May 8, 2008

Honors Presentations Reviewed

Goal 8: A Partnership of Global Development

First of all, I glad they chose to look at Somalia. I knew the area was in rough shape – the beginning of their presentation made the picture even worse:

* Unstable government - for a long time
* No internet access whatsoever until 1999
* Extreme poverty rates
* and so on . . .

I liked the explanations about what cell phones could do for the area:

* Farmers can get agricultural and market information
* Businesses get financial information
* Doctors get medical advice
* and so on . . .

And this, I think, is a brilliant idea:


There are some demonstrations of it on youtube that are interesting, but I’m sure you all knew that.

Goal 4: Reduce Child Mortality

I could respond to the Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability presentation because I thought it was pretty good for the most part, I like “green? buildings and their offspring, and I like that they mentioned “green? doesn’t have to be more expensive. I liked the fantastic buildings they showed as proof.

Or I could respond to some negative things about a few groups – mostly presentation skills. But I don’t feel like ripping on anyone now (sometimes I do) and they did better than I would have up there.

I’ll say a few things about the Goal 4 group presentation:

* Nice choice: Sierra Leone
* The amputations by the Revolutionary United Front were brutal and depressing
* I thought 27% of children die by the age of 5 is an amazing stat
* I liked that they tried to show a movie and it didn’t work, it was funny and lightened the mood
* I liked the “what can we do? part, online games, banners on your blog – easy things and a nice way to include the audience

May 6, 2008

Volunteering – 04/30/08

This time I was in a classroom of all girl students, and this day was one of the most hectic. They were constantly at each other for one thing or another and constantly at our group leader (who handled it quite well and by the end of the day had them under control).

One student, however, was perfect all day. She finished her homework, found something else to do when she was done, talked when it was a fine conversation, and ignored when the conversations got disruptive. The other girls eventually ganged up on her (well most of them). They taunted her, called her names, and tried to cut her hair with scissors. We gathered all the scissors and three of the girls had to go for some kind of time out.

An interesting day, slightly more chaotic than usual, but could have been fun if I didn’t feel so bad for the best behaved girl.

May 1, 2008

Volunteering – 04/21/08

This time volunteering I started in with one group of kids but was asked to move to another room to help keep the kids quiet and well behaved during a presentation. Again I was surprised when I learned what the presentation would be on. Like last Wednesday the topic of the day was sustainability. The presentation was by District Energy of the Twin Cities – a non-profit corporation that provides heating and cooling in the city through renewable energy sources. I was more eager to see the presentation than the children it was made for.

The presentation went well. A few students were obviously paying attention and a couple even took notes. This was probably because the students were informed before the presentation that a game would follow. This was a great idea – the game got quite competitive. Then we all got pamphlets and green rubber bracelets (just in time for Earth Day the next day). So, it was a good day of volunteering.

April 25, 2008

A Couple Title Pages

Sus Green.gif

Sus Gray.gif

April 22, 2008

Volunteering – 04/16/08

Again at Cityview – the day starts off just as usual. I learn that a little later we will be watching a movie. I am surprised to learn that the movie will be An Inconvenient Truth. The first part of this surprise is quite pleasant because this would go nicely with what I had doing anyway for the Millennium Development Goal project I had been working on (Goal 7 – ensure environmental sustainability). I had sustainability on the mind. The second half of my surprise was that it was being shown to a classroom full of fifth graders – and they were restless to begin with. I was very curious to see how kids this young would react to this movie, one with a lot of information, a lot of stats, and one that is narrated by Al Gore.

As I expected most of them seemed bored with it. But they were quiet for the most part, and a couple students looked like they were paying attention, somewhat interested. So, I guess if it arouses interest in even a couple of minds it is worth showing.

April 21, 2008

Volunteering – 04/09/08

Back at Cityview and we’re working on homework again. Most of the kids have a math worksheet to do, multiplication and division with word and picture problems. One student who I had noticed is usually alone – who doesn’t talk much but still isn’t that quiet because of his constant wondering and fiddling – seemed to be having trouble with the math worksheet. I offered to help but he wouldn’t even respond to me, so I let him be. I went around briefly answering questions from other students, then went back to the first student to see if he would accept any help this time. He seemed annoyed with me and basically told me to leave him alone, so I did. I began to help a student sitting close to him. Something must have made the first student change his mind because as I went through the worksheet with the other student he asked several times for my help. I went back and forth between the two students, and once the second student had all the help he needed I sat down with the first student and we finished the worksheet.

April 17, 2008

Presentation Styles

One place I found as inspiration was City of Sound – as they will tell you, it is a website dedicated to cities, design, architecture, media music and more.

