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28 August 2009


"Beauty is the consonance of the parts such that nothing can be added or taken away." - Leon Battista Alberti

This is the inside of Crown Hall.


It's an old post card of the building that I now live in. As in, no I don't live in a YMCA mens hotel - just a converted one.

Starcraft 2

Starcraft 2 is finally close to release (here's a Q&A with the lead developer on Wired). For those people who aren't aware the original Starcraft has been the most successful RTS (real time strategy) game ever. In Japan and Korea there are professional gamers who pack stadiums with fans to compete for large prize pools. Crazy right? So this is kind of a big deal for them. (Hat tip: Gintas for the video)

27 August 2009

Tons of Links

"I believe in arithmetic." - Ben Bernacke when asked how he felt about Bush's tax cuts. According to Paul Krugman the Bush years are responsible for roughly 20% of our national debt.

Astronomers discover a HUGE sun.

Windows 7 might not suck like just about everything else Microsoft. Even Bing isn't too bad.

Olympus came out with a camera that I think is a step in the right direction. See, point and shoot cameras (the small ones that just about everyone has) are awesome in a number of ways. They're small (so you always have them), relatively inexpensive, and are really powerful (most image sensors on point and shoots aren't much worse than my nice DSLR). But they lack manual control and nice lenses. Here's Olympus's solution... not amazing, but definitely worth noting.

A crazy smart mathematician solves an age old math problem (video, kind of long).

Crows are amazingly smart as demonstrated here. Then it turns out they're not only smart but also better than us at recognizing members of another species. Both are must reads/watches for the truly dorky.

Starbucks goes incognito to look like a local coffee shop.


Musicians can pick out sounds and hear better in crowds than the non-musically gifted.

22 August 2009

Crown Hall - New Home

This is S.R. Crown Hall on IIT's Campus (photo from Wikipedia [I wasn't rocking a wide angle lens that day... or really any day. Anyone have a grand they want to give me?]). It's considered Mies van der Rohe's masterpiece and was made a National Historic Landmark in 2001.

Which is all a tad funny to me because I get to spend the next three years of my life cooped up in this building. Here's a photo of the inside:

The upper floor is wide open studio space; home to some 400-500 undergraduate and graduate architecture students. The basement houses a wood shop, spray booth, welding equipment, computer lab complete with huge printers and plotters, and an architectural library.

17 August 2009


I'd personally prefer to be cremated and placed under a sapling... maybe a weeping willow near a certain lake in NC I don't know...

But if I did have an epitaph it would read:

Stop stranger as you
pass by
As you are now so
once was I
As I am now so will
you be
So be prepared to
follow me

Monday Reading

Beautiful compact fluorescent light fixtures that open like a flower as they become warm.

Hubble Ultra Deep Field in 3D... again.

A great Q&A with Sam Adams Brewery founder Jim Koch.

The nine nations of North America. I've been saying this for years, but apparently someone realized it far before I did.

Just days from entering grad school for a profession that clearly doesn't need more people (architecture) I find that my other calling (statistics) is actually worth while... hmmm?

I don't know why I found this short article by Paul Krugman so interesting. It's just a comparative line graph between the US and Germany showing what the current recession has done to both countries' GDP. I guess it's just shocking to see what a 4% drop in GDP can do to our whole country.

I forgot to put in my "life update" below that I visited the more respectable part of my family; a neurosurgeon, a physicians assistant, a retired three star general, and between their three kids they have like... a doctor and three more masters degrees... it's sick; in Lafayette, IN. They, being part of the medical profession, are way more attune to the problems of socialized medicine than I. I learned some really interesting things and am of course a bit more skeptical now of the whole thing, but I just can't drop it. Why can't everyone in our country get decent health care? Why not? I get to have F-18's fly over my head every year, my whole city is power washed every week, we can land men on the moon, but I can't get affordable health care? There has to be a compromise. Here's an article from GOOD Magazine that highlights one of the many key issues to health care. That is, that we're willing to pay exorbant amounts of money on unneccesary or ineffective parts of health care (yes we all know this but their spin is interesting).

Oh, and one more. I was ready to tear this article to shreds, but it turns out I agree with the author. Want an affordable well built home? Make it smaller.

16 August 2009

Life Update?

I start orientation for school in three days. Yikes.

