Salvation Army Strategies

So, here in Ithaca, we live in an apartment building that fronts a pedestrian-only street known as “The Commons.” The Commons is lined with little shops on both sides, and is graced with classic 70s-modernist landscape architecture down its center. (Is this a good thing? Well, it depends on whether or not you like classic 70s-modernism.)

Now, it is Christmas-time, and being Christmas-time, there is a volunteer representing the Salvation Army ringing a bell, soliciting donations from the many pedestrians passing through the Commons who are no doubt engrossed in their holiday shopping endeavors. The location of the bell-ringer is described in the following sketch:

I’ve had a theory ever since the bell-ringer appeared on the Commons this season (around Thanksgiving, I think). My theory is that his/her placement is all wrong. There needs to be a bell-ringer collecting donations on both sides of the street, rather than only in the middle. You see, everyone walks down the sides (because classic 70s-modernist landscape architecture prevents them from walking down the middle – see sketch above) of the street; therefore they rarely pass the bell-ringer of their own accord. And, you know people: they don’t like to go out of their way for very many things. Pedestrians behave just like water – they take the path of least resistance. People who would ordinarily happily drop a buck in the SA bucket tend not to because they subconsciously are thinking, “Hey, that’s too far out of my way. I’ll just pop by tomorrow instead.”

Anyway, that’s my theory. And I think it holds water because I’ve not seen one person deposit money in this particular donation station (I walk the Commons three or four times a day). But today I noticed something a bit peculiar. Today, there was a bell-ringer operating at the very same location as all the past bell-ringers; but this bell-ringer was equipped with more than your standard-issue ring-a-ding bell. He had a bell that you could actually play a tune on! And he was indeed playing a tune. Now, get this: in the time it takes me to walk past the bell-ringer (about 60 seconds), I saw no less than four different people stop and put money in his pot. I even heard one of them say, “Wow, it’s nice to hear one of you guys actually playing something.”

Just goes to show ya – a little love for what you do goes a long way.

Once again, an old truism returns to guide me: “Don’t ever assume anything.”

In 1994, on a flight back to the United States from Brussels, I remember watching the in-flight movie “The Hudsucker Proxy” by the Cohen Brothers. It’s a great film. In it, there is a particular scene in the newsroom of the newspaper for which Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character is a reporter. In this particular newsroom, a character is manually assembling a crossword puzzle on a large magnetic board. At the time, I remember thinking to myself, “Boy, those were the days – back when people actually put crossword puzzles together. I’ll bet that’s all done by computer now.”

That was my assumption, and ever since then I’ve just gone on assuming that crosswords are produced largely with the assistance of a computer program. Not so. No, no, no, not at all. You see, today I had an interesting conversation with a middle-aged shopkeeper down the street who, while I was browsing in the store, was in the process of creating a crossword puzzle – by hand, on piece of blank paper. He’d even drawn the grid himself, in pencil. No graph paper for this guy. No technological assistance of any kind. I said to him, “Isn’t that mostly done on a computer these days?”

“Oh, no,” he said. “At least not if you want the crossword to be interesting. You know, I’ve sold three puzzles to the New York Times already!”

Strangely enough, this little discovery (and the correction of my misguided assumption) really made my day.

Yes. For a long time, I've referred to Opensewer as "the enema of the information age." And day by day it's becoming more apparent that, indeed, the information age needs a good cleansing.
Video games played an important part in my development as a child (I’m a real textbook case, I know). So this article, while not directly applicable to the market segment of which I was a part, was particularly interesting to me. In fact, I found Signum as a whole quite well-written and interesting. Do take a look. (Via Megan via Backup Brain.)
Here's what I did yesterday. Take a look - it's a nice lunch break diversion.
As Rosie and I sit here and work on our various tasks (I, studying; she, earning some money), we are deeply engrossed in some good music. I am reminded that music, at its best, can invoke a state of higher being. I remember a Moby concert two months ago – an event so intense, so emotional, so sincere that it was almost transformative. I remember a “weekend with the guys” last year where spontaneous drumming (on cans, buckets and such things) ended up lasting for hours and generated a true emotional connection among us. It was the only meaningful thing that happened that weekend. I remember the band I was in during my undergraduate years. We weren’t much, but what we did, we did pretty well. Seven (!) of us: Four acoustic guitarists, one electric, one bass and me on drums. The guitarists all sang and harmonized quite well – we were a sort of folk/rock thing. I’ve been out of that world for so long. But what a feeling it was …
Aside from the fact that I just took a final exam and my right hand is about to fall off (from writing), today was a pretty good day. Nothing particularly special, but I was reminded of some of the reasons why (because there are several reasons why not) Cornell is a pretty interesting place.

Reason number one: Cornell has a bell tower, there are real chimes in it, and people play them, by hand, every day. We're not just talking about two-chimes-means-it's-two-o'clock here, either. These are songs, and they are long and complicated. Today, I was walking across campus to the tune of "Walking in A Winter Wonderland," briskly broadcast from McGraw Tower through the gently falling snow. I have so far attended two Institutions of Higher Learning that had artificial chimes which were pre-recorded; the only feeling you would experience when they would play is "Wow, I go to a school that can't afford real chimes." And then sometimes the speakers would crackle, reminding you again that it was a recording, and man, then you really felt lame. Real chimes are, without question, neato.

Reason number two: On the bus I rode home today there were eight seats (it was a small bus). The seats were all full, for a total of sixteen people, not including the driver. Here's the part I like: I counted conversations in six languages: Russian (I think), Hindi, German, Korean, Chinese (the loudest), and English. Love it.

Problems in The Shower

As many of you already know, I have scale problems from time to time. I get so overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude and complexity of everything, and my place within it, that I am driven to mindless rambling and vast consumption of Life™ cereal.

So today, I was in the shower, thinking. (I know this is rumored to be one of only two places men usually think, but I assure you, I have a mental life outside the bathroom.) I was thinking about the fact that when I lived in Europe, I only took showers about once per week. Having lived in America my entire life and now long re-adjusted to its particulars, I take a shower nearly every day. So I was thinking, “Man, what a luxury. I mean really – that’s a lot of water!”

