a standing wave in the temporal plane of existance. There's another Saint Louis Bread Co. as well as my favorite, Blueberry Hill, a bar/restaurant/Chuck Berry Museum/livehouse/dartroom. Real good burgers. Seat yourself and the food is pretty cheap as far as that goes.


Yesterday morning I was browsing online, looking for cool river towns near St.Louis. Saori came into the study (wow! we have multiple rooms now!) and suggested we go do something fun, in light of the fact that we've been getting a lot of stuff done over the last week and that our lives are about to end for several years.

A few days ago, our former professor of architectural history, Dr. Thomas Morton, was passing through town on his way back to Phoenix, and he generously made time to stop and see us so we took him out to dinner at Blueberry Hill. It was a great visit, great dinner, and he mentioned that one of the things we should do is check out the German towns.

Hermann, on the Missouri river, was described as a slice of the Rhine, complete with wineries, so we headed out there. It's a little over an hour drive out, maybe an hour and a half. The drive out of St.Louis is pretty banal with the freeway hugging light industry and malls and patriotic RV dealerships, but once we got out in the country of rolling hills and farms it became very pretty. Hermann is just south of the Missouri river, which we crossed when we came into town. We stopped into the visitor center to see what was worth seeing. While I perused the fliers for the Katy trail, Saori got into a conversation with the information lady, a very friendly elderly woman who lived nearby.

She gave us a photocopied map of the town and proceeded to highlight 80% of it while describing the various attractions including:

  • The nearby winery
  • The farther winery
  • The local brewery which only uses imported German wheat
  • The local parade route
  • Her house, which has a really big porch that we would be welcome to sit on in case of a passing parade.
  • The old German school
  • The fireman's museum
  • The Antique store
  • The field that the town is slowly acquiring piece by peice to turn into a state fair of some kind but its not ready yet
  • two stables that may not be open because they might be closed for preparing for the fair
  • Some other, distant, wineries
  • Two houses open to tours, and one that is probably not open, given that they don't have central air and its a really hot day outside, and since they don't do tours in the wintertime on account of the lack of heating. 
  • Where we could find ATMs at banks, because she doesn't trust those ATMs in gas stations, but that just her opinion.
On the subject of the nearby Stone Hill Winery, we were informed that all of the children of the winery owners were all going to some kind of winery school in Napa Valley, except for the youngest daughter who became a lawyer and married another lawyer and they live in New York City if you can believe that.

And speaking of children, we also got the rundown on her granddaughter, Lindsey, who is working on a nursing degree and played volleyball for Mizzou, and who worked at Hooters to make ends meet but got to travel all over the place on the Hooters bus and is also an occasional Budweiser girl, and one of those girls whose job it is to walk with celebrities down the red carpet, but who is now being trained by the coach of former US Olympic womens sand volleyball team. We were informed that she was a real go-getter, and also that she isn't even afraid of the devil himself. We also got a recommendation for a good local wine that the winery makes.

After we disentangled ourselves, and armed with our yellow map, we wandered around the town which is small, peaceful, historic, and pretty. We stopped in a junk antique store, and hit the brewery for a tasting, which was kind of fun. Saori and I hit a sampler tray with the six beers the brewery makes. They have a nice one called Skyscraper, a very light pilsner, and Saori really liked their Hefe.

Moderately mellowed out we wandered around some more in the heat, until we decided to trek up to the Stone Hill Winery. We got a few blocks in the sweltering humid heat before deciding to drive up. It was a good call. Its a long way and up a series of hills.

The winery was fun. They had a pleasant smelling and air conditioned store/warehouse, we paid $2.50 each for a wine tour of the cellars, and we got to taste their wines at the end of the tour. We ended up picking up a bottle each- Saori picked up the Stone Hill Vignoles, which is a very sweet dry white in a blue glass bottle, and I picked up my favorite, a less sweet but crisp and dry Steinberg White. The view from the winery was fantastic, looking down into the river valley dotted with German style houses and vineyards.

All in all, worth the trip. I think we'll be back down there for Octoberfest, which occurs every weekend in October (and is probably going to be packed with tourists). 

Later, reading some of the pamphlets I picked up, I read about the town's history. Apparently, it was planned and settled by a society of German immigrants in the 1830s who were dismayed by the slow disintegration of their culture in the U.S. They envisioned a new city where they could bring up their children and keep their heritage alive, and anticipated it would become one of the major cities of the U.S. The scouting committee picked the site because it reminded the leader of his homeland on the Rhine. The original settlers quickly became disillusioned and disgruntled with the realities of harsh winters and hard living in the wilderness, and eventually severed their ties to the original committee. As an urban study, it was a dream never realized.

