Feb 24, 2014

der Deutschzircle

Saturday, I was invited over to my German teacher's house to join her informal German speaking group. Apparently, a few years ago, these older students, couples, finished speedy German I, but there weren't enough people to start a Speedy German II class, so the teacher simply invited everyone over to her house once every few weeks to practice.

I'd given her a copy of my German contract to look over for me, and she was very interested in what she called "Burodeustsch" (stilted, beaurocratic legalese German). It was a very interesting group, an Indian couple whose aviator Ray-Ban wearing husband is actually a Navy pilot, an older guy who had been speaking the language for awhile, and a talkative and slightly eccentric fourth guy. The Indian couple had an infant with them and the rest of us took turns holder her while they cooked some good Indian fried potato pancake things and Chinese dumplings.

Tee und Koffee were brought out and we ate and talked outside in the beautiful day at my teacher's patio table. Fifteen lost parakeets flitted in the trees overhead. I introduced myself, and people asked me questions and answered my teacher's questions almost entirely in German, and she'd interrupt to clarify an expression or word.

The contract has probably some of the best terms I'm going to see in awhile. Nationalized health insurance and social services will be paid for by the company. 24 days of paid vacation, not including the many national holidays (the catch of course, is that technically, I don't have any paid days off for the first six months, but it sounds like we'll sit down and renegotiate after three).

Anyway, it was an interesting and pleasant way to pass a few hours.

Also this weekend, I helped mom hang some artwork and spent a lot of time working on the presentation for the pitch to the city of Phoenix. For what we need here, I've set the whole thing up in Google Docs as a presentation which is useful for R to jump in and move stuff around so she doesn't need to call me to ask me to move some slides around or take out a word or two. 

Feb 19, 2014


I have a lot of small projects in addition to my larger projects. The smallest of my small projects is to waterproof my small canvas backpack with a simple wax process (except nobody apparently sells simple paraffin wax anymore except for Wal-Mart.) Stepping up the project scale is the construction of a wine rack for mom and Larry. Farther up the list are things like learning German, improving my Rhino skills, finding housing in Germany, that kind of thing.

I borrowed mom's car and drove to German class last night. Mom's stick shift car. I sweated through about two miles of stop and go traffic. I stalled the car about eight times. I really don't know how you are supposed to drive in stop and go traffic. I damn near wore out the clutch with the continual shifting from neutral to first gear. Practice, I guess. I had to wring out my shirt when I got to class.

Speaking of which, I only have one class left. And then it's spring break. Maybe I'll go to Rocky Point and stay perpetually inebriated. Maybe I'll move to Germany. Actually, I'm surprised how quickly the classes have gone. They have helped, actually. And I now have a binder of more material to work from and study to take with me. The class is such an eclectic mix. There are two guys, relatively young, who were having a lot of difficulty grasping the European switching of commas and periods in numbers. It just blew their minds. I will actually miss my classmates. I think I'm just socially deprived right now.

Anyway, I got a contract from the company in Germany and I'm looking over it today and tomorrow. I gave a copy to my German professor to look over it too. I trust them, it looks like a standard contract, but I want to make sure there isn't anything too surprising for me personally which is standard in Germany. I'll probably sign it tomorrow and send it back. No word yet if they'll fly me there, but I should find out soon.

Someone from the City of Phoenix came out to the house today to inform us that they will be picking up the cardboard boxes on Friday. I appreciated the information, but I'm not sure that it required a personal visit from a Solid Waste Department representative.

Another thing I learned today is that most "grocery stores" which are independent neighborhood convenience stores, do NOT sell hard alcohol. Just wine and beer. 

Feb 17, 2014

why I'm no longer welcome at the B-------- household

Today I continued to help unpack the house, mostly breaking down the 4,743 cardboard boxes and stacking them in the garage. Apparently the City of Phoenix will come out and pick them up if you call them ahead of time and tell them how much cardboard you have, so that's what I'm going to do tomorrow.

Also got an encouraging email this morning from the office in Germany, asking which address they should send my contract to. I gave them an updated address and said that I couldn't wait. It's so strange and surreal- it doesn't yet quite feel like I actually have a job. I don't feel like I can make it Facebook official yet. Saori was really excited for me to hear that they were sending a contract, and mom was also excited to hear. I feel so cautious about the whole thing I don't want to celebrate yet. I think when I sign and return the contract, THEN I'll start spreading the news and bust out the champagne, or Rheinwein, as they call it in Germany.

Today instead of dragging our bathing equipment over to the cottage for showers, we decided to stick it out with the cold showers here. That was unpleasant. I turn on the cold shower, and it hits my legs like freezing needles. My lips turn blue and my eyebrows freeze. I throw myself in the spray.

"Peanut butter dog-breath corn-on-the-cob!" I shout using other pronunciations, "Subwoofer! mosquito feet Lord Baden Powell pizza!!!" I shut off the tap and shampoo and soap up. I turn on the water again, marveling that the water is still in a liquid state before diving back in for the rinse. "Submarine!! Beige carpeting alarm clock camera phone!!!! Ethiopia!!"

I shut off the tap and grab a towel.

We went out for an early dinner to Havanna Cafe on Camelback for their $3 mojito mondays. They also have a seasonal pumpkin soup with a hint of habernero which is pretty spectacular. I will miss good Cuban food. I even wore one of my guayabera shirts.

One of my Facebook friends from way back in middle school in Beijing posted a recent photo of his mom, and that triggered a memory a few days later which has stayed in my head, so I need to get it out: I was pretty good friends with this British kid in 7th and 8th grade, and middle school boys being middle school boys, I shared some amateurish erotica I'd written.

Which his mom discovered shortly thereafter.

Feb 16, 2014

Architects Don't Want You To Know This 1 Weird Trick

Every profession has its own little community. I imagine the village of architecture- it's actually made up of about 100,000 registered architects and maybe four times that in unlicensed. So we're looking at a (very attractive and thoughtful) city of about a half million. About the population of Tucson of people who want to be called "architect."

When you look at the number of architects (licensed or not) who actively participate in what is considered modern architecture, or architecture theory and criticism, the numbers would seem to fall precipitously. The vast majority of architects are not involved in this kind of work. They design custom homes in Tuscan styles, tenant improvements in strip malls, rectangular glass office buildings, police stations, car dealerships, Subway sandwiches, and little league fields.