I thought of the water I used, and then the water used by all of the showers in my building, then all of the water used by all of the showers in the entire region, then the state, then the country… I stopped at the country because we take more showers than anybody else. Like I said, scale problems. But think about it: taking a shower really is a luxury – there are many other ways to maintain your hygiene. We have so many things ‘round here that we take for granted, which are truly luxuries in many parts of the world. I know this sounds like a typical “I’m feelin’ guilty today for being an American speech” that everyone is so sick of hearing, but oh well. If it bothers you then go away. I’m having scale problems and I don’t want to be disturbed.

Today, in Ithaca, it's so cold that you just gotta keep walkin'. Wait for the bus? No way, walk on home - your blood's gonna freeze, child! Talk to a friend? Forget it! Keep on a walkin'. Keep walkin' till you get inside and don't stop till ya get there. Man it's cold.
In the 1950s, over 15 million homes were built in the United States. Most of them were in the suburbs. This is their story.
Observation No. 6

You cannot be sincere and hip at the same time. Being sincere prevents you from being aloof. If you're not aloof you cannot be detached from everything in that oh-so-fashionably-careless kind of way. If you can't be detached - if things matter to you - you can't be hip.

A bit of circular reasoning, I know, but hey, it works for me.

Today, in Ithaca, it is very sunny and it is snowing in that storybook-Christmas sort of way. It's so beautiful - one couldn't ask for more perfect snow. It is the way snow should be all the time. Yes, yes... so much beauty to be seen in the world.
Observation No. 5

As soon as you care, you are vulnerable. Not caring about anything is a safe (however unfulfilling) method to make your way through this unkind world.

On Being A Generalist

Just sittin’ here, eating a donut, drinking some coffee, taking a break from the studies, ruminating about being a generalist. Here’s to the generalists of the world… the ones who a) can’t make up their mind about what they want to do with their life (aka “what I want to be when I grow up,” b) get bored to tears when they are committed to doing anything too specific for any significant amount of time, c) are interested in so many things that they always feel like there is something out there they are missing and d) keep switching their focus right when they’re getting good at something (taking care to do it just before they become adept at the task at hand and actually have something productive to offer society).

We generalists just can’t get too much of that good ol’ big picture. In fact, we try to keep stepping back until everything makes sense. The irony of this activity is, everything will never, ever, ever make sense. And if it ever did, it would probably be too much to handle and it would blow our minds. So generalists get frustrated a lot. We look for behavior that ties these crazy beings called humans all together. And yes, sometimes we find little hints of it – of “the truth,” the universal. But more often than not, human actions confuse us so much that we want to quickly assume the fetal position and weep like a big fat baby.

“Things” in this world do often fit together in fascinating ways – mathematics, ecosystems, human behavior, economies, etc. But life, as a rule, seems to be about the confusion of the day-to-day getting in the way of our clear view of reality. And maybe that’s a good thing. In fact, if society didn’t have things like eating, reproducing and not-dying to worry about, it would spend all of its time doing things like soul searching, creating art, discovering the meaning of life, etc., and humans might eventually figure this crazy existence out. And then, what would be the point? We’d pretty much be all done then – let’s turn out the lights, put the Earth in cold storage and go to sleep for a few millennia until our collective memory loses track of everything again.

No, that particular course of fate wouldn’t make any sense. In addition to survival, it’s a good thing society has lots of other things to distract it, such as: handing little bits of green paper back and forth, putting food on the table, creating neat personal websites, finding new ways to “add value,” getting a ski rack for the VW, and paying off credit card bills. Figuring things out should be left to the poor saps who can’t focus on one thing long enough to get their mind off everything.

Leave it to the generalists, the poor bastards.

Rosie and I saw Best in Show last night with some friends. Result: laugh till pain. I'm biased, though. I think I'd like anything that Christopher Guest and the Spinal Tap/Waiting for Guffman crew put out. I eat that stuff up. I used to know a guy who, when I asked his opinion of Waiting for Guffman, responded with, "That kind of humor is just completely lost on me." Man, that's too bad. I mean, really, too too bad.
So Opensewer Ithaca was last night. The gathering went until about midnight, and lemme tell ya, I was really hungry when we left that bar. When a human is hungy, that human tends to gravitate toward the nearest place with available food. That place, in this case, happened to be "Wendy's." I went in, purchased some fast "food," as they say, and came out to find the scattered few remaining intellectually exhausted Opensewer attendees laughing at me. “You’re eating at Wendy’s right after we just spent 5 hours talking about misplaced values and homogenization of products? Way to be consistent, Jason.”

Hey, man, I was hungry. Brain drain.

Some Thursdays are better than others for me. Thursday is the day that I’m on campus from 8:00 AM to 9:00 PM. It’s a long day. But today was a pretty good day. Today, I had a great conversation with some (very helpful) friends about something that I can’t tell you about, but if it turns out well you’ll find out soon enough, oh yes you will. Also, today I had a conversation with another graduate student and the Professor of this class, and I actually felt as if I knew what I was talking about (which is a major step for me in this particular class). You see, I almost dropped the class (although it is important) because it dealt with material that was so foreign to me, it sounded like the professor was, literally, speaking another language when he lectured. Well, eventually it sunk in (and I worked my ass off), and now I must say that I actually quite enjoy it. Isn’t life funny that way?

Also, Opensewer Ithaca (the one that Rosie and I are attending) is tomorrow and I'm pumped...

Ok, so I'm just a little bit pist. I can't believe it, but Opensewer has been plagiarized again. Now, I know I shouldn't even acknowledge these creeps by linking to them, but I'm going to anyway because they should be exposed. The most recent violation is here, and you can check out remnants of an older thief here. Send 'em a friendly hate-mail if the urge grabs you.

Why does this happen? Come on people, it's really not that difficult to come up with your own stuff! I suppose that once a site starts getting decent traffic and exposure, things like this are expected to happen once in a while. But it's not like anyone on the web is doing anything so creative, so unique, that it simply cannot be surpassed and so it must be copied! I remember almost a year ago when this happened to k10k. Now it's happened to OS twice, and I have to tell you, it really hurts. It feels like a violation- something that you put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into and then part of it just gets ripped-off and re-used. It's so sad- these people don't even do a good job of hiding their transgressions.

So I suppose we'll send them the standard cease and desist letter, and try to put an end to it. Has this ever happened to you? I'd like you to tell me about it...

