Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Last Lecture

Randy Pausch is a married father of three, a very popular professor at Carnegie Mellon University—and he is dying. He is suffering from pancreatic cancer, which has returned after surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Doctors say he has only a few months to live.

In September 2007, Randy gave a final lecture to his students at Carnegie Mellon. "There's an academic tradition called the 'Last Lecture.' Hypothetically, if you knew you were going to die and you had one last lecture, what would you say to your students?" Randy says. "Well, for me, there's an elephant in the room. And the elephant in the room, for me, it wasn't hypothetical."

Despite the lecture's wide popularity, Randy says he really only intended his words for his three small children. "I think it's great that so many people have benefited from this lecture, but the truth of the matter is that I didn't really even give it to the 400 people at Carnegie Mellon who came. I only wrote this lecture for three people, and when they're older, they'll watch it," he says.

Watch Andy's last lecture

Via Debbie Millman

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Japanese folk tale

A new flute was invented in China. A Japanese master musician discovered the subtle beauties of it's tone and brought it back home, where he gave concerts all around the country. One evening he played with a community of musicians and music lovers who lived in a certain town. At the end of the concert, his name was called. He took out the new flute and played one piece. When he was finished, there was silence in the room for a long moment. Then the voice of the oldest man was heard from the back of the room: "Like a god!"

The next day, as this master was packing to leave, the musicians approached him and asked how long it would take a skilled player to learn the new flute. "Years", he said. They asked if he would take a pupil, and agreed. After he left, they decided among themselves to send a young man, a brilliantly talented flautist, sensitive to beauty, diligent and trustworthy. They gave him money for his living expenses and for the master's tuition, and sent him on his way to the capital, where the master lived.

The student arrived and was accepted by his teacher, who assigned him a single, simple tune. At first he received systematic instruction, but he easily mastered all the technical problems. Now he arrived for his daily lesson, sat down, and played his tune - and all the master could say was, "Something lacking." The student exerted himself in every possible way; h he practiced for endless hours; yet day after day, week after week, all the master said was, " Something lacking." He begged the master to change the tune, but the master said no. The daily playing, the daily "something lacking" continued for months on end. The student's hope of success and fear of failure became ever magnified, and swung from agitation to despondency.

Finally the frustration became too much for him. One night he packed his bag and slinked out. He continued to live in the capital city for some time longer, until his money ran dry. He began drinking. Finally, impoverished, he drifted back to his own part of the country. Ashamed to show his face to former colleagues, he found a hut far out in the countryside. He still possessed his flutes, still played but found no new inspiration in music. Passing farmers heard him play and sent their children to him for beginner's lessons. He lived this way for years.

One morning there was a knock at his door. It was the oldest past-master from his town, along with the youngest student. They told him that tonight they were going to have a concert, and they had all decided it would not take place without him. With some effort they overcame his feelings of fear and shame, and almost in a trance he picked up a flute and went with them. The concert began. As he waited behind the stage, no one intruded on his inner silence. Finally, at the end of the concert, his name was called. He stepped out onto the stage in his rags. He looked down at his hands, and realized that he had chosen the new flute.

Now he realized that he had nothing to gain and nothing to lose. He sat down and played the same tune he had played so many times for his teacher in the past. When he finished, there was silence for a long moment. Thern the voice of the oldest man was heard, speaking softly from the back of the room: "Like a god!"

Friday, October 26, 2007

... found it in a drawer ... translated it ...

...Light, a bizarre light shines through my body questioning the real and the ephemeral. Have you got any clue what you really are made of? Do you really know who the hell you are? Am I the only one questioning this light? Time stops, fluids move in slow motion, muscles are too tired offenbar...

...Is this feeling really that bad? Am I really feeling it or is it just playing tricks on me? ... The latter one makes more sense. I am tired, oh so tired... tired of petty complaints, tired of self-indulgent-so-called-friends. What is the purpouse of all this? Why does the whining not stop? Why is everybody behind a mask? What is, of such importance or shame that you all are hiding? The man - behind the man - behind the man - behind the mask, WHO is he not able to stand himself? The light is striking through every(thing)one, the light strikes both, the flesh and the ethereal - always. The light is raising all the questions, the light is switching all the handles...oh so many handles, one for each thought, one for each moment, one for each One...