Aug 12, 2010

Personal guide to Grad School, Revision I

These are some things I feel like I need to keep in mind coming in to graduate school. I may revise them as I go, but I think its a good starting point.

  1. Ask many questions and don't be afraid to follow them. 
  2. Embrace new ideas, new tools, and new methods.
  3. Be bold, be daring.
  4. Let professional experience support, and not cumber, experimental design
  5. Seek collaboration and input, reach outside the school.
  6. Sleep is a priority.
  7. Follow fun and interesting, but don't let them distract from necessity.

Aug 11, 2010

"Show Me" my Licence Plates

Today, we set out with the goal of getting Missouri licence plates. After all was said and done, it was actually a lot less difficult and stressful than I was expecting. That said, there are a lot of small steps. To get new plates, you have to procure:

  • The original title. This was not to tricky to do. I had it in my " Keep" folder which holds a wide array of mementos, paperwork, passports, etc.
  • The application form. Slightly tricky as you're supposed to fill in things like "horsepower" and "cylinders" etc. requiring trips online to figure out what exactly is the horespower of a Prius, which uses two different engines, sometimes in tandem, to provide power. 
  • Proof of insurance. Quick trip to the friendly insurance website to print the proof- boom boom done.
  • Statement of Non-Assessment. This WTF document essentially states that you don't owe the Missouri department of revenue any money. As an out of state resident coming in, I fail to see how I could possibly owe the state, but what the hey, I don't make the rules here. Apart from the pain of having to physically go to the office (involving finding parking in downtown Clayton, finding the building, etc.) actually getting the statement was very easy. The window tellers were friendly and fast and we pretty much zipped in and out of there in about twenty minutes. 
  • VIN number and Odometer check. I would never have guessed reading two numbers would be so time consuming. We took the cars to the nearby Car X service station which was licensed to perform these checks, and we thought hey, two strings of numbers, how long can it take? At least half an hour passes. I start to get emotionally involved with As the World Turns airing in the waiting room. I don't understand the process- maybe they're waiting to see if the numbers will change over time. And Saori's car took even longer to check. Maybe for the odometer they ran out of fingers and toes and had to call up some friends to come over. Anyway, at the end of that you get an official stub of paper they don't even sign.
  • $35 fee.
I took all of this stuff to the licence bureau which is actually run by a small company in a small empty shop that could have been an AT&T store at one time in downtown Clayton. Free parking, walked right in, and stamp stamp got my new "Show Me State" licence plates right there. 

The rear licence plate I swapped out with no problems. The front licence plate was a bit of a challenge. There are only a few states that require front and back licence plates. The state where I purchased my Prius (Arizona) does not require them, and so there was nothing on the front of my car to mount it to, since Prius's have a plastic bumper that comes to a gentle point. There were two small dimples where the licence plate holes should be, so I picked up some licence plate screws and drilled two small pilot holes where the dimples were. As it turns out, the dimples are where the licence plate bracket should be installed, and are nowhere near where the holes on the plates are. This close to school starting, I'm starting to feel like a chimpanzee in a space shuttle. I need to think a little more about what I'm doing.

Anyway, I did a little research online, found the bracket I needed and ordered it, so it should be coming here in the next two weeks. In the meanwhile I've got the front plate just kind of shoved up against the front windshield. (Yes, on the inside of the car). It feels kind of weird to lose my AZ plate, I'm going to miss it.

Speaking of things to get, we did end up ordering a futon. We were torn between two futons, this nicer looking one which was comfortable and attractive and three times as expensive as the cheap one, and the cheap one, which was probably uncomfortable and would have degraded the rest of the living room, but was ridiculously cheap. So following my father's footsteps, I created a weighted chart to help us decide. For each of the categories- cost, comfort, appearance, we assigned a weight from 1-5, and then assigned a value to each category for each couch., so the cheap couch got a 5 for cost, for example. At the end, the weighted variables favored the cheap couch.

Ultimately, however, we ended up buying this couch which was almost as cheap as the cheap couch, with the added advantage of not making our home look like a sleazy dorm.