Thus, the noise which fills the architecture media is produced by a very small group of individuals.

I follow an excellent blog called Bldgblog.com which is written by a guy named Geoff Manaugh, and his blog and reporting is generally well respected. He's been associated with a lot of architecture and design magazines (Dwell, Wired UK, and Gizmodo) and for the latter he recently wrote a flaming, obscenity laden, incendiary rant against the latest Gehry building: Frank Gehry Is Still The World's Worst Living Architect

The resulting interest, outcry, and response throws a lot of things into light: How the architecture community views Frank Gehry, Post-Iconic architecture, the state of architectural criticism, architecture media, and what people want to read regarding all of the above.

One downside of the 'free' internet is that to make money websites need people to see them and the advertisements displayed on them. The nature of the internet and of design websites in particular is that you can get your news and information elsewhere so paywalls tend to strangle rather than fortify. When getting people to see your website becomes critical to your very existence, and the only way to attract viewers is via text, websites push incendiary, controversial, outrageous headlines and content.

Which link is going to generate more traffic?: Slovenia: New Conceptions of Public Space or The World's Top Seven Ugliest Buildings

Take your time.

While there is still a lot of good writing and reporting on architecture, the vast majority of what I see on most architecture and design websites is about 30 websites competing to show you the most attention getting, graphic-based, news item or new product first.  Actually, and this is interesting, I find that people on Facebook tend to be faster than any of my twitter feeds from these magazines. It's fascinating to me because it raises the question of where they saw it.

But going back to the Gehry-bashing article- a lot of people jumped on and commented with the equivalent of an "LOL." And then a lot of people rose up to not necessarily defend Gehry or his work, but to criticize what they say as blatant pandering link-bait.

Archinect.com (full disclosure, I posted a blog on their website for awhile), tries to maintain somewhat of a respectable facade by not trying to join the posting race and encouraging a discursive community. One of their authors, probably one of the editors, posted a link to the Gizmodo article with the commentary that it was "[link baiting]=1, Journalism=0"

This opened up the messaging forum on Architect.com to get into it with long, long replies mostly upraiding Geoff. Then Geoff steps in and replies to two of the posters, who both sound academic, and who had long and thoughtful criticisms of the peice.

Geoff's defense is that it wasn't intended to be insightful criticism, it was just something he wrote in 20 minutes in a slow moment of the afternoon. In fact, he criticizes his attackers cries of "link bait!" by accusing them of only reading this one piece (taking the bait, as it were), as opposed to reading the other thoughtful, insightful articles he has authored or edited on less sensational topics.
It's actually depressing to think that one of the most tossed-off things I've ever written about architecture is now one of the third or fourth most widely read things I've published.
I'm not convinced. It's a bit like Coca-Cola blaming consumers for drinking Coke when they knew it was sugary fluff instead of Dasani water. Even if its just "tossed off" you can't act surprised when you something lowest-common-denominator get a lot of attention.

At least the state of architecture journalism hasn't reached Yahoo! lows

amazing shift in tone from first to last paragraph

Valentines day, I pulled the old "flower delivery from 5,700 miles away" trick. It worked. Nobody else in Saori's office got flowers for Valentines day. So big points for me :)

Saori and I were able to chat a bit in the afternoon, but not too much because I was in the middle of taking loads of stuff over to the new house in the truck and Saori was going out to celebrate the departure of one of her closest friends in the office.

That night, mom, Larry and I got a pizza and watched the latest recorded episode of "Project Runway."

Saturday morning, I rolled out of bed, threw the bedding and duvet cover and pillows into a handy cardboard box and drove mom's car over to the new house to wait for the cable guy. Cable guy was scheduled to come over between 8 and 10 am so I sat back with the full expectation that we'd get a call around 10 and the guy would actually show closer to 11. I killed the time studying German, reading, and being mindful of the fact that I was lucky to avoid the last minute packing scramble at the cottage.

The cable guy, surprisingly, showed up at 9:50, a full ten minutes before his window expired. It was a good thing too: the house had never been hooked up to cable so he had to work that out. It turns out I also needed the extra ten minutes. The guy comes in, looks at where I've set up the TVs and cable boxes, and asks me "Can you show me where the smart panel is?" Granted, I am not a licensed architect. But I was embarrassed to have to admit that whatever the smart panel was, I was not going to be a member on it.

After much hunting around, I found a panel board in a closet filled with wiring and cables. Apparently, Smart Panels are the data rooms of houses these days. It's where the lines coming into the house get connected to the house, sort of the circuit breaker for data. It's also where all the data from the security sensors and cameras comes into one board so you can hook it up to the internet and connect to security companies.

The cable guy finally finished his work, and suddenly, the internet was back on. It was great. Although far too short lived because just as he was leaving, the moving truck pulled up.

The rest of the day was a whirl of furniture and large cardboard boxes. Mom bought us and the movers Mexican food from Los Dos Molinos and that was good and spicy. That night, ready to take showers and get cleaned up, we all discovered mom had forgotten to have the gas turned on, which is forgivable since she hasn't had gas for years.

Sunday morning, mom made breakfast of chorizo and eggs and then went back to the cottage to take showers. I stayed behind and waited for the buyers of the barstools to pick them up before heading back over to take a shower. After spending some time at the big house, the cottage just feels small and cramped.

This afternoon, I worked on our proposal for project rising and took mom's car to R's house north of the Biltmore. Yes, the car with manual transmission. I hate cars, but I despise driving stick. People tell me that when I get used to driving stick, it's second nature, and even preferable in the way that you have a finer hand at the performance of the machine. That would be great if you were operating a wood lathe or something that isn't essentially 2000 pounds of easily maneuvered metal moving at lethal speeds. I tense up driving automatics. Something about sitting down in the #5 killer of Americans does that to me. I think I am too familiar with statistics and the history of urban planning to ever enjoy driving.

Anyway, I stalled twice trying to turn onto a freeway on ramp, but nobody honked or anything. After the first time, they probably assumed I was just bad at this and gave me some space.

