Dec 30, 2012

stilted post

We landed at the airport in St. Louis early in the morning two days ago, around 2 am. Dew picked us up and drove us home.

It was good to sleep in our bed again, and Suki wasn't even mad at us.

In the morning, by which I mean 1:30, Saori, Vivian and I met Dew, Dew's sister, Chuck and Claire at Winslow's home for lunch. Everyone got burgers except for me, who got the pancakes. They do have pretty amazing pancakes.

Saori re-packed her stuff, and we went to the mall to finish her Christmas gift card shopping and take care of her phone for while she is in Japan. She packed well into the night and really didn't sleep much.

It was snowing when I took her to the airport at 5:30am yesterday. After she took off, I went home, slept some more. I've been gradually picking up the house and trying to organize it a bit more. Over the past two days, I've been putting some of my books to sell online, and started posting some items on Craigslist to see if I can get any buyers.

Today, I paid more bills and bought a Nexus 7 with Christmas money. Tried to take photos of my models but the sunlight was really gauzy and I need a bigger white surface to shoot on and against.

Why does my style feel so stilted all of a sudden? Strange.

Dec 29, 2012

the scale of fixing things

One of the many problems I have with design has to do with the scope of the problem.
Take commutes, for example.

Commutes are not that bad, unless you happen to make them in a vehicle. Worse if you happen to be driving that vehicle, and an order of magnitude worse if you're also driving in traffic. Multiplied by the amount of time you spend doing it.

How do you respond as a designer to the unpleasantness of the commute?

There's many scales of response, from the smallest, most palliative, to the most radical. Actually, it is a question of how much the designers are willing or able to question the larger issue.

The Brookstone approach deals with the smallest level, the most acute symptom. Here's a neck massager to relieve the tension of driving. Here's a sound system to distract you. Here's shoes to make the trip more comfortable. Here's a tab of aspirin for your headache. What is the least amount I can change? What can I sell in a box at the mall or at the checkout counter? At this level, the design considerations are ergonomic.

At the next scale up, you have the Limousine approach. I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that in general, people are happier and more comfortable getting to work in the back of a chauffeured luxury sedan than driving a minibus. Change the mode of transport. Design considerations here are somewhat ergonomic and anthropometric, but more infrastructural, micro-economic.

At a leap more radical is the Proximity approach. Design proposals in this range involve relocating ones house to be closer to work (or vice versa), or making that distance feel less with various strategies. Walking a mile in the heart of Boston or Paris or New York is a delight. Walking a mile in suburban Phoenix is a banal death march. Design considerations are the urban planners: climate, visual interest, movement, urban grain.

The Telecommute approach calls into question the commute itself. Why do you need to be physically transported between your job and your home? This approach is a bit more radical in that it may propose solutions like working at home or living where you work. Definite infrastructural design considerations, some cultural and socioeconomic considerations and business practices are questioned.

The Pavlovian approach works shallowly in the motivations and feelings of the individual. If the commute is unpleasant, pharmacology or post-hypnotic suggestion may be able to make people happy to sit traffic. Behavioral and perceptual modification by applied force.

More difficult to perpetuate but more deeply and subtly engrained is the Propagandist approach. Rather than trying to whitewash away a natural predisposition towards a dislike of waiting in traffic, introducing a change in culture may over time give different values to commuting. Squashed and distorted human heads and appendages were seen as beautiful by different cultures in human history- why could thousands of cars in gridlock not be re-presented as a glorious, ecstatic agglomeration such as seen at Mecca during the Hajj? Why mayn't the intercourse of private vehicles become a dance more passionate and sensual than the tango, or more subtle than chess?

But this does not question the notion of living or working like the Hermit approach. Why, really, do you need to work? what is it, really, that you need to live? Why are the two different? Is it preferable to subsidence farm instead or adopt the shaved head of a mendicant and pray? Design proposals at this level require deeply personal, biological, spiritual and economic considerations.

One may find that design proposals in the Hermit approach are limited in viability because they come up against larger structures in human civilization. At this level, the Structuralist approach calls into question why civilizations have organized into the structures they have formed. Design proposals may include challenges to various forms of capitalism, neo-liberalism, forms of governments and economies.

At the highest level of design, one may attempt to join God at the drafting table in the Existential approach. Design proposals at this level may suggest meaning or reasons for existence, new religions, new purposes or directions for mankind. "Why am I unhappy commuting" is really only a sub-sub-sub-question of "Why?"

Dec 28, 2012

kind of a whiny post I wrote a week ago

It's been a little over a week since I finished my final presentation for graduate school. Two days ago, I finished my final paper for John, 17 pages of decent research without any fluff of what was probably supposed to be a 20-25 page paper.

Right after my review, I was so happy. It was a great happiness to have brought my project to a successful conclusion- a happiness of being able to present a project well, of having a project I felt was worth concluding graduate school.

But now, I feel nearly nothing. There's no sense of euphoria, there's no feeling of expectation of the open road which I now face. It's one of the rarest moments of life to have no real commitments in terms of a mortgage or a job. My job prospects are good (I was recently offered a job in a planning office, which I turned town for various reasons).

Was I satisfied with my decision to go to grad school at Washington University in St. Louis? Absolutely. It's a fantastic school, generally filled with incredibly smart, interesting students and (generally) great professors. I'm a much stronger, more versatile designer, and I've learned an incredible amount and discovered a direction to my approach to architecture. It's an incredibly expensive school, so from a financial standpoint, we'll see what happens over time, but they are also incredibly generous with scholarships. Half of my tuition was covered for my time there. I'm satisfied.

I am sad that I am leaving my friends in St. Louis, the first time I've ever really developed a relatively normal social life. I will miss all of them a lot.

I also have mixed feelings about Saori going to Germany for nine months. It's going to a be an incredible experience for her and she's got a great job in Boston lined up after that where I'll be joining her. I'm very happy for her, but I'm also a little jealous- the job, the travel, the security in knowing what is next, the whole package. And I'm also going to miss her. 

What I feel is not quite discontent, more like a dull anxiety. For the past two and a half years, I've had so much direction and purpose. I believed in what I was doing, I was engaged, I was a speedboat with a powerful engine and I knew where I was going. Now, instead of feeling like I have the whole horizon to command, I just feel adrift.

It's great to be in Salt Lake, to be surrounded my family and beauty and where I'm fed and given drinks and entertainment. It's a reminder that that architecture is really just architecture, that there are bigger things, like babies and career trajectory and family.

Dec 18, 2012

over the precipice

Sunday, we all slept in until around 1 in the afternoon. I got up, downed a few aspirin, fed suki, and went back to bed around 9 am. I took Tay to get some blueberry pancakes at Winslow's home. You get a stack of three that you won't be able to finish, real maple syrup, and with the first bite, you put down your fork and say "oh my god." We brought coffee and a scone back for Saori who was getting ready to go. We then went to studio to work for a few hours- I was putting together my Approach* materials and Saori was working on her (un)Desired Object class's final presentation materials. 

After a few hours of work, Tay and I split for Soulard since its a place he's never been before. We hit 1860 for a beer and a chat. After the beer, we walked around the block to the old farmers market. The area and the brick houses reminded me of parts of Boston.

We hit a grocery store on the way to Dew's house where Saori and Dew were working on their Desired Object class. At Dew's, we cooked a box of Jumbalaya with a mix of spicy and Italian sausage from the Schnuck's deli (amazing sausage), and also a small salad. Dew cooked a tomato and cabbage soup and some pork shoulder. It was a tiny feast. 

Afterwards, we let Dew and Saori work in peace and I drove Tay to Bridge, one of my favorite bars in St. Louis. Bridge is in the downtown locust neighborhood, basically an urban, upscale wine bar which sells beer instead of wine. It was pretty quiet on a sunday night, so we sat at the bar and perused the 60-odd beers on tap and ordered a few rounds of particular brews in small glasses to just get a sense of the taste. It was fun and a good chance to catch up.

When we got home, we started watching Dune but Tay got too bored with it so we switched over to watch Disney's Robin Hood. Went to bed around 2. Saori ended up working all night with a few naps at Dew's place. 

Today, Tay and I got up late and went out to Bus Loop Burgers to take out some burgers. Bus Loop is in fact, an old bus loop station- the terminal end of "the loop" which runs through University City. It's actually less than a mile from the school but in contrast with U city which is affluent and predominantly white, this area is almost totally black and poor. Tay was definitely feeling awkward waiting for our burgers in the dingy waiting area. 

We brought burgers back for Saori and sat in on her review for Desired Object. Strange class. After a few projects, we ducked out and had a coffee at Kayak. Came back to school to find Saori just finished with her reviews and we took Tay back to the apartment to pack up his stuff. 

We drove him to the airport and sent him off to Phoenix. It was great to see him and it would have been much sadder except for the fact we'll be together again in Salt Lake in a few days.