I walked home last night from just north of the Loop down Wabash Ave. to my apartment on 9th St. and I noticed something I really hadn't up until the last week. There are some really scary vacancies in commercial real estate here... places that I frequent - large businesses. A quick rundown of places within about two blocks of me that have went out of business in the last month or two include: Fedex Kinkos, Sam's Wine and Spirits (just opened and beautiful too), Orange (great breakfast place, closed a while ago), a variety of other smaller shops, and now Prairie Avenue Books (story here) is planning to close in September if they can't find a buyer. It's considered the best architectural bookstore in the world. Damn. I start school and they close down a week later, but in the mean time books are 60% off. My area has really improved over the last four years that I've lived here, but this is a regression I could do without.

I've had some really interesting religious... talks/explanations recently with some rather devout Catholics and other Christians. It always kind of amazes me the extent to which logical gymnastics must be performed in order for something to fit into a religious paradigm. Which really is not all that different from scientists working within a certain framework (quantum mechanics and Einstein's theories on gravity) and inventing things to make their observations fit with reality (see: dark matter). The difference being that scientists will move on to the next paradigm when the proof dictates such a shift. Anyways, I found this quote and it reminded me of another that I am fond of:

"This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brains, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness." - Dalai Lama

"When I do good, I feel good; when I do bad, I feel bad, and that is my religion." - Abraham Lincoln

And as long as I'm talking about science and religion. Why do Christians, generally the more "extreme" ones, often use the fact that the natural world isn't fully understood by science as a reason for God's existence?

Them - "Where did the universe come from then?"
Me - "The Big Bang."
Them - "Well where did the material for the Big Bang come from?"
Me - "That's harder to explain but if I could magically make you understand a lot of physics and make the internet appear before your eyes I'd say baryogenesis."
Them - Pick any of the following: confused look, "You're going to hell.", "There's no proof for that." (yes there is two guys won a Nobel Prize for it and O how ironic).

I promise I will never debate science and religion with anyone who denies evolution or the commonly accepted laws of physics as we currently understand them. And of course I'm going to hell. I've had way too much fun thus far.

Edit: The Air and Water Show is going on in Chicago. Everyone goes "ooohhh" and "aaahhh" when the FA-18's fly by and the F-22's seem to defy gravity, but I always think, "Can you imagine if those things were flying over your city for keeps? Instead of flying 300 knots they were going mach one point something and dropping munitions? Scary is an understatement."

13 August 2009

Health Care - Canada's Story

I thought this would be an appropriate time for this article from the Bathroom Reader (Curiously Compelling, 19th Edition which oddly enough is listed as humor/reference, ha). I've learned more from this series of books, per dollar I've spent, than probably any other learning activity - including my library fees.

Tommy Douglas's Wikipedia entry can be found here. Aside from setting up Canada's universal health care system he was also prime minister, lightweight boxing champion of Manitoba for two years, a Scotsman (psh, obviously), minister, and studied at University of Chicago but dropped out after he rejected his own thesis of eugenics based sterilization of the "unfit"... yikes, but good save?

05 August 2009

Debunking Yesterdays Facts

Do you really think the US Postal Service is terrible? Then why would US Health Care be the same? While I'm at it here's a super brief definitive guide to health care reform. It's a must read. Here it is:

"The essence is really quite simple: regulation of insurers, so that they can’t cherry-pick only the healthy, and subsidies, so that all Americans can afford insurance.

Everything else is about making that core work. Individual mandates are a way to prevent gaming of the system by people who don’t sign up until they’re sick; employer mandates a way to hold down the on-budget costs by preventing a rush by employers to drop insurance; the public option a way to create effective competition and hold costs down further.

But what it means for the individual will be that insurers can’t reject you, and if your income is relatively low, the government will help pay your premiums.

That’s it."

The cost of living has actually gone down (2.2% in Chicago).

Your spleen is in fact quite essential to your health. It holds all your monocytes (the bad-asses of your white blood cells) in reserve. I'm not sure if the same can be said of their analogy - a large standing army is vital to the health of a nation.... hm.

America has fewer small businesses than Europe, so no, we're not so individual.