...Control has become casual, also it can easily slide in becoming causal....

Must become stronger, must become lighter, must float through this Domain. Shut my ears, speak out loud, the dim voice inside my head must reach within. Must touch the souls, must accept, must reject, must know It.

...What makes a man/woman a real woman/man, a real human being? Is it only the pre-cached mask that defines us?...

...God's answer to causality is you, my dear human being, You are the effect, the special effect situated in time somewhere between the Big Bang and the birth of the first living bacteria, somehow somewhere between those two points you were born... .

...Logic is a limitation, a safety device, defy it and you will be set free. Within it's vast entropy you will find Real questions... [O]

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

AXIS THINKING ( excerpt from Brian Eno's diary ) 1995-2005

An axis is a name for a continuum of possibilities between two extreme positions: so the axis between black and white is a scale of greys.

I can illustrate this idea by applying it to the description of haircuts.
Rather than only being able to say of someone's haircut that it is, for example, masculine or feminine, we're as likely to want to say that it's quite masculine, or quite feminine, or unisexual - somewhere in the middle. When we do this, we acknowledge that the sexual possibilities of haircuts don't just fall squarely at one or another of the polar positions - masculine or feminine - but somewhere on the wide range of hybrids between them. In fact we would feel constrained if we couldn't make descriptions in these fuzzy, hybrid, terms.

If you were trying to describe a particular haircut, however, you'd probably want to say more than 'It;s quite feminine', or some other comment about it's gender connotations. You might also want to locate its position along other axes - for instance along the axis neat <--> shaggy - 'It's slightly shaggy' or ' It's very neat'. If that then gave you enough descriptive language to say everything you could imagine ever wanting to say about haircuts, you could locate every example you ever met somewhere on a two-dimensional space - like this sheet of paper. So you could make a kind of graph - masculine <--> feminine on one axis, neat <--> shaggy on the other. On this graph, which is a simple cross in 2D space, any point represents a particular position in relation to the four polar possibilities:

masculine <--> feminine

neat <--> shaggy

I call each of these points a cultural address. I could equally well call it a stylistic address. It is the identification of a particular point in stylistic space, a 'possible haircut'.

Those four terms still constitute an impoverished language in which to describe most haircuts, and to describe a wide range of possible haircuts we would need several others:

natural <--> contrived
rebel <-->conformist
wild <--> civilized
futuristic <--> nostalgic
businesslike <--> bohemian.

Each of these polar pairs defines another axis along which any particular haircut could be located. And each of these exists as a 'dimension' in the haircut space, which now becomes multidimensional and no longer easily drawable on a sheet of paper.

We shouldn't forget that each of these poles has no absolute and for-all-time meaning but is also in it's own slow motion, stretching the axis of which it defines and end-point this way and that. A really natural haircut, for example, is no haircut. But when we use the term 'natural cut' we don't think of someone with shaggy locks hanging over their eyes, but of someone who went to the hairdresser and said something like 'Can you make it look sort of natural - a bit windswept?', as opposed to someone else who said, 'Can you do me a nine-inch beehive?'

And there is another complication: the resonances are quite local culturally. A man with very short hair in East London in 1985 would be assumed potentially dangerous and 'hard'. The same man in San Francisco would be thought gay.

And if we look more closely we see that many of the things that we would consider single qualities of hair are actually themselves multi-axial spaces. To describe hair colour, for example, needs much more detail than dark <-->light. It needs an axis of redness, an axis of greyness, an axis of colour homogenity, an axis of shine.

What strikes you as interesting when you begin thinking about stylistic decisions (or moral or political decisions) as being locatable in a multi-axial space of this kind is the recognition that some axes don't yet exist. For example, with hairstyles, as far as I know, there is not a dirty <--> clean axis. That's to say, your hairdresser isn't likely to ask you, 'How dirty would you like it?' It's still assumed that there is no discussion about it: the axis has not been opened up, We would all want it 'as clean as possible'.

