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31 January 2010

Marika-Alderton by Glenn Murcutt

I just finished a project for studio where we documented the construction methods through 3D computer modeling and a physical model (1:20 metric). My building was the Marika-Alderton house in Northern Australia designed by Glenn Murcutt.

The house was designed to withstand 200 kpm winds and is entirely naturally ventilated. This house was designed as a reaction to the fact that Aboriginal people are often housed in concrete masonry (CMU) buildings with poor ventilation, small windows, and poor drainage. They tend to be hot, dark, and are plagued with standing water. This has led to many conflicts between their inhabitants and the Austrailian government. Murcutt spent three years visiting and staying with his clients, an Aboriginal artist and her husband, to learn about traditional Aboriginal structures - of which there aren't really any other than long structures formed by bending a tree down and making a roof from bark and leaves to form a temporary shelter. The house is prefabricated and then assembled on site. This idea being that this design could be an alternative to the current government provided structures.

The model is made of basswood, MDF, homasote, polystyrene, and various glues and oil based paints. Most of the pieces are laser cut and the roof was vacuum formed from two molds I made. Everything else was either hand cut or fabricated in the woodshop.

19 January 2010

GOOD's Slow Issue

GOOD Magazine - The Slow Issue

Q&A with Aubrey de Grey.

GOOD discusses building things that last with Saul Griffith. He's spoken at TED a few times; short and long.

Architecture that forces you to be more active. This is something that I think about fairly often. Our society is so ridiculously good at removing all physical activity from our daily lives; we don't have to scrub our clothes, climbing stairs is done by escalators and elevators, our walk or bike to work is easily done by train and car, etcetera. It's so hard to find physical activity that we design special buildings where we go to run in place and lift heavy objects for no real purpose. It's kind of hilarious and sad at the same time.

Interesting take on investing locally from GOOD. They promote investing locally in socially responsible businesses and being involved with local agriculture which according to them generally comes with a steadier 4-5% interest rate. Hm. Study after study has shown locavorism (eating locally) to be worse off for the environment. Not that I'm entirely against it, just that I think people go a bit too far in requiring all their food be sourced locally. The reality is that our food delivery system is just incredibly efficient and the energy involved in transporting food makes up a really small percentage of the total energy needed to create that food. I do support investing in a socially responsible way, but that's a tricky one. It could probably be reasonably argued that the higher interest rate that most people expect (7-9% as opposed to 4-5%) is just a negative externality being shoved off on someone/thing else that you are then capturing. So really isn't the solution to change laws regarding negative externalities? Basically you're getting left in the dust by those that are willing to play the grey area. And of course it's not that simple, but usually doing the right thing pays off. Who gets the benefits is the question and my argument is that it should go to those doing the right thing.

16 January 2010

Cohabitation and Marriage Quality, Rates of Divorce, etc.

I decided to research and write this after having a discussion and realizing that all my arguments were anecdotal, so I did what any good dork would do. I searched JSTOR and wrote about it. With the exception of research concerning vitamins and phytochemicals this is easily some of the most frustrating and in many instances poorly done research I've ever read. I rarely feel that I have the right to criticize so many psychological studies and pHDs (especially considering that all I possess is a B.S. in psych and to be honest I wasn't exactly a stellar psych student), but in this case I make an exception.

Many of the studies made use of data from the 1960's through the mid-1990's which is problematic because cohabitation is a fairly recent phenomenon; which also presents some research opportunities as natural experiments. A few studies that I read tried to exploit this but were unable to find a result as the sample sizes they used were too small to procure a significant result. One study (#2) didn't account for the religiosity of the participants in its study. Why bother even publishing your study - to prove that there is a difference between religious couples who get married without living together first and those who cohabit and don't subscribe to any particular religion? You don't need to do a study to know that... never the less it has now been proven. Anyways, less bitching more science.

It is fairly well agreed that those who cohabit, as a general population, are more likely to get divorced and do tend to be less happy with their marriages* (way at the bottom). This is more or less agreed upon although many seem to make this the sole point of their investigation, but to me that seems to miss the point. What's dangerous about just hearing this is that one is inclined to believe that one leads to another (correlation does not equal causation - the mantra of every stats class). But look at popular media. It's not a lie, couples who cohabit are more likely to struggle and fail, but most people who read that are going to imply that living together before marriage is going to negatively effect their relationship, but read carefully. They're just saying that the two are correlated - not that one causes the other. Cohabitation is merely selective of those who are less committed and more approving of divorce.

There are currently three ways to approach why this difference exists. The first is the duration of the relationship, then the selection perspective, and finally the experience of cohabitation perspective.