Aug 10, 2010

The Five Stages of Moving

We arrived in St.Louis one week ago today. Moving is like a full time job, only more stressful, and you end up losing a lot of money. It's helpful to familiarize oneself with the Five Stages of Moving:

The Five Stages of Moving

  1. Denial. For a long time, my mind refused to accept the fact that we were moving. Then we got into the mindset of "we don't have that much stuff" and "it won't take us long to pack," and so when we had friends over for goodbye drinks etc, everyone would look around the room and say cautiously, "I thought you guys would be more packed?" or "When are you moving again?" or "Oh wow, I expected more boxes." And we'd laugh and nod and not really believe it. And then the moving trailer came.
  2. Anger. Huge amounts of anger. I spent a lot of the move really angry. I was angry about how much work it was, angry at myself for not starting sooner, angry at all the crap that I've accumulated. The last time I moved, I got everything into a few car loads! I wanted to burn everything. I was angry at Saori's stuff for being there. I was angry at Suki for being a cat and needing to be pilled and sedated. I was angry at myself for being so angry. Finally we got everything sold, loaded, donated, given away, or simply tossed wholesale, and we were on our way to St.Louis.
  3. Bargaining. Once we got to St.Louis, unloading our stuff from the trailer loomed like an impending tidal wave that I could no longer pretend to avoid. I was really stressing out about our 28' long trailer fitting into our narrow residential street where its hard enough to find regular curbside parking, let alone enough space for a freight truck to parallel park. We bargained with the shipping company on the drop and pick up time, we bargained with our downstairs neighbor for the ability to block the driveway. We bargained with the city and the police for permission to park the trailer there. In this case our bargaining paid off, the trailer arrived.
  4. Depression. Unloading the truck took three hours, and was a comedown from the rush of bargaining. Stuff was gouged, scratched, or broken. Each box marked "Misc. Crap" was another depressing failure of ours to eliminate crap from our lives. When we were done, we had essentially filled the living space of the apartment with boxes and we had to creep around the edges of the room. All of it needed to be assembled or a home. It was the end of the move, and the beginning of The Thousand Little Things that need to be done when you move. Our friend Sal went back to Phoenix, and we stayed behind, strangers in a strange land. 
  5. Acceptance. But after some really killer bbq and the best hot links I've ever had, I thought, hey maybe we can make this work. They've got some killer breweries in town as well. We put stuff away, and every box we emptied and crushed left me more at peace. Our apartment is almost presentable now, and I think I might be able to live here. 

Aug 4, 2010

St. Louis, day one.

Monday we had a nice Ponca City Interlude for Saori's birthday which started with a tour of the Marland Mansion, coffee at Brace's bookstore, and an afternoon at Sun'n'Fun waterpark. Grandma Case took us out to dinner at an Italian place in the old downtown for dinner and afterwards we had cake, ice cream, and Porter Peaches (from Porter, Oklahoma). I usually don't like peaches, but I liked these.

Tuesday we headed out early and drove all day to get to St.Louis, getting in around 4 pm. The drive was pretty boring- the Ozarks we drove through were kind of pretty but not really the rugged mountainous forests I was expecting. Mom also called to wish me a good trip and I returned it, as she was at the airport, waiting to get on her flight to Buenos Aires.

Once we got to St.Louis, our landlord's father met us at the apartment to let us in- he had been there earlier to turn on the AC for us. Since we are moving in (hopefully) soon, it was natural and fitting that St.Louis would be in the middle of a record-breaking heatwave. Yesterday, we were just drenched in sweat. Saori likes the apartment, which makes me happy. Suki was not so wild about it. She kept returning to her kitty carrier and looking at us like "ok, time to go. Joke's over." We hit up Wal-Mart and picked up a bunch of temporary and permenant items like dishwashing detergent, soap, a small inflatable bed, and a few food items, as well as small trash bins. 

We also picked up some beer for our neighbor downstairs who turned out to be a really nice guy. He invited us in and we sat and drank beer and chatted for a few hours. He's working on his PhD in electrical engineering at Wash U. He seems like he's going to be really easy to get along with.

Our shipment may get in tomorrow, maybe the day after tomorrow. I think we have a plan for squeezing the trailer in place, we just have to get our neighbor's sign off since it would involve blocking the driveway to the garage. We also need to get a truck permit from the city, I think. That's what we're going to do today, while we're at city hall. We apparently have to register as denizens of the city, which involves a $25 fee for what I have no idea.

Hopefully after we get our shipment in, we'll get internet up and going shortly.

Medium is the message

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