Peter Schmidt used to talk about ‘the things that nobody ever thought of not doing’. A version of this happened in clothing fashion. There was recently a style – variously described as non-fit, un-fit and anti-fit ( the name didn’t stabilize) – which was to do with people wearing clothes that exist at the never-before-desirable end of newly discovered axis well-fitted > badly fitted. These clothes were deliberately chosen to look completely wrong. This was beyond baggy, which was a first timid step along that axis. Baggy implies the message ‘These are my clothes, but I like to wear them loose.’ Non-fit says, ‘These are someone else’s clothes’ or ‘I am insane’ or ‘ I cannot locate myself’ or ‘I don’t fit.’
With punk, a brand-new axis opened up: professionally cut > hacked about by a brainless cretin. As often happens, this appeared (and was intended) to be an anti-style style, and was shocking because we had never previously considered the possibility that the concept ‘style’ and the concept ‘ hacked about by a brainless cretin’ could overlap one another. But, as usual, the effect was not to overthrow and eliminate the idea of style but to give it new places in which to extend itself. ‘Hacked about by a brainless cretin’ became not the death of hair-styling but the furthest outpost of a new continuum of possible choices about how hair could look.
This is a transition from polar thinking – the kind of thinking that says, ‘it’s either this or it’s that’, or ‘Everything that isn’t clearly this must be that’ – to axial thinking. Axial thinking doesn’t deny that it could be this or that- but suggests that it’s more likely to be somewhere between the two. As soon as that suggestion is in the air, it triggers an imaginative process, an attempt to locate and conceptualize the newly acknowledged grayscale positions.
I am interested in these transitions – these moments when a stable duality dissolves into a proliferating and unstable sea of hybrids. What happens at such times is that all sorts of things become possible: there is a tremendous energy release, a great burst of experimentation. Not only do the emerging possible positions on this new-born axis have to be discovered and experienced and articulated; they have to be placed in context with other existing axes to see what new resonances appear.

A good – and undigested – example of this process is the ( apparently temporary ) demise of state communism in Eastern Europe. It’s extraordinary that when the Berlin Wall came down everyone assumed that the whole world was about to become one big market economy running on the same set of rules. What happened instead was that the old dualism communism < -- > capitalism was revealed to conceal a host of possible hybrids. Now only the most ideological governments ( England, Cuba ) still retain their fundamentalist commitment to one end of the continuum: most governments are experimenting vigorously with complicated customized blendings of market forces and state intervention.

An example of such a complicated blending is defence spending, which allows a government nominally committed to ‘market forces’ to have at its centre a completely intact command economy within which it can direct the flow of social resources.

The period of transition is marked by excitement, experimentation – and resistance. Whenever a duality starts to dissolve, those who felt trapped at one end of it suddenly feel enormous freedom – they can now redescribe themselves. But, by the same token, those who defined their identity by their allegiance to one pole of the duality ( and rejection of the other ) feel exposed. The walls have been taken away, and the separation between inside and outside is suddenly gone. This can create wide-scale social panic: vigorous affirmations of the essential rightness of the ‘old ways’, moral condemnation of the experimentalists, ‘back to basics’ campaigns, all the familiar signs of fundamentalism.

Essentially, cultures wish to be able to control, or at least channel, such excitements and panics, turning what could be chaotic uncertainty into a power either for revolution or for consolidation. This is normally mishandled. Hostile propaganda campaigns are good examples of fundamentalism at work: they are designed to push the concepts of friend and enemy to extreme and unambiguous positions, and to cement a complete and unvarying identification between two different axes: us < -- > them; friend < -- > enemy.

Zones of Pragmatic Deceit are the social and mental inventions that exist to lubricate the fiction between what we claim to stand for (i.e. simple polar pictures ) and what we actually have to do to make things work (i.e. navigate over networks of axes). These two are often quite different, as situations change much faster than the moral constructions that are supposed to describe them.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Dangerous Knowledge [O]

Daniel Libeskind said...[O]

Architecture, the word has lost its reputation: how is it to defend itself? Both ‘good and bad’ days are now gone. The everyday architect is dead. His body useless unless it becomes manure or kindling for the fire which, after all, is based on what is ‘no better’.

