Sunday, December 23, 2007

Is Creationism Selling God Short?

I've been seeing and reading a lot about Creationism lately. This includes the battle in Dover, PA to teach Creationsism, or rather "Intelligent Design" in school and the new natural history museum based on Creationism's re-interpreted timeline of the World.

The Dover Case is an interesting story in and of itself. There is a key issue that came up in the case that got me thinking that maybe the Creationists are selling God short. The Creationist's case for intellligent design is summed up by the statement that evolution is just a theory and there are enough gaps in the theory to warrant the consideration of other theories (namely Creationism). Of course their argument starts with a misinterpretation of what science means by "theory". But there are gaps in the fossil record and the Creationists have used these to drive their case. One of these gaps was the missing link between fish with scales and land-dwelling reptiles. If reptiles evolved from water-dwelling fish, there should be animals in the fossil record that have overlapping features. For some time, scientists had been unable to find evidence of these animals and during this time, creationists used that missing link as an example when promoting their case. But then fossils of a cross-over animal were found... a reptile with legs and fish-like scales.

Each time evolution science makes a discovery relating to what intelligent design saw as a flaw, it forces the Creationists to re-work their case. None of their arguments for intelligent design have been accepted by mainstream scientific journals. They convert the largely converted of their case almost entirely by pointing to what the bible says about the evolution of life and by pointing to perceived gaps in the prevailing scientific view.

Their self-imposed behavior of re-adjusting their argument each time their previous one is debunked got me thinking. If God is all knowing and almighty why would he spend so much time figuring out how to make an eyball, or a reptile, or monkeys that are so similar and yet evolutionarily separate from humans. Why wouldn't God, as the smartest of smarts, take a smarter approach.

It seems to me that if I were God and I was planning the creation of the universe that my time would be better spent setting certain rules in motion rather than trying to create each atom, organ, and animal individually. Maybe God has much more to worry about than just our own little planet in this little Milky Way Galaxy. Maybe there are even other universes to worry about and maybe he has tried working with different rules in thos universes. If that were true, it would be almost foolish, if not stupid, for God to put so much time into the creation of individual organisms.

It seems to me that the history of man, religion and cosmology is about moving up the food-chain of creation. For cavemen, everything was the work of God... fire, the birth of another person, etc. For the Greeks, it seems the stars were the outlines of gods in the night sky. For aboriginal cultures, the Earth is like the Mother God... the one resposnible for creating all the things we enjoy on Earth.

These myths serve their purposes and help make sense of a mysterious world. The aboriginal culture myths create a culture that is more environmentally friendly than many enlightened environmentalists are today. But even as we still regard the birth of a baby in the family as a "miracle", we also know how babies come to be. We understand the science and biology of reproduction and how it relates to reproduction in other species. When that mystery was solved, we moved onto the next mystery.

So it seems like you could have a belief in science and a belief in God and reconcile the two. All that is requires is a belief that science brings us new understandings of the world around us. Since science builds on previous discoveries, it also means that earlier generations did not know these things and did the best to explain the world around them in terms they understood at the time. This includes the story of the bible. Accepting science requires that you accept the stories of the bible as parables and interpretations of history and creation myths and not as hard facts that can not themsleves be interpreted in light of recent discoveries.

At some point in our human history, everything on Earth was magic and there was no science. Fire and lightening were God's work until we figured out how to make it ourselves. The discovery process continues until we find ourselves where we are today, contemplating the existence of other universes in theoretical physics. These theories are based on rules of science, mathematics and quantum mechanics. So if whole parallel universes are possible and contemplated by our smartest physicists, couldn't an almighty God work by implementing these rules. In this light, we are just slow, dumb organisms taking thousands of years to understand our immediate surroundings let alone the cosmos. If these parallel universes exist, God not only understands them but put the rules in motion while also thinking up the rules that would allow electrons to spin around a nucleus in such a way as to make carbon possible, so as to make organic matter possible and eventually, through the rules of electrical, chemical and physical interactions to make animals that would evolve into Adam & Eve and everything else on this
amazing planet. Isn't it possible? Isn't it amazing enough that whether or not some reptile with scales existed is such a minor issue relative to the grandeur of everything else. Wouldn't believing in all of this only make God more powerful and amazing?

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Creativity and Restrictions

This is a quote from last year's TED Conference. It might be
counter-intuitive to young designers but is very true.
"Creativity starts when you cut a zero off the end of your budget. It
gets even better if you cut two zeros."

Friday, December 21, 2007

Design and Product Management

This is a letter I wrote to Jeff Flash after reading a presentation he wrote and posted on his blog about product management.

