from one dead space to another

I haven’t really posted in the last few weeks thanks to an incredible busy weeklong stretch of work to prepare for…. more online absence! Katy and I are taking off two weeks to visit Normandy, Paris, and New York. I’m sure there will be thousands of pictures to follow in mid-November. But for now, all you get is quick ruminations on the lovely wildfires we’ve had here in Southern California.

1: It has only recently become clear to me that weather conditions exist that can spontaneously start and sustain immense fires. The wind and fire are not independent of one another; this is literally fire weather. If you have 70mph winds, 3% relative humidity and a dew point of negative 25 degrees, it’s fire weather. Fire weather starts, without fail, every week before Halloween. It’s a season, not a disaster.

2: It is facile to compare natural disasters. Much has been made of the national response to the San Diego wildfires vs. Katrina. Leaving aside the obvious differences in income demographics, car ownership and urban structure, a fire is not a flood. Fires destroy series of homes, at random, along specific routes. If you get caught in a house, you die, but you usually have a day’s warning. Floods destroy every house for blocks, can have only a few hours warning, and can be survivable if caught. The only thing these incidents have in common is that FEMA is involved.

3: To continue in the spirit of #1, fires make me even more aware that Southern California has an intricate overlaid geography of wind patterns. Smog and the marine layer are one thing, but you don’t know that Long Beach gets blanketed in dense smoke and ash from any fire within a 60 mile radius until it happens. A lot of where you live here is in the air above you– on any random summer day it’s 100 degrees with blue skies in one place, with 75 and cloudy 10 miles away. This is a product not only of the mountains, which channel every tiny breeze, but the fact that SoCal is bracketed by ocean on one side, desert on the other. It’s like a giant game of wind pachinko, or some kind of Bernoulli Test Landscape. Oh, and there are lots of jets here. Screw Wyoming. Big Sky Country is in LA.

from one dead space to another

architectural API

I found this blog entry a few days ago buried in the city of sound links. It’s a well-written rumination from a “random” GSD student suggesting that architecture might learn from the rapid development of web programming, which is summarized as

“1. rough html -> 2. static sites by designers -> 3. flash and information architecture (parallel streams) approaches -> 4. template driven design hooked to massive databases (even for personal sites)/web 2.0 cross-site interactivity.
I see architecture at being at best in stage 3 (if not in stage 2) of this. If we can precipitate a stage 4, then I think things will be interesting.”

It then goes on to try to define exactly what the analog of web 2.0 would be for architecture. What comes out is interesting if a bit hazy– something like shelter+decoration+organization+processing. In my mind the answer is something a bit more literal– if we had an accepted standard for BIM files, and a national code system that superceded most state and local building codes (especially MEP), then we might have something close to a plug-and play, open-source standard for building components. Large producers of things like window walls, prefabricated structural frames, PEX radiant heating and greywater systems could then provide libraries of digital components you can plug into your design and mash up with custom work of your very own. No checking to see if it’ll work with the local inspector. No making sure that the j-box is in the right place. And no calling to get the cost and lead time- this is built into the component in the first place for parametric tastiness. If architecture is going to be anything like flikr or google maps, this is the way it’s gotta be.

architectural API


Sellaband deserves some recognition as a fully realized, working example of an alternative social framework, that produces works of art, made only possible by the internet. It is a self-catalyzing popular music production device that, from the looks of it, might become so popular in the near future as to become some sort of A&R pyramid scheme.

Here’s how it works: you convince people (somewhat ominously referred to as “believers” to donate $10 towards your band. Current believers help to convince more people until you have reached a final count of 5,000. This collected $50,000 is then used to hire a professional studio, producer, and sound engineer to make a record, copies of which are then distributed to each believer. These people have a license to sell off their extra records (of which they get an unspecified amount). The recording is also available online, for free. If downloaded, the band gets a cut of the ad revenue that Sellaband generates, and so do the believers. In other words, if you donate money to help get the band recorded, you now own stock in the record, stock that pays dividends based upon its popularity, and the popularity of Sellaband as a whole. This is a record label with the business model of Amway, which is brilliant– the entire music industry (and that of any popular art) has always been based mostly on hype, and bands have often used their most devoted fans as free PR and advertising. But now the process is self catalyzing, which makes it far more powerful than anything Radiohead may be planning in the near future. It’s also thrilling that it appears to be happening on such a global scale– only a fraction of the listed bands are from the US or UK, making it seem that artists from other locales are using this as an opportunity to get the word out.

I do have some issues with this model for music production and promotion. For one, while it’s probably better than basing a label’s contracts on market research and the safest possible option, popular opinion alone won’t often stretch boundaries or support the fringe acts that keep art from getting stale. And as such, unless a more consciously esoteric form of Sellaband shows up, small labels and self-releases will still be very important. I’m also not sure what exactly would happen to this model should it reach a certain size– it’s great when a band gets a contract every few weeks, but what if there’s a new group to promote every day? Or ten a day? And finally, part of me is worried that profit is now creeping into the last bastion of the experience of popular music– supporting and promoting your favorite bands. If everyone is now in A&R, is anyone really listening to music just to listen?


three photography links

Polar Inertia, a somewhat addictive photo catalog/journalism site about (mostly) the American West and Pacific Rim.

Seam Carving
, soon to appear on a website near you (and probably a tool in Photoshop CS4). Free tool to play with here.

PhotoSynth and Seadragon
, two spectacular technologies that Microsoft has locked in a vault (video is a 6-month-old TED presentation, but it’s new to me so I’m passing it on).

three photography links

apologia + largest. camera. ever.

Well, it looks like my quarterly spurt of activity has ended at last, given that I am now going weeks at a time without a decent post. I’m going to respond by capitulating to my slothfulness; I am holding myself to one good and one lame post a week now. To begin:

Katy has been listening to a fantastic multimedia photo-history podcast from an uncommonly devoted community college professor. One of the last mentioned what was and probably will remain the largest conventional negative camera ever made, used by George Lawrence to make a 4 1/2 x 8 foot glass plate negative of a locomotive for the upcoming Paris Exposition (Lawrence is most famous for using kites to lift cameras to 2000 feet for arial panoramas, such as those of San Francisco immediately following the Great Fire). Here it is in all of its 1400 lb glory, with about half of the team necessary to operate the beast:


Further research
revealed the existence of the Moby C at 2nd and Bleeker in NYC, the largest polaroid camera in existence, capable of 40″ by 106″ prints. It was originally used to make life-size reproductions of paintings, but the scale is also, incidentally, ideal for life-size polaroids of humans as well. There is something about capturing 1:1 images that makes photographs break the bond of representation and recapture some of Walter Benjamin’s destroyed “aura”. It turns the camera into some kind of frozen mirror, a human-capturing device.

But no discussion of gargantuan cameras would be complete without a mention of the (very recent) Legacy Photo Project, which captured a 25′ x 100′ cloth negative using an abandoned aircraft hangar as a gigantic camera obscura:

So here you have it, the world’s first Borges Mapping Engine. Or perhaps a new weapon, the landscape soul thievery device! Able to steal the special aura surrounding any vista, hillock or monument you can think of, for transport and re-display at will. Ancient town centers and natural wonders beware! Your charms are no longer safe!

apologia + largest. camera. ever.