Hammer into anvil, or: These weeks
You’ll already have inferred from the plummeting post frequency here that it’s been a busy season for me. What with helping to manage an intercontinental move and all, there’s barely been time to collect my thoughts, let alone whip them into shape for you. Here’s what I’ve been up to:
– My trip to Torino was an uneasy blend of acute frustration and pleasant surprise. Ostensibly, I was there to speak on a panel at the XXIII UIA World Congress of Architecture, which – aside from being held at Fiat’s legendary Lingotto factory/test track complex – was a total disaster. Really, the less said about it, the better, though I do want to thank my esteemed co-panelistas Nicolas Nova, Younghee Jung, and Jeffrey Huang for being such good sports and such great company, and Régine for furnishing the happiest 12.5% of our audience.
The shame of it was that Nicolas put together a really cogent panel tying together the infrastructural, architectural and social implications of emergent ubiquitous technologies, ranging from the extravagantly frictionless “u-city” visions of East Asia to the ultra-high-density slums of India. (You can see low-resolution video of Jef’s talk here, Younghee’s here; my own spiel is here.) From where I was sitting, anyway, the session was an excellent introduction to the primary issues and considerations involved in our willy-nilly deployment of ubiquitous technologies in the urban context, and I sure hope each and every one of the eight people in the room found something of value in it.
The unexpected upside of being in Torino (apart, that is, from the sheer and considerable pleasure of wandering a beautiful city with Jef, Younghee and Nicolas) was my entirely fortuitous blundering into the Frontiers of Interaction conference. To be honest, I hadn’t quite registered what it was or that it was happening, so you can only imagine how gobsmacked I was when, jetlagged, I followed Younghee’s texted directions to the venue: Elizabeth Churchill! Bruce Sterling! It was like Old Home Week or something.
Beyond the fact that there’s clearly some top-notch interaction design work going on in the Piemonte, Frontiers had impeccable taste in invitees – I was flattered when, upon tottering into the room, organizer Leandro Agrò insisted on shoehorning me into an already-packed schedule. I gave an off-the-cuff version of my City talk, and hopefully acquitted myself honorably. Given what a fiasco the Congress turned out to be, too, I have to say that I am hugely grateful to have had the chance to present this material to an audience both sizable and primed to engage with it.
Note well that Frontiers – despite being by far the humbler and more punk-rock of these two events – was many orders of magnitude better organized than the Congress; was presented in a more sensible venue; and manifestly offered its speakers (and, I’d hazard, its attendees) more engagement, more value, and more fun. Thanks to Leandro and his Frontiers crew, to Mark from Experientia for being such an indefatigable guide to lovely Torino, and to Liz, Bruce and Jasmina for being the surprise in this particular box of life’s Cracker Jacks. Without you, my trip would have been a frustrating mess, so xoxoxoxo and all that, in spades.
– I was back in the States for just about 48 hours before we went wheels up for our final, pre-move recon of Helsinki. I think we’d already ceased to worry overmuch about daily QOL – after all, this is the city we both fell in love with during the few golden days of Aula 2006 – but this trip convinced us that Helsinki life’s gonna be fun.
We nailed down bike paths, produce markets, Asian groceries, neighborhood cafés, supertasty northern Chinese food, and most of the other things the support of high-quality urban life requires. Thanks to Marjo from FRS, to Tina and the eat.fi crew for rendering the city that much easier for me to use, and to Bill for taking us out to the stunning Ravintola Sarkanlinna. Xtra bonus points to the organizers of the summer-only Kallio party shack whose DJ spun T. Rex, Stooges, Max Romeo and Gang of Four as Nurri worked the room and I snorkeled handfuls of salmiakki. (Also: lonkero? Mmmmm, proper.)
We present our gratitude properly notarized and in triplicate to Arabella David, without whom discovery of all the above might have been delayed for years, or maybe forever. Here’s looking at you, kid.
– Somewhere in one of those brief intervals of being at home, I broke my perfect streak of Pixar non-attendance to see WALL-E. I regret it not in the slightest: the first half-hour is sublime, as near note-perfect as any film I can remember, and the rest ain’t half-bad either.
– Much, much less happily, I also want to mark the untimely passings of two people who touched my life for the better: old dreamless.org head John Andrews (a and better ka jand),
apparently and infuriatingly the victim of senseless violence (CORRECTION: see below), and my cranky literary hero Thomas M. Disch, by his own hand this July the fourth.
jand’s voice, without fail, stood out for its enthusiasm, its supportiveness, and its positivity in an online community that (as unbelievably as it may now seem) did not lack for same. And there’s simply no accounting for the things I’ve gained by reading Tom Disch, especially his classics Camp Concentration and 334.
I’m grateful for the things you gave me, each in your own way, and I’ll miss you both.
That’s it for now. I’m suffering from thrice-compound jetlag, and there’s still a great many things for us to take care of before we’re off for good, so posting may continue to be lightish. In the meantime, have fun, try to enjoy your summer, and let me know if there’s anything on you think I should be aware of – my antennae are just a little bit attrited at the moment.