Rosie and I both posted new feature articles over at Opensewer. You know, it's really an immensely liberating feeling just to lets things off your chest once in a while...
Here's something good... and how about this... Mmmmm.
Ithaca, New York: Where more Wall Street Journal's are wasted, lying on the front porches and in the yards of enthusiastic undergraduates ("Yeah, I'll subscribe to the WSJ - that's professional!"), than any other city I've ever seen. Some of these students' houses have scattered piles of yellowing WSJ papers twenty or thirty high in the front yard. They look like dandelions that need to be mowed away.
On Becoming An Architect
(An Incomplete Theory)

Okay – I think I have a few things figured out about becoming an architect. Time has changed things. It has changed the definition of an architect, and the influence that an architect has. I'm going to attempt to address this.

When a person first dreams about becoming an architect, he dreams about the things he can build. However, it is quickly realized that he has no real say in what gets built. Someone else decides that – someone with money, someone who is an entrepreneur… someone who has taken a risk and gone out on a limb, possibly putting his or her own well being in jeopardy in order to place something on the earth.

So, a theory about the path one must take to become an architect – in the old sense… the master builder sense.

First, one must undertake training in design. Training in design is critical to develop a keen eye that truly sees the world. Training in design is needed to relate humans to buildings (things), and buildings (things) to the earth. It is irresponsible to mark the earth without having a firm, holistic understanding of design. However, much of what is placed on the earth is done by those who lack this understanding. Many people who mark the earth understand economics, but not humanity. This is dangerous.

Secondly, perhaps concurrently, one must undertake training in business and economics. This part of the education cannot be avoided, since money is the lifeblood (for better or for worse) that enables ideas to manifest themselves in this world. The lack of this training in designers is problematic. Why are the ones who define the environments that relate humans to the natural world so apparently unconcerned with the prevailing method a valuation that society has chosen for itself (money)? How can you design if you don’t understand the resources that it takes to physically manifest something?

Architects must reposition themselves into the role of the one who decides the essence of a thing. This is what we’ve lost over time. This is where our frustration comes from. When your training and experience includes a sophisticated understanding of design and a sophisticated understanding of economics, then you can be in a position to give birth to ideas that you yourself can implement. You can truly CREATE – not just give form to other peoples' ideas.

Scale problems... the world is so big. There are so many people in the world. There are so many things in the world. It is important that one find one's place. Sometimes finding one's place is difficult. Sometimes we build things on the Earth to help us better understand where we fit in.

Sketch: A little something I'm working on...

Scale: A proportion used in determining the dimensional relationship of a representation to that which it represents.

I'm having scale problems again.

And Speaking of The Supernatural…

Last week on campus, walking from Econometrics class in the Ag Quad to Sibley Hall, I passed a woman, ordinary enough from a distance, walking opposite me on the sidewalk. As I approached her, I noticed that she had an absolutely horrified look on her face, and she was staring up at the sky, darting her eyes in different directions. She did not notice me. As soon as I passed her, I got a bad feeling, what could almost be described as an aphysical “pain” in my chest. It was not real pain, but some psycho-spiritual thing that had just gone down. For the next few minutes I was literally afraid – I kept watching my back. I passed through the music building, where I knew someone would be playing the piano, and this would make me feel better... mitigate the effects of what had just happened. Or at least that was the theory. I did feel a bit better after passing through, but I kept eyes in the back of my head for the rest of the day. I’ve never been superstitious, but this was genuinely strange.

I hate reggae, but I love Napster. Also, I love aluminum. It conducts energy very well.
I just want to say that I hate reggae. I don't hate the people that play or listen to reggae. I just hate reggae.
Things That Are Real

Lately I've been thinking about that which is "real." The questions in my head go something like this: What is real, exactly? What does it mean to us these days? Is the internet real? Does real necessarily mean physical? Probably not, but...

Right now, I'm studying real estate. As you may imagine, there are bundles of legal definitions that attempt to identify just what constitutes "the real."

Personally, I like to think of real as things you can feel, things you can kick, things that have roots in the ground. No matter how involved I get in the study and creation of "intellectual goods" (websites, academic papers, blogs), I can't escape my desire to place physical things in the world.

Architecture Is A Way of Seeing The World

I have some bad news for the consulting and IT professionals of the world: the word “architect” is not a verb, and you’re not allowed to use it. There is no such thing as "architecting" a solution. And contrary to popular belief, you can’t "rearchitect" a server. Using these words in front of your peers or your boss my make you appear credible, but to the rest of the (literate) world, it just makes you look silly.

I was told last night that I will always be an architect, no matter where my professional endeavors lead me. This happened during the course of a discussion I was having with a (former) architect who had become a project manager for a large real estate asset management company. “You never lose the world-view that training in design and architecture gives you,” he said.

Architecture is a way of seeing the world. It is a type of training, experience and inherent talent that enables individuals to truly see the physical and experiential realm (space, both real and conceptual), and understand its implication on human existence. Architecture manifests itself when people design things- buildings, interior spaces, exterior spaces, products, and graphic communications… nearly anything. With respect to what I said earlier, the design of less obviously related things such as the development of strategic plans for companies, or the creation of peace treaties, can indeed approach something that could be considered “architecture.”

However, you can’t understand architecture unless you are trained and experienced in design- in the creation of ideas where there were no ideas before. And you can’t understand design until you understand how to see the world with uncluttered eyes.

Monday, October 9, 2000: I journeyed to Baltimore, and didst indeed find pit-beef. Say it with me: "pit-beef."
Secrets of Brewing Coffee Using A Drip-Type Coffee Maker

  1. You MUST start with whole beans- none of this Maxwell House crap. And don’t grind the beans until you’re ready to brew the coffee- they’ll stay fresher that way. Store the un-ground beans in the refrigerator or freezer.
  2. Measuring: I use 1 teaspoon of un-ground beans for every 6 oz. cup. This makes strong coffee. I like strong coffee. If you don't like strong coffee then you should drink, like, chocolate milk or something. (BTW- make only as much coffee as you need. Never reheat cold coffee and never re-brew coffee.)
  3. Grind the beans thoroughly, until the coffee has a fine texture. Don't leave big chunks in the mix.
  4. Use a cone-type paper filter (you must have a coffee maker that takes a cone-type filter). The cone seems to concentrate the flavor. Melitta #2 or #4 are the best.
  5. Use cold, filtered water (don't use distilled water). Remember, 6 oz. (1 cup) of water for every 1 teaspoon of un-ground beans. Your coffee maker should have measurement markings.
  6. Brew the coffee. Hopefully, you own a coffee maker with a long brew time. Longer is better.
  7. This is the most important step, and if you don’t do this you’ll screw everything up. If your coffee maker is the type that has a burner to keep the coffee warm, let the brewed coffee sit on the burner for 3-4 minutes after all of the coffee has finished brewing. THEN, POUR ALL OF THE COFFEE INTO AN INSULATED CARAFE. This will accomplish two things: a) It will keep the coffee from getting scorched on the burner (which will ruin the coffee), and b) it will properly mix the coffee so it has equal density throughout.

