Jan 31, 2013

Sasha's Wine Bar- done, don't need to do it again.

Saori and I finally made it to Sasha's, a wine bar in Demun which was apparently very popular among our friends in grad school. Vivian was shocked we'd never been there thus far. The ambiance is ok, the crowd was older, the bar is nice. There's a patio outside and a blackboard on the wall with specials written in chalk. They have a decent selection of bottles, but it's all pretty expensive. I ordered a glass of their cheapest red, which still set me back $7. It was good, actually. Lasted awhile. Saori and I had a glass and a half and that was fine for the night. Any more, and I wouldn't have felt comfortable driving. Service, when we could get it, was good.

The band was beyond terrible. They a brass jazz band that was literally painful to hear. I am amazed that when the trumpeter attempted to hit his high notes that no wineglasses broke. And they were really loud. My sense of music is not as developed as Saori's. I thought they were just bad; Saori thought the saxophonist was appalling. Incredibly, there was a table of people right in front of them really getting into the music.

So: Sasha's- check!

Jan 29, 2013

Reading more Ingersoll

I've been hopping around between books kind of restlessly. I was on a Sherlock Holmes bender for awhile, but I kind of got tired of the pattern of the novels, which all proceed as follows:
  1. A mystery is presented
  2. Holmes ridicules the police and disappears
  3. Watson bumbles around
  4. Somebody dies
  5. Holmes re-appears and curses himself because he had all the information to make a case and prevent the murder but was waiting for better confirmation of the perpetrator's favorite color.
  6. The criminal is caught
  7. The criminal tells a long story which takes the form of an adventure novel in an exotic location
So I might have to jump over to the shorter stories.

I've also been reading the collected writings of Robert Ingersoll, a American Freethinker from the late 19th century. Many of his ideas were radical for the times. The latest stuff I've been reading has been addressing rights, particularly those of women and children. He said that women should have all the rights of men, plus one more, the right to be protected. In some ways, he is very paternalistic- he painted the domestic scene as the women as cooks and housekeepers, and glorified the institution of marriage as the highest aspiration of mankind. But he advocated for a democratic household vs the man as the 'boss', and he thought children should be allowed to do and eat whatever they wanted. He was violently opposed to any kind of corporeal punishment, and said quite movingly (something my own parents told me) that you should tell your children that there is nothing they can do, no crime so heinous, that they would not be welcomed back to them with loving arms.

He had some interesting urbanistic ideas. He lamented the fact that so many people were leaving the farms of their fathers to go work in the cities. He saw so much misery in the cities, so he thought that happiness could really only be attained by living and working the land you owned. His proposal was to make farm life more attractive by making it less miserable (why do you rise at 3am? makes no sense), making it more beautiful with trees and paint and plants, and making it more sociable. He wanted villages of intelligent, literate farmers with plenty of leisure time afforded by technology and the abundantly fertile soil (especially in Illinois "The best state in the country and the best country in the world").

Still, it's hard to fault someone who really believes that the purpose of life is happiness and the way to get there is to make others happy.

Along similar philosophical lines, I re-read Moominvalley in November, which is a Finnish children's story about a group of somewhat antisocial characters who grow to find the pleasure of each others company and qualities despite their failings and selfishness.

Jan 28, 2013

Farm Party!

My friend Luke has a pretty sweet setup- his parents live on a farm about an hour and a half from St. Louis. The distance means that he has to live in his own place in town, but can still go back home occasionally without too much difficulty, and the fact they live on a farm means that he can host farm parties there.

I could easily write an entire blog post just about this community. To be brief- Germans were one of the first settlers of this area of Missouri. They tended to be farmers, and they tended to keep a relatively tight cultural community and not move around too much. Suffice it say, my friend's family have been on that particular farm for the past 200 years, most of the roads out there have German names, and it seems as though many of the people's names on business signs and billboards were Germanic. Luke's father's side is totally Germanic, although his mother's side is more Alsatian. The food customs endure- the language; not as much.

Anyway, Luke invited a big group of students and friends out including Saori and I on this cold Saturday, and in the end, about thirty kids came out. He provided the hot dogs and associated paraphernalia, and also the makings for smores. He also had a huge fire pit with a bunch of logs which he attempted to light with copious amounts of lighter fluid. Unfortunately, lighter fluid will only take you so far, and so the fire died because none of the logs caught. So, Eagle Scout Badge firmly clenched in my teeth, I kindled a fire in the pit with hay, twigs, and sticks, and that burned long enough to get the smaller logs going.

To his credit, Luke did haul in a serious quantity of wood for an amazing fire. It was actually the nicest fire I've seen in awhile. Darkness fell, the stars came out, and the fire burned really hot. The guests brought beer, and we all settled into a pattern occasionally moving outside to inside, talking, dancing, consuming alcohol, trying to not light our mashmallows on fire, playing cards etc. It was a cold night, but the fire was very hot.

I ate too many marshmallows, too many hot dogs, and drank too many beers. I ended up playing Durak with Brian and Jennifer until a little after 3 am. I'd brought tents, but everyone was welcomed to find spaces inside, so we played human tetris with our sleeping bags in one of the living rooms, and slept where we could. I'm happy we were not outside- the next morning brought a freezing rain.

