Since I spend so much time ingesting works of Science Fiction I figure I should start reflecting on how these speculative realities influence my perceptions of the world and potentially offer ways forward for us all. (aka book reports)

Each yearly visit to Champaign, IL to visit my family is not complete without a lengthy adventure through the maze of books housed within the Jane Addams Bookstore downtown. A charming building from the early development of the railroad town over 100 years ago, it has been a local used and new bookstore for almost as long as I have been alive, and definitely since I could read. Lauren and I love to browse its dense and near-endless shelves for treasures of literature and uniquely unexpected gifts for our friends and families.

This year while navigating the two-layer deep shelves of the SciFi room on the second floor I can across two books by Alfred Bester. We have had a couple of his classic science fiction novels on our list for SkyFi book club for many years, but have never gotten around to it (its a long and ever-growing list). The front layer of books reveled The Computer Connection from 1975 and sneakily placed behind it, Deceivers from 1982. Both are old, wonderful smelling mass-market paperbacks with cracking flaking covers and yellowing pages. Perfect indulgences for travel and the gaps of time on trains and Sunday mornings.

My initial impression of Deceivers, straight from the cover (that is what they are designed for after all), was that this must be some slightly ridiculous classic male hero space adventure. There is a macho man with face tattoos in a spacesuit standing chest proud and ready for battle. He is wielding a tribal spear and large stone with a ceremonial knife tucked in his belt. This has to be some cheesy 60's sci-fi adventure story, set on the moons of Jupiter, filling the background, in the pursuit of a woman, honor, and riches. I flipped the book over and noted the $2.50 price tag, further eliciting my interest in this discovered gem. Even more than the over the top cover art and the easy on the wallet price (I may buy too many books) the back cover description sealed the deal.


(I have copied the text below for easier reading)

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IN A COSMIC CON-GAME OF DEATH AND DECEPTION IT'S WINNER TAKE ALL...


Rogue Winter - king of the Maori commandos, Starstud and Cosmic Casanova - embarks on a journey across the Solar System in search of his kidnapped lover, Demi Jeroux. Cruising the speedy Solar Circuit - From the Paradise of Carnal Pleasures to the bloody torture chambers of asteroid Triton - Rouge uncovers a grisly pattern of evil...a snakepit of spies and skullduggery, blackmail and murder.


Kidnapped by the demonic Manchu Duke of Death, Demi is a pawn in his sadistic struggle for control of Meta-crystals - a super-secret source of unlimited energy concealed deep beneath the surface of Triton, Rogue is one of the few men alive capable of following the Manchu's trail. On his interplanetary voyage in pursuit of the deadly Manchu, Rogue encounters the brutal Meta-Mafia henchmen, their treacherous golden-skinned virgins, and a shadowy terrorist network determined to end the Maori king's reign.


But Rogue's ultimate confrontation will be with the Duke of Death. Their fiery battle of wits will decide not only his own fate and that of his lovely bedmate Demi Jeroux but also the future if the Solar System and its freedom from the Manchu Empire.

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What more can I say, Starstud, skulduggery, Maori commandos in space, the Duke of Death and his shadowy terrorist network? This must either be a cosmic spectacle or the inevitable disaster of a machismo James Bond in space. Shall we venture inside?


(I won't go into too much detail about the story, it was entertaining with a unique and fitting style)


1) The story has a real James Bond (interstellar) man of mystery with a dash of Clark Kent, (anything but) mild-mannered reporter larger than life male fantasy vibe to it. There is even a self-conscious reference to Ian Flemming's stories in the book as a subtle jab at the absurdity of it all. It definitely had that machismo chauvinistic womanizing conquest undertone (overtone) but also provides sneaking moments of self-awareness and even subtle critique. I was very surprised when I turned to the front cover to see that is was published in 1982 as it feels to be much more of a product of the mid-1960s. I kept having the sneaking suspicion that the whole thing is a bit of a gag with a subtly heavy-handed criticism of the lingering culture of mid-century American male superiority complex. I will have to read a couple more of Bester's novels to see if this is a trend or an anomaly.


2) Race, Culture, and Sexuality oh my! Each of these subjects is treated as over the top stereotyped abstractions. There are many instances of cultural or racial denigration that made me a bit uncomfortable to be reading this thing on the subway (do other people know about this book, this author?). I did some quick Google research on Bester and didn't find any Internet gossip of him being a bigot (but definitely a little exccentric) so I again suspect that there was a deeper purpose to this. Was he throwing these absurdities in the face of his readers to challenge us to leave such antiquated notions behind as we move into the future and the starts?