Saori, who at this point can barely stay on her feet she's so exhausted, and I swing by the gocery store to pick up ingrediants for the studio night dinner at our advisor's house. We make a salad and Saori makes a kind of sour sauteed eggplant and zucchini. We're really late, which makes me feel really bad for keeping everybody waiting on us, especially since our advisor is such a stickler for being on time. Anyway, he's got a cool house, and two old dogs he kept trying to give away ( "Six months of health insurance and food.")

After Ben's we drove to another friend's house where a farewell party had been going on for awhile. It was good to see everyone in a bittersweet drunken state. We ceremoniously burned Philip's conceptual models in the firepit out back. Got home around two AM.   

*Approach is a catalog of student works assembled by the school. It's only selected projects, but they don't tell the students which ones they want- they make everyone submit highly specific documentation in highly specific formats and sizes and resolutions.

Dec 17, 2012

Celebrations

Tay was a trooper- he stuck out the entire day of listening to architecture students present. That night, we went out to celebrate at the India Palace at the Airport and had some great curry and beer overlooking the runway, and then we went home and just crashed since we were all critically sleep deprived.

Saturday, Tay stayed at home and went shopping and Saori and I went back for the rest of the reviews. For lunch, Tay went out and brought us pizza and so we had a picnic at school. Tay went on to go shopping, and Saori and I stayed to watch the final reviews of the day.

The epic conclusion was Adam's presentation of his vertical stacked drag racing strip in the old cotton railroad building. The entire project was really wild- fantastic mechanisms swung cars around to load them into the building- a grandstand which moved up and down to provide optimal viewing angles- a vehicle arresting device including a drag line and a massive swinging counterweight. The entire thing was so over the top and fun that the main criticism Adam received was that he didn't go far enough. Why were the models of the swing arms white, which is the language of hi-tech, serious architecture? why not painted in garish colors in celebration of all the moving pieces?

 It was a great show and the reviewers enjoyed themselves. There were no woman visiting critics so it was kind of a bro fest anyway, and ending on such a stereotypically male project (tricking out an old building like a hot rod for drag racing) seemed appropriate.

Anyway, after his presentation, we all went upstairs where a line of bottles of  champagne were laid out in a row. At the appointed time, the studio advisors started popping corks, and for me, the sound of champagne corks popping hammered home the fact that I was done. That distinctive pop of celebration, that was it. We handed out cups to everyone and had a series of toasts. The faculty toasted us, we toasted our advisors, the critics, each other. Much wine was drunk, and each studio migrated towards their advisor.

Catherine Dean's studio was easy to find- her students were truly hers, she was emotional, so visibly happy, and getting someone to take a picture of all of them together in a group photo. Saori and I found Ben smoking outside, already talking to a few studio mates from our section. We hung out there for awhile, chatting with friends and other students in lower sections who had supported us, and then when all the wine was gone, the party broke up and we went upstairs back to studio.

Two students had taken the initiative to charter a party bus for tonight, and they knew I was good with fun graphics so they asked me to make a map, and I went up to finalize it and print it out on a big scale plotter. There were a lot of friends already up there and I had a cup of Knob Creek pressed into my hand and we chatted and laughed and made plans for the night.

Saori and I went home to meet Tay and I cooked us a pasta dinner, still a little tipsy. After dinner, Tay drove us back to school and dropped us off in the parking lot where the bus was waiting. We were going to ride the STL Road Pony, a former school bus which had been converted with side bench seating, a dance floor and pole in the back, mood lighting, etc. It was hilarious and we were all a little drunk and totally excited. I would say about half the studio was there, including Chuck and his girlfriend.

We got blue wrist bands to identify ourselves (and to let people know who to contact when they find our passed out bodies in the street or too drunk to speak), and we took off on a bouncy trip to the St. Louis arch, were we got out and took a big group photo, still clutching our alcohol.

We drove on to a few sites where a few people took shots, and then made our first bar stop at a hipster bar. The guys there were 20-30s with facial hair, the girls were chunky and geeky/gothy, and there was a room filled with pinball machines. Because we'd ended up paying more than the cost of the bus, everyone took a shot at the bar. The bar was also our pee stop since the bus didn't have any facilities. We drove on to another site in south St. Louis and then shot north to stop at a bar (Tropicana?) with neon blue bowling lanes.

There was a lot of very drunk and intense conversation about how great our classmates all were and how we were going to change the world. I'd been working on a giant bottle of Trader Joes Christmas ale (9%) made my Unibroue which was pretty good and strong.

Our last stop was Pepper Lounge, a dance club of which I'd heard much about but never visited, and the bus people announced that it was heading back to the school or you could get out here.

We jumped out, along with most of the bus. I'd been given $10 from the bus organizers for my part in making the map and printing it (even though it was pretty useless in the end, apart from a party decoration) and I used that as cover to get Saori and I in the club. I barely remember going in.

The dance floor was packed and we met a bunch of people who weren't on the bus- Cordelia, John S., others. Lots and lots of dancing. My memories of it were very fuzzy. I think we got there around 12:30, and we left around 2. We shared a cab back to campus with Sarah M, and Tay, the eternal gentleman he is, came to pick us up from the school.

We went back home and passed out.

The Presentation

I presented well. Saori said this was the best presentation she'd ever seen me give. I didn't stutter, I didn't stop and repeat the same words or have to re-begin sentences. I kept the line of the narrative arc straight, and to the point. I stayed calm, interested in what I was presenting, but not over-passionate.

Except for one moment when some of the ideas behind the concept were challenged when I unleashed the fiery rhetoric in a short but passionate exhortation. "We're already tinkering with these systems- with global warming there can no longer even said to be purely natural processes anymore. It is time to bring our design to an expanded field of architecture" and so on. After I unloaded that, I thought I'd gone too far, but I talked to people afterwards who said it was impressive and demonstrative of my passion.

The critics gave me a wide range of feedback. They were impressed with the level of depth and research I'd undertaken. They thought my single conduit drawing of the water system was amazing. They liked my renderings. They weren't sold on the experiential qualities of the space I was creating. If I was trying to make something that feeds back to the people the quality of the river which has biological implications, then it was too subtle with the rise and fall of the arcs.

I got a lot of push back in particular from one critic who proposed that I vaporize the river to be inhaled by visitors to the site. To that, another critic added, "And nobody would come." To a certain extent I do agree, the project needs to strike a balance between the tension (a big buzzword of my review) of the dangers the river poses, or at least the connection of the river to the person, and the need to make this place an attractor. At one end of the spectrum, I could create an amusement park pier with a few placards of information. At the other end, I could create a device that grabs random passers by and drags them through the river to emphasize the point that you are connected to the river whether you like it or not.

At the end of the review, my instructor praised my work over the past year, saying that to pursue a project without really knowing what the outcome would be required a lot of courage. He also said that I was crazy and privately afterwards, told me that he was happy I was moving on. It's not that he's glad to be rid of me, but the kind of project and area of the work I was doing is relatively uncharted and very difficult to critique because it is straddling newer places in architecture. It's easy to critique a library because you can immediately compare it to every other library you've ever seen and you know basically what the point is, and there's a lot of precedent for how it can act to carry out it functions.

So the review came very quickly to an end- I think it might have actually lasted longer than the 30 minutes, but it flew by for me.

The critic who wanted to vaporize the river for inhalation came up to me afterwards and gave me his card- it turns out that he's also very interested and passionate about the same kind of water infrastructure systems and he wanted to collaborate on some work for a publication. He runs a pretty well known firm in Chicago. So that felt pretty good. I'm going to get in contact with him and see what he has in mind.

I was so happy. To be done, to have finished with a project I felt was really good, to have finished with a strong verbal presentation and defense. No euphoria, no tears of joy or release as I saw at the end of some other presentations, but a kind of satisfaction of summation. It is a high, but not a dancing off the walls high. And then I went in to watch the next presentation.

Dec 14, 2012

Up to the Presentation

Today, I presented my degree project to a panel of six architects and some Wash U faculty as well.
  • Alfredo Paya
  • Carlos Jimenez
  • Catherine Dean
  • Christof Jantzen
  • Phil Holden
  • Marten Felsen
Today was friday. Let's rewind a few days.

Tuesday- last full meal. Went out to the quirky vietnamese place and got a bowl of beef stew with egg noodles. Got four hours of sleep that night.

Wednesday- taco bell and four hours of sleep. Late that night, printed my final boards.

Thursday-  Forgot to eat. Built a model. Tay came from Bloomington. Five hours of sleep.

To recap: I've been averaging four hours of sleep for the last four days. Yesterday, I didn't even eat. I've been drinking coffee and under considerable stress, and coupled with the exhaustion and the fatigue, it's not surprising I didn't feel hungry.