Obama isn't an American citizen according to 75% of the South. I'm speechless... Dear South, stop being racist. That shit was never cool and now it's not even acceptable. On a side note - one does have to wonder - the Civil War was fought because the South succeeded; not slavery. Why did they succeed? Because not a single southern state's electoral college had voted for Lincoln. They felt as if they had no voice so they formed their own country. Kind of makes you wonder...

04 August 2009

Where Energy Comes From and How We're Going to Collect It

Warning: wonkish and a tad trippy if you've never thought about this stuff.

All the available energy on earth; whether it be oil, bio-fuel, or wind power; comes from the sun.

Well mostly... geothermal energy comes from fissures in the crust of the earth which release energy derived from the intense gravity experienced in the core of the earth which causes rocks to melt into magma deep within the earth allowing us to capture steam. Which is similar, in the sense that gravity causes all the hydrogen to compress, to the sustained fusion reaction that is our sun.

Anyways, outside of geothermal, all energy on earth comes from the sun. Oil and coal are just ancient organic material (things that used to be alive like plants and animals) that has been allowed to sort of ferment into a primordial soup that we can extract and crack in a refinery and use for fuel. It is literally stored sunlight. Wind power is made possible by the sun heating up the earth as it rotates causing warm and cool spots which changes the density of air and causes it to seek an equilibrium density - that is, move. Hydroelectric is just solar energy causing water to evaporate, rain, and then give up its potential energy as it runs downhill. Solar is pretty self explanatory. Nuclear is the exception. Then again it's also imitating how the sun produces energy... or the exact opposite. Whatever.

The total amount of energy hitting the earth is 174 Peta watts (10^15 watts) per day. Of that about 89 PW actually make it through the atmosphere and hit the earth (that much energy could run a 14 watt compact fluorescent light bulb for 730 billion years... or about 50 times longer than the age of the universe). Without going into space, without using stored energy, assuming 100% efficiency, by stealing light from every other organism - that is the amount of energy available to us. Our Current usage rates seem to be on the order of 15-16 Terra watts (10^12)(as of 2005).

So... (8.9 x 10^16 watts)/(1.6 x 10^13 watts) ~ 5600

Meaning that if we could capture 1/5600 or .018% of the energy hitting the earths surface we could meet all our current power demands.

Currently about 80%-90% of our energy comes from non-renewable resources like coal and gas. That is, stored sunlight. So that means that 10-20% comes directly from the sun. Let's take the more optimistic of both figures; 20% renewable and 16 TW total usage and you get 3.2 x 10^12 watts.


Total watts from sunlight available for collection (89 PW) divided by current watts actually collected (3.2 TW) equals roughly 28,000. So currently we're collecting 1/28,0000 or .0036% (at best) of the energy available to us. Way to go team.

The reason why understanding this is fundamental is because it proves that given the appropriate amount of time solar and its related technologies will become viable. We haven't even come close to tapping direct solar energy as a resource. Conversely, things like clean coal may be necessary in the short run, but they are clearly not ultra-long term solutions. The solar industry says that they are already competitive without any of the huge leaps that the media and government have said were needed to make it competitive with fossil fuels.

Side note: If fossil fuels are properly taxed to include their negative externalities this will instantly make renewables more competitive by revealing the true cost of burning fossil fuels. I know it seems crazy, but paying more for your gas (in this case due to a rise in taxes) will help everyone in the long run.

So what's the latest and greatest on these technologies? Wind turbines are being rethought to make them cheaper. This includes turning them around, allowing the blades to flex so as to capture additional gusts of wind, and using just 2 props. Solar-thermal, one of my favorites due to its sheer simplicity, just got modular. GMO's in the form of bacteria that eat CO2 and sunlight (sounds like my mum) have been engineered to create an ethanol like fuel. And then there's the grand daddy, literally, of them all; fusion. Long shot? This approach might be, but one day in the not so distant future (less than 80 years is my prediction) this will be the single greatest source of energy for humans. Not including the sun...

It's worth noting that the majority of your electricity bill is determined by costs associated with transmission and generation; not the cost of whatever is being burned to produce the energy, so realistically nanopower - that is, self powered buildings should become the norm.

03 August 2009


This is an interesting blog I check out occasionally. These ones are actually a bit older. You can see all the (hilarious and inane) comments (at least for the first one - I mean, what is to be expected?) by clicking on the images.

These are titled:

Choose Your Battles Carefully

Let's Talk About the Weather