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World Trade Center Redux
I've been meaning to write about the latest World Trade Center reconstruction proposals for some time now, and with the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation "decision" expected any day now, this is probably a good time to do so. (I put decision in quotation marks because the LMDC won't be definitively committing to a single proposal; more likely, they will select one or two to be futher explored and refined. A separate design process is being held for the memorial portion of the site, so that question remains open as well, although it obviously will have to exist within the context of whatever is developed for the overall site.) If you haven't seen the seven new proposals, you can explore them here.
I think my present favorite is the proposal submitted by Daniel Libeskind, with it's beautiful vertical "gardens of the world" that seem to echo the proud thrust of the Statue of Liberty. Apparently the gap between the garden tower and the tower proper will illuminate the Heroes Park specifically on the morning of September 11th each year, although I can't envision yet exactly how this happens. Libeskind's introduction eloquently expresses an immigrant's deep emotion for the city, and he seems to have an innate sense of the process of memorialization, as shown in his work for the Jewish Museum in Berlin and others. Norman Foster's proposal is certainly striking, and will appeal to the brash New Yorkers who favor rebuilding bigger and better. To me, though, the sheer size and monumentality of his proposal (the towers would be some 40 stories taller than their predecessors; Brobdingnagian has been the favored adjective used to describe it, real-world conceptions of the immense evidently being inadequate) comes off as more of a dare to would-be terrorists than anything else. Additionally, the looming question still remains: will anyone choose to be a tenant in such a building after the horrors of 9/11? In the February 3rd issue of The New Republic, architecture critic Martin Filler likens the proposal to the Tower of Babel, and I'm afraid I agree with him:
Still, the foolhardy persistence of the proud towers is what remains in the back of one's mind after all is said and done. Never has the amnesiac cast of the collective American consciousness been more disturbing than in this mad rush to create a new Tower of Babel. In its pseudo-Promethean grandiosity, all this seems like nothing so much as a secular, urbanistic version of the apocalyptic Christians' fervor to hasten the last days.
If the image of the twin towers is to be preserved, I prefer the THINK proposal, which revives the two towers as open-air mesh structures, with a number of "buildings" embedded inside at various heights, although the bulk of the structure is left open. Herbert Muschamp calls it "...a work of genius, a towering affirmation of humanism in modern times," which may be a bit hyperbolic, but he discusses it at further length here.
There have been some slightly more off-beat proposals for the site as well. Richard Linklater, director of the movie "Slacker", has proposed to leave the site empty, except for a 16-acre park filled with roaming buffalo. New York Metro has collected proposals submitted by readers also.
Jan 30, 2:04 AM
It's Already Too Late!
Couldn't resist picking up this book at the Borders Outlet. I can't figure out why it was marked down to only $1.50..... ;)
Jan 23, 6:33 PM
The Unseen Gulf War
During the (First?) Gulf War, photojournalist Peter Turnley opted out of the US military's "pool" system, so that he might document the situation on the ground outside of the influence of the administration propaganda apparatus. He has decided to publish his photos on the web now as we move ever closer to a new war. [How close? Check out Slate's on-going Saddameter for their assessment of the current likelihood] Caution: some images here are difficult to view.
The Unseen Gulf War by Peter Turnley - The Digital Journalist
Jan 22, 12:15 PM
Here's a neat little sketchpad app written in Flash, with excellent attention to detail. It is very simple to send your sketch to someone via email, and it even preserves the time sequence, so the recipient can watch your sketch unfold. They can then add to the sketch and send it back to you. Simple idea for a collaboration tool, excellent execution.
Jan 22, 12:03 PM
Check out the new video by Mark Romanek for Johnny Cash's cover of Hurt, by Trent Reznor. Beautiful.
Jan 22, 11:58 AM
Paul Krugman, unmasked
Paul Krugman, Princeton economist and New York Times columnist, has been very outspoken of late in his criticism of the Bush administration, no doubt earning him many enemies both within the administration itself as well as the well-oiled Republican machine. Apparently a detractor was hoping to dig up some personal dirt on him, and offered $100 on Google Answers (a princely sum in that forum) to whoever could answer the following inquiry:
"I would like to acquire as much information as possible about the
personal and professional life of Paul Krugman, the Princeton
economics professor who writes a column for the New York Times. For
example, it is publicly known that he was a paid consultant to Enron
-- what other consulting, advisory or employment arragements has he
had with other companies or organizations? What is known about his
family -- who were his parents, other relatives; is he married,
children? What is his lifestyle like -- what is is compensation at the
New York Times (salary, options, bonus, whatever) and at Princeton
(salary, retirement, whatever). How about royalties from books,
speaking engagements, and so on? What kind of house does he live in?
What kind of car does he drive? Is anything known about his personal
life (hobbies, sports, sexual orientation, etc)? How about his career
-- he's taught at quite a few colleges, why has he moved around so
much? Were there any problems? I will pay $100 for this as a starting
point, and if satisfied, will tip generously and may ask follow-up
questions for which I will pay also (but don't play Scheherezade on
...to which Krugman promptly responded himself, collecting the $100 fee. Very funny. Link via kottke.
Jan 22, 2:47 AM
Blue Mountain pictures up
Ranae and I spent the long Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend up in Collingwood, Ontario, skiing at Blue Mountain. We had a great time and I have a few new pictures posted. Check 'em out!
Jan 22, 2:15 AM
Small Corporate Worlds
New research from the University of Michigan Business School shows that Fortune 1000 boards of directors are separated on average by four degrees of separation, substantially more connected than the oft-quoted six degrees that separate people in the general population.
Related of course to the great interactive presentation of the same concept, They Rule, created by Future Farmers.