Taylor came out to see our final presentations and to get in a little extra time with us in St. Louis. He was worried about coming in so "late" with an ETA of 11pm the night before our presetnations. He shouldn't have worried- we were both up and working in studio. Saori was finishing her model and I was fussing over my boards on the wall and going over what I was going to say in my presentation.

It was wonderful to let him in the locked front door of the building, me wearing the santa hat, and him in his gray coat and red scarf.  I showed him my pinned up project and ran through my presentation with him. We said hello to Saori and left to head home with Tay's car.

When we got home, I was barely coherant enough to pull bedding out for Tay on the futon, and then I showered and crashed. Saori got back an hour or two later.

This morning, I woke up feeling awful. I felt like I'd spent the night as roadkill on a street flooded with raw sewage. I was trembling, nauseous, with a pounding headache, and according to Tay, white as a sheet. 

It was a panic attack- I was filled with horror and dread at the inescapable presentation I was about to give. I was nearly sick in the toilet. If I hadn't not eaten anything in the past 36 hours, I probably would have been sick. 

Tay gave me some great encouragement and Saori did too, and after sitting down for awhile and doing some deep breathing exercises, I reminded myself that it was all on the boards, and that if I just described what I saw on the boards like a simpleton, I'd still pass.

I drank some hot water, and if someone would have filmed me, I would have won an Oscar for "Most Feebly-Half-Eaten Piece of Toast" With a little carbohydrates, and some encouragement, I began to feel better and pulled myself together enough to roughly shave the long hairs off my neckbeard. We were running out of time so I said "screw it" to my wild hair, and threw on my skinny black chinos, white button down shirt, and gray blazer.

We all drove to school and got coffee. Saori went to finish up her stuff and I wandered up to make sure everything was pinned up as I'd left it the night before. I also booted up my old laptop and loaded my animation to run on  a loop. At 9, we all assembled and split up into the two review groups. I was presenting second, so I sat nervously and trembling through the first presentation.

I presented in the hallway, which I once thought was a pretty crappy place to present, but really not bad for these reasons:
  1. It's a huge fucking wall. There's something like 40 feet of wall space, in seven foot tall panels, uninterrupted by as much as a fire alarm.
  2. You're the only one presenting. It's a space for one person, so the reviewers eyes don't wander around comparing other drawings with yours.
  3. There's no distractions. It's a hallway, but there's no classes anymore, so nobody is walking nearby or passing through.
The only crappy thing about it is that the space is really narrow, so reviewers with their backs to the wall can't see the boards at the end if your presentation is 27 feet long, like mine.

Anyway, I had four boards, each one 12' long by 3' high, two massive renderings (besides the ones on my boards), each 40 inches long, a working model of the sampling pod at 1/4" scale, and an animation on my laptop showing the varying configurations of the sampling modules and an flyaround of an exploded module.

Dec 12, 2012

Under the 24 hour mark

We've passed the 24 hour mark to pens down, where we're all supposed to stop working, have and go home and sleep. At the very least, we need to be ready to plot.

I'm in good shape, I'm massaging my boards, I still need to make the model, but I've gotten started on it already.

I present friday, around 9:30 am. I'm second in the slot, and Saori goes sixth in the afternoon session.

This is it. It has come to this at last.

I have a coffee, I have mate, I have tea.

I have all night to work on the model and to massage boards and to rehearse. And all day tomorrow.

I'm a mess, Saori's a mess, the house is a mess, and Tay's coming tomorrow night to see the big finale. He'll see a lot of messes. But not the final projects.

Saori has some particularly gorgeous boards. She's got an excellent eye for layout and graphics, and a sublime project.

Dec 7, 2012

last day of classes

I've been fighting something for the last few days. Sunday it hit me really hard, so I took the day off from studio and worked on my paper. I thought I was over it by monday, although I was still having a lot of drainage.

Thursday night, my last class of university education, I presented my paper in a loud, 20 minute talk. At the end of the class, I felt like crap. Ended up coming straight home, Saori made me spicy ramen soup, and I took a hot shower and went to bed. Didn't sleep well. I think the space heater we have in the bedroom dehydrated me.

In the morning, Saori got back around 7 am from studio and I dressed in a blazer and a tie and the shiny black shoes and went in for a job interview with H3. H3 is a planning/architecture/landscape studio (which, incidentally, is run by three partners, one of which is John, my professor for the informal cities class).

The interview worked in the way it should have worked- it became quickly apparent that most of the work they had in the pipes was planning, and there was a question of my qualifications to handle that kind of work, given my background and degree in architecture. More importantly, however, was that they're looking for someone with a longer timeframe than mine. When my interviewer told me that they were looking for someone available for longer than a year (which is what I told them), I told him basically I didn't think I could do it, given my commitment to relocating to Boston. I did propose an alternative, that I could act as an intern, tasked with internish activities, and he said he'd consider it, although I think he was just trying to be nice about it. The other thing was that I dont think I talked enough or asked enough questions, given my lack of experience with planning firms.

Anyway. Interviewing experience is always good. And it made me feel good that I at least made it to the interview stage.

So I'm still sick. I feel crappy in the morning, hit the Tylenol a few times to keep me going during the day, and then I stop taking it and I feel like crap around 9pm. Extremely sore throat, slight headache, stiff, stiff neck, aches. God I want to recover from this soon so I can finish school. I'm paranoid its going to get worse and develop into pneumonia and I won't graduate.

I've been keeping a lively Tumblr account of my activities in studio, which is fun.

At any rate, the reason I'm at home instead of studio is to rest, so I should go, rest.

Dec 2, 2012

cold

Friday after studio, Saori and I went out to eat at the around the back pho restaurant. The food is good, it's relatively cheap, but the service sucks. I have yet to find a Vietnamese restaurant that has good, inexpensive pho with decent service.

Afterwards, we went downtown to Wash U's private gallery on Washington street for the Codices opening, a selection of artworks from Wash U, including several of my friends from studio. Dew was exhibited there, and so was the elaborate gear box David made. The most strange and disturbing exhibit was video art of a painted mouth repeatedly pulling and pushing a soft boiled egg in and out.

We met up with Dew at the climbing gym late. For some reason, it was really hard for me to climb and I couldn't finish some really basic routes, which was frustrating. I went home after that and did a little reading for my research paper, and went to bed.

Saturday morning I woke up feeling like crap. Nose running, eyes burning, stomach upset, headache. Shit. Last thing I need in the last two weeks of graduate school is a cold.

Nov 24, 2012

Thanksgiving

I was surfing the net at home, thinking about getting started cleaning before my brother Tay arrived in a few hours, when my phone buzzed: "I am 30 minutes away".

I leapt from my chair and turned into a frenzy of cleaning, whirlwinding everything in sight to less visible homes, frantically scrubbing down the bathroom and trying to clean all the hair off the toilet.

We went to studio for a few hours that day after Tay got in and went out for Pho at the place on Olive with the canned music. Afterwards, we went out for some beers at Chestnut Urban brewery, and finished the night at Beale on Broadway, where we got seats at the front just as Kim Massie was about to get started. It was a really good set. She killed it with an amazing rendition of "At Last" although her version of "Come Together" was also really interesting. She nodded to us after the song and made some comment about familiarity with the Beatles. "Somebody raised you right." Damn straight, although I feel really bad for the people who aren't familiar with the Beatles. As usual, we were the youngest faces in the crowd. It's kind of depressing to think that this is the end of jazz and blues. Maybe everyone in my generation is just waiting until they get older and their musical tastes change. Or its a particular scene which is so gray that they're just avoiding it.

Wednesday, we worked a half day, and then Tay and I hit the mall for some browsing pre-black friday. We were both in agreement that there was really nothing we would want, even at half-off. We then went out to search for a theater showing Lincoln. This movie, which was released to critical acclaim, and, more importantly, is sitting at number three in the box office, was unavailable in the city or any of the inner-ring suburbs. We had to drive out to Plaza Frontenac which is in the heart of the richest community in St. Louis. A classmate described it as "Disgusting". It's actually so bad, we were laughing about it the entire time. All the stores in the area are made up with white picket fences, bell towers, plantation shutters. It's like someone was attempting to theme the neighborhood as a massive plantation.

Lincoln was really good. Amazingly compelling for a two-and-a-half hour picture about the attempt to pass some legislation in Congress.

Thursday we got up late and cooked and messed around for the early part of the day. I made ham, Tay made his famous mashed potatoes, and Saori whipped up some flan with vanilla sauce. We went over to Lauren and Sarah Kott's house, along with twenty classmates or so. When we arrived, the guys were all parked in front of the TV, while the girls were buzzing around the kitchen. The spread was fantastic. Every thanksgiving dish you can imagine or desire. We ate, we drank, we talked, we watched football.

Around ten, we left and took Vivian with us to see Life of Pi. Good movie. Absolutely beautiful. Not as good as the book, and if you want my opinion, still a little heavy handed. But still, an excellent adaptation of an incredibly difficult movie to adapt. It was nearly impossible to tell the CG tiger from the real animal.

