Apr 30, 2008

bent objects

bent objects is full of things (many of them strangely orange snacks) doing things to other things. the circus peanut circus is a personal favourite:

(thanks, hammer)

Apr 27, 2008

palisade at skaftafell

the ground at skaftajokull was hard at 8am on the second day, and the water from brushing my teeth congealed and froze in just a few minutes. the sky was bright, but the sun hadn't yet come over the moraine in whose shadow we'd made camp the night before. though the night had been filled with gusts of wind coming off the glacier, as with almost every other morning there was little wind and barely any sound. i pulled the groundpad a little ways out of the tent and lay there in my sleeping bag looking up at a cloudless sky rimmed by brown and white peaks for an hour before rustlings in the other tent got me moving.

after breakfast and breaking camp, we brought the gigapan up to the top of a nearby hill and took a 360-degree panorama (which turned out to be all wiggly), then crossed into one of the gullies to make sculpture #1. partway down and in the middle of the gully, a large, smooth, ovoid boulder sat perched on its narrow end amid an expanse of unconsolidated gravel and gray volcanic mud. the sun had just come over the edge of the gully and we sat on the western wall soaking up the light for a while before starting to build a jagged wall of snow around the boulder. truth be told, there wasn't much consideration at the time; after the fact, it seems a logical inversion to set a palisade of craggy snow around a smooth stone boulder in an landscape of jagged rocks nestled amid soft spreads of snow.

we shot a few minutes of footage of suitman coming over the lip of the gully and finding the ring of snow. he comes slipping and sliding down the gully wall and examines the ring, then completes it and strikes out on foot across a rocky plateau. as we filmed that last part, a small cluster of sightseers appeared, considered us (one person in a big blue suit, another carrying lots of camera equipment, a large shovel, and an ice axe), and turned tail.

smashing pumpkins

(thank you, julian.)

Apr 23, 2008

balloon animals

more stuff from joshua allen harris

neat things today

the HD video of chad pugh's science machine, entirely made from scratch in adobe illustrator.

christiaan postma's prose clock

lead pencil's maryhill double, close to PDX:

Apr 22, 2008

caffeine and a sandwich

a highly-caffeinated 4 hours in seattle.

first stop was the espresso vivace at e denny and broadway to get some of emails out of the way, make a call, and wake up at a window counter made of blue volga granite. like any institution, vivace makes much of its history and the space (a large, high-ceilinged room sparsely populated with tables and chairs) reminds me of the original peet's coffee on walnut/vine in berkeley. apart from a wide selection of literature about coffee-making, vivace distinguishes itself by celebrating the latte art of its baristas. particularly beautiful latte art is commemorated with framed and dated photographs on the walls of the cafe (also turned into postcards on sale for a couple of dollars), and it appears to be a badge of honour to be placed on the wall. my latte was excellent (with velvety, micro-foamed steamed milk) and a perfectly symmetrical heart of a rich, rust-red hue; it was made by someone who was very proud of having just gotten her first wall photo (2nd column from the left on the east wall, left side, 2nd from the bottom). before leaving, i got a single-shot espresso just to see how much they were able to preserve the caramelised sugars in their roast; it was probably the sweetest, least bitter espresso i've ever had.

with two hours remaining, i wanted to get lunch at salumi, the fabled cured meats place in downtown seattle run by mario batali's father, armandino. on the way there, i passed stumptown roasters on pine street and was unable to resist stopping in for my third coffee in 2 hours (latte, also excellent), then walked the rest of the way to salumi feeling brittle, as if sudden motion might have unfortunate consequences.

southern aspect of the seattle public library, from 4th ave

on 3rd avenue, i joined a crowd of walkers leaning into the wind as they walked south, and nearly missed the light yet massive angularity of rem koolhaas's seattle public library, which stacks are arranged in an unbroken spiral climbing many stories up into the prismatic volume of the building. i ducked in for a quick look and took a long series of escalators up to the reading room at the top of the library. the inside was as crystalline as the outside, and filled with medium-toned wood paneling and plenty of matte aluminum, lime green paint, glass, light, and high ceilings. it felt a lot like being inside the fortress of solitude, except with more books and lime green paint.