1- The duration of the relationship effects a marriage (and studies surrounding it) in that those who cohabit before marriage are essentially beginning their marriages earlier. Since half of all divorces occur in the first seven years of marriage and marriage satisfaction tends to decrease with time (Kurdek, 1999) these marriages do tend to be less happy and end earlier. Thus, by the time people end up marrying they are less happy with their relationship and closer to divorce from a statistical perspective.

2 - The selection perspective posits that those who enter into cohabitation are less likely to be religious, more accepting of divorce, to not believe in marriage, are often younger when they get married (which is a really good predictor of divorce), are more likely to have divorced parents, etc. This position is well supported (#1) with the only real objections coming from studies that I find a bit lacking. Sample sizes of 90 and not accounting for religiousness just don't seem scientifically rigorous. Again, people who choose to cohabit as opposed to get married right away are very distinct groups. For a really good reading of this check out the discussion section of #5 below. I won't get into all of it here but it explores the relationship between education, gender, religiousness (not a reliable predictor of promiscuity), cohabitation, and a few other variables in relationship outcomes. Their main conclusion is that cohabiting women tend to act more like dating women than married women, and that the characteristics by which cohabiting people choose partners is different than those used by those who do not live together before marriage.

3 - The experience perspective says that the actual act of cohabiting somehow effects its participants - generally to the detriment of their future relationships. I found less evidence for this effect. Those that did support this conclusion had what I thought was unconvincing if not well done research. The third study below says that although significant results were found they were admittedly small and due to unidentified third-party variables (hmmm), so it essentially became another study linking cohabitation to divorce and less stable marriages.

Some conclusions from what I read:

Couples who cohabit prior to marriage, as a group, tend to have less satisfying marriages (and really relationships) in general for many reasons. While some researchers think the variables determining this effect are known others are unsure.

In the early 1990's about 60% of people lived together before marriage. Contrast that with only 10% in the late 1960's and early 1970's. Divorce rates for first marriages (not second and so on) during that period have stayed relatively stable.

Some studies (#4) have found that when premarital cohabitation and premarital sex are limited to only the person married (in this case the woman marrying her husband, I have no idea why this study was only done for women) the levels of satisfaction and divorce are no different than those who did not engage in premarital sex or premarital cohabitation. By extension, this supports the selection perspective in that those who get married without living together beforehand are in fact a different group of people than those who cohabit long before marriage.

The longer a couple cohabits, the more likely they are to get married. By year ten over 80% of (white) cohabiting couples get married. If a couple that cohabited is still married past seven years the negative effect associated with cohabiting prior to marriage disappears.

As living together prior to marriage first became mildly tolerated, at least legally, the most common reason was to do so was to "see if a marriage was possible." Essentially a trial run. This is no longer the case. People are more likely to respond that they cohabit to see their partner more often and for reasons of convenience and economy.

Cohabitation is illegal in five states: Florida, Mississippi, West Virginia, Virginia, and Michigan. Although, to be fair, it's rarely enforced.

Regardless of living status before being married, marriage increases the level of commitment in a relationship. However, those that marry without living together first tend to be more similar in terms of ascribed characteristics such as age and religion. Those who cohabit tend to select partners based on achieved status (#5).

*This study (#6) bucks the trend in saying that cohabitation may not in fact be deleterious to a marriage. At least not intrinsically. Its discussion section is well worth a read. Here's an excerpt:

"Far from being a mere rite of passage, the act of becoming formally married may have deep and quite different meaning for those who marry after cohabiting or after traditional courtship. To the latter, marriage is a liberating ritual through which new possibilities, notably, the public establishment of a common household, are opened to a couple and are celebrated. Cohabiters have already established common residence and have had to define their roles to each other and before friends and, often, to defend their action before parents. To them, the aspect of marriage which is emphasized is not the freedom it brings but the assumption of new responsibilities. It is this which, reflected in responses to the items of the scale, leads to their lower scores. If this latter explanation of the score differentials is valid, one would predict that as couples move further into their first decade, their premarital practice, whether courtship or cohabitation, would have progressively less influence on marital adjustment."

The studies I consulted were the following (these aren't full citations, I'm assuming no one is going to look them up but if you do this info should be sufficient):

1 - The Relationship between Cohabitation and Divorce: Selectivity or Causal Influence?, by William G. Axinn and Arland Thornton Demography, 1992 Population Association of America.

2 - The Relationship between Cohabitation and Marital Quality and Stability: Change across Cohorts?, by Claire M. Kamp Dush, Catherine L. Cohan and Paul R. Amato Journal of Marriage and Family, 2003 National Council on Family Relations.

3 - Toward a Greater Understanding of the Cohabitation Effect: Premarital Cohabitation and Marital Communication, by Catherine L. Cohan and Stacey Kleinbaum Journal of Marriage and Family, 2002 National Council on Family Relations.

4 - Premarital Sex, Premarital Cohabitation, and the Risk of Subsequent Marital Dissolution among Women, by Jay Teachman Journal of Marriage and Family, 2003 National Council on Family Relations.