The solar system, at first glance, seems even more starkly divided by racial and cultural boundaries. Whole planets are settled by specific ethnic groups and are often rooted in isolation and tribal superstition. Why has our interplanetary society not progressed beyond the closed-minded world of the 1960s? Again I suspect there is some sneaky subterfuge at play since it is gently revealed that most of these enclaves of ancient boundaries are actually quite diverse and integrated societies. That people have dispersed through the galaxy and found new and better models for social interaction. It is a strange and almost schizophrenic scenario that perhaps is the only possible universe for such a fantastically ridiculous adventure to take place with lighthearted insanity. Maybe my expectations of Science Fiction as a battleground for everything that could be better in humans through utopic vision and brutal critique are giving this dime-store adventure too much credit.


3) The depiction and demeanor of women is another complex and confusing position of the book. Demi is demure and literally melts to her desires for this Rogue. His own alpha male mentality is both overt and also constantly self-critical. The two quickly develop a steamy romance and a timeless bond that know no boundaries or limits of imagination. The female protagonist feigns weakness but displays extreme independence and cleverness. Women are top operatives and assassins, heads of secret societies and news house typists. Perhaps it is a desire for the adventures of a genre from younger days and a struggle with the emerging social organizations of the late 20th century (especially in SciFi). There is definitely a conflict at play, one that is uncomfortable and difficult to resolve, but also entertaining to navigate with a 2020 mindset.


When all is said and done, it was an entertaining and thought-provoking yarn. It was interesting to read something so far removed and yet perhaps so apropos to today's current struggles with race, class, gender, sexuality, and difference. I struggled to place the voice and intention of the author beyond a galactic romp, but I think there are deeper more complex forces at play. There are some dark scenes near the end that really push on the social justice and tolerance buttons, but it is never painted in the light of acceptable or desirable. The protagonist is not a model, but a figure, an aspect of acceptable prejudice that has a fading fire in the universe.


While that should probably be the final note, I will say that the story presents some very exciting ideas about computers in this strange future. They are organic machine hybrids, enslaved or nourished in tanks of vital fluid forming a network through the stars with their own secret society, only slightly revealed in the post-climax cooldown. I am now very interested to dig into The Computer Connection to both have a deeper glimpse at Bester's psyche and see where his speculations of future computer systems were going nearly fifty years ago.



Read. Write. Repeat.


Some mornings during my shower and while I prepare and eat my breakfast I like to listen to a podcast. This is usually something inspiring about human performance optimization or when I am feeling really indulgent, a short story from my favorite SciFi podcast, Escape Pod. I have been a fan of this podcast for the last seven years or so, since very early in their existence. I have taken many wonderful books and author recommendations from the stories to introduce in our sci-fi book club. Many of the short stories have touched me deeply due to the variety of creative themes, eccentric and committed narrators, and exuberant hosts and editors. I found myself wiping tears from my face while consulting onsite at a large office during a reading of Flowers For Algernon due to both the superb narration and the powerful story of a tragic friendship. I had a similar experience this morning (though in my own home) with episode number 689, Spectrum of Acceptance by Nyla Bright and narrated by Maxine Moore.



The story of a faraway colony of Earth that has become a bastion for the neuro-atypicals to explore alternative models of social organization and interaction in pursuit of a meaningful fulfilling life. Since this is a sci-fi story and it takes place on a faraway planet that is set up to support human life, it is no surprise that technology plays a significant role in supporting the complex and diverse society of slightly off baseline people looking for a culture of acceptance. I like that technology integration helps to smooth out some of the more complicated issues with people who may have a harder time being self-reliant without support forming a culture around being who you really are in service of the whole. This allowed me to focus on the subtle quirks of the main character trying to navigate the complexity of her NT emotions in a very foreign environment and calling to attention many things like subtle touch and eye contact that it is easy to take for granted. I also felt uncomfortable (in the good self-reflective kind of way) as the story made me think a lot about how these things, touching and eye contact, along with long drawn out emotional narratives that obfuscate intentions and distract from clarity, cause me a lot of anxiety each day.


