Apr 30, 2013


In short, men will find out that the men of our days were wrong in first multiplying their needs, and then trying, each man of them, to evade all participation in the means and processes whereby those needs are satisfied; that this kind of division of labour is really only a new and wilful form of arrogant and slothful ignorance, far more injurious to the happiness and contentment of life than the ignorance of the processes of Nature, of what we sometimes call science, which men of the earlier days unwittingly lived in. They will discover, or rediscover rather, that the true secret of happiness lies in the taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life.
william morris, "the aims of art"
on which, also see david pye and t.h. white.

Apr 24, 2013


i came to las vegas on monday night and spent much of yesterday and today walking around the old downtown, outside the region covered by the downtown project. in a 3-hour, 4-mile walk this morning, i counted over 40 small law practices, numerous bail bond shops, and an improbable number of motels. there was one grocery store and a handful of 7-11s. this town makes me wonder what people were thinking as they decided to set up shop here. on the other hand, there is an abundance of great thai food and a truly spectacular taco.

Apr 17, 2013

intentional ambiguity

Monday, 4/22/2013; 10am to noon
Baker Library 102, Harvard Business School [map]
Amy Edmondson (co-chair), Christopher Winship (co-chair), Jeffrey T. Polzer

Intentional ambiguity
Vaughn Tan

Organizations increasingly operate in uncertain external environments which are not only risky (uncertain in quantifiable ways) but also ambiguous (unquantifiably uncertain, featuring unclear reality, causality, or intentionality). Though the two types of uncertainty have different implications for decision-making and action, organizational theory and practice generally neglect ambiguity by conflating it with risk. How should an organization respond when the uncertainty in its environment comprises both risk and ambiguity? And what are the intended and unintended effects of these organizational responses?
I answer these questions by analysing data collected over four years from observations at nine high-end avant-garde culinary groups and 80 interviews with respondents working in the industry. My findings suggest that external ambiguity can be managed through costly internal processes that make it more likely that a group and its members can detect and respond to changes in the environment—processes that result from intentional internal ambiguity of member roles and group goals. I then describe a general mechanism by which intentional internal ambiguity supports group adaptability.

My findings complement the risk-management view of managing uncertainty by re-stating the distinction between risk and ambiguity and documenting organizational responses that are specific to the latter and not the former. I suggest that an appropriate approach to managing the unquantifiable uncertainty of ambiguity is to increase the likelihood that a group can adapt as ambiguous conditions change and show that this can be done by incorporating ambiguity into the internal operations of the group.

the oak tree

The final shape of any one particular oak tree is unpredictable ... And a town which is whole, like an oak tree, must be unpredictable also.

The fine details cannot be known ahead of time. We may know, from the pattern language which is shared, what kind of town it will be. But it is impossible to predict its detailed plan: and it is not possible to make it grow according to some plan. It must be unpredictable, so that the individual acts of building can be free to fit themselves to all the local forces which they meet.

The people of a town may know that there is going to be a main pedestrian street, because there is a pattern which tells them so. But, they cannot know just where this main pedestrian street will be, until it is already there. The street will be built up from smaller acts, wherever the opportunity arises. When it is finally made, its form is partly given by the history of happy accidents which let the people build it along with their more private acts. There is no way of knowing, ahead of time, just where these accidents will fall.

This process, exactly like the emergence of any other form of life, alone produces a living order.
christopher alexander, the timeless way of building

boston, mass.

Apr 15, 2013

stimulus, response

jens stoltenberg, who is still the prime minister of norway, had this to say after the 2011 bombing and shootings in oslo and utøya, before the identity of the culprit was discovered:

We do not know who attacked us, many are dead and injured. Norway will stand together in a time of crisis, we suffer with the wounded. I have a message to whoever attacked us, you will not destroy us, you will not destroy our democracy, and our ideals for a better world. We are a small nation and a better nation. No one will bomb us to silence, no one will shoot us to silence. Our answer to violence is more democracy.
this is the correct response.

Apr 13, 2013

new chardon street

on top, alfred duca's computersphere (CNC-milled cor-ten steel, 1965).

Apr 11, 2013

a big room, vast

There is one timeless way of building ... But though this method is precise, it cannot be used mechanically. Indeed it turns out, in the end, that what this method does is simply free us from all method ... To purge ourselves of these illusions, to become free of all the artificial images of order which distort the nature that is in us, we must first learn a discipline which teaches us the true relationship between ourselves and our surroundings. Then, once this discipline has done its work, and pricked the bubbles of illusion which we cling to now, we will be ready to give up the discipline, and act as nature does. This is the timeless way of building: learning the discipline—and shedding it.

We have a habit of thinking that the deepest insights, the most mystical, and spiritual insights, are somehow less ordinary than most things—that they are extraordinary. This is only the shallow refuge of the person who does not yet know what he is doing. In fact, the opposite is true: the most mystical, most religious, most wonderful—these are not less ordinary than most things—they are more ordinary than most things. It is because they are so ordinary, indeed, that they strike to the core.
christopher alexander, the timeless way of building

Apr 9, 2013

rock star

at 150 w 25th st, in the heart of the manhattan floral district, you can find the H.I.T deli and korean diner. the bibimbap ($8.95) is superior but i cannot yet say the same about the other menu options. for instance, it is a good idea to order the ramen ($5.95) only if you have successfully exited your startup and wish to recall fondly the days, now thankfully long-past, when you survived mostly on cup noodles. rock star, on the second floor, will satisfy many of your commodity and non-commodity geological needs. for instance, the need for kunzite, a heart stone that spreads around it an irresistible aura of calm and healing ($4/gram).

Apr 8, 2013


at kiosk, the neon is almost as good as the stuff.

good things

a coily bronze snake from ancient greece, exact provenance and age uncertain. and gudea of lagash, whose diorite hat and stony gaze are cool.

Apr 7, 2013


now that my friends have children, i sometimes find myself at the met on a saturday morning observing little people playing african instruments under a ceramic relief of striding lions from ancient babylon. i left when i could no longer bear the thousands of people gazing cowlike at ancient statuary. (about 20 minutes.)

Apr 5, 2013

the interview

My secret as an interviewer was that I was actually impressed by the people I interviewed ... awed by people who take the risks of performance[,] I become their advocate and find myself in sympathy.
roger ebert, life itself