just down the street, the line outside armandino's was relatively short but glacially slow, and i was bookended by people who had never been there but had seen it on the food network. counter staff came out periodically to pass round small dishes of cured meats for the people in line to try: winter salami (with cracked black peppercorns), finocchiona (with fennel and black pepper), lamb prosciutto (a dark and translucent ruby colour). 45 minutes after getting in line, i got a hot braised oxtail sandwich with peppers, onions, and salsa verde on a baguette-shaped section of bread that actually tasted much more like damper than baguette. the crumb was dense and a pale grey, with large crystals of gluten and only a few airspaces; the crust was firm with only a light crunch. the oxtail had been braised for so long that it had fallen apart into small shreds bound together by a light marinara sauce. very nice.

Apr 21, 2008

in the time of trees

time's photo essays are compelling and strange (they have one about avant garde gardens, another about wool gathering, and a third about papal fashion). stuart franklin's in the time of trees is of variable quality, but worth looking at. the best photograph is of the canopy of a rainforest in malaysia:

stuart franklin

Apr 19, 2008

the machine that made us

stephen fry, the bbc, and typography: an entrancing combination. fry, author of many and various books including moab is my washpot and making history, and also host of the bbc show QI (which has a clubhouse and a devoted following among certain of my erstwhile schoolmates from the humanities programme), now turns his considerable talents to investigating the history and technology of gutenberg's development of movable type by trying to recreate a working replica of the press today. (the exercise reminds me a little of thor heyerdahl's kon-tiki and ra ship recreations.) fry's 60-minute show is available in six parts on youtube. part one:

the last one to go

on the second floor of the library at the MBL/woods hole oceanographic institute, a letter left behind by a japanese researcher abandoning his research station on one of the japanese islands ahead of the allied invasion:

This is a marine biological station with her history of over sixty years. If you are from the Eastern Coast, some of you might know Woods Hole or Mt Desert or Tortugas. If you are from the West Coast, you may know Pacific Grove or Puget Sound Biological Station. This place is a place like one of those. Take care of this place and protect the possibility for the continuation of our peaceful research. You can destroy the weapons and the war instruments. But save the civil equipments for Japanese students. When you are through with your job here notify to the University and let us come back to our scientific home.

The last one to go

Apr 16, 2008

the craftsman

from the new yorker review of richard sennett's the craftsman:

The template of craftsmanship ... combines a “material consciousness” with a willingness to put in years of practice and a strategic acceptance of ambiguity, rather than an obsessive perfectionism.

the soft earth

i've been in woods hole the last couple days for a meeting of the biodiversity informatics advisory group for the encyclopedia of life. (about which, more anon.) i got in on sunday afternoon, after driving two boxes of books over to glenn and ilene's and walked out to get a cup of coffee and get some work done. along the way, a poster in a window of the firestation caught my eye: "the soft earth, ocean sediment glazed pottery." i called the number listed and joan lederman answered. we arranged to meet outside the coffeeshop so i could see the studio.

the soft earth neatly encapsulates the approach to art that depends on and embraces a degree of unpredictability in process, as well as the consciousness of ephemerality (of opportunity, material, result). some sediments work well, others work poorly, some don't work at all; as joan puts it:

The more I use a sediment, the better the outcomes are, usually ... but then they'll be gone, so I'm always testing some while relying on others I know better. I have over a hundred glazes, including some untested from recent cruises. That's why my work constantly changes.
the sediments come to her from oceanographers after they're done with whatever tests they collect them for -- each sample of sediment has a relatively precise location attached to it, as well as a bunch of metadata (the collecting vessel, date, etc). she adds water and that turns it into a glaze, but the variability of composition causes glazes made from different sediments to act and look extremely different. despite the variability, there's a certain morphological similarity in how glazes from the same sea look. here's a plate featuring sediments from seven seas (indian, atlantic, bering, antarctic, mediterranean, black, pacific), collected by seven ships (atlantis II, r/v knorr, uscg healy, r/v oceanus, r/v thomas thompson, r/v new horizon, nathaniel b. palmer)*, which of course brings to mind the seven seas passage in john fuller's a skin diary.