5- Sexual Exclusivity among Dating, Cohabiting, and Married Women, by Renata Forste and Koray Tanfer Journal of Marriage and Family, 1996 National Council on Family Relations.

6 - Premarital Cohabitation vs. Traditional Courtship: Their Effects on Subsequent Marital Adjustment, by Roy E. L. Watson Family Relations, 1983 National Council on Family Relations.

08 January 2010

Weekend Reading

The Obama Administration unveils its education reform plan. Front and center are two issues dear to my heart: increasing the number of charter schools and linking student test scores to teacher performance (the later requires some explanation that I don't feel like giving, but if done properly would be amazingly helpful). From Freakonomics, which has a nice overview of the whole thing too.

Researchers at Harvard have found an antibody that seems to work against a lot of flu virus strains. It's a bit early, but wow.

A Japanese photographer takes photos using film and electricity in a process that I don't fully understand and I'm not sure he does either.

What do black holes look like when they collide? Like this.

Google came out with a new phone called the Nexus One. It has a processor in it that's about twice as fast as anything else on the market. The Android OS seems to be developing rather quickly considering the G1 came out just barely over a year ago.

Pretty soon you'll be able to buy and build your own jet.

Am I missing something here? Why is this single blue fin tuna worth $177,000? That comes out to $345 a pound.

The 1000 greatest buildings.

Hahaha, a right wing publication calls out Obama for publicly predicting the bottoming of the stock market in early 2009. The crazy thing? He was right.

07 January 2010

Paul Volcker Interview & CEO's Salaries

"The American political process is about as broken as the financial system." - Paul Volcker

Here's a short article from Business Week that I think it's very much worth reading. It's very straight froward. Paul Volcker, chairman of the Economic Recovery Advisory Board and previous Federal Reserve Chairman, is one of those rare people who's ideas can be understood by someone with a 4th grade reading level (which I think is a good thing). I like this insight from near the end of the article:

"[Y]ou take the trading guy who says: 'I brought in $100 million worth of profits, therefore I want $25 million.'Have they really taken into account that this trading guy is going on [the firm's] reputation, capital, and risk when he went out there and made the $100 million? If he's so good, let him go out and do it himself."

When people get mad that CEO's get paid a ton of money I usually explain that prominent CEO's are exceedingly rare. Think about it for a moment. Then try to follow my weird logic.

How many NFL teams are there? Thirty two - at a minimum they have 30 guys per team that dress every game. That's 1000 people, and that's just football. There are only 500 CEO's on the Fortune 500 and by the time you get to the end of that list you're talking about people making less than a million dollars a year. The point isn't "poor CEO's." I think those at the top are probably far overpaid; this is the point that Volcker makes up above. My point is that becoming a CEO is crazy hard and the reason they get paid so much is that if they can do their job 0.5% better than the #2 guy and they run say Target with 52 billion in revenue (for 2006, same year as my Fortune 500 data) then that half a percent difference is equal to $260 million dollars. So the fact that Target's CEO got paid 40 million dollars that year is not crazy at all; at least to me it isn't.

If you add up the first 7 CEO's on the Fortune 500 list you get just over a billion dollars. To get the next billion in salary you have to add up numbers 8 through 30, and somewhere around #16 the salaries start to become somewhat homogeneous. It seems that a good CEO in America makes about $20-40 million a year. That's a lot of money. However, in the grand scheme of things how much is a billion dollars? Oh right; it's 1/14,000, .007%, or seven thousandths of a percent of GDP. The problems in our country are not soley due to CEO pay. It just makes us mad.

What Volcker is saying is that perhaps my way of looking at this is not the correct one, and to some extent I agree with him. It is very hard to accept that perhaps a very few people are so exceedingly talented that they do in fact deserve salaries of a quarter billion dollars a year.

And yes, I do feel dirty explaining the plight of the xenophobic rich white man.

04 January 2010


The irony of "green" technology (I just dislike the term, not the idea) is that you still have to plunder the earth to make the stuff. Here's how we'll be getting all that lithium from the Bolivian Andes.

This is an article about some newly researched bio-materials. The last three slides are of a sponge animal...? Their internal skeletal structure is glass. Really obscenely strong, better-than-anything-we-can-build glass. So many implications for anything from nanotechnology to aeronautics and architecture.

The courts say that cops using tasers to force victims/citizens/suspects to comply with the officer's will will from now on be frowned upon... in certain places.

Humorous article about how cheap economists can be. Good ending too. I loved that Milton Friedman would call reporters back collect, so classic.

GDP is still one of the best predictors of overall happiness for a nation.

I love when researchers have to prove something that all of us deviants already know. Apparently the clearer a liquor is the less of a hangover you get - shocking.