Probably my favorite aspect of the story is the protagonist's quirky manner of reminding herself to clarify her thoughts and speech when it comes to metaphors. I couldn't help myself from experiencing the Earth ambassador as slimy and dense, but no he is just narrow-minded, self-important, and unovservant. Or are those metaphors too. The fun game of language, of the imagery that plays in our minds, and the question of are those inferences, interpretations, flashes of insight and predictive models even in the slightest degree-based in words. Words themselves each being a symbol of meaning far greater than the combination of letters and correct pronunciation. It would have bee nice if she began to discover through her encounter with the slimy dense earth man that she need not judge and correct her figurative language, but that there is also value in self-reflection and working through the metaphor to get at deeper meaning that can be shared with others on common ground.


The sacrifice her mother makes to offer her daughter what she knows she needs really got to me, though maybe from the opposite direction, as I greatly appreciate love and affection from a distance. Often just being in silence is completely fulfilling and speaks volumes to me, but probably not everyone. Different strokes for different folks, as they say, and as long as we say it with complete acceptance of those differences as both valuable and meaningful to the richness of life.


As the Vulcans say, infinite diversity in infinite combinations.


I repeat this line to myself quite often during my teaching. I look at the diverse and complex students each day with fresh eyes and optimism in the potential for unique and unexpected thinking. While I am charged with making sure they can in some way be versed in specific skills and concepts, the thing I enjoy most about teaching is guiding them to those outcomes with a broad and gentle hand. Experiencing the journey and trusting that with time and effort the gap between where a student begins and where I think they should be is crossed not by a bridge or zipline to answers, but filled in with questions and discoveries.


...and one more thing from the story (i hope by now you have taken the time to listen to it for yourself so I am not spoiling anything).


"We cared for people’s needs on Acceptance.  You need, really need, you ask. Otherwise, you serve."

This line comes toward the end of the story and is something I really connected to as a frontier outlook on life with the twist of service. Everyone is making their own way in their own way and respects that as a culture enough not to abuse support systems. Likewise, it is perfectly acceptable to ask for any help you need since the entire culture is devoted to being of service whenever necessary. The dichotomy of rugged self-reliance and a devotion to service is aspirational. It would require a lot of discipline and I dream would offer exceptional freedom as the story suggests.


This story also made me remember some of the storylines from Peter Watts's Blindsight. Many of his main characters have conditions of neuro-atypical expression, but the society of the future has found ways to accept them and give them meaning through occupations that take fuller advantage of the evolutionary potential of conditions like multiple personality and sociopathy. Blindsight was one of our favorite books in SkyFi and I should probably go back to it for a deeper dissection. Interestingly, when I went to Escape Pod's site to link to the story I saw that episode 690 just so happened to be The Things by Peter Watts. I know what I will be listening to tomorrow morning.


End of Log


The following video was a micro-lecture provided for the ARCH202 Intermediate Design studios at Pratt Institute as an introduction to concepts and techniques of architectural analysis through decompositional drawing and video-based representation. The first segment documents examples of forms of decomposition in architectural analysis drawing such as X-Rays/MRIs or layered transparent systems, scans, overlays, fades, and exploded relationships. I worked with diagrams with a fixed view (oblique or axonometric) and began to reconstitute the decomposed elements and systems into primitive video compositions.

The remainder of the video is intended to showcase several examples of video as a medium of architectural representation. The sections generally align with the predominant techniques of x-rays/scans, fades/compositions, and explosions/decompositions. A few of the examples are from my own work or works of students from the past fifteen years, but most are referenced examples found on YouTube or Vimeo. The intro segments that explore Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona Pavilion were extracted and animated from our Representation 2 course, Architectural Interfaces, which I am coordinating this semester. These are simple animated gifs created in Photoshop from series of drawings and diagrams output from Rhino.

Since graduate school, I have often produced short presentations in video format. It is a medium I enjoy working with, manipulating time and sequencing for an emotional effect that heightens the experience of the content. It is also a good way to keep a presentation to a strict time constraint, if a presentation is to be seven minutes, and I create a seven-minute video, then I must be disciplined in my verbal presentation and finish with the video. With a little more work I will even integrate the presentation as narration, but this isn't always as effective as a live performance.

Below is a general transcript from my lecture (though after several rehearsals I didn't read any of it, but I am pretty sure I covered all the points :):

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Let's begin with a few projects that you are all probably familiar with.

Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye is an often studied precedent of 20th-century modern architecture.

It exists between building and diagram, his five points, with clear formal, tectonic, programmatic, and material systems.

The video of a student's analysis (from youtube) implements several representational techniques to analyze the key elements and relationships of the project.

(try to ignore the strange hyperspace plans background)

The program is highlighted in planar and volumetric color overlays.

Architectural elements assemble based on layers of the plan, groups of similar elements, and clipping plane fades.

The simply rendered floor plans fade and composite to reveal material and program in connection to environment and provide a notational map of the spaces.

[PAUSE]

All of you have at least 80% of the skills to put together a video-based analysis and narrative like this. The only new representational techniques are camera animations and clipping plane animations.

[START]

We can start with what we know. Focused 3D views, isometric or oblique, that establish a platform of drawing layers to scan the architecture.

Animating overlayed elements and systems build complex integrations of parts-to-whole as we x-ray the architectural body.

Colors and tones organize differences and produce emphasis.

Layers become frames in time, decomposing the architecture.

[PAUSE]

A great place to start is with the classics, such as this exploded / sliced axon drawing of the Villa Savoye by Francis Ching.

Once you establish the decomposed elements and representational system, you can combine the assets to rich effect in a video or gif format.

[START]

The following are a couple of projects by OMA that offer more contemporary examples of architectural decomposition diagrams of building systems.

The Seattle Public Library - this model diagram of solid/void, circulation, and envelope gets straight to the primary ideas.

While simple in concept, the architectural consequences are quite complex.

OMA does a lot of analytical drawings to decompose the elements of the project and describe/represent the complexity of the systems - structure, slab, core, skin - x-ray.

[PAUSE]

We see both the x-ray of the architectural body and the exploded map of its inhabitation.

[START]

This circulation map is an exploded MRI scan of the complex circulation and activity connections through the building.

The CCTV Headquarters:

This project goes even further in the cataloging of decomposed elements.

We can see another complex assemblage of form, program, structure, and circulation.

[PAUSE]

A series of decomposed structural components isolated in a catalog of x-rays of the overall form documents the parts in context to the whole.

[START]

The program catalog has even more depth to its isolation of elements, categorization, and local and global contexts.

By compositing the series of isolated elements we can explore multiple connections simultaneously in the x-ray fade animation.

We can analyze architecture as a functionally integrated system of interconnected and discrete elements.

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From here on I decided to speak with the flow of the video, highlighting techniques and consequences of storytelling through the medium of video. Many, probably all, of the video excerpts are speed up by 150-200% to work with the time constraints of the lecture and isolate the techniques over the narratives.


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Beginnings

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During my graduate studies at Columbia GSAPP I had the opportunity to take several visual studies elective that introduced me to video as a representational and generative design tool. Since my undergraduate degree was packed with rigorous technical courses on structural systems, building environments, lighting, and mechanical systems I was able to opt-out of a few similar courses in grad school. This freed up a little extra space for me to explore extra electives, and for reasons now long lost to me, I took two classes with Prof. John Szot: Video Video and Cinematic Communications. These focused on technical aspects of working with video in tools like Aftereffects and Premiere, combining live DV video footage with synthetic computer-generated scenes, and developing a narrative in the medium of time, images, and sound.

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Video Video Based Analysis :: GSAPP :: 2005 :: with Singjoy Liang

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A rough attempt at compositing a speculative architectural facade system developed in our housing studio with a live video recording. Integrating the speculative with the real to give the viewer a space to integrate possibility with reality. The tectonic system and video composition were produced by Singjoy Liang and me in the fall of 2005.


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Cinematic Communications :: GSAPP :: 2006

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A short assignment to construct a video dialog with New York City. For me, this became a sort of music video grappling with my reactions to the pedestrian street landscape of NY during my first couple of years living here. Time and Overlay are the primary techniques, the video is cut to have a loose connection to sound events in the music and a dialog with the words of the song.


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Cinematic Communications :: GSAPP :: 2006 :: with Singjoy Liang

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The final assignment for this course was a video-based documentary of a condition in NYC. Singjoy and I were doing a project n Brownsville, Brooklyn in the Fall and had discovered an interesting group of people at a local community center that entertained our project. We both learned a great deal from the many interviews we had with the life long residents of the neighborhood, greatly enhancing our appreciation for the growth and evolution that has taken place in the density and complexity of New York.


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