joan lederman

some of the glazes automatically produce a dendritic pattern on firing. apparently this is produced by the dead skeletons of foraminifera in the sediments affecting the flow of the fused glaze material. here's a particularly nice one:

joan lederman

it would be great to be able to navigate her work using a map:
  • plate-view: where each work is represented by markers showing the source of the glazes and earths
  • world-view: where pins represent the world of work, with a marker for every glaze source
* the catalogues and lists are deeply evocatory, particularly of ships, since they frequently are qualities or eponyms that bear a certain weight of their own. everyone knows of the catalogue of ships in homer, but iain m banks has also, clearly, taken it to heart (and also here).

Apr 14, 2008

flight patterns

this has been around for some time but i just saw it over the shoulder of another attendee at this meeting i'm at. flight information over time, displayed with relative positions, then animated.

a high quality version is available here on aaron koblin's website.

gigapan: jökulsárlón after sundown

north-facing view of jökulsárlón

gigapan: jökulsárlón after sundown

this is gigapan #2 and the smallest of the iceland gigapans (only 112 photos). it still took longer to stitch together than seemed probable, but turned out surprisingly well. the view covers about 120 degrees of horizontal arc and is of jökulsárlón, a glacial lagoon that is remarkably new (it is apparently less than 80 years since it first appeared), and the glacier breiðamerkurjökull that calves chunks of ice into it. in the middle field, you can see a bunch of seals hanging out on the edge of the ice; while we were there they did nothing but swim about and loll in the sun. we ended up harassing them for a few scenes in the short film (of which, more later). the big flat white area in the right half of the composite photograph is breiðamerkurjökull, and you can see huge chunks of ice falling off. the entire sequence was taken around 9.25pm on 4/4 (just after sundown) and was completed in just 12 minutes, hence the remarkably uniform light in the sky.

we also have a 360-degree panorama of jökulsárlón just after sundown taken on day 2 that shows some of the sculptures we made. it has over 250 photos in it and is now in its seventh hour of stitching.

more on champion

just found -- a video showing the typeface:

Apr 12, 2008

portuguese semi-industrial confectionery

fabrico proprio (english text is below portuguese text on most pages) is a project to document the semi-industrial confections of portugal. the idea of semi-industriality is compelling: in the case of confections, somewhere in the collective there exists the idea of a set of cakes, each of which has individual variation but also an internal logic, coherence, and uniformity, just as individual members of a species do. pastels de nata from one bakery will be reliably uniform from day to day, but will be different from those from another bakery. semi-industrial production is the mode of certain varieties of craft, specifically of the production of mingei (referenced previously).

many countries have archetypal foods and confections. japan comes to mind, and certainly there is a reassuring uniformity in the variety of offerings at singaporean neighbourhood bakeshops, but perhaps the fabrico proprio folks are accurate in saying that the diversity of the portuguese set is unique.

from their self-description:

Portuguese semi-industrial bakery is a unique component of our gastronomical heritage. Shapes and contents are replicated every night in tens of bakeries and small factories scattered over the country, always in the same way, in a perpetuation of a mould or recipe that we know nothing of, but that we recognise immediately. It is also a phenomenon exclusive to our country; no other has such a richness in what we call "everyday bakery". Unlike French and Central European "haute pâtisserie", or exotic Asian specialities, there is nothing sophisticated about this bakery that feeds our days in Portugal. The recipes can be secret, but its results are widely available to all of us — from the finest traditional pâtisseries to high school bars, from train stations and airports to the corner café.

Fabrico Próprio means "Own Production" and is a term used by most cafés and cake shops in their shop signs, windows and packaging. It is a warrant of freshness and quality, but also of uniqueness and prestige, of the baked goods they sell, most of them sweet, one-portion cakes.