City of Sound.gif

Here you can find a number of interesting projects, well documented and well displayed

building design.jpg

March 21, 2008

Volunteering – 03/12/08

My first time volunteering this semester – I’m back at the same place I volunteered last semester: Cityview with elementary students. I remembered a few of the kid’s names and some of them remember me.

As usual, we started by helping the kids with any questions they had on their homework. The first challenge of this is to get them to admit they have homework and to take it out (some of them are always good at this, quite a few of them, understandably, just don’t want to do homework). Once they have their homework out it can be challenging to get them to focus on it. 30% concentration is an accomplishment. Most kids are good about asking when they need help but often its apparent they just want you to do it for them. Some kids almost never ask for help when they need it and may even get upset if you offer. And there’s usually one or two that just refuse to do anything at all.

One of these kids – one that seemed to have had a bad day – looked like he was on a do nothing track for the day. Another volunteer showed up, a basketball player that this kid was obviously impressed with – his attitude changed immediately. He asked me to help him write a “big fish? tale for the volunteer – so that’s what we did for the rest of the time.

March 5, 2008

Built Connections


For the first 18 years of my life I lived in small cities and rural areas. This lead to a complete dependency on automobiles because almost nothing was walking, or even biking, distance. An unquestioned acceptance of the consequences of automobiles came with this – air pollution being one obvious example.

Small cities can also contribute to poor eating habits – (this seems true of most small town USA, particularly in the Midwest). There are not many options. Eating healthy can be expensive and is so often ignored. You’re more likely to accept without thought the eating habits of those around you because alternatives aren’t apparent. Luckily for me both of my parents are doctors and did a good job of making a variety of healthy foods available. Still, those around me then and America’s food culture then and now affect my eating decisions – I wonder what long-term effects a life time of fast food and frozen dinners will have on my health.

The semi-rural area where I grew up also had (I think overwhelmingly) positive affects. We lived out of the city limits in the forest. This overturned any negative health affects of automobile dependency. Woods exploration was a near everyday activity. This offered more than enough exercise and outdoor exposure to compensate for drives everywhere else. An endless package of natural phenomena to keep my mind busy, swamps, ponds, trees, animals, easy access to camping, and fishing, gave me love and appreciation for the natural world around me (not the “built environment?, I know, but where our environment was built).

Since then I have lived in much more urban areas.

Anchorage, AK

Anchorage, Alaska was a nature lovers dream but somehow depressing and isolated, even from ideas.

Los Angeles, CA

Los Angeles is unarguably urban but I relied on my car more than ever. Close access to the mountains was an unexpected perk. Food was everywhere and anything. The mass flow of ideas – the variety of music venues and movies and art exhibitions – completed the well rounded experience that I consider very positive.

San Diego, CA

San Diego was calm. Living downtown made most places easily accessible by foot or bicycle. The hills to the east and the beaches to the west were beautiful. I always wanted to be outside, even if it was raining.

Phoenix, AZ

Phoenix was hot and dirty. But it’s because of this that so many new ideas and programs related to sustainability are born there. Some intelligent minds are working vigorously on air pollution, water conservation, and cheaper, more energy efficient ways of cooling buildings. Still, developmental mistakes of the past are blaring. Car travel was a must, all the houses look the same and they sprawl into the beautiful desert only to be engulfed by more identical houses, there is no “downtown? (or one that you’d want to traverse by foot, much of the city smells bad . . . I never wanted to be outside, except if it was raining.

Minneapolis, MN

Minneapolis has been a pleasant experience. Bus travel is easy – I rarely use a car. I can walk to get groceries, to get pizza, to get sushi, or to a park. I can bike almost anywhere else I need to go. Downtown has culture and I don’t mind walking it (unless it’s extremely cold).

The built environment has allowed me to move quickly and relatively painlessly from built environment to built environment. I experience different places because of it. I have instant communication with people across the country (or across the world) because of it. A travel to a place because of it and I travel away from a place because of it. It can bring or push me toward nature. It can lure me to or force me from itself. Its influence on me is in its connections.

February 27, 2008

Cultural Consumption


In an imagined place, free from any program and whatever else might hold me back, I would be an Anthony Bourdain. I would travel around the world from country to country, culture to culture - eat their food, drink their booze, then write about how dank it is.

Eating is a sacred activity no matter where you go (on Earth or in history). By sharing this with them not only would I gain a certain amount of cultural knowledge and understanding, if I could write (this is imaginary) I would describe to others a wide variety of incredible food, incredible cultures, and incredible ideas. Hopefully I could influence people not to see differences in others that seem strange, but to see differences that seem delicious.

