I’m finding that as I sit down to do my weeknotes, it’s as much about what’s coming up as it is about what I’ve just done. That’s probably to be expected, even though last week was exciting and relaxing and enjoying Mexico City.
- Artificial intelligence and architecture: the introduction of the computer to the field of architecture (with Christopher Alexander and his interest in AI and cybernetics as a case study), 1960-75. I wrote a tidy version of this paper in May 2009. Then, I blew the whole thing up into a much bigger framework about how the computer affected architectural practice. I’ve written scores of pages that didn’t get included: the draft at one point was 50 pages long (what I handed in was 36 pages). After 11 different drafts, I whittled it down to a couple of key ideas. I convinced myself that it was okay–I would be writing a dissertation on the topic and I could reuse what I wrote and then deleted.
- Paris & communication networks: The Hôtel des Postes in Paris, 1884 and the Parisian pneumatic tube network, 1866-1900 (something many people know I’m interested in, thanks to last year’s eTech Ignite talk). These two papers are parts of the same topic: urban-level communication in France in the late 19th century. When I first wrote the paper about Julien Guadet’s central post office in Paris in 2008, my central argument was that it functioned like a big computer atop a tangible network. That argument proved thin, so when I rewrote the paper, I instead focused on what made it a modern building and what made Guadet a modern architect — namely, the way that it served as a physical mechanism to organize and control bureaucratic processes. The pneumatic post paper, too, looked at how technology had shifted the relationship of space and time to the human body, goods, and the communication of information. I had originally thought I’d do a dissertation on 19th century communication networks but was talked out of it by the entire PhD committee. (I was blue about that, but now it’s fine: they were right.) The majority of my research for these projects involved French language engineering publications.
- Levittown, PA and its mass-produced landscape (1950s). Levittown, the famous, mass produced suburb, also mass-produced its gardens. Most bizarrely, Levitt patriarch Abraham Levitt wrote a column on gardening for the Levittown newspaper. Why? The way to maintain the value of the investment the Levitts had made in the suburb was not through the house but through the value of the landscape. The homeowners (most of whom had been apartment-dwellers and were completely unfamiliar with houses and gardening) needed to be taught to tend their gardens.
- Apparatuses in architecture: a close reading of two 1920s works by Adolf Behne, a German architecture and art critic. For this paper, I analyzed the way that Behne used the word “apparatus” (Gerät) and the notion of defensiveness — as objects develop their own disposition. In many ways, I think Behne presaged the holistic approach to design that software finds so popular (and architecture, well, doesn’t). My research was all in German; the most painful part was reading poorly photocopied Frakturschrift (old-fashioned German writing).
- Contingent communication: how communication jumps from network modes, using Pakistan’s 2007 state of emergency as a case study. I looked at cable television, satellite uplinks, and FM radio. (People who are holding crisis camps for Haiti might want to consider non-Internet media as a way of establishing communication networks — especially radio.) The idea for this paper came from a question Usman Haque asked me during my eTech presentation on India and mobile phone sharing, although what I wrote had nothing to do with it.
- Artificial intelligence and architecture: the introduction of the computer to the field of architecture, 1960-75 (also my proposed dissertation topic)
- The Hôtel des Postes in Paris, 1884
- The Poste Pneumatique: the Parisian pneumatic tube network, 1866-1900
- Levittown, PA and its mass-produced landscape (1950s)
- Apparatuses in architecture: a close reading of two 1920s works by Adolf Behne, a German architecture and art critic
- Contingent communication: how communication jumps from network modes, using Pakistan’s 2007 coup as a case study.
Wanna speak at a conference? What if it’s about cities and architecture? Not your subject? No problem. It can be with the handy Urban Computing Conference Title Generator.
• John Cage. He’s been on the periphery of many of my fascinations for the last few years but in some research I’m doing right now, he’s a central figure. I heard a 1982 interview on Cage and his collaborator and partner, Merce Cunningham on Friday on Fresh Air and it knocked my socks off. One thing keeps coming back — his notion of paying attention to many things at a time. He celebrated it. It was at the center of some of much of his work. (What do you pay attention to in a performance of 4′ 33″?)
“However mysterious and invisible among the leaves the green-garbed woodpecker may be at times, he nevertheless becomes familiar to us. FOr a woodpecker is not a silent dweller. It is not when he sings, however, that we think of him, but when he works. Up and down the tree-trunk, his beak pecks the wood with resounding taps, and although he frequently disappears, we still hear him. He is a garden worker.
