Best Architecture Blogs

A list from The Independent, with my fave, Design Observer, coming in at #2. There’s a tumblr one listed, too much “World of Interiors” for me, beauty shots that defy you to understand the context of the building or the volumes. That said, a lot of cool rooms…I’m partial to this one.


Google Street View as Fine Art Photography

Found while rootling around in those Google Trekker links, striking photos from Google’s Street view, collected by Aaron Hobson. I can’t tell from his statement whether he does additional processing or not. Thought-provoking visually and philosophically.

La Linea de la Concepcion, Spain, Google Street View

His other work, self-described as dark, is striking and in part echoes MASS Art photographer Laura McPhee’s work for me.

Khan and Math Pedagogy

Before I departed WGBH, I organized a debate on the merits of Khan Academy and the claims made on its behalf. The debater and I flipped a coin to take Pro-Khan or Con-Khan positions, and I ended up with pro, despite quite a lot of personal skepticism, not about its value per se, but the claims made.

Robert Talbert, a blogger for The Chronicle of Higher Education, has a nice piece on what Kahn Academy is and isn’t (and a moment’s thought makes clear that people other than Khan himself or Bill Gates are better positioned to make that judgment). It also describes that Khan quite admirably responded to the “peer review” offered by parody videos of his videos, pulling them down, correcting errors, and improving the pedagogy.

There’s now a contest to do “critique” videos of Khan videos, as a means to improve content and pedagogy. Perhaps we’re at a 2.0 phase of videos for education, and Khan, positive and negative, is not the “ceiling” but the “floor” of this modality. Seems like a good thing. Below, another math teacher with richer videos that complement Khan’s procedurally-focused ones.

New Google Mapping Tools = New Frontiers

Rob Walker (once of the great “Consumed” column in the NYTimes Mag) has a fascinating post that kicks off with his lust for Trekker, the backpack-mountable Google street view camera that will take their ambitious mapping project off the grid.

He connects it to Venue, an intriguing project to explore, geographically and in story-telling ways, lesser known byways of the U.S., making a suggestion that I hope Google takes up, that the Trekker be a “guest” instrument with Venue team.

Among the many interesting points: these new tools answer the idea that America is “explored-out.” You build new tools with new resolutions and modalities, and you find new frontiers, as Walker notes, “all over the place.”

And like the old frontiers, they come amply supplied with dark sides for those on the other “side” of the frontier. Nowadays, perhaps all of us when Google is doing the exploring.

Why I am Not a Painter

Wandering around the Smithsonian’s Museum of American Art with a friend yesterday (in an effort to escape DC’s 102 degree heat), we came upon Mike Goldberg’s “Sardines,” which took me back to discovering Frank O’Hara, a friend of Goldberg’s. O’Hara, now famous for his “I did this, I did that” poetry, with its informal snapshots of daily life in New York, was also a friend of many painters and modern art maven at MOMA.

His light touch gets me further into what modern art was about than pages and pages of Clement Greenberg (although I’m a Greenberg fan too.)

Why I Am Not a Painter

Frank O’Hara

I am not a painter, I am a poet.
Why? I think I would rather be
a painter, but I am not. Well,

for instance, Mike Goldberg
is starting a painting. I drop in.
“Sit down and have a drink” he
says. I drink; we drink. I look
up. “You have SARDINES in it.”
“Yes, it needed something there.”
“Oh.” I go and the days go by
and I drop in again. The painting
is going on, and I go, and the days
go by. I drop in. The painting is
finished. “Where’s SARDINES?”
All that’s left is just
letters, “It was too much,” Mike says.

But me? One day I am thinking of
a color: orange. I write a line
about orange. Pretty soon it is a
whole page of words, not lines.
Then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
and life. Days go by. It is even in
prose, I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven’t mentioned
orange yet. It’s twelve poems, I call
it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery
I see Mike’s painting, called SARDINES.