You see, when the coffee is brewed into the pot, it is sort of “stratified.” It has different layers of density throughout, and different flavors. When you pour the first cup, it will taste different than the last cup. If you pour the finished coffee into a carafe, the coffee will get mixed well and the entire pot will have a consistent taste. Thermos makes the best carafes.

Like I said, if you skip step 7, don’t even bother making coffee, you pathetic loser. Go buy a cup instead at your local, non-chain coffeehouse. Coffee is an acquired taste, right? So if you don't like it, if you don't love it, then don't bother going through the trouble. Of course, this whole discussion has all been about Cafe Americano, the watered down version of true coffee. But that's something we'll just have to address later. Enjoy!

What's great about Rosie is that she has some laugh...
I'm going to start a club and it's going to be called, "Can I do well in business without playing golf?"
Ok, so I have certain things on my mind. Now, when one "vents," one vents about the things that are currently occupying one's consciousness. So, with that thought under consideration, here is the Word of The Day (and I apologize in advance): Heteroskedasticity.
Observation No. 4

Beware of people who use the term "classy."

I haven't had a whole lot to say lately because most of what's been going through my head looks something like:

Ah, yes, academia. Waking the brain after several years of... I won't say "rest" because that's not really true... several years of... let's say a comfortable routine... has not been all that easy in certain areas. Some of the "areas" to which I'm referring include math.

Now, don't get me wrong, I was pretty good at math in high school, and college too for that matter. In eighth grade I was even in "MathCounts," one of those geeky competitions for kids who can't think of a good enough excuse to convince their parents that they shouldn't have to participate. But we all know what happens to the brain as it falls into a routine. Atrophy. When I graduated from college, taking a derivative was like breathing. Now I have to stuggle just to remember the order of operations. (Remember that from seventh grade? Exponents first, division and multiplication second, addition and subtraction third... oh, boy.) And it's only been four years. If ya don't use it, you lose it, I suppose.

It seems that no matter where I am in life, I always seem to want to put myself in a situation where I'm not comfortable anymore. And we ask ourselves: "Why?"

Just sittin' here thinking about things, taking notes, thinking about things, and decided that I should make a brief (however incomplete) list of films that have had a pronounced affect on me. These films somehow transcend simply being works of art, and truly speak to the soul. If you have not had the opportunity to see all of these films at some point within the past several years, your life may be somewhat lacking. Expose yourself to these works and realize that there still may be magic left in the world.

Princess Mononoke
This film speaks to many issues about how we inhabit the Earth, and humans' relationship to nature. It's quite moving, and more mature than many films I've seen.

Brazil defies description. To say it's a moral tale of one man's revolt against bureaucracy tells only part of the story. It must be seen to be believed.

Run Lola Run
Ultimately about fate, this film seems rather simple in premise, on the surface. But looking deeper reveals complexity. Kind of like classical music. Although this film is nothing like classical music...

The City of Lost Children
Magical, beautiful, simple and complex all at once. Is it better than Delicatessen? Hard to say. But the film will leave you speechless.

A bit of support for yesterday's theory about college students, from the barista at Stella's. I said, "Hey, man, why don't any of the students at Cornell talk to each other? I'm from Cleveland and we talk to each other there."

(I said this after riding the bus to campus- it was so full and people were jammed in and uncomfortable, but they were all afraid to talk to each other and ask each other to move, so everyone just stayed jammed and uncomfortable. Refusal to communicate prevented the people at the front of the bus from learning that there was space at the back of the bus. "Hey, tell them there's space back here!" I said. No response.)

So the barista looked at me, at first a little confused, and then said, "Yeah, you know, I guess it's just that everyone is caught up in their own little world. They only talk to people they already know."

So I suppose that if someone on the bus fell to the floor and started having convulsions, people would just sit/stand there, quietly staring out the window, thinking about Statistics class or the party the night before. Mmm-hmm.

The story so far (a small slice of it, at least)... So I was an undergraduate student, studying architecture at Kent State University from 1991 to 1996. (Yes, five years... ahem. It was a five year program, okay?) And then I graduated, and then I began working as an architect in Cleveland. This lasted about three-and-a-half years. Now I'm a graduate student at Cornell University, studying real estate. Alright. That's the story for today, and here's what I have observed. On large university campuses, undergraduate students don't seem to have the powers of observation and social interaction. At least not outside their circles of friends. I don't know if it's a protection mechanism built-in to freshmen or what, but these kids are so self-contained, so self-centered. If you pass one on the street and say, "hi," they'll look up at you, astonished, and sheepishly reply, "uuh... hi?"

It's really a bit sad.

Plink Plink

On Cornell's campus, there is a pedestrian walkway that traverses the roof of the extended ground floor of the Olin Library. The Olin Library is a classic 1970s modernist building, that some have referred to as "looking like a punch-card."

Now, this walkway to which I am referring has become one of my favorite little places to encounter as I walk across campus. You see, due to the fact that the walkway is on the roof of a lower part of the building, it sometimes has rocks scattered about on it (the rocks are the ballast from the roof below). These rocks are the fun part. When you kick them, as they bounce and roll across the concrete pavers, they go "plink, pl-plink plink plink" in a most beautiful array of staccato tones. It sounds kind of like a xylophone. Hmmm... building-as-musical-instrument. Life shows us beauty in the most unexpected places.

Ithaca is one of the most beautiful places on Earth. What a change from the industrial cathedral of Cleveland-- Rosie has already stopped sneezing as often as she used to.

So the lifestyle change from the work-a-day world to academia-world is proving to be a slight shock, even though I've only been out of undergraduate school for three-and-a-half years. I mean I'm not reeling or anything, but let's just say you can't leave graduate studies at the office. No more 'home by 7:00 PM and forget about the day.' Not even a chance. Don't get me wrong-- I love what I'm studying. It's just tough to start letting a non-personal endeavour permeate my life again. But change reminds us of who we are, so...