It was incredibly generous of Luke and his parents to open their house to all of us. Very little got broken, and Luke's mom kindly got out a largest bottle of aspirin I've ever seen and cooked us a lot of eggs and bacon for breakfast. I say "us" loosely because I was cowering in my sleeping bag feeling like I'd been hit with a truck for almost the entire morning. And I wasn't the only one. After a few hours I was able to sit up without feeling like I was going to reacquaint my lap with my dinner, and we left before ten.

The ride home was pretty miserable. It was a huge effort to focus on the road and the cars in the mist and rain, because I was pretty carsick the entire ride back. If anyone as much said "Jack Daniels" I would have lost it. At least my memory tends to keep me from making this mistake more than twice in the same year.

Book sale

As part of our attempt to reduce the amount of stuff in our lives, Saori and I hosted a book fire sale at the happy hour of the architecture school last friday. Those of you who know me know I have several hundred books, so I've been trying to cut some of them down. We went in, priced the books low, and waited for the crowds. We actually did better far than I thought- selling at least half of the books we brought with us. Saori made about $80, and I cleared at least $100. Actually, most of the books Saori sold were formerly my books that she pulled out of my Goodwill pile from a year ago.

One of our bookish professors who has actually published a few books on architecture pulled me aside and as half-jokingly asked how I could sell my architecture books. I replied that these were just the ones I didn't feel I really needed or had already read. He was unconvinced- "some of these books don't get reprinted," he reminded me. If I kept all the books I'd ever received or bought, I'd have literally a wall of books by now, probably about a thousand volumes.

It's really not a matter of how many books you have anyway, its how many you read, how many you reference. If I don't re-read the Annals of Archaic Architecture: Andean A-frame Apartments, it might as well be on someone's else shelf than my own. If I never crack open LeCorbusier's Lesser Known Poetry it might as well be in more interested hands. Just because this is my blog, here are more books which didn't make the cut to stay on my shelves:
  • Nanotechnology Flooring of the Future
  • Vaguely Spanish Mission Style Strip Malls
  • Hand Drafting
  • Green Detail: Sustainable Bathroom Partitions
  • Theories and Manifestos of Architects Before Employment
  • Aliens: a Revisionist History of Architecture
  • Theodore R. Q. Spalling- The Father of Mall Photo-studio Design
  • Modern Marvels: the Indestructible Tacoma Narrows Bridge
  • The Phaeton Expensive Book of Expensive Houses
  • Interinterstices: The spaces between a space and the space between that space and another space
  • Mind-Blisteringly Expensive Materials for Facades
  • The Coffee Table-Sized Coffee-Table Book of Coffee Tables
  • Sustainable Design: Growies on Walls, Yay!
  • Architecture Now! Detroit
  • Modern Bidet Standards
  • 152,752 Amazing Projects That Will Never Be Built
  • We Just Scanned Every Piece of Paper in the Office including Chinese Takeout Menus and LL Bean Catalogs to Make a Thick Book With no Organization or Narrative with an Introduction by Bruce Mau
  • Plumbing Masters of the 21st Century
  • Fundamentals of Subway Restaurants Construction
  • Oversimplified Mechanics for Dummies
  • Mashed Potatoes and a Spoon- the Design Secrets of Zaha Hadid
  • How Architecture will Save The World
  • The Architect's Guide to Retirement

Jan 25, 2013

walking trip: St. Louis south

I enjoy long walks, but today was an especially long walk. I got up early and decided that what I really wanted to do was to walk across the city of St. Louis. I'd been kicking around the idea for awhile- the city is actually only five or six miles across the widest point East-West, and perhaps double that in the North-South direction. I'd figured out a route from the Shrewsbury metrolink station to the Lacledes' Landing metrolink station, which angles Northeast and cuts sharply north from Soulard.

The best way to get something done is to start, so I started with a mile walk to my local metrolink station, and caught a train down to Shrewsbury. The first thing you do is cross the river DesPeres, which my old DP professor referred to as the river DisPair, with good reason: constant low water, highly contaminated, ugly as sin. Actually more canal than river. Northhampton is a pretty boring first-ring suburb, although I found a donut shop down there for breakfast.

I walked past Civil Life, the brewery/public house, but it wasn't until I hit Cherokee street that I was really entertained by the urban fabric, which melted the distance. I stopped at Mud Cafe for coffee, and ran into a former professor of mine and we chatted a bit. From Cherokee street, I continued to Betton Park, and Soulard before heading north into the desolate and industrial zone outside the downtown. Finally, I passed by the Gateway Arch and made it to the train station, approximately four hours after I started.

The total distance was 10 miles, not including the 2 additional miles for the walk to the metro station and back. I could do it again, and skip everything west of Grand, and north of Soulard.

Jan 24, 2013

Three quotes

Tuesday night, Saori and I went to go hear Geographer live at the Firebird. It was kind of funny because everyone dressed very similar to how architecture students dress- kind of upscale, kind of hipster. Beards, beanies, and PBRs. Cheap tickets ($12) and a pretty good show. Geographer is pretty good- I bet the next time they tour St. Louis, they'll need a bigger venue. The lead singer is pretty phenomenal. Really has a hypnotic, stretchy voice.