What is not alone is whole, both willing and unwilling to be named object. Once numbered and multiplied, this whole grew at the expenses of zeroes into which it has stepped. One knows construction by deconstruction and ever since Eiffel changed leisure into fatigue. The road of Architecture does not have two directions but only one – meaning that eyes are better transformers than gears, when our understanding grates on matters which will be ever resistant, incomplete. Incompleteness being the trial of psyche; bridge over skill and intelligence. [O]

Brightness of Form was a virtue when sleepy gods were doing the world’s business and helping prolong the season of All. But eventually their sons changed the rhythm of moving evening tides through errors – agents of justice – into nuclei visible on a dial. One of these is the daynight-wintersummer-warpeace. The other is too little to pinpoint since it is disguised as a city and known in each separate flavor or affliction.

The wisdom seen through the little hole cut in Knowledge appears as having been plotted in the course of history by all things other than modesty. Yet modesty alone constitutes the will named as Father who is not I, That which is not world or All-not-in-one.

What then is Architecture? Don’t notice it. However, by supposing that force relates to looks, ie to the musical instruments still harbouring weapons, one can unhinge design of things and cities, releasing the ‘more harmonious than seen’ into each architectonic device whose life lies in killing. Deadly thinking: day in night time.

The same can be said of living the death of architecture which fake lips have reduced to ‘youthful age’. What calls into being follows the thunder – process capable of reversal. Once joined by two lines and a semi-circle, Architecture becomes reductible to parts of speech or organs of the body. Hence ‘co-operation’ thoroughly overdetermines the position of the field and makes harmony into a separate or fourth element. As with knowledge the opening crisis is an anguished if inarticulate experience: partly lunar curse, partly the curled wool before its thread has been straightened.

The Vitruvian realm which limits Architecture to the Art of Building, the Construction of Machines and the Making of Time-pieces acts as the venerable liver which has been split into three and not the famous rail of Roussel on which I suspend the beginning of a circle or its violently cut end – half spurned, half poisoned. Then the doctor forgets to submit the bill to you and hands it to God, the Beautiful or theGood. (It should be a human being who sees divine, ugly, good; better yet, a boy who will never be a ‘man’, as ‘man’ was never ‘god’!)

If every construction were just smoke one’s perception would not be restricted. But dates themselves are senses giving and receiving each other’s small insanities. How to withstand heart’s desire – since editing gets what it wants – at the soul’s expense?

Stirred like a delicious drink, the recess springs forward like hot wine mixed and seasoned by a boasting harlequin who created chess pieces and a separate playing board which consists in the one step upon which the foot does not slip even when frozen.

Life is to Architecture as earth is to watery physical force. The architect has been locked in a trunk while Architecture is staggering mindlessly to lift the load back home. By now, or soon, the sweat will evaporate and be forever lost (cubes have always been pre-historic ). Thus emerges the wonderful order of a world no longer seen as the random gathering of things significant only when clumsy. A world in which each hair-pin, arcade or tribe can no longer posture in the mother’s sensus communis . The shapes are cold, handwritten, dry: one simply cannot find their boundary in the East or in the profound fairy detector with an always extended arm.

It shall remain Unaccountable, faintly whispering – clear of illogic, sure to reason on the course of heavenly bodies, the factor π, law-abiding men trying to derive absence from songs. What penetrates fools satisfaction. Humanity reposes while mighty defenders fight madness in words, gloomy origins of the igloo, the rough millennium whose thousand-year-old ray looks like a statue of a hero gossiping behind the fallen house.

Understanding is absent-minded. The unseen Design: an inorganic sediment. The Ephasians might as well rest, letting their city be governed by children.

Without ending (since the above is neither theory nor object), I believe that even the ugliest architecture is going to be clearer than the handsomest name or the wisest visage. Because what is less wide is more beautiful. To put it simply: god at a distance looks like a construction or an edifice, but only to those who have acquired form. The calculable always equals two times god.


This term is a shortened form of Web log. In the past few years increasing numbers of people have initiated their own blogs, or Web sites, through which they generate text, photographs, video or audio files, and/or links, typically on a daily basis. Individual articles on a blog are called "posts", and in most cases the aim is to incite others to respond with "comments" that en masse become a "threa(t)d".

Monday, October 22, 2007

Alan Fletcher said...

design is what happens between conceiving an idea and fashioning the means to carry it out.