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.

11 responses to “Hammer into anvil, or: These weeks”

  1. Scott Boone says :

    Today’s XKCD (http://xkcd.com/448/) seems to be written for you and your jetlag.

  2. Christopher Fahey says :

    Heh, Peggy and I also have a 100% Pixar avoidance record. And I sheepishly asked her yesterday if maybe we might consider breaking it for Wall-E. She agreed, so apparently it’s gonna happen.

  3. AG says :

    That’s good. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

    Hell, if you let me know where and when, I’ll even come with you. It could do with a second viewing…and I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be in town.

  4. Enrique Ramirez says :

    Wow, I have to admit I am expressing a little bit of schadenfreude at the World Architecture Congress en abysme. One has to be suspicious at the amount of “star” power at that conference. Architects are not only some of the worst presenters, but they can be some of the worst organizers as well :) My website was apparently included in the Congress’ feed aggregator … which is funny because I don’t think anyone took a glance at the aggregator.

    Glad that the “surprise” conference was a success, though.

  5. Michal Migurski says :

    Well, you got to take this gorgeous photo so it wasn’t a complete loss: http://www.flickr.com/photos/studies_and_observations/2659107019/

    Why would you have boycotted all those years of Pixar films? You *must* see Incredibles. Cars is the only one I never bothered to see, the rest I generally hit up on opening day.

  6. AG says :

    I generally only see one Hollywood film a year, and then I prefer for it to be something with human actors in it.

    Last year’s was Juno.

  7. leeander says :

    Hey Adam,
    Remember to be back next year. FrontiersV, July 2009. :))


    “Everything you can imagine is real.”
    – Pablo Picasso

  8. carole says :

    In response to your comment about the passing of John Andews, Jand, I was John’s partner for many years and friend for the last four since we spilt – although John was assaulted on the night of the 15th June (we are still not sure of the circumstances) his injuries were not severe. However, again for reasons which are not clear, he took his own life on June 20th. John was an amazing person and my soul mate, but he was also very depressed and someone whos life had spiralled out of control of late. In the end he found sticking around just too painful and took back some control. He leaves a huge gap in the world, but I am lucky to have loved and been loved by him.

  9. AG says :

    That’s truly and utterly heartbreaking, carole.

    Thank you very much for stopping by here to share those details, however distressing, and to clarify what had been a very confusing story for me. (For us, I guess – I bet there are one or two people reading this who knew jand.)

    You have my deepest condolences.

  10. Danny says :

    Yes, I’d like to add my sympathies. Also a belated apology. The mistaken belief that he might have died as a result of the attack he suffered on the 15th must lie at my feet. He was a regular at the Belgian design board ‘humhum’ and posted about his mugging.
    I heard about his death via posts on that board and rang the Essex coroner to be told the Police were involved and no more information could be given.

    Like Adam, I knew John, ‘Jand’ from as far back as the days of Dreamless and always looked out for his insight and wit when he posted on the various incarnations of forums throughout the years.

    Not to fill this comment up with excuses, just to offer my sincere apologies if any offence was taken and to honour John. Online life is at once so distant and yet so very close. We shall all mis him.

  11. carole says :

    Guys – thanks for your kind words and no blame for any confusion over the circumstances of the mugging or his passing, still very little is clear and we will have to wait for the outcome of the coroner’s enquiry to get any more information. The police became involved not of their own volition but because an individual made a misplaced complaint fuelled by grief and quite likely guilt, the kind we all have when someone takes their own life, what if I had…? what if I hadn’t….? But once that Pandora’s Box is open things have to run their course – we have no full death certificate yet, only the version good enough to take care of the legal side of things (HSBC bank took quite a hit, which would have made John smile, serves them right for giving him a credit card)and we wont know anymore of the truth of the matter until the iquiry itself, which could take up to two years. But we did finally get to have a funeral a month or so after he died and while horrific in its reality I wanted to share something I wrote and read on the day, not because they are my own words but just because they are true.

    “The moment I first set eyes on John, so many years ago, I thought, ‘he looks interesting’ and I wasn’t wrong. Our first date was Glastonbury 1990, he wore a blue poncho all weekend and I forgot my sleeping bag. Then we came home and moved in with each other, we’d known each other a month and spent the next 18 years in various states of togetherness.

    I know that a funeral is about saying goodbye, but I don’t have to. What ‘John’ really is, his humour and his humanity are in my head and my heart. They are in every thought and word and in all of us today and every time we remember and smile or catch ourselves thinking of him.

    And for all the tears now I would not change a single second of knowing him. He was my shining little star, a light in the darkness and so happy to say that he was proud of me.

    I am stronger and wiser and a better person for having known John. We had an unconditional love for each other which was not bounded by definition or title, and I will take that love with me for the rest of my life. And I will keep on making him proud.

    When I decided to write this I didn’t know if I would be able to find the words, but in the end there turned out to be so many to choose from.
    Impossible and fabulous.
    The most intelligent and articulate person I have ever known.
    He is and will always be my heart and my love,
    The other part of me,
    My extraordinary boy,
    And my friend”.

    As you might know John lost his Mum to cancer just over three years ago and her loss effected all the children very deeply. I was involved in the funeral preparations for John and while I understood her reasons entirely I had difficulty with the ceremony John’s sister arranged for him as it was virtually a mirror of his Mum’s funeral, which had been highly appropriate for a 70 year old lady of sedate nature and traditional values but highly inappropriate for the person that John was. So I wrote and read the above, and chose the final piece of music to be played as the ceremony came to an end. I told the vicar all about his aphex twin habit, his love of all things orangutan (we chose donations to the Balikpapan Orangutan Survival Foundation rather than flowers at the funeral), his sacriligeous urination in the ancient tombs of Jordan and his love of food. While it was deeply surreal to hear a vicar talking about aphex twin I stopped short of asking him to announce the title of the final track, which was The Boy with the Arab Strap, by Belle and Sebastian, for anyone who doesn’t know it…. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CYZPTTgMGCk

    Everyone left with a smile on their face, and although it makes me cry like a baby now and always will it makes me think of his smiling face the the tuneless way we used to sing along.

    One thing I have learned over the last two months is how precious life is, and how you should tell the people that you love how you feel about them every day. Even though John and I were not ‘together’ for the last four years of his life I will always be grateful that we saw past the things that drove us apart as a couple and kept hold of the love that had kept us together since the day we met. He’s going to be a very hard act to follow.

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