Over at Opensewer we have quite a few things a brewin'. The artist database structure is complete, thanks to Scott, and we'll be implementing it over the next few months. We have many new artists booked, notably photographer Deborah Pinter and filmmaker Robert Banks. We're quite excited about Robert because this is the first time that we'll be exhibiting time-based media (film, in this case) on OS. And this guy's work is wired, so get ready. (For more on Robert Banks, see the entry for Tuesday, August 8, 2000.) Oh, and last week the folks at Pyra selected OS as "blog of the week." Yay!

We're here (Ithaca, I mean)... we've been here for days... the Verizon strike is just ending... can't get a telephone line for at least three weeks... updating websites from Cornell campus... stay tuned...
Packing Status:
Progress: 75%. Pace: Frantic.
Ah, morning coffee. Calm before the storm. A moment of relaxation before the day begins.

Boy, do I sound like a 2:30 PM soap-opera television commercial or what? But I like morning coffee, I do. It’s really quite a Zen thing. I suppose, however, it’s not just about the coffee. It’s about the stillness. Contemplation, silence. If firmly believe that this good for the soul. It’s good for self-awareness.

In an essay I read some time ago (I can’t remember what it was called or who it was about), a man, about sixty years old, who was well-respected in this world as a thinker, was being asked about what he thought made him different from the rest of us. What gave him the ability to think about things in a way that seemed a bit deeper, a bit more insightful than the rest of the world?

There is nothing special about me,” he answered. “Anyone has the ability to think deeply and critically. However, one thing that has worked for me, in particular, is to spend one-half hour each morning doing absolutely nothing, except thinking. No reading, no talking, no writing, no figuring things out, no planning for the day. That simple act, the act of denying intrusions from entering the mind for just a brief period each day, has made all the difference in my life.”

You know what? He knew what he was talking about.

So the packing has begun. Progress: None. Pace: Glacial.

Resolving not to be forced to live out of boxes for multiple weeks, we have delayed the majority of our packing until now, five days before we move. So to start off right, we decided to kick off the process with a party, which in my opinion is the proper way to kick most things off. It was one of those "just a few special friends, oh yes, we're keeping it quite small, we want to really spend some quality time with our closest chums" kind of things. Yes, great idea. Except for the fact that we ended up staying until 4:00 AM, we're walking dead this morning, now we have to meet our parents for dinner at 2:00 PM today, and we haven't gotten a stitch of packing done yet.

So far, so good!

This is awesome... an interview on NPR's Fresh Air with Craig McCracken, creator of the Powerpuff Girls. Fast forward to the 36:00 minute marker in the show to hear it! (Real Audio Player required.)
Over at Opensewer we've started an action against Wal-Mart. Essentially, we're endorsing a boycott of the store. Does this action hold any chance of making a real difference? If not, what actions would be more effective? We're currently organizing future on-site interventions (where we will hand out information and talk to people face to face), to bring the message closer to home. Other than that... What do you think?
Robert Banks... boy genius. Rosie and I had quite an interesting session today with Robert, shooting footage for several films, including an OS promo piece. Look for Robert's work to premier soon on Opensewer. He'll also be showing several of his films at the BBC Short Film Festival in London this September. So, if you're in the neighborhood, take a moment to drop by. Some photos from today's shoot:

Photo: Robert Setting Up with Rose. Photo: Rose, During Filming. Photo: Robert, in Action. Photo: More Filming.

Action is up at Opensewer. Check it, and do something. Today, we're off to dirty up some 8mm stock with bleeding-edge filmmaker Robert Banks. Wait until you see this...
Enjoy Mr. Wheelie:

Sketch: Mr. Wheelie.

The Leader

A sketch of the Coliseum in Rome... but just the part I'm interested in: the guts, the structure under the floor where the fighters and animals were staged before battle.

Sketch: The Coliseum.

Rome was such an intense city. My second trip to Italy, the one I made with Rosie, didn't even include a trip there. This surprised many people: "How can you not go to Rome?"

Rome is arguably the most metropolitan city in Italy (some would say Milan); it feels a bit like an older, more ornamental, smaller New York City. It's noisy, complex, long, a bit rowdy, and full of Gypsies. And there are just too many churches, sculptures, fountains and too many incoming train tracks at the stazione.

June 1994: So we decided to go to St. Peter's Basilica on free day, the day of the week where everyone is allowed into the Vatican, the Sistine Chapel, etc., free of charge. I think it was Tuesday. We thought this would be a great idea, and it would have been... had 300,000 other tourists and Italians not come up with exactly the same idea.

Needless to say, we were in "line" for a large portion of the day (I say "line" facetiously because Italians have no concept of the "line." To them, line up means "everybody rush toward the entrance and cram together until nobody can move and everyone is pissed-off and yelling at each other").

We were fortunate enough to be waiting next to a class of Sicilian elementary students. Let me assure you, Sicilian elementary students are approximately 500 times louder and more obnoxious than your standard issue Italian elementary students (which are, in turn, 500 times louder than American elementary students). These kids were climbing the battered walls of the Vatican, apparently thinking that this would allow them to get in before everyone else. They were the most animated kids I'd ever seen, and they had a leader.

There was one little dark-haired girl, the same age as the rest, that seemed to be running the show. She was the ringleader; she bossed them around, verbalizing commands with words and arms flying everywhere. She was in control; it was amazing. It was one of those times when you really realize just how different cultures can be. Kids in America simply don't have that kind of self-awareness. I'd never seen a person with such confidence, ever, and she was 9 years old.

I think, some day, she may be running the world.

Observation No. 3

You can make a pretty good coffee filter out of a paper towel, if you're desperate enough. You'll need a stapler and scissors for top performance. Here you go:

Sketch: How to Make A Filter.


The Center of The Universe for One Shining Evening

So on Saturday Rosie and I reaffirmed our marriage to the world (check here for the elopement story), and I have to say, it was the party of the year. Here we are, together, a few minutes before the celebration began:

Photo: Rosie and Jason.