I guess I don't hate cars, not really. You can't hate cars anymore than you can hate Nazi Swastikas or guns. I hate the part of humans and our culture of which they are the manifestation. It is our slow death via the rat's pleasure lever. Cars will not destroy the world, but the human tendencies behind them probably will.

Feb 13, 2014

Meth-Head Mike

Coming out of my Project Rising workshop tonight, it's about 7pm, dark, over by the downtown library. I walk over to the bike rack where my bike is parked and there's a guy standing next to the bike intently working to cut the cable lock.

My mind goes blank except for the parts of my brain screaming at each other, over and over, "HE'S STEALING MY BIKE!!!" "IS HE STEALING MY BIKE?!?!?!?!"

What do you say to guy stealing your bicycle? It turns out, you don't get to think about it, it just comes out: for me, it was the iciest, flattest, coldest delivery of "Would you mind not stealing my bicycle?"

The guy moved away from the bike. He was wearing all black clothes, including a black jacket and a black beanie, all filthy and ragged. A over-smoked cigarette dribbled from his very hard, dirty, ravaged face. He backed away as I moved towards him.

"You..... Fucking......Asshole" I said as I walked towards him as he backed away. I've never wanted to punch someone so bad before.

Even as he tried to back away, he has saying over and over, "I'll cut you and stab you, I'll cut you and stab you." He had nothing in his hands... except for his pliers. Not going to do much in the cutting and stabbing department, but maybe continuing to advance on a bike thief with nothing to lose and a heavy tool in a empty parking lot was not such a hot idea. I stopped and he backed away until he could turn and walk very quickly away. The whole incident was over in 30 seconds.

As he turned the corner, it occurred to me that I could have done a few other things like calling the police. Oh well. I was almost on top of him by the time I realized what he was doing. And If I called the police now....

"911 Emergency. What is your emergency please?"
"Hi! My bicycle was almost stolen."
"Are you in physical danger now sir?"
"Well, I'm experiencing rapid heart rate and distorted cognition."
"Ohhhhhhh kaaaaaaaay. I'm going to transfer you to the Downtown City of Phoenix Police Department."
"Thank you."
"Phoenix Police. How can we help you?"
"Hi! I'd like to report an attempted bicycle theft."
"Is the person attempting to steal it still there?"
"No, they ran off. It's a white guy with black clothes."
"Any distinguishing characteristics? How can we identify this man on the street?"
"Well, he had a lit cigarette."

You see where this is going. Anyway, my anger flamed down into smoldering irritation. Fucking assholes. I've lost three, count 'em, three bikes to thieves in Phoenix. Of course, that was in Tempe which is to bike theft like Paris is to art. Eventually I got wise and bought a $100 bike and a $40 lock.

I've heard anecdotes about the bicycle theft trade in Phoenix. It sounds organized. I've heard that the bikes get sold to bigger thieves who ship them wholesale to Mexico for sale. Someone told me about walking where they shouldn't have been and seeing about a hundred bicycles guarded by some ragged looking people.

Which brings me back to the lock. I took at look to inspect for damage. The tough plastic casing took the brunt of it. It didn''t actually appear that the cutters got to the metal cable. Meth-head Mike must have just gotten to the bike as I walked out the door.

It's time to get Larry a U lock.

And Meth-head Mike, you are probably too desperate and poor to own anything with an internet connection so you won't read this unless you use the public library computers. I don't know why you wanted to steal my bicycle. Maybe you have kids to feed, maybe you can't get a straight job. Maybe the system screwed you from the start. Maybe you just want the money for meth and cheap liquor. I'm sorry you live such a shitty life, and I hope for everyone's sake that things get better and you stop stealing bicycles.

Feb 12, 2014

Das boots

Realizing that there is no more prefect boot then there is a perfect shirt, I went ahead and bought a pair from backcountry.com on sale. They're a little big in the toes, which was concerning but fit well everywhere else. I normally wear a 8.5 and all the reviews said order a full size larger, so I did. REIs website said that hiking boots should have toe wiggle room (so you're not slamming into the front of your boots) and should feel like theres a hand where the laces are, holding your foot against the instep and arch.

Which is good, because they're very comfortable, more like hiking sneakers. The North Face. Mid top, kind of retro styling, actually the shoe is called Back-to-Berkeley 85. Waterproof upper.

I sent a few photos to Saori since I was concerned about the office attire, but she said people at her office wore that kind of stuff all the time. So that was a relief.

Woke up with a slight hangover from the onebeer I had last night. Drinking before bed I guess. Felt crappy all day, just tired and achy and stomach not so great. Hope its just my body fighting off the flu, which is going around here.

Worked in Rhino to come up with some more designs for Phx Commons, worked on my German beer vocabulary, made some more progress in DuoLingo.

Larry got a text from Sally that the title recorded a little after 4 today, so we went over with the first load. I swapped out the door handles mom wanted swapped. There's going to be a lot of little projects.

Feb 10, 2014


I've been having trouble sleeping. I feel a lot of anxiety and my dreams have grown memorably more disturbing lately. I really don't do well with life changes. I remember feeling awful and filled with doubts and fear when I first arrived to Mexico City. My paranoia goes through the roof. I was convinced that the Mexican government was going to discover that I was working, and throw me in some hellhole prison.

While I was looking for work, I was just depressed and anxious about whether or not I'd find something, would it be in the US, would it be in Europe, would I run out money or suffer a brain tumor without health insurance? Now that I have something relatively promising, I'm anxious about whether or not the job will pan out, are my skills up to what they expect, will my health hold out until I get to Europe (did I mention paranoia?), all the things we need to set up a life in Germany. I feel strange and listless.

Mom and Larry are also moving so they've got higher stress levels, especially mom. Everyone's pretty calm, but the house in disarray with boxes everywhere is especially hard because it's one of the few things which is supposed to be a source of stability. Although they've signed, you really can't breathe a sigh of relief until the movers are gone.

I find list-making helps. I should really get back into meditation. Exercise also helps, so today I went out and ran for forty minutes. I counted off my stretching time in German. And spent a few hours working in Rhino brushing up my technical skills.

One thing off my worry list is filing taxes. I worked in 2013 (in Mexico) but because I earned so little income, I don't have to file. Which is good, because I was paid with checks which I cashed at Mexican banks, and the motto of Mexico is "off the books." There are some advantages to living with tax attorneys.