And so the woodpecker enters into my sound world and I make a salutary image of him for my own use. In my Paris apartment, when a neighbor drives nails into the wall at an undue hour, I ‘naturalize’ the noise by imagining that I am in my house in Dijon, where I have a garden. And finding everything I hear quite natural, I say to myself: ‘That’s my woodpecker at work in the acacia tree.’ This is my method for obtaining calm when things disturb me.” (Bachelard, 97)
Recently, I’ve started running. I’ve never thought of myself as an athletic person at all — my parents tell stories about me, age 3 and 4, hiding behind the gymnastic mats in the gym of my nursery school, reading books. Although I’ve joined more than one health club in the last 15 years, it’s never really stuck.
But now it has. In January, I started going to the gym. At the outset, I could only run 20 minutes on a treadmill, barely 2 miles, without getting winded. Within 6 weeks, I was able to run nearly 6 miles at the gym, and if boredom hadn’t gotten me (not to mention the MTV show America’s Next Dance Crew ending), I could’ve kept going. Now I’m running outside. Princeton has a gorgeous tow path along the Delaware and Raritan Canal. It’s scenic and car free, the crew team on the left, angry geese protecting their nests on the right. Today was a lovely 72 degree evening, one of the first truly gorgeous spring days. I ran (and for about a mile, walked) 4.36 miles. I’m not particularly fast and that’s fine. That’ll come in time. Running makes me realize that Sleater-Kinney, the Doves, New Order, the
Pretenders and My Bloody Valentine are great running music, right at my
pace, and the Happy Mondays are great for lifting spirits when I start feeling tired.
Running started out feeling like a solo activity, me against myself. Now, running feels like an entity separate from me. I need it and it also needs me. It doesn’t ask all that much of me, just that I go and do it. It gives back to me. It boosts my spirits. Not sure how this happened to me: I’m the last person in the world who expected to become a runner.
Just call me Fallopia. In early March, I gave an Ignite talk at eTech about pneumatic tubes– a five-minute talk where the slides advance every 15 seconds. It’s shot its way around the Internet, but I haven’t yet posted it here before. Enjoy!
My dear friend Spiro Pina passed away on Tuesday, March 17, after fighting a Type IV glioma, a very aggressive form of brain tumor. He leaves behind many people who love him, not the least of which include his wife Meritxell, his three year-old daughter Eulalia, his mother, stepfather, father and grandmother, three half brothers and hundreds of friends and admirers. Spiro was a two-time Olympic competitor (’94 and ’98) with the Greek luge team. He spoke many languages and traveled everywhere.
When you lose someone who’s so young, you say all kinds of kind things. But if you were talking about Spiro, they’d all be true. He was that brilliant. He was that gracious and kind. He made you feel good being included, being in his company. He really lived the kind of life that I could only hope to emulate, but I simply would never come close. His best gifts were wisdom and compassion.
I met Spiro when he was 19 and I was 21. He was adorable, funny and kind — shining brown eyes and curly hair. We were exchange students in Montpellier, France in 1993, which is where I also met Jenn and Brett, my best friends, but we were also from the same area of St. Paul, so we knew many of the same people. Whenever I came back to the Twin Cities, I would see him — we would go to the record store, to see live music at First Avenue and at street fairs in summer, we’d enjoy a glass of wine at the New French Cafe. Usually, Brett would be there with us too.
When I think of Spiro, I think of travel. Spiro, Brett and Jenn came to visit me in New York when I moved there in 1995. Jenn and I still laugh about Spiro doing the “$240 worth of pudding” sketch from the State as we waited for brunch on a sunny Sunday in the West Village (“Awww yeeeah.”). In November 1998, he stayed in my apartment in San Francisco, meeting me there when I returned from a trip to Oslo. “Before I say anything else,” he said after I walked in the door, “I should tell you that Jesse Ventura won the gubernatorial election. He’s the governor of Minnesota.”
Not long after that, he told me and Brett about meeting Meritxell. He was gobsmacked, smitten. It was beautiful. And it can’t have been much later that (maybe a year) that he said he was going to ask her to marry him. Brett and I were in Barcelona with at least 200 other people over Thanksgiving 2002, celebrating their wedding in a church in the central city and a reception at the beach.
There’s one picture that sticks in my head. It’s one I only glimpsed for a moment at the end of his wedding: he and Meritxell together, brilliant sunlight, and he jumping up and clicking his heels.
Spiro, I miss you. I’m sorry your family doesn’t get to hold onto you as long as they should. I’m sorry that you had to go. The world has been a much more ebullient, beautiful place with you in it.
Just wanted to note that I’ve not forgotten to post a recap of the Tangible Interactions in Urban Spaces panel we put together at SXSW. A few life things (see next post) have happened. I’ll post this week.