For Martin Luther King jr. Day, I re-read "Letter from Birmingham Jail" which is just an amazing document. Although he edited later when he was released from the jail, the power and urgency and moral ground he lays out is clear and bold as fire:
I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; [....] Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. 
So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? [....] Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.
This MLK jr interlude actually interrupts a book I was reading of a collection of writings by Robert Ingersoll. Ingersoll and MLK make interesting bedfellows- both I believe were fundamentally humanists- they both fought for the dignity of life and equality and justice, but they were diametrically opposed as far as religion goes. Ingersoll was a civil war veteran, political figure, and orator, and extremely vocal atheist. His speeches are filled with fire and rage towards to the church as the great blocker and oppressor of human dignity and progress. There is humor too, but it is the deadpan humor of the man who is trying to comprehend why the rest of the world remains with its head in the sand:
Is it possible that an infinite God created this world simply to be the dwelling-place of slaves and serfs? Simply for the purpose of raising orthodox Christians; that he did a few miracles to astonish them; that all the evils of life are simply his punishments, and that he is finally going to turn heaven into a kind of religious museum, filled with Baptist barnacles, petrified Presbyterians, and Methodist mummies? I want no heaven for which I must give my reason; no happiness in exchange for my liberty, and no immortality that demands the surrender of my individuality.
Now and then somebody examines, and in spite of all keeps his manhood, and has the courage to follow where his reason leads. Then the pious get together and repeat wise saws, and exchange knowing nods and most prophetic winks. The stupidly wise sit owl-like on the dead limbs of the tree of knowledge, and solemnly hoot. Wealth sneers, and fashion laughs, and respectability passes by on the other side, and scorn points with all her skinny fingers, and all the snakes of superstition writhe and hiss, and slander lends her tongue, and infamy her brand, and perjury her oath, and the law its power, and bigotry tortures, and the church kills.
but it's not all invective to religion-
Fear paralyzes the brain. Progress is born of courage. Fear believes- courage doubts. Fear falls upon the earth and prays- courage stand erect and thinks. Fear retreats- courage advances. Fear is barbarism- courage is civilization.
Forget the pale banalities of the presidential debates- I want to see Robert Ingersoll up against C.S. Lewis.

Jan 21, 2013


I started rock climbing last semester with Dew, Chuck and Saori. It's great to start a new hobby/sport/whatever in a group of newbies, because then you have at least each other to compare your progress against and to support and challenge each other.

When we started four months ago, none of us could finish any of the routes in the gym, including the v0s. In rock climbing, there is a sub-sport called bouldering where you climb without a harness, typically to low heights, and it's apparently much more technical than straight rope climbing.

Bouldering is also possibly the cutest sport there is, narrowly edging out real-life Quiddich. Climbers squeeze their feet into tiny, brightly colored pointed shoes. Many of these shoes use velcro fasteners. The only way they could be any cuter is to put unicorn stickers on them. Climbing attire could be mistaken for yoga attire, except for the short pants which hit the leg mid-calf. These tend to be just slightly less adorable than the shoes. Then there is the activity itself. A good climber moves like a ballerina on the wall, carefully and skillfully contorting, extending legs and arms, making controlled movements and small leaps. And not at breathtaking heights either- only a few feet off the floor typically.

Still, for all that, it can be incredibly intense, a brutal workout, and at times terrifying. I've really enjoyed it. It's rare to me to find something that works my arms and core that I find compelling enough to keep at it. Today I finished my first v3. Now, every route is set by people with different abilities and judgement, and the rating of the route is often highly subjective. Actually, I've climbed more difficult v2s before. But it was still a kick to finish this route clean.

Kansas City field trip

Friday, we took a field trip. Saori, Vivian, Chuck, and I drove out to Kansas City in the morning, mostly to see Steven Holl's iconic Nelson-Atkins art museum. It's about a four hour drive, so we split up the driving two there and two back. The drive out is not horrible- the landscape quickly transitions from the gentle hills of St. Louis to the great plains. We gassed up in Columbus and got to Kansas City around two in the afternoon.

I'd done a quick pass through google to try to find some good Kansas City BBQ, but even though we found a place with a Zagat rating of 28/30, we were not impressed. I did kind of forget that Vivian is vegetarian in picking out the place, so that wasn't great either. We promised to go someplace with more veg-friendly options for dinner.

I was surpised by how much the I liked the city- the skyline, at least, is much more progressive with more interesting modern architecture, and the downtown felt a lot more vibrant than St. Louis. We walked down to a river observatory above the Missouri, and then stopped for coffee at the CityMarket. It was late in the day on a friday, so few stalls were open. Definitely a good spot to go visit on the weekend though. We did finally get over to the museum just as the sun was beginning to go down, so we got a lot of photographs with the changing light conditions.

The museum has actually got a decent collection of work. In my experience, smaller, private museums like that have a few masters but they're typically B-side works. This was pretty good stuff. Not many masters, but what they had was good.