We are not talking about regional sweets or specialities (even if we acknowledge that some of them are part of the daily set of cakes available in some cake shops): all the cakes we choose with or café (expresso), galão (latte) or glass of milk, are the same from Braga to Tavira, from Angra do Heroísmo in the Azores islands to downtown Lisbon. They are, throughout our national territory, not only part of our culinary landscape, but also part of our material culture. And this is a reality we easily and often overlook. And this is our point of view, as designers, when we look into Portuguese cakes. We see them as design objects in their own right, as a result of the project-based process that characterises this discipline, where form, ingredients, materials, method, production tools and machinery come together to originate a final product.

Apr 11, 2008

leaving reykjavik

i woke up 20 minutes before landing at keflavik when the plane banked and a host of cellophane-wrapped dinner rolls tumbled over the aisle at me. i was in reykjavik an hour of traffic later. ben got me from the bus terminal and we unpacked everything. the assorted equipment filled up the small room in gamli gardur, the hotel next to the national museum of iceland that the university of iceland has converted into student housing. we went to pick up a HD video camera from the rental store on borgartun (rental largely funded by the generosity of the icelandic fulbright foundation), then ben went off to his last class of the week ("introduction to runes") and i went to a shower. the shower facilities in gamli gardur are not unisex; additionally, they are labeled only "karlar" and "konur" and accompanied by tiny person icons presumably intended to signal who goes where but actually are indistinguishable from each other. the hot water was abundant and smelled mildly of hydrogen sulphide. we made lunch—"alfredo sauce" featuring canned corn, covering an earwig-shaped shell pasta whose package claims it to be gnocchi.

we did not make many plans for The Work other than to make sculptures out of stone, ice, and snow in iceland because it's a country of long views, the exploded sense of scale, and seems to float through a waking dream. also it's a country where there is so much room that no one will mind or, probably, notice. here's an extract from what might charitably be called the planning document:

  • use minimal material not native to the site.
  • no permanent contamination (pack stuff out)
  • full combustion of starter materials
  • harm only small, useless animals and people
  • build light-permeable structures in series and kindle small fires inside them. photograph and/or videorecord fires burning inside them from dusk through full fall of night. cairn of stones, ring of ice blocks, stack of driftwood. the flickering and fragmentary light should be pearlescent in the ice, sharply-outlined in the wood, and pointillist in the cairn. the fires will be relatively small, built of driftwood, and contained in aluminum baking dishes so that we can introduce and remove them easily.
  • fire-circles.
  • stone walls leading to the sea, with fires built along their length
  • dark-art. Things built and removed during the night. These may not have fires. So may not even be possible to see them.
  • A colored iceberg? Use food-coloring to color water bright orange or red, then freeze it and release into a glacial lagoon among the other icebergs.
  • cliff-art. Suspend a sculpture off the side of this cliff I know, which is above the Mid-Atlantic Rift
  • Aerial fires. Suspend an item. Then burn it in mid-air. Possibly combine with (6) and burn it as it hangs off a cliff.
the equipment also included a bright blue hazmat responder training suit (purchased on ebay, shipped to a certain vince tan, finally tracked down, and then hauled to iceland over thousands of air miles) and a rented video camera because there are additional—and at this stage in the project, mostly-unformed—plans to shoot a short film about a visitor to a planet of snows whose suit marks and protects him. the car (a suzuki jimny) packed, we left reykjavik around 1.30pm and headed east onto 1, the ring road that runs 1200 kilometres around iceland. reykjavik is about the size of manhattan. it recedes rapidly and the road unspools ahead into vast expanses of mostly-unfilled space. on the right, there is sea and, on the left, high, jagged basaltic mountains covered in snow variously a dim grey or a blue-white as the sun passes behind a thin, growing layer of cloud. the sky is at times so white it doesn't seem like sky.

most of the three hundred or so thousand people on iceland live in reykjavik, akureyri, and surrounding communities. the remainder of the population is spread thinly across the margins of the island: a diffuse community that appears to mostly fish, grow greenhouse vegetables, and raise icelandic horses (fuzzy, stocky, and heavily-maned) and dairy animals.

we stop for gas and provisions at a grocery store in vik. there are not many towns, even on the main highway, that are big enough to support a market. the dairy case is fully-stocked with many and enormous blocks of cheese from a variety of icelandic producers; we have the choice of mild and extra-mild gouda.