The Millionare Robot Conspiracy

Sometimes when I need a self-esteem boost, I'll play Who Wants to be a Millionaire? on Facebook. Of course, sometimes I'm not one of the top three players and then I feel really bad. I have actually beat the game a few times, although once I cheated because Tay was playing it with me and our combined trivial powers are nontrivial.

There's a little chat window as part of the game interface, and lately I've noticed that there's been a lot more talking there than when I started playing. A few people will start with GLA from [name of state]!. Usually it's Florida. Then I started noticing people talking about bots. They'd comment, wow, lots of bots on this one!

For a long time, I thought that these people believed that there were actual bots playing the game to fill in vacant spots, up the ante, make the game more challenging. I started imagining a sentient botnet playing in earnest to win the"million dollars" and fund their botnet-taking-over-the-world activities. Until they humorously realize that it's just a game.

Actually, the whole thing is really stupid. I may need to play a few more games of Millionaire after this post.

The way that the game works is the familiar Millionaire format which is multiple choice. The first person to respond correctly gets a bonus, usually an additional 50% which can be really big deal. The idea I guess was to make a game where if everyone knew all the answers (and they GIVE you two free ones), then the fastest person would win. The problem as I see it is that many of these players don't read that quickly and don't have the reaction time. They get frustrated and call the fast-draw players bots.

Sometimes when that happens, I'll write bland messages like "We hope you'll enjoy our new answering algorithm" and "We appreciate your participation in this vital AI research."

How about a nice game of chess?

Feb 9, 2014

The best $16 you can legally spend in Mesa

Friday night, mom got us tickets to see Top Gun as enacted by a Mesa Encore Community Theater Puppet troupe and apparently produced on a budget of $100. Now, I don't believe they only spent $100 on it. They spent at least $130 or even as much as $150 on this show, including beer.

Mom had a hard time getting tickets. Not because they were in high demand, but because they were just difficult to buy from the third party ticket sellers. The venue is a 'black box' theater, which is in an unmarked tenant in a Mesa strip mall. It was actually easy to find the strip mall and general area because of all the people driving and walking around hopelessly lost and obviously looking for it.

The hastily constructed interior has the bare minimum for a black box theater, namely a floor and black paint. None of the walls reached the ceiling and the vast majority of spatial delineation was via draped fabric. This is community theater at its most stripped down and underfunded. Actually, "Underfunded" was part of the full show title "Top Gun: Live, Abridged &. Completely Underfunded." 

We guessed that the turnout was going to be light when mom came to pick up the tickets and they guessed correctly who she was. Including me, there were 12 people in the audience. There were more people performing in the show. Oh well, it was the matinee. At one point, SPOILER ALERT, Maverick and Goose sit down in the back row and crack a few jokes about empty seats and how they should tell their friends to see the show.

The show is a lot of fun. It is an original adaptation with lots of editing, additions (were there Transformers in the original movie?), and a short running time. But it all works, surprisingly. It's a manic show which gets a lot of entertainment value from the nature of puppetry, and I worried at first whether or not the campiness of it all would get old. It stayed clever and inventive enough that it did not. Terrible puns (Iceman is a snow cone, Goose is a goose). There was a lot of ad-libbing, which is probably a reflection both on this being the second performance and the small audience. Actually, it made the whole thing feel more like improv sketch comedy, and quite enjoyable. 

The puppets were well made and well-acted. There are two full sized prop F-14 Tomcats out of cardboard, wire, and thin sheets of plywood which the puppets kind of zoom around in in a shuffling way, so you do get nearly a sense of those high-octane scenes of aerial combat. The big finale felt a bit rushed, but you can't afford to dramatically destroy those planes every show. After all, they must have cost at least $19 to make.

Overall, it is the best entertainment that $16 will buy you in Mesa, or really, most of Phoenix. Best with a beer beforehand.

Miracle Shoes

I'm hunting for something which may or may not exist. In preparation for Germany, I'm hunting for a pair of boots.

Maybe that's too specific. I have problems with specifics, so let's just say that I'm hunting for some kind of footwear.

What criteria does this footwear need to meet?
Well, for starters, they have to be good for walking around the city, which is what I imagine I will do 90% of the time in these boots. Comfort is a priority.

They have to be office appropriate. This is kind of tricky because I don't know what kind of office attire is acceptable. My interviewers were wearing relatively casual but smart looking clothes. One of them was wearing a button down shirt, and the other was wearing a shirt that may not have had buttons. But it didn't look sloppy or overly informal. And it was friday, which is kind of a casual day. So this footwear has to be German Small Architecture Office Smart Casual. This, vague as it is, is also a priority since I will be wearing these to work. I considered asking for an office portrait of footwear, but this seems suspect. Leather is good. Big chunky gnarly treads are nicht sehr gut.

Waterproof /Water-resistant. This is a kicker. It rains a lot in Stuttgart. It's cold and rainy for most of the year unless it's snowy. So I need boots that I can wear through sleet, snow, and rain.  Some shoes claim high breathability, which seems to be critical here, although in my research, it seems that claims of waterproofing are dubious and temporary at best since waterproofing only happens up to a point. The waterproofing rubs off, your feet sweat, all these things can happen to let moisture in. I relaxed my standards when I realized I just need something mostly water resistant. Something to crunch through a few inches of snow and some puddles. And I should probably invest in some wicking socks as well.

I need shoes that breathe. I've owned a pair of waterproof boots before, and the thing of it is that waterproofing generally works both ways. I have sweaty feet, so my feet tend to pickle in a bath of of sweat. Especially if I'm wearing them all day. As a general rule, the more water-resistant a shoe is, the less breathable it is. Many of the shoe review comments that I have paid close attention to tend to attest to the fact that "breathable" materials like GoreTex and eVent linings are better than nothing but are not a panacea to sweaty feet.

I plan on wearing these boots hiking as well in the mountains and steep hills around Stuttgart, so they should work as hiking boots. Actually, given the other criteria, this is an easy box to check.

Oh, and the boots should be under $150. If I found the perfect boots, I'd be willing to spend up to that $150 mark. I have not found the perfect boots.