The building we came to see is actually a modern addition to the older neoclassical edifice. The addition's walls are actually all frosted channel glass which is backlit, so the entire building looks like a series of glowing boxes emerging from the rolling grass landscape. It also makes a fantastic backdrop for silhouette pictures, and we spent at least an hour hopping and skipping and making poses in front of the glowing facade. Actually, it was the highlight of the trip.

After the museum, we went to dinner at a thai noodle shop/retro diner. Loved the interior design and the feel of the place, with stacked noodle boxes on racks in the asiles, worn diner tables and booths, and lasercut wood light fixtures, but the food was just ok.

I took the last leg of driving, getting us back to St. Louis around 1:30 in the morning.

Jan 19, 2013

What Killed the Haitians?

I recently came across an interesting position based in Boston with a group I'll call RH design group.
They were looking for "Design Fellows" with the possibility of travel to Africa and Haiti.

Apparently RH is kind of a NGO non-profit which does architecture and public health and design for some of the worst-hit areas of the world, focusing its attention on Haiti and Africa. The first line of their philosophy page states, and I quote:
In 2010, a single earthquake in Haiti killed over a quarter million people due to a combination of infrastructure failure and resulting outbreaks of disease.
While this is technically true, it carefully frames the area in which they have capacity or willingness to work.

What killed all those Haitians?

One could argue truthfully it was the individual's bodies that failed to keep them alive: that their human frame was not robust enough to survive being crushed by falling concrete floors and walls, or the massive loss of blood resulting from lacerations and crushed limbs, that the heat-removal and fire-retardant systems of the skin were overwhelmed in massive conflagrations, acute dehydration, and a host of infectious diseases. The death toll was a result of catastrophic biological failure: it's their fault they died because flesh is weak against steel and stone.

At a level higher, one can say it was not that people were too weak to survive, but that it was the concrete, fire, lack of water, and bacteria and viruses that killed them. Clearly, this is only slightly less absurd, but similarly accurate, to saying that the reason the Haitians died because they were mortal.

I am speaking here in what are absurd, brutally terms because this is literally how people die. Horrible injustice and horrible tragedy has fallen on Haiti, but no one points fingers at the falling concrete or the various bacteria and viruses.

Let us take a step up- why did the buildings fall apart? Why did people die of dehydration? What were the circumstances that hundreds of thousands of people were killed by diseases which are easily treatable and preventable?

This is the circuit in which RH design group operates- it was failures in architecture and infrastructure which caused the deaths of all those Haitians. The death toll was a result of catastrophic technical failure. On a certain level this makes sense for a design group to propose. If you ask a barber why a date didn't go well, and he's going to suggest you need a haircut. Most architecture firms as they are now can only provide architectural solutions. Improvements can only be made laterally- if the building collapsed, build another building, or better, build a stronger building.

This, for me, is where I get really tripped up. I'm a designer. I see my task as making things better, or to put a finer point on it, to make life better, for as many people as possible. But if I'm only designing architecture and infrastructure, I'm just designing survival gear- literally, making hard hats and steel-toed boots. Maybe that's really it. It's just incredibly frustrating to be stuck at level 5 spending a life of work to mitigate the simpler mistakes made at level 4.

Because to accuse failures in architecture and infrastructure of killing Haitians is about as worthless a statement as blaming the falling bricks themselves. Architecture and infrastructure are products of human endeavors. Let's keep climbing the ladder of things that killed all those Haitians:

Why did the buildings crumble? Lack of building codes or enforcement, poor quality building materials, poor (or none) structural design of the load-bearing system. Most of these buildings were put up by people who lived there, paid for themselves, and built by people typically just like them with little to no training in construction.

Why did the infrastructure fail? lack of robustness, lack of maintenance, it was obviously not built strongly enough or with enough redundancies, and probably of poor materials and design. One could argue that it was a lack of Haitians doing things they should have been doing which lead to so many of their tragic deaths.

Questions lead to more questions higher up the chain, and most of them have to do with money; money, because we live in a world where the groups in power have decided that money is the best way to decide things. The government claims to be too poor to fund the expansion, maintenance, and repair of infrastructure. Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. If Haiti was as rich as Chile, which suffered a worse earthquake with a miniscule fraction of the casualties and damage, or Japan, which is routinely pelted with far worse earthquakes with minor transportation delays, then do you think you would have seen the same body count?

Of course not. By that logic, then, you could reasonably say that the reason a quarter million Haitians died was because their country is so dirt poor they were continually living on the edge of catastrophe with absolutely no tolerance or ability to accommodate the slightest disaster. It was an economic failure which doomed those Haitians.

Saori had a friend in Tempe who drove this car which was a deathtrap. It was an ancient sedan which was so decrepit it didn't even have seats in the back. People sat on the floor on a piece of cardboard and slid around because there weren't any seat belts. Or airbags. Or anti-lock breaks. The ignition system was held together with tape and a cheap pen such that when the car turned too fast, the pen fell out and the car simply turned off. And it could only possible to make right handed turns. The slightest mishap would easily maim or kill everyone on board. He didn't drive it because he came from some culture which prized individuality, he drove it because he was poor. You could argue that he didn't need to drive it at all, and that he could have taken public transit, but if Haiti is this car, there is no public transit on the world stage to fall back on.