Friday, we got up early and went to Wal-Mart. To heckle the people who waited in line.

No we didn't. We slept in and had a really slow, sleepy day. We went into studio for a few hours and then Tay bought us a BBQ dinner from Pappy's so we got to feast again at home. We were falling into a meat coma, so we watched some SouthPark, and then we left Tay to nap while we worked a few hours more in studio. I threw in the towel early and came back to pick up Tay and we went out again to see Skyfall. It was my second time to see it, and while its very watchable, I could have skipped all the scenes at the house.

Today, we got up late again, and Saori took us out to brunch at Winslow's home. Tay packed up, and hit the road, and we went back to studio. It was great to see him, but it's really a shame we're so busy with school. I think he had a contingency of staying an extra day, but wasn't really looking forward to spending it working in the studio. I'm really happy that he came out and I'm lucky to have a brother like him.

And so, back to studio.

Nov 22, 2012

Confession time: I used to think that I was a self-made man. That where I was in life, my educational attainment, my achievements, were mainly attributable to my own hard work.

This is, of course, nonsense.

I have been lucky to count myself the architect of my life. But what life would I have without the teachers who taught me the principals of design, the investors who invested in me, the state which endowed me with power to carry out my vision, the surveyors who marked the solid ground and quicksand, and the builders who laid the foundations and brought their expertise to bear?

I remain eternally in debt and gratitude to family, friends, teachers, and countrymen who enabled my life to be filled with strength, utility, and delight.

Nov 17, 2012

12:51

Getting fried with studio. It's twelve fifty one in the morning sunday. I pretty much do nothing but sit at this desk in studio when I'm not at home, sleeping.

Transportation logistics rules my life- what time does Saori get up? how long will it take her to get ready to go? Should I take the car now and come back or walk or take the bus or the metro? How late do I want to work tonight? Will I escape the climbing gym? What time do I need to come home and feed suki? How late is Saori working at studio tonight? When is the last bus?

Caught the last bus last night. I was the only passenger. The bus driver was chatty, talked about schizophrenia, conversations with God, Mitt Romney. Told me this joke:
 A man struggles to the top of a mountain with a duffel bag. He sees Satan there, and says "Satan, I have followed your commands. In this bag are the severed heads of my entire family." Satan pulls off its mask and says "Got you Steve! It's me, Pete, your neighbor!" Steve laughs and says, "Wow, Pete, you had me totally fooled!"
Struggling to get airline tickets for this winter. Frontier Airlines wouldn't accept the reservation we tried to make.

Also, need to find a cat-sitter.

And a job.

Nov 11, 2012

Technical Review

The last two weeks were very busy with studio gaining in intensity. Despite my best efforts to not be in studio all the time as I had been in some early semesters, I'm spending way too much time there. I'm with both the early morning crowd and the late night crowd. My average sleep times are decreasing. I'm trying hard to average 6 hours a night, but that dropped a lot in the days leading to the technical review.

Technical review is the third of the five main milestones of degree project. Concept review is about concept, design review is about the design response, technical review concerns buildability, technical details, systems and structure. Then there is an informal final review where there will be a go/no go call for the fifth review, the big degree project review.

Technical review was yesterday. I pinned up my work to be reviewed by Derek, my old studio professor from the New Orleans studio, who is probably the most qualified person in the school to be my critic based on his work on the Mississippi river and infrastructure. I also got Elena, a Spanish architect visiting professor who is very knd and brings a different perspective.

I've noticed that over the semesters, I've gotten less afraid of reviews and juries. I'm more nervous, but its less about the quality of my work and more about whether I'll be successful communicating it. I need to practice my project pitch.

The review went pretty well despite the fact that my building is this bizarre accumulation of tubes and water, and I got some good feedback both in terms of documentation, design, and deployment of the work. It's a hard project to talk about because it's equal parts land/water art and machine, as it is architecture. It's going to be pretty cool though. I'm pretty happy with the overall direction the project is going, I just need to settle into the idea that it's not a building. 

Election day

Tuesday, I got up early and walked to the nearby elementary school to cast my ballot. I'd changed my voter registration to Missouri, pretty much just to vote in this election. Plus who knows I might end up staying here. Had to wait in line for 40 minutes, which was apparently much shorter than it was earlier in the day. It's kind of a warm fuzzy feeling to see all my neighbors and local residents come together and vote. And I was also impressed with the poll workers/volunteers who really worked hard to make sure that everyone had the opportunity to vote.

What really killed me though was the people who were showing up to vote who (A) didn't know where their polling place was, and (B) had no clue about identification they needed to bring. I guess I'm just more type A about reading directions.

That night, no one in studio could focus and with all of our wide-screen monitors, the studio turned into an election night party, with people huddling around screens, comparing websites, calling states and running different scenarios. I relaxed a lot when it became clear that Obama was very likely to win, and immensely relieved when the election was called that night.

Mitt's platform: let's cut spending on helping Americans so we can increase spending on killing foreigners. Dear Republican Party leadership: while I realize you all grew up in the 1950s, we don't live in that world anymore. I know all you really want is cheap gas for your beamer and minorities and women to stay minorities, but it's going to be pretty hard to drive to your yacht clubs when they're under ten fucking feet of water.

Subtle Costumes

For the annual art/architecture graduate school party this year (theme: Werewolf Bar Mitzhah) I dressed up as one of our hipster professors, and Saori went as a glittery Zaha Hadid with dramatic eye makeup and a mole.

For Silvino and Adam's party a week later, I went as a flooded New Yorker, and Saori cut her bangs and came as a young Yayoi Kusama. She dressed in a black 60's style outfit and wandered around, sticking red dots on people. I got called out a few times for the insensitivity of my costume, so I got wise and stopped trying to explain it early on. "I'm a hipster" was the stock response. It did kind of bother me- I wouldn't go to a costume party dressed as the Holocaust, or a terrorist attack or even Hurricane Katrina. I suppose I'm reacting to the one city that should have been prepared for this and simply wasn't. It's just kind of grating to see everything unfolded via Instagram and Twitter, long lines at the gas pump and apple store, a massive hipster pity party. Anyway, I should probably work on my empathy.

At any rate, the party was fantastic- 70 people showed up, most of whom we knew, and there was much alcohol and dancing and no police were called. It did kind of kill the following morning however, as I now have a hangover tolerance of about four beers per night.

Oct 23, 2012

The Fakes

The witch had apparently struck the tree at great speed. Although she was small, she had been flying dangerously low in this leafy residential neighborhood, and had face-planted into the oak. Her petite broomstick bent and stuck out from where it had hit at a crooked angle. Adam coughed politely- can we hurry this up, please? I stood up, brushing the autumn leaves from my blue uniform, handcuffs mutedly jangling from the case on my belt.

The front lawn of the house had been transformed into a graveyard. Stryrofoam memorials commemorated the passage of Ima Guhl, Dr. Livingbones, and the late Mr. Late- better Late than Never. Cotton cobwebs hung from the trees, and an entire pumpkin patch grinned and gaped at us from the porch. However, what grabbed the most attention were the three glistening skeletons staked out in front of the tombstones. They were life size, eerily realistic from the street, and the patches of gleaming and crusting red suggested a disturbing provenance. Adam and I exchanged a look and walked up the front path.

A werewolf glared at us from the bench when I rang the bell, and a sign in the window asked “Boo’s there!?” There was a dark and hesitant movement behind the glass, but finally the door cautiously opened and a woman looked out at us. “Can I help you, officers?”

She was in her late forties to early fifties, dressed for lounging- sweat pants and an oversized sweater. Tall, nervous. Her eyes moved back and forth between Adam and I with a mixture of fear, confusion, and some contempt. Some people just don’t like cops. I sighed inwardly.

“Ma’am,” I began, “this is this your house?”
“Yes...” she replied, coldly..
“Ma’am, we’ve received a few calls about the skeletons in your yard. You have some neighbors who are concerned about the ...realistic nature of the skeletons, and we were compelled to come and investigate.”

Adam broke his silence. “Lady, we can’t tell you you can’t have skeleton decorations in your yard,” holding up a hand to stop protests that don’t come, “...so we just need to verify that they are decorative.”

They lady in the doorway started to speak quickly, in halting sentences. “Well of course they’re decorative...totally ridiculous that I’d have.... three... bodies rotting! in my front yard... some people!” A slight sheen of sweat glistened on her forehead.

I nodded and look towards the yard, “Then you won’t mind us taking a closer look, then.”
“Be my guest! One moment I’ll come out with you.”
She opened the door fully and came out, closing it firmly behind her. She squeezed by us, scrupulously avoiding contact, and marched into the front yard in a pair of strangely white slippers. I caught a whiff of her scent...odd. Adam was already following her.