Feb 7, 2014

Of Hipsters and Yuppies

A friend of mine was interviewed on the local NPR affiliate JKZZ. The story they were covering was on a comparison of the so-called Yuppie Index which is a metric which aggregates the average cost of Yuppie accoutrements in a particular city- pedicures, dog grooming, yoga, take away coffee, etc. Interestingly, Phoenix actually has a very high Yuppie Index, well ahead of places like New York, Boston, San Francisco, Portland, to name a few. One possible explanation put forward was that it was a problem of limited supply related to the population. In Brooklyn, where half the population does Bikram Yoga (making these number up), there are yoga studios on every street corner. Here in Phoenix, you just don't have that many yuppies since I'd assume that the traditional Yuppies tend to self-select out to places where more people can admire their Yuppie lifestyles.

To comment on this interesting story, KJZZ enlisted my friend Ryan Tempest, who was an ASU architecture alum now working as an architect in downtown Phoenix. Apparently he was put forward as a notable Yuppie, so there must be a back story to this. Anyway.

They introduced him on the radio as a yuppie and I laughed out loud, nearly as scandalized as if they'd introduced him a racist. I've had different views of the label "Yuppie," starting with the naive assumption that all Young Urban Professionals were categorically Yuppies. I still understand the term pejoratively- that is to mean, upwardly mobile, moneyed, overly materialistic snobs in their mid-20s to late 30s. When I think of Yuppies, this is what springs to mind. It's a parody, but a good one:

On the other side, this is what I think of when I think of Hipsters:

Anyway, Tempest was happy to talk to NPR, skillfully turning the story into why he loves living in downtown Phoenix and why you should, too. His point was basically that yes, the yoga classes are some of the most expensive in the country, but you have to factor in the cost of everything else, since Yuppies still need houses and food.

NPR moved on to the next segment, which tried to address what I was wondering the whole time: did they confuse yuppie with hipster?*

I was offended for Ryan when he was repeatedly labeled as a Yuppie. In my mind, he is an entirely earnest Hipster. He recently forwarded me a Facebook invite for a Tweed bicycle ride around Tempe town lake. He usually wears a bow tie and is immaculately dressed. Dapper is the adjective I would apply to him. He and his girlfriend/partner Quinn live in a pastel painted apartment complete with an old record player and rusted signage on the walls. They really want to live as urban hipster a lifestyle as possible. I guess I get offended because I look at Tempest and there is an earnestness towards improving Phoenix which flavors his hipster-ness. He wants to make more places for hipsters, which is to say, places which are authentic and local and vibrant.

Yuppies always seemed much more self-absorbed, self-centered, and disinterested in social space. Yuppies want to live in suburbia where they have the space for all the stuff they buy, where they don't have to see the panhandlers and where they can live in gated communities to reinforce their castle mentality.

I do wonder, after the interview, if the functional definition of yuppie is changing. Maybe it's being reclaimed as a positive with emphasis on the young, urban, professional (i.e. white collar) who is bringing money and vitality and influence to the inner cities. The fact that Hipsters favor urban environments (or rural, but never suburbia, the traditional lands of the old Yuppies) makes me wonder if they are not in fact the vanguard of a new category of denizen: The question is will they Yurbsters (hipsters with a cleaner, more straightforward yuppie image) or Huppies (yuppies with hipster image)

  • Overly materialistic- things things things! Yuppies buy top-of-the-line things from the best brands. Hipsters will spend the same amount to buy things that look used, distressed, or 'vintage'
  • Obsessed with maintaining intra-class image- they both obsessively buy things based on what they think will give them higher social status. And not cheap things either. A Yuppie will spend $500 on Chanel glasses. A Hipster will spend $500 on Retro style tortoiseshell glasses from a Brooklyn based eyeglasses studio. Why do all Yuppies wear Polo shirts? Why do all Hipsters wear facial hair? They are all incredibly pretentious.
  • 25-35 age range- Marketers focus all their energy on flattering and manipulating this demographic age group. They are continually told they are the most important people in the entire world. Things like buying Fair-Trade lattes are supposed to really make a difference.
  • Affluence- neither one seems to worry about money. The stereotype goes that the Hipster lives off their trust funds or parents (painfully self-aware as I write this in my mom's guest bedroom where I have been living for the past four months). Yuppies I tend to associate with the top two income quintiles, especially if they don't have kids. There is a level of comfort with life bordering on smugness.
  • Social consciousness- It appears to me that part of the hipster ethos is giving a shit. You buy fair-trade coffee and Tom's shoes because they give a pair to charity. It's really not even so much that hipsters care as much as it is of the image of caring. Hipsters want to be bohemian but lack the poverty and desperation to do so. Yuppies will get their coffee in branded  insulated tumblers. Screw Africa, they just want their coffee. Hipsters go to specialty hipster boutiques to buy expensive artisan cut leather wraps to put around Ball mason wide-mouth jars to take to the coffee shop to demonstrate their frugality, connection to the past, reusing materials, the Artisan, being unconventional, etc.
  • Sociability- My impression of yuppies is that they are not antisocial as much as they just don't care about other people or want to be around them. They want to enjoy the fruits of their labor in the comfort and privacy and hassle-free environment of their own home. They want the room service. Lone hipsters are sad hipsters. They want to be at the hotel bar. They want to hang out with other hipsters or with racially or culturally diverse crowds. If a large aspect of being a hipster is counterculture, you need to have a culture to be counter to! Or at least a gathering of hipsters to affirm that the different way they are doing something is way better than the way the rest of the world does it.
  • Handcraftedness- Being a hipster is largely simple counterculture- in a world of slick, mass marketing, globalized mass produced goods, there is a desire for something handmade, or at least heavily individualized via prior use or customization. Craft beers. Local products. Really old bicycles. Record players. Stuff that feels invested with character. Yuppies want nice new stuff, preferably from Japan, Denmark, or Germany.
  • Whimsy- Yuppies tend to stay as far from whimsy as possible. It's not that they're against fun, but it's big boy fun. They earned this position and they're not going to look like idiots. Hipsters love whimsy. It feels like a last grasp at the imagined joys of a Wes Anderson youth, the unanswerable statement of irony, an expression of apathy in the face of a complex, polarized, and deeply problematic world. Mustaches!!!! lol!