Why, then, is Haiti so poor? There's many answers to that question: corruption, structural disinvestment by the international community, high incidence of natural disasters (which takes us back down a step or two. The country next door is doing quite well by comparison.) I think it could possibly have something to do with the history of Haiti:

Haiti was a slave-owning colony of France, and then the slaves revolted and drove out the French. The French, in retaliation, convinced the rest of the world to not engage in trade with Haiti (which was only real potential source for generating wealth). Haiti, with its wealth of natural resources, began to starve cut off from the rest of the world, and finally agreed to Frances terms in return for the lift of the embargo: payments for the loss of life and property in the rebellion.

Haiti was subsequently forced to make annual payments, equaling about 40% of its annual GDP, to France, until the middle of the 1940's. IMF loans and Structural Adjustment Policies came with caveats and long strings attached. Remember the deathtrap Haiti's driving around? They've been told that they have to compete with Lincoln towncars, BMWs, and Aston Martins- the free market as a freeway. The IMF will buy Haiti some gas... and tell them to drive faster to try and catch up.

At the top of the ladder of inquiry, I am attempting to argue that what killed so many Haitians, and what continues to kill and stunt and deform around the world, is both the heritage and the perpetuation of global economic system of deliberate disenfranchisement, inhuman and unfair practices, and gross mismanagement at the world stage.

Jan 16, 2013

Some things I would like to do now that I'm graduated

Here are some things I would like to do now that I'm graduated.

  • Pay off my student debt
  • Get out and listen to some good electronica
  • brush up the ol' Zhongwen
  • improve my Nihon
  • run more
  • climb more, at least improve my climbing skills by one level every three months.

Jan 15, 2013

tablets, etc.

I got back to St. Louis sunday night. I've made a few lists, made a pot of beans, worked on my lists of things to do. In short, I am here for about a month to pack, clean, get rid of stuff, and find a job.

I used christmas money to buy myself a Google Nexus 7, a tablet, and I've been pretty hooked on it. The unfortunate thing is that whatever device recognizes tilt or tablet orientation is broken or malfunctioning, so it doesn't ever autotilt, and its totally useless for games involving steering or tilting. To rotate the orientation, I have to open skype for landscape, and instagram for portrait.

So, I mailed it back to Newegg for a replacement unit. It's going to be a long week. You know I'm addicted when I even set up grandma with wifi and fought through her ridiculous internet connection.

But there is also time for some enjoyment: today Saori and I met Dew and Chuck and Emily and Kenny and his girlfriend for some ice skating. My friends always want to know how I got to be such a proficient skater. I'm kind of surprised that more people, especially from colder climates, aren't better skaters. I guess I always assumed that people in cold climates just ice skated a lot.

So we did that, and then sat in front of the fire for awhile. Afterwards, Saori and I ate beans I'd slow-cooked all day, and then I met Dew at the climbing gym. It was pretty packed, but we met a few people who showed us "Or" routes to problems we'd been struggling over.

Alec Discovers TV

Since graduating, I have made the incredible discovery of this thing TV. It turns out that there is media, very much like a movie, which consists of moving images and sound which is constructed into a loose narrative, heavily involving people in various situations, of slightly less than an hour. This is broadcast and received by a screen, with the intent of being consumed within one's home. Truly, I have been in the dark, secluded in studio and in my studies!

Here is what I have seen so far: one episode apiece.

How I Met Your Mother: I thought it was pretty funny, actually. I recognize a few of the actors in this show from The Muppets and Harold and Kumar go to White Castle. A show about friends and dating. A little whiny.

Elementary: a modern take on Sherlock Holmes, I was initially hostile to it because the title is clearly taken from a popular phrase "Elementary, my dear Watson" which actually NEVER appears in the books. Which is precisely the point: its not about the books. It's a novel conception of Holmes, which, once I got past that bit, was very enjoyable to watch, although highly predictable. Although I have to say, they make Lucy Liu, who is incredibly attractive, look as dowdy and old as the checkout lady at the Asian market.

Biggest Loser: I've never seen more grown men and women crying so much. Yes, I know that for them, everything needs to be ten times more dramatic to make it television-worthy, but seriously: did you really need the entire focused attention of the United States to make some serious changes to your diet and health? Pathetic.

Person of Interest: surprisingly predictable and boring for a show about shadow government agencies and spies. The camera view with a facebook box around heads gets old real quick and it's annoying because I know how surveillance cameras really see and annotate the world, because it's definitely not with a neat little gray box.

General Hospital: A long-running soap opera grandma Loretta watches. All the characters need to be shot. Preferably at close range. An orgy of atrocious decisions and long, drawn-out emotional scenes involving loathsome, amoral people.

mirror, mirror

Blogging, apparently, is a means of expression for me in ways that I'm not even aware of.

I re-read the last three or four posts about my visits to Houston and Oklahoma, and they are truly pure acid. My dad characterized them (generously) as "wry and dry."

I would like to add that my past posts have completely misconstrued my visit- it was beyond wonderful to be welcomed and reconnect with family. Whatever gifts I may have, whatever luck has followed me (or what I have created) pales in comparison to the gifts of my family. Regardless of what I have said about Oklahoma and Houston, I will return there again and again.

