Sep 27, 2008

arduous journeys

From Manteq al-Tayr, Farid ud-Din Attar (Fitzgerald, trans.):
But how could you have expected to travel that path in thought alone; how expect to measure the moon by the fish? No, my neighbors, never think that path is a short one; you must have lions' hearts to go by that way, it is not short and its seas are deep; you will walk it long in wonder, sometimes smiling, sometimes weeping.
it has the same feeling as a babylon candle (as used in deep secret or stardust):
How many miles to Babylon?
Three score miles and ten.
Can I get there by candle-light?
Yes, and back again.
If your feet are speedy and light
You can get there by candle-light.

Sep 16, 2008

the architecture of happiness

i took alain de botton's architecture of happiness out of lamont last week. it may be the pleasantest architectural theory i've ever read, and he manages regardless to discuss several things of special interest to me. care is often a tacit component of the discussion of craft. de botton, because of his particular orientation to the affective quality of architecture, provides a particularly crisp summary of the meaning of care in craft and the conditions that allow it to be practised:

in a busy, often heedless world, they stand as markers of patience and generosity, of a kind of sweetness and even love: a kindness without ulterior motive.

Although we belong to a species which spends an alarming amount of its time blowing things up, every now and then we are moved to add gargoyles or garlands, stars or wreaths, to our buildings for no practical reason whatever. In the finest of these flourishes, we can read signs of goodness in a material register, a form of frozen benevolence. We see in them evidence of those sides of human nature which enable us to thrive rather than simply survive. These elegant touches remind us that we are not exclusively pragmatic or sensible: we are also creatures who, with no possibility of profit or power, occasionally carves friars out of stone and mould angels onto walls. In order not to mock such details, we need a culture confident enough about its pragmatism and aggression that it can also acknowledge the contrary demands of vulnerability and play -- a culture, that is, sufficiently unthreatened by weakness and decadence to allow for visible celebrations of tenderness.
security (just a synonym here for confidence) seems a prerequisite for people to imbue their work with generosity (toward age and decay, space, light). perhaps this is why it seems to be that the only artists able to make work that is not overwrought are those psychologically secure in a body of work or a conceptual space in which to work.

another attraction of the book is its conscious and constant exploration of the fine line separating normalcy from bathos: for example, discussing those who eschew physical possessions because of a refined sensitivity to their eventual decay:
Such melancholic enthusiasts will see the moth hole beneath the curtain swatch and the ruin beneath the plan. They may at the last moment cancel and appointment with an estate agent, having realised that the house under offer, as well as the city and even civilisation itself, will soon enough be reduced to fragments of shattered brick over which cockroaches will triumphantly crawl.

the kingdom of loathing

an online RPG featuring characters such as:

With his mastery of the arcane secrets of Noodlecraft, the Pastamancer is a force to be reckoned with. He relies on his Mysticality to get ahead in the world.
Sauceror Long engaged in an uneasy truce with the Pastamancers, the guild of Saucerors protects the secrets of the Ancient Brotherhood of Gravymakers. Their Mysticality is their most important attribute.
Disco Bandit
The Disco Bandit boogies to and fro, hither and yon. Whence comes he? No man knows. Whither strikes he next? All men live in fear of him and his Moxie.

villains such as the sabre-toothed lime , and equipment like the meatloaf helmet .

Sep 13, 2008

interesting, weber, and enchantment

occasionally, anyway. i went down to ny today, mostly for the interesting nyc conference and also partly to scope out a few galleries. i thought it would be a bit like sci foo (more here; yet more here), but interesting turned out to be mostly an ad industry event (at least, so it seemed): at the risk of throwing stones while living in a glass house, there were a couple of software presentations -- including one about php ("i just learned about recursion a few days ago!") -- at a level so low it was actually strenuous and a memorable talk in which the audience was characterised repeatedly as leviathans of cultural consumption and synthesis, each on the brink of cognitive self-destruction.

in any case. about the only major takeaway was from a lecture by gaurav mishra. mishra is a marketer who's part-way through a year of abandoning consumption. (naturally, like everyone else who spends an entire year doing anything noteworthy, the plan is to write a book about it. cf: cooking like julia child, eating locally, living by the dictates of the bible, and -- my favourite -- living in the south of france.) he showed a slide partway through his lecture with a curve showing pre- and post-materialist states:

the curve is a little disingenuous or, at least, does him a disservice in not clearly representing the point of the transition from pre- to post-materialism, which is that the process of transition changes the valence of the objects possessed. while pre- and post-materialist individuals could be at the same level of material possession, there's an ontological change in the meaning of the possessions -- they are elevated now such that, presumably, post-materialist man is happy with them where pre-materialist man was not.