Feb 5, 2014

Get Your Bachelor's Degree Sooner With This 1 Weird Trick!

Saori has problems with low blood pressure. Not often, but its low enough that she once in a long while will simply pass out. I remember one time she passed out and fell in the stairs of our school in Buenos Aires. I remember it distinctly because we were 'secretly' dating at the time and the person who found out she'd fallen it spread it around the classroom quickly and everyone looked pointedly at me. I quietly excused myself and went to go check on her where she was recovering.

A week or so ago, fighting her way through a mall in Stuttgart on a Saturday afternoon Saori felt lightheaded and immediately tried to rush to the Starbucks to get some caffeine to boost her system pressure. Apparently, in Germany all the stores are closed on Sunday, so every Saturday is the last one before Christmas, the place is packed. But on her way there, she passed a clothing store which advertised 70% off. She froze, and walked backwards three steps: step step step, and was drawn inside. She blacked out looking at a full rack of clothes because she thankfully fell into it and slid gently to the floor.

The paramedics were called but because the mall was so packed they couldn't fight their way through quickly. Saori quickly revived even before they got there and, entirely embarrassed, accepted the coffee that the saleswomen gave her. The emergency responders checked her out and gave her a written pass so that if she felt unwell after this, or if she showed any distressing symptoms, she could go to any clinic or hospital and bypass the usual waiting and check in procedures. She agreed with my assessment that the sale will still be there after you stabilize your blood pressure.

Today I got up early, revised a presentation for my Phx Commons client, and then got some requests for info from Thomas from the architecture company in Stuttgart. They wanted scans of my passport, and my bachelors and masters diplomas. I have my passport with me and a scan stored online, and actually doing some digging through the cloud, dug up my Masters. The problem was my missing Bachelors diploma.

I called ASU, my alma mater. "The website says it will take 4 to 6 weeks to get a replacement diploma," I said, "is there any way I can get that expedited?"

The phone rep replied, "You should be lucky to get your diploma in four to six weeks, it takes most people 4 to 6 years!"

No, she didn't actually say that. She asked for my address and then emailed me a quote. The good news is that I could get it in 1-2 days but I'd pay damn near $100 for the privilege. I've been running the numbers for my move to Germany and the picture is tight, especially the first two months I'm there, so I need to save as much money as possible.

I thought about it for not long: I need that diploma sooner rather than later. And it's a hell of a lot cheaper than asking a friend on the ground in St. Louis to dig through a frozen storage locker to hunt this thing down. I should feel lucky I'm getting off so easily. Mentally, I kicked myself for not already having a digital copy somewhere accessible.

Went hiking this afternoon in the Alta Trail. It's about five miles biking to the trailhead, and it's all uphill. Actually, I realized I was to tired to hike the full thing and only went in about an hour up, to reach the ridge before turning around and coming back down.

Bicycling back, whizzing downhill, I hear a strange sound. Two guys on skateboards are passing me. I'm flying down this road at probably 25 miles an hour. To their credit, both skaters are wearing full leather cycling outfits and motorcycle helmets. The palms of their gloves have heavy plastic pads to use as brakes I suppose. Still crazy.

Made guacamole for dinner tonight. It was really, really good. Note to self: 1/2 onion, 1 jalapeƱo, 1 cored tomato, 1 clove garlic, 12 sprigs cilantro, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 key lime juiced, and 3 large avocados or 5 small ones. Really quite exceptional guacamole.

Feb 4, 2014

Community college life

If I ever reach a point in my life when I am bored and lonely, I will sign up for one credit hour community college language classes. There are a lot of interesting people in my class. For one, these are people motivated to practice a language that is not going to help them locally. This means either they have family who are German, have a past of German study, or travel to Germany, all of which lead to other interesting questions.

One my classmates who is apparently an car electronics engineer drove up in a 1948 Bentley, in a shade of metallic eggplant purple called "oxblood".

The joke goes, what is the difference between a Rolls-Royce and a Bentley? About $300 and the grille.

After the interview where it sounded like they offered me the position, my celebration died down as I began to be filled with doubt- did they really offer me a position after one interview, and without even talking to the head of the company? Usually one needs at least a half dozen interviews with different companies to find a job. Although I attempted to clarify at the interview the status of the offer, it became more muddled to me as the week went on. Maybe they weren't supposed to offer me a job, maybe I misunderstood the whole thing, maybe I am just selected to continue in the job application process at this office! And no word or email confirming anything (of course, for a small architecture office, it is understandable that people will be very busy).

Anyway, I glumly sent an professional email to Germany asking him to confirm that yes, I did in fact get the position, half expecting to hear that there was some big misunderstanding. Less than a few hours later, he wrote me back saying that, yes they are working on getting the paperwork to bring me over. So that was a big relief. Of course, nothing is final until its final.

But it makes me feel better about doing my German homework.

Feb 3, 2014

a not so exciting day

Today was not a very exciting day.

I practiced German, did some German homework, worked on a 3D model of the building downtown for the Phx Commons project. I was given the project files in Revit, but since my theoretical new job will be competitions based in Rhino, I built the base building in Rhino to brush up my skills.

Around one, I walked to the new donut shop on the corner for a bearclaw and a milk tea with boba. They were both pretty good. Two ladies came in, saw a late twenties-ish guy and assumed I was the owner or the manager. Nope. Reason #354 it's good to be employed- people look at you funny if you look like you should be working.

Anyway, it's about a three mile round trip to the donut shop and back, so hopefully it lessened the carbohydrate impact.

In studying German, it seems to me that everything becomes a lot easier when you start thinking in really old English and using very antiquated grammatical structure. How would Shakespeare say it? Wo kommen Sie her? literally translates to Where comes you from? In the numbering system, thirty-four is represented as vierunddreizig which is literally four and thirty. Don't think: "do you have a hat?" it's helpful to flip it into "Have you a hat?" which, incidentally, is precisely the way the Germans ask Hast du einen Hut?

Sold the bar today on Craigslist. The chairs will go tomorrow sounds like.

Pizza for dinner and we watched the final episode of Sherlock, which is really very good. It's a shame there's only three episodes in this season. With the production values, acting, writing, and a running time of about two hours, each episode is basically a feature film.