A fascination with other cultures and a desire to learn from them would be a healthy shift for America. How do they keep their house cool . . . How do they transport themselves . . . How do they educate their children . . . How do they have fun . . . there’s a lot there to appreciate.

February 20, 2008

Sustainable Values


I’ll start with a painting by Magritte. A man looks at an egg and paints a bird. Anyone working on a problem or project, anyone in the design profession, should be able to look at something and imagine what it could be.

The project I chose is sustainability. There is no way to map how I arrived at and held on to the values that caused me to choose this project. Images, songs, and quotes constantly influence me in ways I can’t predict. So I’ll list a few . . . try to move in the direction of values related to sustainability . . . and try to explain how they affected me. I may be wrong but this kind of thing is very confusing anyway.

And so we had a prodigiously psychedelic experience, which was transcendental, intense, brilliant, insightful, profound, a passage beyond death where deceased family members, departed statesmen, deities, talking fish, animated weather fronts would carry on lively conversations with us and each other.
-Joe Frank

This is a quote from a radio piece called “Mountain Rain? done by Joe Frank. A confusing and fresh perception of the world. I think it is important from time to time to let yourself experience life like this . . . with complete wonder and awe.

I’ll quote pieces of the following songs and try to explain the various types of awe they represent.

The band Godspeed You! Black Emperor is mostly instrumental. Their affect on me has been significant largely because so much is left open to interpretation. Spliced within their music are monologues, rants, and even small songs. You’ll be confronted with anything from this folksy tune:

(from Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven - Antennas To Heaven):

what do we do with the baby
what do we do with the baby-o
wrap him up in a tablecloth
throw him up in the old hay loft
that's what you do with the baby
that's what you do with the baby-o
every time the baby grins
give my baby a bottle of gin
that's what you do with the baby
that's what you do with the baby-o
every time the baby cries
stick my finger in the baby's eye

to the nostalgic story of an old man:

(from Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven – Sleep):

It was Coney Island, they called Coney Island the playground of the world. There was no place like it, in the whole world, like Coney Island when I was a youngster. No place in the world like it, and it was so fabulous. Now it's shrunk down to almost see. And, uh, I still remember in my mind how things used to be, and...uh, you know, I feel very bad. But people from all over the world came here...from all over the was the playground they called it the playground of the world...over here. Anyways, you see, know...I even got, when I was very small, I even got lost at Coney Island, but they found me...on the...on the beach. And we used to sleep on the beach here, sleep overnight…they don't do that anymore. Things see. They don't sleep anymore on the beach.

Godspeed You Black Emperor! - Sleep
Found at

Their first track on what I think was their debut album stuck with me. It starts with a poem spoken by what sounds like an old Native American man:

(from Godspeed You! Black Emperor - F# A# (Infinity) – The Dead Flag Blues):

the car's on fire and there's no driver at the wheel
and the sewers are all muddied with a thousand lonely suicides
and a dark wind blows
the government is corrupt
and we're on so many drugs
with the radio on and the curtains drawn

we're trapped in the belly of this horrible machine
and the machine is bleeding to death

the sun has fallen down
and the billboards are all leering
and the flags are all dead at the top of their poles

it went like this:

the buildings tumbled in on themselves
mothers clutching babies picked through the rubble
and pulled out their hair

the skyline was beautiful on fire
all twisted metal stretching upwards
everything washed in a thin orange haze

I said: "kiss me, you're beautiful -
these are truly the last days"

you grabbed my hand and we fell into it
like a daydream or a fever

we woke up one morning and fell a little further down -
for sure it's the valley of death

I open up my wallet
and it's full of blood

Godspeed You Black Emperor! - The Dead Flag Blues
Found at

They create dark and obscure social commentaries through haunting soundscapes that I can’t get enough of. Using a similar technique of integrating seemingly random voices into a narrative The Books create some obscure commentary of their own:

(from The Books – Lost and Safe – Be Good to Them Always):

I can hear a collective rumbling in America.
I've lost my house, you've lost your house.
I don't suppose it matters which way we go.
This great society is going smash.

Oh, he's in the middle of putting things together and organizing himself.
You do not need to stand on one foot.
The modern town hardly knows silence.
You are doing something the whole world is doing.

You know I simply cannot understand people.
Oh, how sadly we mortals are deceived by our own imagination.
This is not real life; this is, for us aleatoric television, a mixed consort of soft instruments.