It's interesting, because when you plan a party of this size (over 200 people), there are so many things that can go wrong. And many things, during the planning process, did go wrong. From almost not having our space constructed on time, to our first band standing us up one month before the big day, we had our fair share of difficulties. But the important thing is, now, today, thinking back... we pulled it off! Rosie deserves the credit for making it happen; I was her (mostly) eager assistant these past several months.

The evening was amazing- the party went from 6:00 PM 'till after midnight, and it seemed like a beautiful blink of the eye. I wish it could have gone on for days. It's really hard to believe, but everything was flawless (except for my crying on stage- I really didn't want the folks at my office to see that). We couldn't have asked for a smoother, more perfect, more passionate, more exciting, more fun, more memorable, more touching, more emotional evening.

Highlights? Where do I begin... Rosie's dad (now 72 years old) jamming on the accordion while she led the ladies in dancing the Miserlu... the cake fight that got out of hand... the naughty messages on the big board of magnetic poetry... Rose's fairy-tale descent down the grand staircase... the Native American invocation... the amazing food... the dancing... the dancing... (and did I mention) the dancing... the band (consummate professionals; they swung the house down)... the unfinished bathrooms with curtains (!) between the stalls... the most beautiful 1930s ballroom you've ever seen... the 50 foot long bar... seeing people we haven't seen in 8 years... seeing our family from California... seeing our family from Maryland... seeing our friends from New York, from Pennsylvania, from Virginia... seeing all of our friends... bonding with 200 people simultaneously...

It was the most wonderful thing I've ever experienced. This tops everything.

Well, today's the big day. I'll talk to ya when I come up for air.
This is quite an interesting firm.
The Man-Shower (Don't be afraid)

Okay, so I’m already married, but we’re having a kick-ass wedding reception this coming Saturday (T minus 3 days and counting). The story so far: eloped in February, reception in July; makes perfect sense as far as I’m concerned.

Anyway, along with the wedding (reception) itself, there are certain little events that happen along the way to further increase the joy and/or mania of the whole bacchanalia. One of these events is the “shower.” Now, traditionally, this is geared toward the bride, and the man has a “bachelor party.” But, as I am not that kind of guy, you know the rowdy, beer-drinkin’, sports-watchin’, recliner sittin’ type, the brethren of my newly expanded family decided that I should have a man-shower. Now, I know, it sounds a little weird, but bear with me.

Part of that man-shower will take place this Friday, when several of us will engage in a day of golf festivities (I have absolutely no golf ability), followed by eating festivities and possibly later some drinking festivities. Now that will be fun.

However, another part of the man-shower schedule of events has already taken place, and that is the bestowing of the man-shower gift. Now, Rosie received about 3,000 gifts at her shower, so the men thought I should have some semi-equivalent gift-compensation. So Monday I ventured to the far west side of Cleveland to receive my man-shower gift. Here’s what they got me, lucky sap that I am:

Masterpiece of Ergonomics: THE AERON

Thanks, guys, you sure know how to pick ‘em. To date, it’s my nicest material possession.

The way I see it is, I'm XXVII years of age, and I can't seem to strap myself into doing one kind of thing. No matter what my station in life, I always think that there is something else out there that's at least as (if not more) interesting as what I'm doing at any given time. So I try to do everything. This, by my way of thinking, presents a problem in that I cannot be happy unless I am exploring something new at all times. I get restless.

The other problem is, my favorite thing to do, more than work, more than produce, more than succeed, more than figure-out, is to daydream. I prefer daydreaming over almost every other human activity. That doesn't fit into the scheme of things. Nobody wants to pay you to daydream.

Here's a sketch of a favorite Piazza of mine in Florence. It wasn't the most beautiful or popular place in the city (and it was used as a parking lot during the day), but it had a scale and intimacy that I liked. It very much felt like an urban room.

Sketch: Piazza S. Firenze.

The Presence of The Dead in Chloride

Back in 1996, my best friend and I drove cross-country, from Cleveland to San Francisco and back. We took the southern route going (which covered a good portion of old Route 66), and the northern route coming back. One of the pleasant surprises about the trip going was the fact that we (for one reason or another) spent several days in New Mexico. Two of those days were spent in and around Albuquerque, and the rest of our time there was spent in places which seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. One of those places was a town called Chloride.

Photo: Downtown Chloride. That's my traveling companion there.

Chloride, we later learned, is a former boom town that prospered during the Gold Rush. It is located at the end of the line (literally) of one of New Mexico's state routes. We drove fifty miles in, and there's the town, and that's it… no through roads, no other towns. Just Chloride and one way out- the way we came in.

The town, by our best estimate, had a living population of about twenty-five people, with no industry to speak of (unless the small general store in the center of town counts as industry). We found the store owner to be quite talkative and friendly. In fact, during the course of our conversation, we learned that he and his wife grew up in our home town, Cleveland.

"Yep, we moved out of Cleveland about thirty years ago," he said, "When the niggers started moving in."

'Nuff said. Suddenly concerned with our personal well-being (considering that these were the only living people we had encountered in town so far), we walked on.

We continued down to the end of the town's only street and up a hill, where we discovered an ancient (by American standards) graveyard. This was the first town I'd ever been where the living population was far outnumbered by the dead.

There was something truly present about this graveyard… something that brought it to the forefront of my consciousness in a way that I had not yet experienced, even in other places where I had been surrounded by the dead. I could tell that my traveling companion felt the same way. The people that lived here had a strange ritual of marking territory around the gravesites, in addition to placing headstones on the graves. They built small metal and wood structures around them, placed rocks on them, and most interestingly, placed what looked like ornamental bed frames on top of the graves. I suddenly understood, at age twenty-three, what it meant to stand in a sacred place.

Photo: One of the graves. Photo: Another one of the graves.

My traveling companion was no less moved, and he refused to refrain from telling me so approximately every five seconds. In fact, after spending about fifteen minutes standing there in awe, his constant talking began to distract me. "Awwww… this is amaaaaazing!" was the nature of things he kept uttering.

I suppose this place had a power and influence that was to remain unaffected by any sort of bothersome distractions that occurred during our visit. But at the time I kept thinking, "Can't you just be quiet and simply be for a moment? Just stand there and take it in. We don't need a running commentary!"

I was a little angry.

Today, four years later, the sting of that distraction has faded to the point that I only think about it in passing. However, my place-memory of that graveyard remains as vivid as ever.