In a previous post, I was called out by a reader who corrected some thing I'd written regarding the Mormon temple in Gilbert. Re-reading the post, I winced a few times since I'd made some abrupt assumptions. I need to work on following the example of Robert Ingersoll and less of Richard Dawkins.
If abuses are destroyed, we must destroy them. If slaves are freed, we must free them. If new truths are discovered, we must discover them. If the naked are clothed; if the hungry are fed; if justice is done; if labor is rewarded; if superstition is driven from the mind; if the defenseless are protected and if the right finally triumphs, all must be the work of people. The grand victories of the future must be won by humanity, and by humanity alone. -Ingersoll

Feb 2, 2014


There's a story that's gone around Facebook since the beginning of social media. The one about how a man was going to cheat on his wife, but he finds out that she's got cancer so he feels like he should go through the motions until she passes away, and finds out that by going through the motions, he rediscovers his love and its all very weepy and touchy and never actually happened.

There are numerous variations of this very old idea that by 'practicing' and envisioning ourselves doing something, by going through the motions, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is why you are supposed to look in the mirror every morning and say, "I am a confident, calm, and competent individual."

I have tried this with sports to no avail. Today, I tried to sit down and enjoy the SuperBowl. I bought good beer to lower my entertainment standards. I bought roasted peanuts to give my hands and mouth something to do. I asked "who is ready for some football?"

I picked a side going in. I tried to root for the Broncos. Larry's sons live in Denver. I've actually been to Colorado. Nice state. Plus, I think Arizona is closer to Colorado as a cultural region than it is to Washington.


No sustained interest. I was more captivated by the commercials, and frankly, by PuppyBowlX, which at least has the advantage of being deliberately tongue-in-cheek. I wanted a more interesting game. I wanted the Broncos to score some points so that it would feel less like a rout. This morning, I probably could have told you Payton Manning was a football player and that Sherman was a Union general.

The commercials were a mixture of stupid, strange, off-the-mark, and saccharine insipid, but at least you could see the money on the screen.

Jeep had a commercial which felt like it was directed at mid-twenties crisis hipsters with 1920's sun dresses, facial hair, fire, music, and stoned-out crap like "Stillness kills us. Are you restless?" The only thing missing some some locally roasted coffee in mason jars and ironic mustaches.

There was the painful Bob Dylan shill for Chrysler, supposedly his first commercial endorsement. Twitter immediately erupted with accusations of selling out and speaking coherently. This is the US,  a neoliberal capitalist system: "selling out" is the American Dream. Although it's been awhile since I've heard anything as stupid as "There is nothing more 'merican than 'merica." And the whole thing about Chrysler being owned by Fiat.

There was the usual Hollow Salute to the Troops (we love the idea of soldiers fighting for America and the idea of soldiers coming home, but we're not going to, you know, actually try to push for changes in the broken VA system or, shudder, hire any of them). It was nice of Belgian corporate empire InBev to pay for the small-town homecoming parade anyway.

And what the was that Butterfinger ad? Peanut Butter and Chocolate are at relationship counseling and Butterfinger jumps in to the obvious discomfort of everyone except Chocolate. Is it an open relationship? Polyamory? Did Peanut Butter just get cuckolded? Whatever it was was a little disturbing.

Coke's ad with "America the Beautiful" sung in different languages was par for the "diversity" theme of its past advertising. (I'd like to buy the world a coke, anyone?). The bigots who were outraged by singing the song in a language other than the one we imported from the UK would do well to remember that 1) they are, or will soon be, the minorities in this this country, and 2) Coke isn't targeting you anyway- Coke's major revenue streams are providing diabetes to developing and minority populations.

Feb 1, 2014

Raiders of the Gilbert Temple

This morning after mom made us waffles, we set out for the distant land known as Gilbert. The Mormon church had finally completed and opened their newest temple, the fourth in Arizona, and we were all curious to see it. The problem is that there is a huge Mormon population in the Sunsprawl as well as gawkers like us, so the tickets to see it quickly sold out (although you could still go and get in if you didn't mind waiting a long time, but they didn't mention it on the website).

Mom's newest coworker is a Mormon, and he kindly procured tickets for us, so we were able to go this weekend. The design of all Mormon temples are supposed to be influenced by the locality, so I was curious as to how that would be expressed in the architecture. Every Temple is wildly different from the others:

the entirely unique Gilbert Temple
Oh well.

The first thing I noticed after trucking out to the middle of nowhere Gilbert was there is a lot of people here! There were huge lines of people which snaked around the property like the worst Disneyland ride ever. The second thought was I am seriously underdressed. Glumly and in vain, I searched for someone wearing jeans. Everyone, it seemed, was wearing their Sunday best while I was schlepping around my jeans, still with tomatillo salsa dried down the front. It was almost like they were going to church. It occurred to me then that perhaps the people who were most likely able to get weekend tickets to the Mormon temple tour, were in all likelihood, Mormons.

Huge families, tons of kids. I wished I'd brought my hat as we stood in line for about 45 minutes waiting to get in. My mom's coworker came with his wife and three kids and they were all very nice. We made small talk as we waited and his wife told me the bits she knew about the architecture. The building was faced with precast concrete with a granite aggregate. It looked freaking expensive. It must have been freaking expensive.

Finally, praise be to Allah! we handed over our tickets and were ushered into the meeting house, a separate building from the Temple for the common Mormon. We were separated into small groups and led to small conference rooms. I had flashbacks to the way people get shepherded around theme park attractions.

Say what you will about the Mormons but everything was organized and coordinated to the highest degree. There was a vast army of volunteers, stationed all over the grounds and about every twenty feet inside the buildings. There were professionally printed and typeset pamphlets with particular photos and copy for this open house. There highly produced video which they played for us skimming lightly over Mormon history and trying to highlight the connection to Gilbert. There is serious money being spent on this event, and corporate level organization to rival Microsoft or Pepsi.

Actually, as far as I can tell, the entire meeting house was a series of conference rooms of various sizes. I didn't see anything that resembled a major large gathering space the entire time I was at the Temple complex. According to mom's coworker, people come here on Sundays for what I guess amounts to Sunday school.

