weeknote 06

Enough with the snow. I’m in Los Angeles, or more precisely, Venice (and I missed the third snowstorm in 10 days in New Jersey). I will be shifting my time to be here more than not in the next several months, an audition for whether I might fully move here later this year. I’ve been running on the beach boardwalk in the mornings, something I ordinarily do later in the day. In the afternoons, I write. I’m pondering adding yoga to the mix since I have enough energy for it during the day. The sunlight here is beautiful and my freckles are out for springtime.

My dissertation is focusing ever more on generative systems. I’m working on the dissertation proposal and this week, I’m writing about what constitutes a generative system. Rather than turning out formal prose, I’m just writing between 1000-2000 words, written quickly. It feels lighter this way and it captures my insights better.
I’ve been doing a close reading of Nicholas Negroponte’s The Architecture Machine (1970), J.C.R. Licklider’s “Man-Machine Symbiosis” (1960) and Warren McCulloch’s (ready? this is long) “Toward some circuitry of ethical robots or an observational science of the genesis of social evaluation in the mind-like behavior of artifacts” (1956). In this case, I’m using some of the methods I followed when I worked on a paper about Adolf Behne’s work in the 1920s and the notion of the apparatus… I suppose that this isn’t too different, since Negroponte is all about generative apparatuses.
So what is a generative system? Here’s a broad list of attributes I’ve gathered so far.
  • Intelligence
  • Contextual (context-sensitive, context-appropriate)
  • Adaptive and adaptable
  • Bridges dissimilarities
  • Evolutionary
  • Symbiotic
  • Unfolds over time
  • Has disposition and agency
  • Appetitive  (it absorbs from the environment around it — a word that comes from the McCulloch piece)
  • Capable of learning
  • Social
  • Communicates in (somewhat) natural language
  • Self-organizing
I need to group these and boil them down: these come from the work of a few figures in architecture and information theory, cybernetics and AI. The funny thing is, as much as I will apply these attributes to architecture, they apply to a certain attitude of systems in general. (I suspect that we should build systems today to strive for more of these attributes.) I’ll take the initial framework and bounce it against the work of the people in my case studies: Christopher Alexander, Cedric Price and Nicholas Negroponte. It’s nice that I’ll get to take on the most exciting aspects of my master’s thesis research on Cedric Price.
Next week, I’m aiming to start pouring content into the actual proposal with the plan to finish it at the beginning of March. There are other things that may compete with that, in reality, but I’m trying to keep enough structure and momentum going so that it carries me forward.

Running

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.