A culture is no better than its woods: a feeling of being connected with the past.
Look at it this way: you may fall and break your leg, and so one leg is shorter than the other. Can nothing more be done?

The Books - Be Good To Them Always
Found at

I particularly like the line about culture and woods.

(from Akron Family – Angels of Light & Akron Family – Future Myth):

Many years ago we found that
Light and sound were ample food.
We forgot about ourselves and
Reconnected me to you. . .

The future myth
Stories of the present when
they're past.
The future myth
Writing isn't reading till it's done.
The future myth
Global views of things we've
missed uh huh.
Like finding scissors,
Right in front of us.

We have an intense and mysterious world around us. Some songs capture it:

(from Neutral Milk Hotel – In the Aeroplane Over the Sea – In the Aeroplane Over the Sea):

And one day we will die
And our ashes will fly
From the aeroplane over the sea
But for now we are young
Let us lay in the sun
And count every beautiful thing we can see. . .

Can't believe how strange it is to be anything at all.

Neutral Milk Hotel - In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
Found at

The last line above, the last line in the song, sums up this idea of a world full of wonder and awe. Our environment is incredible in its complexity and connectivity. We should work with it, not against it. It has a lot to teach us:

(from Devendra Banhart – Niño Rojo – Little Yellow Spider):

Little yellow spider, laughing at the snow
Ah, maybe that spider knows something that I don't know
'Cause I'm goddamn cold

Little white monkey, staring at the sand
Well, maybe that monkey figured out something I couldn't understand
Who knows? . . .

And hey there, Mr. happy squid, you move so psychedelically
You hypnotize with your magic dance all the animals in the sea
For sure

Devendra Banhart - Little Yellow Spider
Found at

A few songs have an uncanny way of showing our environment and our relationship to it:

(from Joanna Newsom – Ys – Emily):

There is a rusty light on the pines tonight
Sun pouring wine, lord, or marrow
Down into the bones of the birches
And the spires of the churches
Jutting out from the shadows
The yoke, and the axe, and the old smokestacks and the bale and the barrow
And everything sloped like it was dragged from a rope
In the mouth of the south below. . .

I dreamed you were skipping little stones across the surface of the water
Frowning at the angle where they were lost, and slipped under forever
In a mud-cloud, mica-spangled, like the sky'd been breathing on a mirror

Anyhow - I sat by your side, by the water
You taught me the names of the stars overhead that I wrote down in my ledger
Though all I knew of the rote universe were those Pleiades loosed in December
I promised you I‘d set them to verse so I'd always remember

That the meteorite is a source of the light
And the meteor's just what we see
And the meteoroid is a stone that's devoid of the fire that propelled it to thee

And the meteorite's just what causes the light
And the meteor's how it's perceived
And the meteoroid's a bone thrown from the void that lies quiet in offering to thee

Joanna Newsom - Emily
Found at

And what's close to us is easy to enjoy:

(from Modest Mouse – Everywhere and his nasty Parlor Tricks – So Much Beauty in Dirt):

Roll down the windows and open our mouths
Taste where we are and play the music loud
Stop the car, lay on the grass
The planets spin and we watch space pass . . .

There’s so much beauty it could make you cry

A pulse:

(from Smog – Dongs of Sevotion – Bloodflow):

In this wonderful world
Hold on
In this beautiful world
Hold on


Do we care about the environment that spawned us? In the next song David Thomas Broughton explains what he wouldn’t do to someone he cares about. Good call David:

(from David Thomas Broughton - The Complete Guide to Insufficiency – Execution):

I wouldn't take her to an execution
I wouldn't take her to a live sex show
I wouldn't piss or shit on her would I?
Because I love her so.

David Thomas Broughton - Execution
Found at

Some pictures I took while in Alaska . . . self explanatory:









February 13, 2008

Minnesota Wind

Sustainability is one of the most important and exciting global goals. Renewable energy, of course, is a major part of this. Wind energy is clean, safe, and completely renewable. With new design developments in the transmission of this power, wind energy will offer all of this with a small price tag. This will help economic and environmental concerns and improve our overall social well being.

Locally the problem with transmitting this energy is small. According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA - Minnesota has the 9th greatest wind energy potential of the United States. Our state currently produces 657 billion kilowatts of wind generated energy per year – third overall in the United States behind California and Texas. John Dunlop, the northern Great Plains regional manager of AWEA, claims we are on our way to being first by 2012.

Lake Benton MN.jpg
Lake Benton, Minnesota

Windustry is a non-profit wind energy information organization based in Minneapolis, Minnesota – A section of their website titled Your Wind Project addresses another attractive feature of wind energy in Minnesota and allows people in rural communities to become directly involved and benefit from this movement. By leasing their land to a wind developer a home or farm owner can power their property and can collect revenue by connecting to a transition system nearby.