around 6pm on the first day, we arrive at the waterfall skogarfoss, where the falls have carved out a region at their base such that they are fronted by a piece of land overlooking a sandy beachlet.

here, we shoot the first of many short and enigmatic snippets featuring the man in the blue hazmat suit. as it turns out, the suit's faceplate fogs up almost immediately, turning the landscape into a haze in which even large and pointy rocks are difficult to make out. we film suitguy walking disconsolately toward the waterfall and pausing often to evaluate his footing, then leaping off the edge of the land right in front of it and vanishing into a chasm. trouble is, ben has not caught this spontaneous effusion of the actor's craft on tape and i have to do it again. after almost an hour of monkeying about near the base of the falls, we've confused a few tourists visiting the falls for serious sightseeing and become damp with the mist coming off the falls. the light has begun to fade and sheets of rain have appeared in the skies over the sea far to the south and we move for skaftajokull, a tongue of the larger glacier myrdaljokull, about 30km to the east, to make camp for the night.

in gathering darkness, we pitch the tents in a spot south-east of the glacial protrusion. it only gets dark after 9pm and the glacial ice glows softly as the long evening fades. we cook and eat, then play a few rounds of scrabble. outside, after dark, the wind rises and the temperature falls.

Apr 10, 2008

to the land of snows

i left san francisco for iceland by way of boston on april fools night, having spent the day collecting the last provisions on my list (a large fra'mani salami, a wedge of argentine parmesan, beef jerky in several flavours, power inverter, digital SLR, gigapan robot replacement bits, gloves, waterproofing compound, and the like). arriving in logan at daybreak, i made my way into cambridge weighed down heavily and bulkily. after finding them (and being betrayed by google maps), worked for a few hours in our new cambridge center offices, then left the small mountain of bags behind and walked about a mile down broadway to the darwin's outpost on cambridge street to have lunch with sabeel. the city smelled of melted snow. a roast turkey and cheddar sandwich restored my faith in the well-made simple sandwich, a restoration cruelly and repeatedly denied at the darwin's on mount auburn street. in the evening, i picked up two handsaws at dickson bros, bought books for the plane from the harvard bookstore (robertson davies's the cunning man and the lyre of orpheus, and peter matthiessen's the snow leopard), then walked down to toscanini's in central square with magali before meeting aly at the broad institute right next door to the office. they're developing platforms for basic research, which i think is a great approach. after we saw the new robotic high-throughput assay rooms (all equipment inside made by high resolution biosystems), i got my stuff and left for the airport.

Apr 2, 2008

first gigapan: caterpillars

after lots of messing about with mounting the canon S5 IS on the the gigapan, i bailed on it in favour of charlie's fancy new canon G9 camera (smaller, fits perfectly in the mount, 6x optical zoom, 12.1 megapixels). i took 4 gigapans while there and have only stitched and posted one. the others are either inexplicable (there are tiles there that don't fit in the mosaic no matter what i do) or so large that i don't yet dare try to stitch them together. this first gigapixel panorama is of the interior of the caterpillar barn at the 190,000 hectare area de conservación guanacaste (ACG) -- a place where caterpillars collected in the wild by ACG parataxonomists are raised to maturity. (they're feeding on leaves in the plastic bags on clotheslines strung under the roof of the barn.)

picture courtesy of kris norvig

part of the challenge of studying the lepidoptera is that a single individual passes through three active lifecycle stages, each morphologically distinct (larva, chrysalis, adult) -- raising the larva to maturity in captivity allows all three stages to be documented and connected. because each kind of caterpillar generally feeds only on one kind of leaf, caterpillar-rearing is more challenging and relies much more heavily on highly-granular local knowledge than it may initially seem. the parataxonomist team (and the local knowledge it represents) has helped the ACG caterpillar barn produce a tremendous constellation of knowledge surrounding the lepidoptera of northern costa rica -- over 3000 different species to date, with thousands yet to go.

to come: a few gigapans, and a bit about the methodological orientation of the ACG and its exemplification of a peculiarly sociologically-enlightened approach to the production of biological data.