Observation #46

The human is the ultimate shock absorber. Think about it: no invention created by mankind (to date) can hold a steaming cup of coffee in a car that is going 40-45 MPH over multiple road bumps on a curve. But the human can. With its arm outstretched, bent just slightly at the elbow, gently gripping said cup of coffee, the human is able to absorb just about any shock that comes its way. True beauty.

Observation #731

The bag (sometimes referred to as the "sack") is an absolutely wonderful invention, I was thinking to myself this morning. It has the obvious advantage of allowing one to carry multiple items at once, using only one hand. But the advantages of the bag do not end there. Upon further reflection, I realize that utilizing the bag is beneficial even when carrying only one item within it. With a proper handle installed, it allows you to tote the item, sometimes using only one finger (!), while carrying multiple other objects, many of which can be quite bulky and awkward. These objects present no threat to the bag.

Here's to the bag.

So today after a rather long meeting with one of my favorite clients, the crew at the office took me out for a nice "goodbye" lunch. I suppose this event officially puts me in that strange state of limbo between "[sniff] Man, I'll miss you guys soooo much," and "God, I can't wait to get otta here."

I love it here- my job, Cleveland, our funky little apartment, all of it. And I'll miss it. Still, the closer Rosie and I get to leaving, the more I just can't wait for this move to happen. You see, Cleveland, at times, seems like a city that is full of people who are afraid to do things, afraid of the progressive. And it's time to move to a place where people aren't as afraid. At least for a while. (But perhaps I'm foolish for thinking that such a place even exists.) Hmmm...

On July 29, Rosie and I are throwing a big bash to show the world how much we love each other, and to affirm our marriage publicly for our family and friends (since they missed the original big event back in February when we eloped). This stands to be one of the most fabulous events in my life so far... one of those moments of extreme consciousness I think. I'll need all of the consciousness and clarity I can get in order to make it through the next few weeks.

Is It Evil?

We have a new Rant at Opensewer discussing the evils of mini-storage warehouses. Why are we picking on mini-storage? Read the article and find out.

Rosie has shown me the value of spending a large amount of my time barefoot. This includes: barefoot at home, barefoot at the office (well, sometimes with socks), barefoot driving, and of course the popular barefoot at the park. Wow, it's really quite wonderful. Feet are amazing little structures to look at, too.
Sometimes, just walking around, observing things, it hits me: the earth is so beautiful. Do we even appreciate how beautiful the earth really is?
I just learned that the sprawling communities which are thriving miles south of Cleveland are referred to as “The Southern Corridor.” Wow. That sounds much better than what I’m used to calling them. I've always thought of them as “the lily-white suburbs with the big malls.” I'm not bitter.
When driving in the city (which constitutes the bulk of my driving), I like do it “Asteroids-style.” As in, Asteroids the classic 1979 video game. What this means is that I only use the accelerator intermittently, kind of like the “thrust” button worked in the arcade. This technique works especially well on Woodland Avenue on my drive to work in the morning, because much of it is downhill. Here we go: top of the hill… go through the gears… round about East 76th I disengage the clutch… pop it in neutral… coast… never once have I gone above 1800 RPM. It’s truly an art. I love Newton’s first law.
Opensewer was amazing last night. Absolutely the best meeting yet… quite emotional, too. The discussion was intense and at times confrontational, but there was a whole lotta' love there. People were really connecting. Once everyone had arrived and the discussion had been going for a while (let's say, around 8:30 PM), I looked around and thought to myself, "This is it. This is what it's all about. This is exactly what we've been trying to accomplish with Opensewer."

People were so engaged with one another, and everyone's mind was so sharp. I was happy.

The meeting could have ended right there and I'd have considered it a success. But, as it was, it went right on until midnight. Rosie's brother, Frank showed up with his son (also Frank) who is about twenty. He was the youngest person at the meeting, and had a few of the most insightful comments. The spread of ages last night was wonderful: the different ways that older and younger people think about the same issues add an extraordinary amount of texture to the discussion.

More good news: it looks like Devin and Amanda (two OS regulars) are going to take over the Cleveland group. That means the OS will not die here when Rosie and I move to Ithaca. I'm so relieved.

Message to Scott and Megan: we missed you last night.

DANGER: An over-ripe sense of competition will trap you into living a life based on other people.
So Rosie and I spent the weekend in Ithaca, New York, looking for a place to live during my tenure in graduate school at Cornell University. The first thing that needs to be said is that it's mind-numbingly beautiful here. The surrounding landscape is truly amazing-with its rivers, mountains in the distance, and the gorges (one minute you're walking on what seems to be flat land, the next minute you're on a bridge standing over a 200-foot deep slice in the earth). Cornell is the only university campus I've ever seen that doesn't seem to have any ugly parts. And the architecture is wonderful: immaculately detailed traditional buildings, and some of the finest examples of modernist academic buildings I've ever seen.

We think to ourselves, "Well, since this is the Ivy League, we'll be around some of the most intelligent, well-behaved students in the country."

Wrong! The undergraduates here are the same beer-swillin', house trashin' degenerates I came to know and love so well at my former alma mater, Kent State University. It's no wonder we had such a hard time finding a place to live that wasn't owned by a slum-lord. I suppose to some degree you can't blame these property owners: would you spend thousands of dollars per month maintaining a building only to see it destroyed the very next semester by hyperactive undergrads? However, even considering that, the condition of some of these places made me want to stab my eyes out.

But is was a fantastic weekend, especially our brief hike over the Buttermilk Falls. Spending most of the trip off-line (except for my interview with Vicky Love on Friday) provided for a most peaceful experience.

In The Margins (Warning: stream of consciousness ahead.)

Sometimes it seems that the only time to pursue the things that one truly loves is in the margins. The marginal time- the time before or after you spend your day paying your dues to the world… making your contribution to the economic machine.

Think about it. When someone is working at something they truly love, they are usually doing their best possible work. They are most likely doing that one thing that is the most valuable thing they can offer the world. But all good soldiers must go to work and play their part. And that's the way it should be, right? There's no room in society for people who want to sit around and think all day… even if what they're doing is for the betterment of society.

Why is there no place in society for those who want to spend their days thinking about (and then acting on) how to make the world a better place? Oh, sure… supposedly that's what we're all doing every day at work, right? Not quite: we're there to make money. We're there to better ourselves only.