Concern: There is no government wind energy policy.

Response: The wind energy industry is already well developed in Europe. For example, Denmark receives one third of its electrical energy from wind. These are very effective systems we could use as models to determine how to manage wind energy systems. Also, the Cape Wind Project (in Cape Cod, Massachusetts – planned 130 wind turbines off the coast of Cape Cod that will provide ¾ of the Cape and Islands electrical power) already has 17 federal and state agencies involved in oversight. They invoked the Public Interest Doctrine and have undergone a more thorough review than any of New England’s coal, gas, or oil power plants ever went through.

Off the coast of Copenhagen, Denmark

Concern: Could turbines have a negative effect on the surrounding environment or wildlife?

Response: On land across America the only possible victim could be birds. However, modern turbines move at no more than 12 to 15 revolutions per minute and there has been no evidence that they have any effect on birds. The effects of off shore wind farms may be more complicated, but (again with Europe as an example) well established of shore wind farms across the Atlantic have shown no negative environmental impacts.

Concern: Would they be an eyesore?

Response: The question of aesthetics is, of course, subjective. Personally I find them eye-catching and attractive. I used to live in Los Angeles and my parents lived in Phoenix so I made the trip back and forth many times. The wind farm outside of Palm Springs was always the highlight of my drive – especially at sunset. They seem more like active sculptures than power plants.

wind palm springs.jpg
Outside of Palm Springs, California

February 6, 2008

Goldsworthy and the Energy of a City

Andy Goldsworthy’s film Rivers and Tides first reminded me of a couple of ideas in the area of physics. The first, of course, was conservation of energy. In any given system the amount of energy must remain constant. Matter is energy and energy is matter. The second is more complicated. I’m not as familiar with it but from what I understand the ideas seem to apply. This is the Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia’s short description of Chaos Theory:

Chaos theory, in mathematics, physics, and other fields, a set of ideas that attempts to reveal structure in aperiodic, unpredictable dynamic systems such as cloud formation or the fluctuation of biological populations. Although chaotic systems obey certain rules that can be described by mathematical equations, chaos theory shows the difficulty of predicting their long-range behavior. In the last half of the 20th cent., theorists in various scientific disciplines began to believe that the type of linear analysis used in classical applied mathematics presumes an orderly periodicity that rarely occurs in nature; in the quest to discover regularities, disorder had been ignored. Thus, chaos theorists have set about constructing deterministic, nonlinear dynamic models that elucidate irregular, unpredictable behavior.

- The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia Copyright © 2004, Columbia University Press.
Licensed from Columbia University Press

In relating this idea of chaos to the energy of a city I am reminded of Godfrey Reggio’s 1982 film Koyaanisqatsi. The title is a Hopi word that means “life in turmoil? or “life out of balance?. The Hopi did not find this term to necessarily be negative, however. It is the unpredictable nature, the mystery of life. Specific scenes in the film that come to mind are those of a chaotic city. There are sped up shots of cars moving through busy intersections and people moving through urban spaces. If you follow any one car or person the movement can seem random but if you view the flow as a whole a pattern emerges. This theme is present in Goldsworthy’s film. As he tosses snow into the air the path of any single particle seems arbitrary but as a whole system complex patterns are visible.



An all around way to examine the flow and transformation of energy in a city is to analyze every sensory element we experience when in an urban landscape – from the sound of a street lamp to the smell of a library. One book (which I haven't read) that looks at these aspects of the urban experience is Sense of the City: An Alternate Approach to Urbanism by Wolfgang Schivelbusch (Contributor), Norman Pressman (Contributor), Emily Thompson (Contributor), Mirko Zardini (Contributor, Editor), Constance Classen (Contributor), and David Howes (Contributor).

The sound of a city is an energy ignored but always influential. An extremely important aspect of a space is its sound. Restaurant, grocery store, gymnasium, or church – all easily identified alone through sound. Spaces Speak, Are You Listening?: Experiencing Aural Architecture by Barry Blesser, Linda-Ruth Salter focuses on this area of architecture.

Olfactory influences are also impossible to ignore. Steel or maple, concrete or vegetation – again, these differences are always important. Invisible Architecture: Experiencing Places Through the Sense of Smell by Anna Barbara and Anthony Perliss examines this.

Finally, there is the energy of ideas within a city. The city sustains a free flow of ideas as interesting to observe and as impossible to predict as the loops and swirls of red iron in the river.