Lunch Hour at the New York Public Library

The New York Public Library has, among other treasures, a great collection of menus. These have become part of the impetus for a new online and in-person exhibit, “Lunch Hour NYC.” The Automat is there, as is the power lunch. The breadline too. The “iconic foods” section includes hot dogs, naturally, and pretzels, a penny a piece sold by this pretzel woman in this great image from by a NYTimes photographer in 1923 (a short story captured in a single frame).

Predictably, but possibly accurately, the exhibit asserts that New York not only perfected lunch, but invented it!

Nice piece on the exhibit by Alexandra Lange at Design Observer as well, with her photo of a wall of 1970’s lunch boxes. I remember them well.

TACO: Terrible Adult Chamber Orchestra

NPR’s classical music blog, Deceptive Cadence, tipped me off to the encouraging news that the terrible orchestra movement is alive and well in California. A group in Los Altos gets together for the hell of it, to participate directly in music making in a way that is open to all, regardless of skill level and experience.

Broader goal? Simple, according to conductor Cathy Humphers Smith,

“The goal is to play music together. That’s it. People are wanting something that’s nurturing of the soul.

Part of the appeal is the laughter, of course. Comic writer Alexander McCall Smith relates his own experience on the sousaphone and contrabasson in Scotland’s Really Terrible Orchestra, [audiences] “wait for something to go wrong, and we never disappoint them.”

But I bet the experience for the players isn’t disappointing, but rather a real kick. As an avid amateur musician myself (passable pianist, bargain basement tenor, and non-observant violinist), I’ve always looked enviously at amateur sports. Lots of participation, and no needless hang ups about excellence.

Excellence is a value of classical music, of course (see my earlier post on Victoria De Los Angeles) but it’s not the only one, becoming a kind of insurmountable barrier for musician or listener. Participation is an even more important value, and sometimes it’s best not to outsource our engagement with music but instead, ice the “is it any good? question, and get out and do it. Faces and the sounds from the Mercury News piece on TACO show that’s a reward in itself.

Turing and the Test of Time

Why do some figures pass “the test of time,” while others flunk it? Is the judgment permanent? What about these figures for whom a small, but ardently industrious group of rescuers pop up? (Yes, Frida Kahlo, I’m talking about you.)

I’ve thought about this a lot, mostly in light of artists and composers. Sometimes it seems to me not so much an argument about eternal value, but feebly, just a clumsy, way to talk about aesthetics, society, and style. In essence, to make new arguments about what matters right now, but to clothe this in battles of the canon, preferably seasoned with large helpings of righteous indignation about past injustices.

Whatever the reason, we certainly spend a lot of cultural effort in these kinds of discussions. Is science immune to these gab fests? Alan Turing certainly has just come off a few laps with the test of time, besting her easily and wrapped in winner’s colors of a rainbow hue. A friend co-wrote a piece that pads comfortably through his mighty achievements, noting a few of the persuasions and arguments (Frank Kermode’s words about passing the “test”) that Turing brings up, and the many narratives he fits into: AI pioneer, war hero, rallying point for renouncing mi-treatment of gays in the 50’s Britain.

Still, why now? Is there anything beyond the convenience of the anniversary (a nice coincidence for Turing to have both birth and death dates in June, now gay pride month) and some vague feeling that we should do a better job of paying attention to technical innovators? Even my being a gay nerd, for whom he might be expected to be a hero, does not provide me a way to connect. He remains just a mysteriously brilliant man and sad case.

Michael Wood Quoting Mel Brooks

In a perceptive, and not particularly favorable, review of Sasha Baron Cohen’s The Dictator, Michael Wood invokes a political lesson from Mel Brooks. Talking about a bit of Cohen’s film that seemed to be “grossness for grossness’ sake,” he writes,

One can’t adjudicate these things, only report on them. It is important, as Mel Brooks has shown us, to defend bad taste in principle, even if we don’t like its results. It’s one of the few media freedoms left.”

Not perhaps what Brecht was after in his line, “There are times when you have to choose between being a human and having good taste.” But certainly something that John Waters, now probably bicycling around P-Town or controversially admitting his love for San Francisco’s MUNI, would endorse.