Honestly, I have been depressed ever since my final presentation. The bittersweetness of completing graduate school did not give way to jubilation or satisfaction of a mission accomplished, or excitement for the open road. I have found great success with what I came to St. Louis to do, and I even grew to cherish this city which at first I was disliked. But now I see the horizon with dread. Financially, I cannot survive more than two months. My commitments, to say nothing of my finances, will not permit international travel. Although I have not applied, I have little hope of finding an internship or work which for the nine months Saori will be in Germany. Actually, I think my chances might be good if I just go out an apply, but I have found it difficult to move forward in such a depressed state.

I do not want to go work in Boston right now, alone, and face that bitter cold weather and the expensive city, but I kind of feel like there's really no alternative. It's crap, of course: there are alternatives. Either grandmother would take me in for nine months, cat included. Same for my dad in Houston. I could probably find work there. Even phoenix has potential.

I guess I just need to get over myself and realize that no one is just going to thrust a ticket to Hong Kong and a job at me, especially if I don't at least put myself out there. So: apply! apply apply apply! And lighten the hell up.

Jan 12, 2013

36 hours in Oklahoma City

Highlights from my trip so far:

Movie at Warren Theaters- grandma and I watched Lincoln at these really nice theaters. Its an obvious effort to create a luxury experience in an attempt to bring people back to the theaters. Plush seats with more room, fewer seats, full bar, directors box seats with food service during the movie, marble throughout. The anteroom to the restrooms had a gas fireplace with ceramic logs and speakers playing a crackling log soundtrack.

Museum of Osteology- this is a fascinating and surreal museum of skeletons, joined, appropriately enough, with Skulls International, a company which sells skeletons and skulls of various creatures, and will also strip hunting trophies. Its a small museum, one large hanger-like room with a wrap-around balconies. The walls are covered with displays packed with specimens: modern animals, comparative anatomy, primates, humans at various stages of life and pathologies, dinosaur fossils, whales. There was, admirably, a current running through the museum in support of evolution, and an entire display of skulls, mostly replicas, of the lineage of homo sapiens. They did feel compelled, however to include a notice about not wanting to offend anyone's religion, but to feel free to dismiss science and logic. Actually, there's a bit of subtle humor in many of the cases: a mouse skeleton in the feline exhibit labeled "lunch!", the raccoon skeleton tearing apart a box of milk duds. Gift shop was a lot of fun.

Drinks at Vast- Vast is the restaurant and lounge on the top floor of Devon tower, a massive skyscraper which towers over the downtown. Swanky place. Expensive menu. Phenomenal views of the surrounding area. Better drinks and desserts than the lunch buffet, according to Tay. I got a Moscow Mule, grandma got a Manhattan, which she very much enjoyed. We got there around 5, which is when it opens and the best time to go for drinks. We watched the late afternoon turn into night, the sun setting in the distant west, the lights coming on.

Olympic boathouse complex- From the Devon tower, you can see across the freeway into the river, where some very interesting architecture is popping up. For reasons which escape me, Oklahoma City is the site of the US Olympic and junior Olympic rowing teams training, the alternate to Seattle. It's also home to many of the Ivy League schools rowing in the off season.

Jan 11, 2013


I posted a status update about having drinks on the top floor of the highest building in Oklahoma and a few friends chimed in with witticisms about how they didn't know they had six-story buildings in Oklahoma, and how I must have been tired after climbing two flights of stairs.

Its a piquant reminder of a few things, the larger being the widespread conception of Oklahoma city as the "rootin, tootin", horseback riding, clapboard capital of the state of Podunk, in the middle of fly-over region. Its not an accurate conception, but that's besides the point. For reasons that elude me, people also think Dubai is a great vacation destination, with observable results.

The other is that the Devon tower, at a soaring 260m, does more than double the height of the surrounding high-rise towers. Given the flatness of the prairie, and the relatively low heights of the skyscrapers downtown in comparison, the Devon tower is visible from dozens of miles outside the city, a quarter size Burj Khalifa. Like the Devon corporation itself, a massive energy conglomerate I've never heard of before this building, there's something massive and surprising here.

The Devon center is the 36th tallest tower in the US, actually, well within the top 150 tallest buildings in the world. The view from the top is lovely, I do have to say, especially the clear view to the distant horizon, especially lovely at sunset. It is tastefully appointed with expensive finishes and minimal furnishings. Wood panels, marble everywhere, massive walls covered with slabs of local sandstone. The overall feel is that this building is dressed for Manhattan or Miracle Mile, but feels comfortable with its own understated opulence. It's designed to impress, but within the bounds of conservative corporate taste.

The design seems sensible- maximize floorplates for the height, a slight stepping back becoming more pronounced at the top. It is, regrettably, a symmetrical design, triple blade, like the Burj, with elevator core at the center. This symmetry is regrettable because there is no consideration for solar orientation or any attempt to shade the glass walls. And did I mention the building is entirely glass? For a building that size, my understanding is that the heat loads would require air conditioning even in the dead of midwestern winters. I'm not sure it gains anything aesthetically from its symmetry. Maybe structurally.