After the movie, we were left to peruse the pamphlet for about ten minutes before were escorted out of the room, across the parking lot along a roped-off path to the main Temple.

There were an army of seated volunteers who put disposable booties on our shoes while thanking us for coming. There is a level of dedication to the cause which is a rare thing to see.

The temple proper is actually a quite lovely building. It looks like a 10-20 million dollar project. Marble floors everywhere. Immaculate detailing. Gold detail on the ceilings, every lamp was a custom pendant, and every piece of glass was custom cut and engraved. While the building looked identical to all the other Mormon temples, the motif of the agave plant was used throughout. Custom CNC milled pew sides. Solid wood doors. Brass hardware and railings. It looked as though money was no object on this building.

That's a statement- the architecture, the materials and finishes all were meant to inspire awe and intimidation. This is a building which says "do not mess around with us, we are bigger and more powerful than you can imagine." The 'Celestial Room' which is supposed to be a kind of Heaven like space, is lovely, white, and aetherial (except for the Liberace Swarovski chandelier). It looks like the designers said "I want a room that will be nicer than anything else these people will ever experience."

I'm not a Mormon, but it sounds like actually, one of the few times most Mormons will be able to access this building is via this open house. The Temple is a place for ceremonies- baptisms, weddings, child-binding, what have you, but not for the usual experience. This is a palace for the priest caste.

The baptismal suite was very strange. You enter through a glassed-in viewing room with chairs and a massive window into the baptistry. There is a U shaped walkway around a glass tiled hot tub which is supported by 12 life sized bronze oxen statues on the floor below. Apparently, all of the temples have this. I am oddly entranced. It feels scandalously pagan. There must be a part of me that remains Congregational Christian to get such a wave of foreignness.

Let's be honest here, the only reason Christians are confounded and amused at the wacky beliefs of the Mormons is because the wacky Christian beliefs have been around a lot longer. Frankly, I think it is a lot more plausible that Jesus buried gold plates in north America than Noah stuffing two animals of each species into an ark along with all of their food and water.

The inside of the Mormon temples are divided up into a warren of rooms with a maze of corridors, antechambers, changing rooms, and waiting rooms. The Celestial Room was the biggest room the Temple, and I actually passed by two kind of large, sumptuously decorated gathering rooms facing walls covered with gold curtains. I whispered to mom's coworker, "What's behind the curtains? Is it a sacred triptych? A Holiest of Holies?"

He whispered back "They're video screens."

If you look at religious architecture, usually there is an attempt to reflect the hierarchy of the organization. The building is the cosmology. The altar is the center of focus, the bishop sits on the throne, the high clergy sit behind the altar, the choir sit in the choir and the commoners jostle in the main seating. In orthodox churches, although the space is large and continuous, there are level changes and gates through which you need higher and higher levels of religious authority. Only the priests may enter the sanctuary- everyone else has to pray at the veil. Buddhist and Shinto temples reflect the same kind of basic idea of areas for the priests and areas for the commoners.

So what does it say when your Temple is a warren of ceremonial rooms? For one, that it is impenetrable. I'm pretty good with direction and spatial memory. I got lost in this place. It's big, but not that big. It felt designed to confuse people unfamiliar with it. It says to me "don't even attempt to parse this thing on your own."

Thinking back on it, we went downstairs to the baptistry. The baptistry suite had a level below. The bronze oxen statues, then, were standing on a floor which is about 24' deep. That's an unbelievable expense in caliche Arizona dirt. It's also creepy to think about it being underground.

At tour end, we exited and another army took the booties off our shoes. Overall, it was a very soft sell on Mormonism. A bit in the video, a bit in the pamphlet, a tent where they would be 'happy to answer questions', but by and large, the organizers seemed to expect the sincerity and dedication of the volunteers and the lavishness of the building to do the heavy lifting.

El chef

My friends Kiyomi-san and her husband Tom-san have been great friends to Saori and I over the years, so I invited them over for Mexican food for dinner last night. I was actually very happy to have had the chance to do something nice for them in return, especially since they've invited me over for many lovely dinners in the past.

I actually spent most of the day working on the dinner. I headed out early and hit Pro's Ranch Market, a Mexican-oriented grocery store. I actually really enjoy shopping there. The atmosphere is festive, there's always a lot of people shopping, there's a vibrancy and texture which I find appealing and inviting. There's something enjoyable about picking out a few pounds of tomatillos, a pound of key limes, trying to figure out which Mexican cheese I want, hunting for ripe avocados.

The two things I couldn't find were good quality chicken stock for the tomatillo salsa, and watercress for the salad. So I went to Safeway.

Mom and Larry live in part of town which is heavily Hispanic. There are actually two Hispanic grocery stores about a mile apart on central avenue. These are lively, fun, and interesting places. The non-Hispanic focused grocery stores, by contrast, are not. After spending much time in the mariachi music infused Ranch Market produce aisle, overflowing with fruits and vegetables, where there are several different types of avocados on sale, the Safeway produce aisle feels like a convenience store. The vast, empty, sterile spaces with a few sad bags of celery, neat little organized rows of precisely seven bell peppers, just feels pathetic. And no watercress.

 I started cooking as soon as I got home. I am all about touch- the way things feel in my hand. I think one of the reasons I enjoy cooking Mexican food in particular is because it is such a textural experience. There is the slippery greasiness from shredding the chicken, the papery texture of the tomatillo husk concealing a slightly tacky yet pliant fruit underneath, the crispness of slicing into a fresh chile pepper, the crumbling granularity of aged cotija cheese, the pebbled skin of the lime and the fallen leaf texture of dried chiles.

I was cooking my famous chicken enchiladas, with some fresh guacamole, and a recipe I'd never tried before for a jicama salad with[out] watercress and a lime-cilantro oil dressing. All three were recipes from Rick Bayless cookbooks. Actually, I finally broke down an bought his Everyday Mexican Cooking which is basically his nearly obligatory Rachel Ray type cookbook. Except all the reviews said that it was actually, really good. Salad was good, it reminded me of how much I enjoy jicama.

Dinner was nice. They brought Mexican beers and palletas (popsicles) from a shop off of Mill avenue. [side note: they figured out how to make money with a brick and mortar store on Mill avenue selling popsicles???] The popsicles were actually pretty good.

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