we see the same pattern in the weberian cycle of enchantment > rationalisation > re-enchantment (through the engines of bureaucracy and charisma). a re-enchanted sphere of life looks the same, but is dramatically different, is elevated from its origin state. a curve describes only one dimension of the trajectory of the return to enchantment by way of rationalisation; the best way to show it is probably as a upward spiral that looks, from the top at least, like a circle. (click on the image for much clearer diagram.) obviously, this defies easy axial labeling.

Sep 11, 2008

distributed storage

finally, but marred by a really crummy logo: wuala

Sep 10, 2008

letterpress, strangely right

a great short film by chuck kraemer, about letterpress (specifically, a small press now in allston). elsa dorfman, the fabled portrait photographer in cambridge, has a light webpage about firefly press.

type, the web, and the crystal goblet

"the crystal goblet" by beatrice warde (a short read available here) is a crisp exposition of invisible typography, the idea that the design of the page should be transparent rather than calling attention to itself. content should speak for itself; bad content can infrequently (arguably, never) be saved by good design:
Get attention as you will by your headline, and make any pretty type pictures you like if you are sure that the copy is useless as a means of selling goods; but if you are happy enough to have really good copy to work with, I beg you to remember that thousands of people pay hard-earned money for the privilege of reading quietly set book-pages, and that only your wildest ingenuity can stop people from reading a really interesting text.

Printing demands a humility of mind, for the lack of which many of the fine arts are even now floundering in self-conscious and maudlin experiments. There is nothing simple or dull in achieving the transparent page. Vulgar ostentation is twice as easy as discipline. When you realise that ugly typography never effaces itself; you will be able to capture beauty as the wise men capture happiness by aiming at something else. The 'stunt typographer' learns the fickleness of rich men who hate to read. Not for them are long breaths held over serif and kern, they will not appreciate your splitting of hair-spaces. Nobody (save the other craftsmen) will appreciate half your skill. But you may spend endless years of happy experiment in devising that crystalline goblet which is worthy to hold the vintage of the human mind.

the same can be said of the web -- good content and good design that enables good content to be parsed easily are paramount. flash-heavy, content-poor sites may launch with a big splash, but are generally assured of rapid anonymity. the same principle also applies to all sorts of domains in which craft is applied to raw materials of varying quality: food, furniture, education, etc.

Sep 6, 2008

the sacred treasures of bhutan

the rubin museum will host a traveling exhibition of still-consecrated bhutanese buddhist art (per the nyt).
The works in the exhibition are not only national treasures, said Ramon Prats, the museum's senior curator, "but also living icons, whose sacredness must be maintained." To that purpose, five monks from central Bhutan relocated for the show's duration in Honolulu, where in addition to fulfilling their spiritual duties they developed a taste for Costco pizza and learned to paddle surf.
the rubin is across the street from miya shoji, the japanese custom cabinetry shop at which i watched ping pong and had a surreal conversation about work.

Sep 4, 2008

print on demand book covers

this is neat. the graphic border is made of little elements broadly-themed by book category (nonfiction, arts, children, etc) and then reassembled algorithmically for each copy of each book printed.

Sep 3, 2008

things change

after everyone left, whit and i spent the weekend working on stuff -- she was much more efficient and got out at 6-ish, but i was in there late every night. i made two bowls out of norway maple blanks i'd roughed out my second week at the ranch (one of them is the best one i've done in a while), cut up a strip of little shapes into little bowl blanks and turned those too, made four location boxes out of scrap cherry and mahogany, finished painting and finishing "you get what you pay for" in the happiest colours ever (i like the yellow in there a lot), and made two carved and framed panels. then yesterday, i got on a plane and ended up in cambridge with nothing to do but unpack the boxes that have been in the basement since may. the thing about all-encompassing engagements is that they end with a strange void. it's hot out, and there are crickets in the trees making a racket. the toscanini's in the square has been replaced by a jp licks (not an acceptable substitute), and there's an upper crust and a new 24-hour gourmet grocer on brattle st. the bookstore is still the same, which is nice.

it's good to be back.