Jan 9, 2013

Houston: worth a visit! (if you have immediate family there)

If I were in a charitable mood, I might assume that Houston is one of those cities where you have to live for awhile to really appreciate it. Frankly, once you hit a museum or two, there's not much for the tourist. From what I gather, NASA at Johnson space center is only worth a visit if you shell out the $90 for the backstage tour. I'm wondering who goes to Houston on vacation.

However,  for my own predilections, what I enjoyed the most about visiting this city was experiencing the various old neighborhoods. Rice Military, the stretch of Westhiemer through Montrose, parts of Midtown, even the decadent luxury shopping districts.

Yesterday, I accompanied Neri on her errands to wait in various offices. Ended up taking most of the day, but I finished the Angry Birds Star Wars game (actually its amazing and a lot of fun, light sabers, the force, gravity wells, a massive Chewbacca bird). To make it up to me, she took me to get some really good Mexican food at Tacos A Go Go. Fun place too, kind of an overly enthusiastic Mexican kitch diner. Jarritos sodas made into light fixtures, old Mexican movie posters on the walls, a Virgin Mary over the bar.

Afterwards, a trip to Spec's, a huge liquor store/ gourmet grocery store. A wine and beer playground, although I ended up picking up a double walled glass tea infusing mug along with a six pack of Texan beer. By the looks of things, Austin is the nexus of Texan microbreweries.

Driving to the airport this morning, the van was repeatedly inundated with the massive puddles of water standing in the street. Houston has easily the worst street conditions of any city I've ever visited in the US, and that includes post-katrina New Orleans.
I have a feeling that if I can understand why the roads are so bad here, I'll understand this city a lot better. My gut feeling is that its no so much the weather as much as a total lack of maintenance.
I have a theory- the ruling groups of Houston are so conservative, they believe that instead of fixing and maintaining roads (communal benefit) people should just drive high-clearance vehicles and trucks (individualism and self-reliance). Maybe its a phobia of taxes (gasp!) and public spending (not in MY town!). And there are a lot of trucks here.

Jan 7, 2013

What Alec always wears these days

Ate a muffin from the expensive grocery store this morning for breakfast. While I waited for Neri to get ready to go, I figured out how to escape from the compound and walked to the water wall near the Galleria mall. To be honest, this area is marginally walkable with decent sidewalks, good pedestrian crossings, and a slightly higher density. Its still car land, but its possible to walk around without wanting to tear out your eyeballs.

The water wall was created in the 80s by Phillip Johnson, who also did a lot of other work here, including the massive glass tower at the other end of the lawn in front of the water wall. The water wall is actually pretty cool. The wall wraps around you, so when you pas through the super-80s postmodern interpretation of a roman proscenium, your vision is totally filled with the sight of rushing water, and the air is filled with the fine mist. Must be really nice in the heat of the summer.

Nobody there except the safety-vest clad Mexicans blowing leaves around and a few smokers from the glass phallus. I backtracked to the Galleria mall which had just opened and wandered around. Not many people there. Too early for the spandex housewives; the college kids are still hungover, which leaves a few random tourists. The cart vendors made their catcalls but I waved them off. One of them, obviously gay, told me he liked my style. Believe me, this does not happen often. I was just wearing what I always wear these days:


Underwear and socks - unmentionables not worth mentioning.
Jeans - slim cut Levi's, size 29, one of only two pairs of jeans i can wear now because I've lost weight in the last year of grad school.
Belt - neon green webbing
Tee shirt - graphic whatever.
Knit Henley - from Target, Gap.
Shoes - olive-colored leather chukkas from Florence, an obvious ripoff of the classic Clarks "desert boot"

I ended up picking up a fitted dress shirt from the Armani Exchange, on sale. Its nice to have at least one nice shirt that will look really good on me. That was all, I walked back to the apartment afterwards.
I joined Neri on some errands and then we went downtown to the relativly new Discovery Green, an urban green with some pavilions and a few places to eat. DG is right in front of the horrible pomo convention center, which was a stillbirth between the high-tech Centre Pompidou and the smooth, brightly colored rounded forms of the rest of Houston's pomo crap.

The restaurant, the Grove, was good. Decent food. Overpriced and a bit pretentious, but really nice glass wall views out onto a grassy field and an oak alley. Glad we just came for lunch; dinner would have been fucking ridiculous, although it seems like a power spot for drinks.

Drove to Buffalo Exchange afterwards, and a few other clothing exchange stores which all cluster along a certain stretch of Westheimer in Montrose. Didn't see anything I couldn't live without.

Another round of coffee at the nearby Agora, and I crossed the street to browse the unique selection of books at Domy, eventually picking up a HR Geiger retrospective.

Dad's out to California tomorrow early, and it looks like rain all day, so I'm thinking the mall might not be a bad place to spend the day.

Jan 6, 2013

Houston- activities

I waited too long to commit to coming out to visit dad, so by the time I was ready, tickets to Texas and Oklahoma were about what I paid round trip for Shanghai. So, I pushed back the timetable. Instead of joining my brother, I followed him.