Jan 11, 10:57 AM
This evening I attended an entertaining and inspiring presentation by Hiroshi Ishii, director of the Tangible Media Group at the MIT Media Lab.
Professor Ishii's group works at the borders between atoms and bits, building devices and and conceptualizing techniques which allow people to interact with digital environments using their bodies in ways they're used to. He described this borderland using the metaphor of life in the inter-tidal zone challenging but also rich and vital.
Some of the projects he described had the aim of creating a much richer ambient information environment for people to live or work in. Think of how much you can sense about an environment, say, your office, without even paying direct attention to it. At any moment you could probably give a fairly accurate picture of the weather outside, the time of day, how many colleagues are present, how busy they are, if the mood of the office is high-strung or light-hearted; all of this information is fed into our brains subconsciously by our peripheral senses. This is especially true in today's contemporary open plan, communal office environments where barriers and divisions are few.
Ishii has been working on building artifacts and interfaces which can draw intangible digital information out into the realm where our senses can grasp and make use of it. Pinwheels are one such type of "ambient fixture", that spin not due to the wind, but due to the flow of bits on a network, the volume of trades on NASDAQ, or any other information source you desire. Much is made of the "mood" of the markets, and while this measure is difficult to quantify in clear terms, it is certainly a real phenomenon which can spell boom or bust on any given day if you trade stock. I can envision more refined versions of the pinwheel concept being installed in wall street offices and the office's occupants over time building up perceptual intuition about what the read of the pinwheels means for their trading day. Think of what can trigger someone to say "looks like a storm's brewing": it doesn't need to be massive stormclouds looming on the horizon, it may be a barely colored sky, light that is just slightly too dim for the time of day and time of year, the body's physical guage of the degree of humidity, or a combination of a number of such minor factors aggregated together. When information is expressed tangibly we begin to be able to leverage millenia of evolutionary forces which have tuned our bodies and minds to the physical world around us. Furthermore, the associative learning paradigm of our bodies and minds means that we can detect patterns physically that are too complex or subtle for us to express verbally or analytically. In the same way that most people can easily learn to catch a fly ball despite being unable to calculate the physics involved in its trajectory, so too will we be able to detect surprisingly complicated information patterns once those bits are made tangible so that the full power of the body's exquisite machinery can be brought to bear on them.
Some of the work he presented was more poetic than revolutionary, but no less enjoyable. He described building a "weather bottle" for his aged mother, who never used a computer in her life. The empty glass bottle had a stopper which was discreetly sensored to react to opening and closing. When the stopper was pulled, a (hidden, unspecified) computing device pulled a live weather forecast for his mother's home in Japan off of the Internet. The bottle would then play the sound of falling raindrops if rain was in the forecast, or the sound of bird's chirping if the forecast was clear. What a simple, beautiful way to provide some of the benefits of modern computing and communication technologies to users without forcing them to become slaves to the device, "forcing them to boot into Windows 98 every morning" as Ishii said.
This weather bottle and his mother's subsequent passing inspired a whole series of innovative bottle prototypes, including the musicBottles project which creates a marvellous music customization environment by using each bottle to represent a different instrument in a jazz outfit or symphony orchestra. Also cool is PingPongPlus, a ping pong table augmented with under-table sensors and overhead video projection. The sensors locate where the ball lands each time, which is fed to a computer which renders outwardly-growing concentric circles, as if the impact of the ball was creating ripples on the surface of a pond. These images are projected down directly onto the playing surface in realtime. Watch the video on the page linked above, it's quite a sight!
Someone asked a question about virtual reality after the talk, and while I didn't hear Ishii's response, it prompted some thoughts of my own. The initiatives that fall under the rubric of "virtual reality" mean well, I think, in that they implicitly acknowledge the fact that we must leave behind a great many of the things we cherish about the "real world" as living, breathing human beings when we enter cyberspace, and that cyberspace would be better if it had more humanity and vitality. An important point, that is sometimes discounted by technophiles, but to me the solution to the sharp real/virtual dichotomy that computer users face is not to push the world into the computer, but to pull the computer out into the world.
I'd also like to discuss Ishii's smart, collaborative workbenches and some of the parallels between the type of design process he's envisioning and similar trends in software engineering, but those topics will have to wait for another day. For now I leave you with this thought:
"The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it."
- Mark Weiser, father of Ubiquitous Computing
Jan 9, 8:06 PM
Environment vs. Narrative
One of my current favorite blogs, cityofsound, discusses criticisms that Scorcese spent so much effort crafting a beautifully ornate environment to set the Gangs of New York in that he neglected to build a coherent narrative to inhabit it: cityofsound/blog/Gangs Of New York, World-Building. I haven't seen the movie, so I won't comment on that specific claim, although I've heard similar sentiments from other sources.
There is most definitely a general expectation that movies have strong, coherent narrative, especially for blockbusters as opposed to indie flicks. I wonder, though, if movies will begin to echo the trends we're seeing elsewhere moving from directed, goal-oriented entertainment towards open-ended, experiential entertainment? Think of the popularity of games such as SimCity or any of the MMORPGs (Massively Multi-player Online Role-Playing Games), which are primarily oriented around the experience of playing rather than a clearly-defined goal or victory. The incredibly social nature of humans has crept into our games (so much so that for some it becomes a substitute for "real life"; see a first person account of gaming addiction), and I wonder if it will begin to make inroads in other forms of entertainment as well.
Jan 7, 1:36 AM
The LazyWeb has officially arrived! If you have any Really Great Ideas that you just don't have the time to implement, nor the inclination to keep to yourself, post them on the site and see how long it takes for the LazyWeb to build them for you.
First Principle of the LazyWeb: "if you wait long enough, someone will write/build/design what you were thinking about"
Jan 3, 12:27 AM