“They’re some kind of special resin... really expensive...got em online from a Hollywood prop store. All handpainted.” The woman babbled on nervously. Adam knelt and picked up a femur. He grunted.

“You know, this doesn’t feel like resin to me.” He said simply, turning the bone over. “No manufacturer's marks, no pour joints, no ‘made in China.’” He lifted the bone to his face, sniffed it. Adam turned to her, bone in hand, with a very serious look on his face.

“Ma’am, I’ve seen some real bones in my time on the force, and I think you really need to tell us where you got these skeletons.”

The woman had been shifting her weight back and forth, but she stood stock still at what Adam was telling her. Beads of sweat visibly formed on her face and I could see her jugular vein jumping erratically. “That’s... totally impossible!” she gasped. “They can’t be real! They’re definitely not real bones! I swear to you I got them online.”

I cut in. “Ma’am, can we look around inside your house?” She jumped.
“No! this is... absurd! Those are not real skeletons and I don’t think you need to needlessly invade my privacy. You’re not coming in!” She was breathing heavily.

Adam set the bone down at his feet. “Lady,” he said slowly. “You said you ordered them online. Did they come in a box or a package you can show us? You can either show us what you have now, or,” looking in my direction, “we can go get a warrant. You can’t just show us a box in that case. We’re required to do a thorough home search from top to bottom.”

“Fine, you want to see the box, I’ll show you the box.” She walked quickly back to the house and Adam and I followed her closely.

We entered a dark foyer and the woman closed and locked the door behind us. We followed the woman to the kitchen where she began to dig through a closet, muttering and talking in an oddly high pitched voice. “...bought it online, seemed totally legitimate company... found them through Amazon.com... no way...” I leaned against the bar while Adam stood impassively and waited, hands on his belt.

“Here! here it is!” she cried out with relief. She turned and hauled out a large, bright yellow box. I read aloud: Hyper-realistic skeletons for stage, live action, cinematographic uses. Hand-stained, authentic smell. Used by the leading studios! Lifelike Industries, Pasadena, CA.

I looked up from the box, and passed it to Adam. “That’s pretty incredible, Ma’am. You sure had us fooled.” The woman looked like she was calming down. Her eyes still darted between us. Her hair was sticking from the sweat.
“Well, that’s that.” She said, indignantly. “Good day, officers. If you don’t mind, I’d like to recover from this heart attack in the peace of my own home.”

Adam put down the box and laughed quietly. “It’s amazing what replicas you can find online these days”, he said. “Watches, bags, bones, hats, badges.”
The woman’s eyes automatically traveled down the cheap fabric of our uniforms, and fixed upon the quiet stamp on the vinyl leather of our holsters: made in China. She took a step back.
“Yes, ma’am, you sure had us fooled with those bones,” Adam said, still smiling as he slowly moved towards her, “so incredibly... realistic.” Knife in my hand, I shook with silent laughter.

If they neighbors ever called about the four lifelike skeletons staked out in the yard, I wouldn’t know.

Oct 14, 2012

Review week

Last week was a major push week, where we attempted to bring our conceptual models into a full realization of project with sections, plans, understanding of site, materials, etc. Starting a week from last friday, I switched into a pattern of three to four hours of sleep a night, with occasional naps during the day. The night of my review, I worked until six am and got four hours of sleep.

That's because I'm an idiot.

And because I care about this project way too much, I kept fine tuning what I wanted to do. I ended up pounding out some good renderings and threw my boards together quickly, and actually, I ended up taking up about twenty feet of wall- sections, diagrams, illustrated sections, renderings, plans, sketches, and half a dozen models. It's still a stupid way to work given that the quality of what you do decreases based on your sleep level. A little sleep deprivation is not a bad thing in that it makes you a little less critical of what you're doing, but it quickly becomes a matter of diminishing returns.

Sometime tuesday night, I felt like I was flying through my work, being incredibly productive, working really fast. When I looked at the clock, I realized I hadn't left my chair in six hours. I wasn't working faster or more efficiently. In fact, I was working more slowly, but I was so tired, the hours melted away. This is the kind of stupid thing you do in undergrad.

The review went well. I presented well, but I was probably a bit to quick to mount the soapbox and proclaim emphatically "We are the river!" One of the two critics said that he appreciated my conviction. Thinking back, I just don't want to come across like the crazy prophets from Life of Brian.

Wednesday, I also found out I was not going to San Diego. I was planning on going with my informal cities class to San Diego and Tijuana, and to get a better price on the tickets, I went ahead and purchased tickets there and back. The problem is that the school requires a certain number of students to enroll in the program to make it worthwhile. There are only nine students in our class. They opened the workshop up to the school... two weeks before the planned trip.

In architecture school, many people will take a trip if it's part of the studio they're taking. A much smaller percentage will take a trip if its part of a seminar or other elective class. I would be very much surprised if there were more than two people in the entire school who would take a trip, even for a 1 credit hour workshop, if it was not directly related to either studio or a class. So that was disappointing. At any rate, because I booked with southwest, I was able to switch my ticket to Phoenix without any extra charges. So, my trip to the Mexican slums turns into a few days in Phoenix with mom and Tay, and a chance to meet mom's boyfriend, Larry.

Anyway, the past few days have been about recovery, relaxation, and recreation. Friday, I went climbing again, and then went out for a drink with Saori at Three Kings, where we watched the Cardinals win to a euphoric bar crowd. Yesterday, I worked in studio for most of the day, and took a break to go see Looper. Not bad for a scifi flick.

Sep 27, 2012

We are All Middle Class / Dissappearance of the Middle Class

A startling statistic is that in a recent survey, something like 97% of the US population described themselves as either "upper middle-class", "middle-class", or "working class."

I'm partly encouraged by this as it conveys a very American mentality of egalitarianism and the desire to place oneself neither as "lower class" nor, interestingly, as "upper class". And there is still the stigma attached to the lower class. "Low class" has associations with low tastes, low education, so nobody wants to be considered "lower class."

It seems like a strange situation. On the one hand, Americans resist thinking of themselves in terms of their location in the income strata. We vehemently reject identification with a particular income group culture. We are all, apparently, middle class, which means absolutely nothing.

How many people actually know what income quintile they occupy? There has been a very loud division of the 99% and the 1%, but what about the top 20% or the bottom 20%? (granted, dividing the population into five groups is about a logical as dividing it into two, but there is value organizing based on common interest)

If you don't know where you stand, what your interests are, how can make rational decisions about your lifestyle, your future, and your representation in the city? If a political candidate makes a statement about fighting for the middle class, who is he or she talking about?

In light of the fact that income distribution in the US has steadily increased since the end of WWII, and the global trends around the world are of increasing income disparities, what does that mean for the hypothetical middle class? The median household income of the US is around 50K. If that's middle class, you'll be struggling in many major US cities.  15% of the US lives below the poverty line.

Sep 26, 2012

updates

So what have I been up to lately? I think I've been remiss in blogging for awhile.

I'm still climbing a lot- on average at least once a week. I'll probably join the Upper Limits gym- they have a student monthly pass that's $30, and as often as I go, it doesn't make sense NOT to get it. I actually went tonight, since Wednesdays are $10 for students. Still don't own shoes, although maybe I'll add them to my Christmas wish list. I do feel myself getting better at this, although Dew is totally flying by, as often as he goes and his body type. He moves like an expert climber. It's kind of a shame since I really like Climb So Ill much better, but that is a much more expensive gym. (Although they also have $10 climb fridays for the month of September!) It's a great workout for me although hard on my hands. I always come back with my hands blistered and opening the car door is a feat of strength.


I'm still running occasionally. I got up to 5.5 miles the other day, running for 50 minutes. I think I'm ready to tackle an hour run, maybe next week. It's a shame the weather is beginning to turn since I'm not sure I'll have the same motiviation to run as it gets colder.

And colder it has become. The trees outside are beginning to show the signs of turning, a few leaves turning autumn red. As far as the weather goes, we're full in psycho mode. The transitional seasons here are just schizophrenic. A few days of frost warnings followed by mid-70s' and high humidity.

School is going well- easy. I need to push myself more. My concept review went really well. My instructor said I had the entire room rapt with my situation of the project. I just need to do it. Catherine, the other professor we were reviewing with, called me a lunatic, but in a good way.

Sep 13, 2012

third week in

This has been a slow week for studio production although we have our first big review coming up monday. Part of the issue is that my 'site' is the river and my project is a mobile, amorphous thing which travels up and down that river. So while other people lasercut small site models, am I supposed to make the entire river in a model? Maybe. It would at least show them that I'm thinking about the site.

Tuesday, partly as an excuse to go look at water architecture and underwater clear tunnels, Saori and I walked to the zoo and checked out the new sea lion exhibit. It's pretty cool. They have an underwater tunnel of acrylic, and a big surface observing area. I timed it so we'd get there in time for the feeding which was a lot of fun.