I did make sure we overlapped, however. I got into Houston early Friday, the day before Tay was scheduled to leave, so we got to spend one day and one night fighting for space on the fold out couch in dad's service apartment.

It was fun, tay found a good bbq place for lunch, and we went to to the Menil collection by Renzo Piano, and then walked to Agora coffee shop. Its a nice, pesestrian, hipster part of town with a row of used clothing stores, including Buffalo Exchange. For dinner,  we went to a nice Uruguayan steakhouse for dinner and Tay and I split the parillada. When we got home, we watched From Dusk till Dawn which was fun.

Yesterday, we dropped tay at the airport and went to go see Django Unchained at a nice theater with wide seats and a bar you could bring drinks into the theater. I found the movie compelling, entertaining, and highly disturbing. After the movie, we went out for some Singaporian food at Banana Leaf. Good food, I especially like,end their chicken satay and tom yum soup.

Today we had a leisurely breakfast/brunch, and then dad and I went out to the Houston arboretum. It was a beautiful day, finally, warm and sunny. We walked perhaps two miles, chatting, looking for birds, etc. The trees really do look stressed out from the drought. Lots of stumps in the wetlands areas.

After the arboretum, we hit the gourmet grocery store nearby and loaded up on everything for a few dinners. Very much like AJ's, but perhaps a bit more emphasis on freshness of ingredients. Also, packed. The parking lot was filled with Lexuses and Beamers, and based on the final grocery tab, its not hard to see why.

Neri made STP and lamb tonight. The STP was superb, she makes the sauce with a bit of molasses, and doubles the amount of dates the recipe calls for.

Houston- analysis

Houston- I struggle to understand the city. Much like phoenix, with its sprawl and towers plunged into manicured green spaces around the city, its total refusal to be pedestrian, the total reliance on cars. 

I admit I am a bit biased against this city, which is both the nexus of the petrochemical industry, and also the unapologetically ugly poster child of what dependence on oil and the automobile looks like. It's a city built by corporate America, with sprawling corporate campuses and glass towers signifying their role in the city. It does not feel like a city for people to me. 

And still, I am encouraged by this city because of the prevalence of horrible 70s and 80s postmodern architecture. Houston had the misfortune of booming at the nadir of architecture, so there's a lot of shit buildings by Philip Johnson and Michael Graves wannabes. These droppings are unfortunate, but they tell me that Houston was a city unafraid to plunge headlong into the avant garde of the architecture of the time. I hope that Houston booms again, and that the industry would find itself worthier of supplying Houston with better architecture and urbanism.

It is an intellectual challenge for me to imagine how I would design for a city like Houston. It is difficult to overcome my own biases about what cities should be and what makes them great, and truly empathize with Houstonians on what makes Houston great. Dad says people here like the food and the diversity of culture, the golf courses, and the warm weather. To be fair, the food here has been pretty good, at least where I've been eating. 

It sounds like there is a light rail system, but that in general, public transit is for the desperate classes. It also seems to be a city sharply divided along racial lines. 

Jan 2, 2013

making lists and working lists

Apparently I finished an entire bottle of wine New Years eve. The champagne we split three ways, although Chuck just had one glass.

Didn't get much done the next day. Woke up rather late, but without a hangover, which is nice.

Today I made a list of things to do, and the amazing thing is that when I make a list, I tend to get things done on that list. I went climbing at the rock gym with Chuck. Did better than I thought, knocking out a 2 and a bunch of 1s. I guess I'm remembering the techniques better than the muscle mass. It's generally possible to muscle your way up these walls up to a point- but really its all about positioning and leveraging. I wouldn't be that surprised if experienced climbers can take a few years off and then pick right up again. It's really less about strength and more about position.

After climbing, we stopped by the St. Louis central library, which had recently reopened. The library had been closed for several years while Cannon design refurbished and designed some new parts. The library is beautiful- it's a grand old public building in the tradition of the east coast cities- mosaic tile ceilings, carved stone, stained glass, ornate brass light fixtures, elaborate carved ceilings and moldings. The new stuff is likable and understated, although I was disappointing to find out that the cool cantilevered glass boxes are part of special collections that require special access. And actually, the library feels a little light in the books department. It felt like the stacks were spread a little thin throughout the building.

Definitely worth another trip for photographs.

Jan 1, 2013

drunkpost bonus!


whoooooooooo alcohol!


:::deeep breath:::

Invited chuck over for dinner tonight. Sounds like Kenny is preocupied with his new girlfriend (undergrad) so that's understandable he couldn't make it tonight.

We turned down Dan and his wife and Matt and Allison because its just too couply, you know? And Vivian and I are missing our loved ones so its just awkward to show up.

So we invited Chuck for dinner.


have been slowly working my way though a bottle of wine


Didn't finish it.

but came close.

It was the Champagne (or sparkling wine, really). Mumm: Napa Vally, or, Not Really Mumm but Hell of a Lot Cheaper than Authentic $50 a Bottle Mumm.

Not quite $20. but


I made pasta. And blondies for dinner.

Maburoh tofu a la Vivian. Rice. Salad.

Castle in the Sky and James Bond. A drunk facetime call with family in Houston where I was


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...