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30 January 2013

It's Official: Petitions to Whitehouse.gov Are About As Effective As The Close Button On Elevators

They're vestigial. At best they make you feel like you're doing something.

Here's the one that originally tipped me off. The White House won't even comment on it. It's one thing to say you won't enforce federal laws that contradict states laws, but it's another to see an injustice happen and then willingly turn a blind eye. Why does the Obama Administration never comment on marijuana laws? He acts likes it's the ultimate taboo. Gay marriage and weed - the two issues that my generation does not understand the illegality of.

Here's a current one brought on because the Justice Department was in the process of ruining Aaron Swartz's life for downloading the JSTOR library. Heaven forbid someone get their hands on... peer reviewed papers funded by the public..?

29 January 2013

Working At the Farnsworth House

I've been occasionally helping out a former professor of mine, Frank Flury, with one of his projects on the Farnsworth House site in Plano, IL. For those of you who are unacquainted it's considered one of the most significant works of architecture built in the 20th century. The architect was Mies Van der Rohe, patron saint of IIT.

Frank built some nice doors using all wood joinery. I've never built a door from scratch, so it was nice to see it all go together.

Frank and Roland. Roland is an insane artist. He paints these huge acrylic paintings of steel structures that look like photographs. In the background is the Barnsworth project. The Farnsworth House sits on a flood plane so a place to house some of the significant furniture, specifically the dresser, was needed. 

Didn't have a tripod so I used the timer and a rock.

This was the last day that it was open during the season so we went in after hours and drank some whiskey.
It was much more pleasant than I would have imagined. The site at night lends itself to privacy and the home is very intimate; perfect for drinking with several people.

10 January 2013

Dieter Rams 10 Principles of Good Design

Dieter Rams was an industrial designer for Braun and a bunch of other product manufacturers. I find myself continually quoting this so I figured it was time to post it. Along with "less, but better", these are his ten principles of good design:

Good design...

Is innovative - The possibilities for innovation are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself.

Makes a product useful - A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional, but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.

Is aesthetic - The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products are used every day and have an effect on people and their well-being. Only well-executed objects can be beautiful.

Makes a product understandable - It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product clearly express its function by making use of the user's intuition. At best, it is self-explanatory.

Is unobtrusive - Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user's self-expression.

Is honest - It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.

Is long-lasting - It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today's throwaway society.

Is thorough down to the last detail - Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the consumer.

Is environmentally friendly - Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimizes physical and visual pollution throughout the life-cycle of the product.

Is as little design as possible - Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.

06 January 2013

Sunday Reading

On having ideas, being creative, productive, and following through. New York Times

Real talk on investment advice. Reddit

An explanation of why Afghanistan is always at war. Reddit

The chief economist at the IMF, the guy who wrote my undergrad. econ. text book, admits that austerity in Europe has been more harsh than he expected. Washington Post

A succinct and useful explanation of what Obamacare does, when it happens, and all with sources. Reddit

The images that were placed on the Voyager spacecraft that was launched in 1977 that are currently at the edge of our solar system and the furthest objects ever sent from earth. Imgur

Analog bird call music box. Colossal


Yesterday I went to a memorial service for the son of a former professor from IIT. His son was twenty years old and had brain cancer on and off for roughly four years. The whole event was very beautiful. The speeches were truly excellent. From what I gather, I did not know him, he was much loved, very intelligent, inquisitive, and in general just the type of person this sort of thing happens to - a good soul.

I saw a former classmate there that was a year ahead of me. I had heard at some point that he himself had been diagnosed with a brain tumor, that turned our to be malignant, since leaving school. His Facebook profile picture for a bit was a photo of him with a rather large incision that went from above his left ear to the middle of his crown. He had his last radiation treatment a week ago. I can only imagine the poignancy of the event from his perspective.

My friend told me how he had pounding headaches but because of a mix-up with his and his wife's insurance through her university they were unable to get healthcare for a time, so he waited to get professional help. When he finally had coverage he went and got a check-up and discovered the news. On one level I was saddened and on another it infuriated me. What is the point of modernity if not to prevent such situations? We give up much for it. No sane person honestly wants to work in office buildings and grow weak for lack of exercise. If we cannot at least provide this comfort then why bother at all?

When I was in high school my mother was diagnosed with stage III breast cancer. The insurance company moved out of the state, as they were legally allowed to every seven years, and dropped coverage for her. Our laws, at the time and for a short while longer, do not prohibit insurance companies from discriminating based on previous ailments. What sane person would wish this upon anyone? And yet it's a reality of the society that we have created.

Perspective is perhaps the most fleeting of all human experience. Nearly the moment we are released from a profound occasion our mind travels elsewhere... "how am I getting home, man; I'm hungry, I wonder if I can get those shoes in black..." The transition in your mind often goes completely unnoticed. I try often to keep perspective: how lucky I am, what I want to achieve, the burdens of the average person I do not have to deal with, but it's a constant effort. Our world is increasingly becoming a comfortable place for a person of moderate means; more so than at any point in history really. At the same time, the tools to effect change are nearly ubiquitous at this point. I encourage you to take advantage of them.