Part of me thinks, you know, it's kind of exploitive to make animals do tricks for people, but the more I research- people exploit everything they can get their hands on, and typically indirectly harm everything else, so if you can make people care about marine life by having Splashy wave at them, why not?

It was a beautiful day at the zoo, too. It's nice to live somewhere that can support such a lush environment. And it's free.

Yesterday we had studio early, and I didn't really have much to talk about, just thinking and writing. Today I'm going to do some more sketching and hopefully start making models with shrink-wrap and sticks and stuff.

Also yesterday, we went back to Upper Limits for more bouldering. Dew got me a chalk bag for my birthday, so I got to use that. And actually, I got a great book wednesday from my friend Kenny, so I've been slowly working my way though that as well.

Skipping professional practice today- although I probably shouldn't. Oh well, one day is not going to kill me.

Sep 9, 2012

Birthday week!

The day of my actual birthday, I worked in studio all day and didn't make a big deal out of it. That night, however, Saori and I were planning on going out to dinner at Salt, a highly rated restaurant in CWE known for high quality American cooking. But... it was closed tuesday. So we thought hey lets just go grab some cheap dinner like Pho Grand, and then hit up the downtown roofttop bar. And then we realized that Pho Grand was also closed tuesdays, so we went to our local go-to Pho place- also closed. We did finally get our pho nearby though, and that was pretty good.

Afterwards, I directed Saori downtown to the Hilton which had the sky bar. Once we got down there, we were finding it hard to find parking, which a little unusual for St.Louis and Saori said, "Is there a game tonight?" crap. First of all, it makes parking a nightmare anywhere close to the stadium, which we were, second, the rooftop bar immediately throws in a $10 cover on game nights, and it would be packed during and after the game. My tuesday night strategy for the empty downtown totally falling apart here.

We did finally make our way to Bridge, an upscale bar downtown which is pretty much a wine bar that serves beer instead of wine. I really like it because they have a rotating draught beer menu with about 60 beers on tap from local breweries and around the world and you can try each one in glasses ranging from 4oz to 32oz. Good place to try a few beers although most of the beers sold are pretty strong. So if you have five four-ouncers, you're spending a minimum of $20 and definately not in any condition to drive.

The next few days were pretty normal as far as normalcy goes in grad school. Friday night, I enjoyed happy hour with my classmates while it poured rain outside, and then Saori took me out to Salt for dinner.

Salt serves really good innovative American food made with local ingredients. And duck fat. Lots of duck fat. We had duck fat fries with aoili and house-made ketchup, one seared scallop (just one, but a big one, served in a small mason jar which was sealed and contained a bit of smoke)which we divided into four bites between us, tomato soup served with a mini grilled cheese sandwich, and the sorghum laquered roasted duck, which was pink in the middle and served on a bed of kale sauteed with bacon. Amazing. The duck was really ducky and succulent and I think it was either sorghum or maple syrup drizzled which tied the whole thing together. For dessert, we got the duck-fat fried red velvet 'twinkie' which is exactly what you think it is. Not one but two servers came around to gauge our reaction to the dessert which was apparently pretty new on the menu and I gave my feedback on the batter which they had recently changed.

Yesterday (saturday) was a very busy day. We hit three of the places seen in this movie highlighting the best things about living in St.Louis:


Here is St. Louis from Anastasis Films on Vimeo.

We started off by going to Soulard Market, a place I've been wanting to visit ever since I got to St. Louis. This market is about 100 years old and is full of vendors selling fruits, vegitables, flowers, pets, seafood, meats, spices, and fresh pasta. At 10am, it wasn't that crowded yet. Bring cash and your own bags. We picked up some pasta and some breakfast there.

Afterwards, we went to get coffee at Sump,  less of a coffee-shop and more of an obsessive love-letter to coffee. The menu has only a few items on it, and they only serve particular coffees in particular ways. If you want the Guatemalan coffee, you have to get it with the Chemex process, which is the way that the heavily bearded proprietor determined would bring out the best characteristics of that particular coffee. 

Humming with the heavy dose of caffeine, we went back to studio to work for a few hours before we went back downtown to do a site visit on the riverbank. Afterwards, we met up with Dew and Chuck at SoIll, a modern and clean climbing gym with some great bouldering walls. For some reason, the V0s and V1s were a lot easier than those at Upper Limits. The facility too was very updated, airy, and full of light. The rental climbing shoes were superior and much newer than Upper Limits. The price for a daily pass was a few dollars more though. Another major difference is that the bouldering walls in SoIll climb a lot higher than Upper Limits, so when you get to the top, you have a lot longer to fall- however, the floor is a giant rubber cushion, so you can drop eight feet with no problem. It is a bit more scary being that high, but it also motivates you to stay on that wall.

Sep 3, 2012

28 is the end of fun

It comes to this at last.

Twenty-eight.

When you're 27, you can rationalize it all away. You can think, 'man, 27 isn't so old! It's so close to 25! I'm still in my mid-twenties!' 

But 28. That's getting dangerously close to 30. When you're 27, you can go out, blow off work and get wasted and backpack Europe and go skydiving all the same time and your boss will laugh and say 'oh well, he's just 27. I wish I did that kind of stuff when I was his age!' But when you're 28, when you leave the trash can on the curb for an extra night, random strangers start harassing you about when you're going to take some responsibility, dressing better, and start a family.

Ok, being a little facetious here.

Actually, I don't really care about my age. I try not to have regrets, and I've been lucky enough to do a crazy amount of things that are important to me in my twenties (live in South America, backpack Europe, dance, make friends, visit twenty-odd countries, graduate college, get some work experience, fall in love, etc.) so I really have no excuse to complain.

So where am I at 28? Living in St. Louis. I'm together with Saori, we're going into our last semester of graduate school at Wash U. We worked this summer in Boston. Suki is old, but still pretty healthy and still chases string and talks vigorously to us. Hopefully a she still has a few years left in her.

Sep 2, 2012

Distractions

I don't normally link to outside content, but since the end of last semester, I've been captivated by web comics. I've always been a huge fan of comics, like newspaper comics, funnies, that kind of thing. I've never been into comic book comics because they seemed to take themselves way to seriously and I've never been a "the stereotypical hero" fan in general. It's just something that's never interested me. Why should I care that the Human Laser can shoot beams out of his eyes- what kind of a superpower is that, when I can read about a real life science lab where they have to do the math to make sure turning on the machine won't end all life as we know it.

Actually, I'm sure there are some great comics out there- numerous people have referred me to The Sandman series- but the only one I've ever read was The Watchmen. It was good, but not like, oh my God, what have I been missing? kind of good. Maybe I need some Frank Miller. I love graphics and illustration.

And, with the slow death of print media, the comic pages are suffering. The syndicated ones online have been all corralled into the smothering embrace of goComics.com under the direct control of a media syndicate behemoth. Plus, all those guys have to keep it within set boundaries of taste, format, size, and content. They're paid and pretty well-read, so ok for them.

Webcomics seem to be solely supported by books, merch, and banner ads. Because pixels are infinate, they can be however big or small they want to be. The only format constraint is the website, and their only constraints are pornography and obscenity laws. In general, they're poorly drawn, self-indulgent, vulgar, and totally self-involved. And they're great. People with talent and wit creating whatever the hell they want. Some are better drawn, some are more clever.

My current addiction is The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, which is essentially explained by the title and seems to be a series of situations which probably sounded really cool or funny loosely tied together by a modicum of plot. Ninja zombies figure prominently in one story. It's well drawn, totally silly and ridiculous, and un-self-consciously revels in the fun and excitement of a ninja doctor ramping a motorcycle through an open helicopter door. There's also a velociraptor named Yoshi which is kept as a pet/transport.

XKCD is also excellent, with an esoteric eye for advanced science, computers, math, and linguistics. Gave me some great advice for coming up with passwords.

Perry Bible Fellowship is dark, exquisite, and extremely twisted. The most lovely webcomic I've seen with lush illustrations in a variety of styles and media. In one strip, a herd of beautiful unicorns lament the fact that unless a male unicorn is found, the group will die out. On the hill, the silhouette of a stallion unicorn emerges. It is a donkey with a carrot tied to his forehead, and he plays it real cool.

On the trail of hot maple syrup

From the bbc-
Thieves in Canada have stolen millions of dollars worth of highly prized maple syrup from a storage facility, Quebec police have said.
The story goes on to say that the quantity of missing syrup is not yet known, but that if the entire warehouse were to be emptied, it would represent a tenth of Canadian production, the majority producer of maple syrup.

It's an incredible mystery to me. If the syrup was stolen for monetary gain, who are they going to sell it to, especially in the quantities it was taken? Is there a breakfast-food black market, where cases of Captain Crunch that "fell off the truck" are sold next to giant unmarked bags of domestic pancake mix?