Why can't we humans, we Americans, support an effort that allows those who wish to simply dedicate themselves to bettering the world do so without being encumbered by the burden of economics? Why does it seem to be a requirement that every single thing that is produced by someone have some sort of monetary value attached to it? When are we going to start measuring value in more than simply dollars?

If we measured value in ways that transcended money, our society would begin encouraging people to pursue much deeper, more intellectual, more creative, more caring, more selfless, more human activities. And we would improve. We would see true progress, not just the fa├žade of progress that improvements in technology give us.

A better standard of living does not equal a better people. Better minds and better souls do. Let's bring our truly human endeavors out of the margins.

Killer party at Suzi's last night. Right on the lake... quite beautiful. Special bonus at last night's gathering: insane firecracker pyromania. Here's a picture: Rose on the left, and Suzi (the perpetrator) on the right:

Photo: Rose on the left, Suzi on the right.

So I feel the need to say a little something about these architectural exams I’ve been taking. Why? Perhaps a need to vent. Who knows…

These exams are crazy. So far it seems that I’ve been taking tests nearly every weekend this summer. And studying every day. It’s getting a bit tiring. It’s like this constant, looming, never-ending task always hanging above my head. And all on top of everything else I have to do.

Most of the tests are 3-4 hours each, but a few, the ones I’ve been taking recently, are 5-7 hours long. I’m exhausted when they’re done. I come home and fall right asleep.

On top of the effort it takes to pass all of these tests, there’s the cost: $1,200 to sit for all nine exams. Plus the cost of any study materials. Professional certification is critical, I know. If we’re going to be designing buildings, we must have a high level of competence when it comes to life safety. However, these fees seem a bit ridiculous for a profession that typically pays about the same as accounting.

Architecture has it own rewards. You get to see the lines from your pencil transform into a real, built structure. You get to mark the earth. That’s a wonderful feeling. It’s a feeling of responsibility and stewardship toward the planet— a recognition that you must do what you do very carefully because the well being of other people depends on it. But, as an architect, unless you become a “star,” you’ll experience a world that doesn’t see that value of design and critical thinking skills. Most clients will be happy with a pre-fabricated metal building, a few drywall offices, and an ocean of grid ceiling.

I suppose that’s part of the reason I’m expanding my horizons.

On the highway this morning, on the way to do some in-line skating at the park, we found ourselves trailing a red Ford Probe. It had a personalized license plate that read, "SUCCES."

Now, I imagine that the intent here was that the plate read "success," but as it's written it would most likely read "suck-es." How sad.

Here is how my head feels this weekend:

Sketch: Inside my head.

A Pleasant Exchange

So last night Rosie and I are waiting for a red light at the intersection of West 6th & St. Clair in the Warehouse District, and this real "cool" lookin' dude rolls up behind us on a motorcycle. Too impatient to wait for the light, he rolls around us into the intersection, does a complete U-turn, and pulls up to the restaurant on the other side of the street. I honk my horn.

"You got a problem, buddy?" he says, in this lame, Andrew-Dice-Clay-like voice.

I say, "What, you have special traffic laws that apply only to you?"

"You're a moron," he replies.

I think to myself, "You want to be cool just like Tom Cruise in Top Gun, don't you?"


Why is [almost] everyone in their twenties such a know-it-all? There is so much competition; so much "oh, I've done that, too," amongst my confidence-lacking (or over-confident) peers. Why can't young people, people my own age, just be cool and learn to listen to what others have to say once in a while? I have decided that it's much more enriching to work and hang with people that have a bit of experience and age under their belt. Or at least a bit of wisdom.
Fear surrounds and traps you.

Sketch: Fear surrounds and traps you.

Cleveland is very segregated. I've heard it said that (with respect to African-Americans and Caucasians) Cleveland is one of the most segregated cities in the United States.

In our city's history, as in the history of many other American cities, the people with money and power (white almost without exception) made it this way intentionally. Of course, it was all unspoken. But it was definitely intentional.

These days, in the year 2000, a time when it seems like we should be enlightened to some degree, a white person can't drive down Woodland Avenue without getting yelled at, and a black person can't drive through Little Italy without fear of verbal or physical abuse.

This city is so segregated, and I HATE it. My wife and I live near Shaker Square, in the city of Cleveland proper. The neighborhood is pretty mixed here. It has its rough edges, but it feels natural-- like things are the way they should be. People walk, people talk to each other. So many places in the city are not like this.

Everybody's afraid. Rich people are afraid to live next to poor people, white people are afraid to live next to black people. The fearful move out to the suburbs. The fearful become agressive. It's bullshit. The best neighborhoods in the world are a mix of everything and everyone. If people would educate themselves, and graduate to the level of "human," rather than living their lives ruled by knee-jerk reactions, instincts, and stereotypes (as animals do), this world, this city, this place would be much more pleasing to inhabit.

I don't like feeling fear in anyone's neighborhood. I don't like having to be on the defensive. But I don't make it a habit of abandoning a place just because I'm afraid-- that's not a good enough reason.

Okay, so I'm driving down Lake Road, on my way to a meeting downtown... As I pull up to a red light to stop, I look over and see a little blonde girl (probably 10 years old), hanging out of her daddy's Chevy Suburban, listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd and playing the meanest air-guitar I have ever seen. She notices me looking at her, and immediately gives me the universal hand gesture for "rock-on." The light turns green, and as I pull away I hear her shout, "you go, boy!"

You can't make this stuff up. Life is rich.

A few thoughts on the nature of the world wide web, because that's what I've been thinking about this morning.

The web, it's so... self-referential. I mean, it seems that most of what people want to talk about on the web is the web. Sure, there are plenty of diverse interests expressed in the chat rooms and message boards of the world, but the people who seem to use the web the most (as evidenced by their frequent blog updates and rigorous web projects) seem to focus most of their efforts on web-related stuff. We need to remember... it's about people. It's about living. It's about the things that connect us, both physically and spiritually. The internet is useless without these events we call "real-life."

It really seems that in Cleveland (the city in which I currently reside), and perhaps the majority of the midwest, that people are afraid of progress, of good design, or anything that is too risky... More on this later.
It's all about selling the magic...
With fuel prices up, I try to keep my operations below 2,000 RPM.
Sketch: Entry, Passage, Place

When you think about architecture, you think about entry, passage, and place.

Place. Does anyone really understand what place is anymore?

Hi. Welcome to the inside of my head.