Perhaps there is secret cabal of independent breakfast restaurant owners formed in opposition to PPEC (Pancake Producing Eatery Chains) whose members include such breakfast juggernauts as Denny's, IHOP, and Waffle House. This secret cabal might find it useful to have a few million liters of maple syrup on hand for distribution whenever PPEC flexes its powerful ties to the maple syrup industry and forces them to reduce output, just to prove America's dependence on syrup.

Aunt Jemima has been called in for questioning.

In other news... Belgium announces plans to make a waffle the size of Lichtenstein.

In other news... the ant population of Quebec quadruples overnight.

In other news... oil traders were puzzled to discover that the several hundred barrels of recently purchased grade II actually contained an unknown, sweet-smelling sticky substance.

Bouldering again

Yesterday, Saori and I met up with Kenny, Chuck, Dew, and another architecture student for bouldering at Upper Limits Rock Gym. The gym is downtown, but located close to the metrolink station so we might try taking the metrolink down from studio sometime.

Bouldering is a type of rock climbing, more simple and more technical in skill than wall climbing. For one thing, you don't go very high. You're not wearing a harness or tied onto anything, so if you fall, you want to be low to the ground enough not to hurt yourself. Most of the bouldering I have done barely gets a few feet above the floor. The challenge is really using the limited hand-holds and footholds to maneuver through a course. It's a lot more physically taxing for me since you're using a lot of muscles to cling to the face, or hanging from the underside of a roof. My arms and shoulders and hands are sore for days afterwards. It's really fun though for a few hours and the people who do it all have this intensely powerful and wiry look which I would also like to aquire through these kinds of workouts.

It's not that cheap- I mean, it's cheap for gym standards- but not cheap for someone with negative cash flow. A day pass is $12 and climbing shoes and chalk bag rentals add up to $7. The place we go offers a student monthly rate of $29 (not including rentals) so I'd have to go at least three times a month to make it worthwhile. Climbing shoes are a big investment ($60+) so I'd have to use a lot of $4 rentals to get there.

I'm going to see if I keep coming as the semester heats up. I'm definitely going to try.

Aug 29, 2012

First day of classes

Yesterday was my last first day of classes.

I'll never have a first day of school again.

My first class is required- Professional Practice, which encompasses such topics as "Architecture- A Service Profession" and "How to Cover Your Ass" and "Starting Your Own Firm." There is a lot I do have to learn about how the profession works but I am not encouraged by the time-filling activities. We spent most of our time this first class explaining how/why we got into architecture in the first place. My easy response is "Lego's."

We also got a case study packet with a fictional company (Waddel and Dobb Assoc. [they must be a very old fashioned firm]) and their subsequent legal and financial troubles. Case study packets! It makes me think of my mom and brother in law school. This could be very interesting.

Today was our first day of studio as well. We met our instructors- I got Ben, the professor I had for design thinking, and he was my first choice in the list I'd sent off a week ago. It sounds like they gave almost everyone their first choice in desired degree project professors. Not much to go over today. Just the introductory speech.
  • DP is about the bridge from academic to professional
  • it's self-driven, professors are your guide, but your work is your own
  • you won't have the other students working on the same projects as a crutch (anymore)
  • don't freak out
  • work hard, think, be bold, take risks.
  • etc. etc.
I think I may try using the tumblr format to document DP and put this on partial hiatus- we'll see. I do like the written word, and the therapeutic qualities of blogging.

In the meanwhile, keep tabs on my degree project work here.

Aug 27, 2012

Up at the front with the Flaming Lips

For my early birthday present, Saori got me tickets to LouFest, a two-day music festival in Forest Park in St. Louis. I love event presents- several birthdays before, Saori got me tickets to StarWars in concert, and also a great live show from from Muse.

We went to the park early to get tickets and secure a close parking space, and then we chilled out on a blanket and read away the hours, watching the clouds gathering in the sky. We finally wandered into the park around 4 or so, four hours away from the anticipated set from the Flaming Lips, the highlight of the festival. There were a few alright bands playing while we drank some beers and met up with friends, and then Saori disappeared with Cordelia for awhile and reappeared with rainbow face paint.

The folksy group Dawes was not bad, and we were right up front for that in a big group. After the Dawes set, the skies which had threatened so much for so long finally made good on their word. The heavens opened up and poured rain down on the event. I got drenched to the bone. I had the foresight to bring a baseball cap to keep the rain off my glasses, and crocs to at least let the water run out of my shoes, but after that hour ended, I literally wrung my shirt to get the excess rain out of it.

Our group had joined up with a group of what can best be described as Flaming Lips semi-groupies, people who had traveled from neighboring states to come see the band play, and who were pretty hardcore in their adoration. All came with rainbow tears and soon Saori introduced me to the girl who had a traveling set of facepaint who was happy to give me some rainbows too. And she also had a giant spice shaker of gold glitter, which was liberally passed around and applied to bodies and faces and hair. Fun people.

We were literally at the front of the stage, at the metal barrier separating the press alley from the edge of the stage itself. Socially, its a fascinating place. I got separated from my group when there was a rush to take the front of the stage area, and people who were behind the group I was with let me through to the front because they identified me as having been hanging out with that group for the majority of the time before. Position here is very jealously guarded. Up at the front, people chatted with the massive (and nearly all bald or close-shaved) bouncers/guard staff and random photographers. A young photographer allowed the girl with facepaint, to give him some rainbows as well, but then got harassed by the guard. Apparently no fraternization is allowed.

The concert was a lot of fun. I'd never seen a psychedelic band live before, and the whole show was super-trippy. LED screen flashing loops of eyeballs and topless women, a cadre of young, buxom dancing girls and a guy in a Tin Man suit who all looked like they'd been pulled from the audience a few hours before. An inflatable catfish in a captain's hat. White duct tape and rainbows everywhere. Omnipresent fog and lasers. I could definitely smell the weed being passed around in the crowd. Music was good. Fun, really fun music. "Yeah, yeah, yeah," and closing with a euphoric "Do you realize?" The lead singer jumped in a inflatable clear hamster ball and rolled around the audience.

Actually, since we were up at the front, there are a lot of photos with us in it.







A day and a thorough shower later, and I've still got gold dandruff and a few shiny sparkles on my face.

I'm so tired right now, we just went bouldering at Upper Limit. Dew encouraged us to try it, and we had a lot of fun exhausting ourselves on the V0 paths. Bouldering is like indoor rock climbing, except you dont use a rope and you don't go too high. It's a lot more difficult, actually. I was able to do two of the five V0 sets only after strenuous repetition. The paths are labeled by difficulty- V0 is the easiest. It goes up to V15.

Anyway, to bed. School starts tomorrow.

Aug 24, 2012

Sitting In The Tub

Enjoying the last few days of summer 'freedom'. Although the argument could aptly be made that I should be doing things like gearing up for my last semester, making dentist appointments to fill in the cavity in my teeth, fulfilling promises to friends, it's really hard to get motivated.

Summer was a full bathtub, and now that the water's running out, the weight which I carried so lightly in the full tub weighs on me, lethargically sitting in the tub as the water drains between my legs. It's so hard to rouse myself from the inertia.

Fittingly- not much to report today. Made pancakes for breakfast. Worked with Saori for a few hours on an introduction to the Grasshopper plug in for the 3D modeling software Rhino. Read way to much webcomics.

Aug 23, 2012

Are you ready, Kids?

Been back in St. Louis for a total of three days now. It's been a bit of cleaning, a bit of catching up with mail and emails, a bit of getting organized for school, a bit of catching up with friends.

My second night back, we went out to hear Kim Massie sing down at Beale on Broadway, and it turns out a lot of people we knew were there already. It's a great scene. Outside, with one of the best singers in St. Louis belting out blues and R&B and whatever you'll pay her $15 to sing. A few beers, nice weather, lasts from 10-3am. That night, the audience also included some cast members from the Lion King, and a few ensemble members were coaxed into singing as well.

There's something cool and laid back and nice about listening to music like that, lit by the string of christmas lights and stage floods, with the Amtrak trains rumbling past in the background. It was a nice welcome back to the laid back expansiveness of St.Louis.

Yesterday, Saori and I drove out to Cahokia and walked around and up the mounds out there. It was miserably hot, and the drought which has plauged the midwest transformed the usually lush summer landscape into brown and brittle grass spears, unpleasant for rambling. It's a site which is more memory than artifact- in importance and scale, this was the largest settlement north of Aztec Mexico city. The center and city of a civilization of great complexity and scale, larger even than the US capital when it was first discovered. But there is no written language to describe it- no stone monuments, no stone pyramids, no massive idols. The massive earthworks is only a passing reference to the true monumental urbanity of the place, and its a pale second. What is there to see other than the earth mounds? The museum does a good job of trying to awaken the imagination and to give the appropriate contexts and information about the history and extent of the site. But this has to be the saddest and most neglected UNESCO World Heritage Site I've ever seen, and there's really not even that many in the US.

Aug 20, 2012

Have I done Thee, Boston? How I count the ways

As I sit here at BOS airport waiting for my flight back to St.Louis, I realize that Boston is one of those strange cities where I have lived but do not feel that I've truly owned this city. It has not yielded itself up to me in the same way that I now understand Phoenix, or St.Louis. I have been unable to make this city mine, although I think I've done a damned good job at hitting all the tourist highlights. What have I done with my time here in New England?
  •  Sampled at least 20 clam chowders in and near Boston, including attending and voting in Boston's Chowderfest and definitely identified the best clam chowder in the region ( The Lobster Pot, Provincetown)
  • Duck Tour where you are driven around Boston on land and in the Charles river by not entirely obnoxious conDUCKtors. Did that one not once, but TWICE.
  •  Museum of Fine Arts
  • Isabella Gardner Museum (also twice)
  • Lobster in numerous ways- lobster rolls, lobster bisque, steamed lobster, etc.
  • Institute of Contemporary Arts
  • Walking and shopping and dining on Newbury street
  • Chinatown, where I went nearly every day of the week.
  • Harbor islands
  • Drank beers from three local breweries
  • Walk Harvard and MIT
  • Revere Beach, Nantasseraggat beach, Crane beach
  • Walked through Salem
  • Drove up to Marblehead
  • Peabody Essex Museum
  • Attended Shakespeare in the Commons
  • Drinking with locals
  • Cape Cod day trip with beaches, small diners, Provincetown.
  • Rockport day trip and bicycling.
  • The Union Oyster House Dining Experience and Ye Olde Yankee Gifte Shoppe featuring actual scallop puppets.
  • Purchased wayfarer sunglasses and striped tee shirts worn with white canvas shorts and boat shoes.
  • BONUS- used a CharlieCard to commute from my Back Bay brownstone apartment to my job in the seaport district

What have I missed?
  • Red Sox baseball game
  • Getting a drink at Drink
  • Taking the swan boats at the public garden
  • Whale watching
  • New England Aquarium

Aug 19, 2012

North Atlantic Reprise

My alarm went off at 7:30 and as I reached from my bed to hit the snooze, I half considered sleeping in an extra hour and simply catching the 9:30 train to Rockland. I thought better of it and forced myself up. The train to rockland is an hour and some, which would get me in later in the day. And I do like to get an early start to travel.

Rockport, Massachusetts, is a small fishing village north of Gloucester, on a rocky peninsula sticking into the Altantic. It's picturesque, quaint, heavy on the tourist industry and some fishing. I wanted to get a last taste of the old new England fishing villages, so it seemed like a good place to go. Turns out I underestimated the tourism there, but it turned out ok.

Caught a train from North Station, commuter rail, $20 round trip ticket. A little over an hour's ride out of town. Went by pretty fast- the scenery once you get beyond Salem becomes really lovely as the rail runs through forest and salt marshes and past other small fishing harbor towns.

In Rockport, I walked to the main street along the harbor, about a twenty minute walk from the station. It was nice that it was early enough in the day that the streets were not yet choked with tourists, and I could get my fill of the scenic storefronts on bearskin neck. Bearskin neck is full of old lobster shacks and fishing shanties which have all been converted to the picturesque tourist industry- gelato shops, cafes, quite a few Asian Imports, several clothing stores, candy stores, tarot parlors run by witches, restaurants, sea glass jewelry, pottery, 'whimsical artwork,' and Austrian strudel. I did stop into the strudel place and get some cherry strudel which was actually pretty good.

On the train ride over, I'd been considering joining a sea-kayak tour, but once I got out there, I realized that I'd be a lot happier doing it with someone else and not just being a single in the tour group. Besides, that $40 could be well spent in other ways. I ended up renting a bicycle for a few hours, $15, which included a lock, so I took off in my landlubbery ways.

I've always enjoyed exploring by bike, especially places where you have interesting spots and sights separated by long distances. I biked along the coastal roads, stopping now and then to park the bike and pick my way down to the shoreline. The coast up here is really rocky (surprise!). While the small beach proper down in Rockport was sandy, farther north, the Atlantic crashed into a shattered plain of granite steps marching into the sea. I walked here for awhile, cooling my legs in the spray and waves washing over the rocks. I took photos of the lighthouses on distant islands. It was a nice farewell to the Atlantic- it was a place which conveyed well the power and isolation of that ocean.

Caught the train back and walked home from the north station, a few miles journey, but one that took me through some picturesque parts of the city. Chinese take out for dinner. Tomorrow I catch a flight back to St.Louis.

Aug 18, 2012

Big Achievements

Saori's big achievement today was running her first 5K in the St.Louis color run. I am really proud of her for the work she has put into running, which is a lot less enjoyable for her than it is for me. She had a great time and was excited to run another one.


My big achievement of the day has been holding down a few gulps of Gatorade and four Ritz crackers, hung over, and sick as a dog. Yesterday's drinking started at noon...

My last day the office, a few people came out for lunch with me at Papagayo, a decent tex-mex place. They made fresh guac at the table, and they served a mean margarita. I got fish tacos while sipping down my drink (1). Food was not bad- the fish tacos were grilled, which was new to me, but the chips were really hard, thick things. Sitting with me were a bunch of coworkers from the NE and one girl from New Mexico, and the two of us were lamenting the lack of good Mexican food. One of the guys at my table had only recently heard of guacamole.

Anyway, after I got back to the office, well warmed from the huge margarita, I started working again, around four, my supervisor came over with a beer for me and we talked about the final stuff he wanted me to do with the model I was working on, so I drank that beer (2).

I ended up working until around six, and went around the office to say goodbye to the few people that were left. It sounds like I will have very strong prospects there when I graduate. Leaving the office, I walked across the street to the new convenience store there and picked up a pint bottle of an IPA brewed in Somerville nearby.

At home, I opened the large bottle (3, 4) and started working on it while doing some preliminary sorting and packing- clean clothes to wear for the next few days, dirty clothes to wash, stuff to take on the plane, and stuff to box to be shipped home.

Noel came home and had a beer and I joined him in the kitchen as we both made ramen noodles for dinner. We talked about this and that, and he offered me a bottle of Rogue Ale (5) which I drank while we ate and chat. Drank another of his beers (6) and then he mentioned going out to meet a friend at a bar, and invited me along. I said, sure!

At this point I was pretty drunk. Noel hailed a cab and we took it to The Sevens, a bar at 77 St.James street, and I bought a round (7) while we waited for his friend to arrive. The bar was pretty standard small bar, we were able to sit at a table, and the vibe was definitely more pub. Noel's friend joined us and we talked for a bit before he bought us all another round (8). At last call, the rest of my brain thoroughly pickled, the deepest, most ancient reptilian part of my brain called for a dose of sanity and a glass of water.

When I got up to use the bathroom before we left, I realized, belatedly, how bad off I was. Seriously staggering, using the wall as a guide. I'm happy I didn't walk into any tables. When I got to the bathroom, I realized I was going to be sick and barely made it to the toilet.

We left the pub shortly thereafter, hailed another cab for the south city diner, which is the go-to place for drunks in the downtown after hours. I've always wanted to go, but with my head spinning and my stomach churning, I was in no mood for a plate of their famous pancakes. I bid the two farewell and started walking home. Noel didn't have keys so he told me to get the door for him to let him in when he got back to the apartment. Even now I can't remember if I did or not. I remember getting home and being more sick in the toilet here a few times, and crashing in bed, sweeping my carefully sorted piles onto the floor.

Waking up this morning was an unpleasant experience. I was so bad, I couldn't hold down water. And this lasted until about noon. After one burst, when I was on my knees in front of the toilet, the sweat bursting of my back, my head about to explode, my eyes tearing and the last bit dribbling from my lips, my sweat-drenched forehead resting on my arms which grasped the communal toilet, when I thought, why am I doing this again?

It is kind of strange when you think about it- when one gets so drunk that one's memory of the event, the fun part, is fuzzy or simply loses it altogether, and then the consequence- prolonged hours of misery experienced fully with a sober head and a pounding headache- why we repeat it? It's like we're failing Pavlov's test. Fortunately, I don't do this often- I think I've only been this drunk/sick a few times in my life. By now I know my own limits, but I guess at the threshold of the limit, there was something last night that made me want to step over it. I guess its the slippery slope where I was too drunk to consider the repercussions of my drinking. I would have thought though that the body would associate drinking a certain amount with being miserably sick and form a kind of psychological barrier. Why weren't my alarm bells going off? Were they, and I just ignored them? Or it is too subtle of an alarm bell to hear when I'm at my limit.

Anyway, I started feeling better around 3, and this day is going to be totally wasted cleaning up myself and the messes I've made.

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...