I downloaded and read your 10 Tips for New Product Managers presentation. Thanks for sharing this.

I have some feedback and a question for you. I was wondering what your ideal stakeholder diagram is. There was one included from someone else (showing product management in the center surrounded by sales, marketing, management and engineering) and then several from you. The last one you show has pretty much everyone being invited to the party but I was wondering what your simplified version is. I'm sure the list would change based on the industry-domain of the product but again, there is probaly a high-level version that would relate well to a majority of products.

I ask as someone who has worked with product managers for about 15 years. As a designer, I've always had close interaction with product management, sales, marketing, engineering, senior management, etc.. But it is rare that design is represented as having a direct relationship
with product management. You'll often see it as an off-shoot of marketing or engineering but rarely as a direct link. I think this is wrong. In my 10 years at Sony, design always reported directly to the CEO. Even though we worked very closely with the product teams and business units, we also had independence. The relationship between Steve Jobs and Jonathan Ives (SVP of design) at Apple is legendary but underlying that relationship is a firm belief that design is a core component of what Apple does. This doesn't diminish the importance of marketing or engineering at Apple (also centers of excellence), it just represents an approach to product development that says business and engineering aren't the whole equation.

You make many great points in your presentation like surrounding yourself with experts. Its possible to create great products by including a designer in your expert circle even if that's not the way the company is organized. But I think the best approach is to have it structured into the organization. At Microsoft, design reported to engineering for many years and I think it shows in their products.

There is a ven diagram [see image below] that I have seen that represents a design perspective. There are three overlapping circles, one represents business... looking after what is "viable", the second represents engineering... making things "possible", the last is design which looks after what is "desirable". It may be too simplified or too design-centric but does capture a different point of view from those that over emphasize sales and marketing.

Anyway, those are my thoughts. I was curious to hear yours on the issue.

This issue has been discussed at many different companies and conferences. Every group likes to see themselves at the center of the universe or at least on the A List. But I think the debate goes on about whether design is or should be on that list.
This is the diagram that designers often show as the major stakeholders for product development. But while simple and clear, it raises as many issues as it addresses. Among them,

  • Is it over simplifying the case to have a single circle representing all business issues? Within this circle are sales, marketing, finance, management, legal, biz dev, etc. How many of those groups deserve their own circle? Is it always the case or dependent on specific types of products?
  • Does design deserve its own circle? Is it over simplifying the case to say that design is responsible for making things desirable? What about useful, usable, simple?
  • Where is the voice of the customer in this diagram? Is each group responsible for knowing what the customer wants relative to their domain or is there a circle missing?
  • Should product management be at the center of the diagram or should the user be there?

I don't know the answers to all these questions. My general perspective is that design provides a key role in the development of projects. We can visualize the end product faster, earlier and more accurately than any other stakeholder. As a function of budget, our circle is usually much smaller than the other two. This is the crux of the value offering. We provide a key role at a relatively low price. The seat at the table is therefore justified by the high value / low cost offering. You can always consider us work for hire and subservient to one of the other circles but then over time, that's exactly what you'll get.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I love Adobe, I Hate Adobe

I sent the following letter to Adobe Customer Service last week. I wanted to share it...

I am a designer and have been a loyal Adobe & Macromedia customer for over 15 years. I have bought multiple versions of Photoshop, Illustrator, Director and Flash for myself and my staff over these years at multiple companies. After Apple, Adobe is the company serving the needs of the design community... especially following the merger of Adobe and Macromedia.

Two things about Adobe are really pissing me off and ironically, it seems to have the most to do with Adobe Acrobat... the one program I don't pay for. Over the last 2 or 3 years, Acrobat buttons have been showing up in Word, Outlook, Excel and Powerpoint. I don't want them there but they won't respond to requests to remove them. Worse, they often show up on their own line in the toolbar so I lose a whole line on my monitor for buttons that I don't even use and can't remove. I remove them once and then they show up the next time I launch the app. I never asked for them in the first place! I've also had a "Send as Acrobat" button replace my "Send" button in Outlook. This happened at two different companies I've work at and challenged both tech support departments in removing them. How could Adobe think that sending an email as an Acrobat document could be more important than just sending a plain old email? I would love to know the thinking behind this move.

The other major problem is that Acrobat, Photoshop and Illustrator were constantly checking and downloading updates. I got notices everytime I tried to quit and go home for the night that they were checking for updates. In Acrobat I got notices for the same language updates over and over. Luckily, this problem seems to have subsided. But were they really updating the software that often?

Adobe, please stop pushing your buttons and updates where they are not wanted. You are THE design software company. When designers need something from you, we'll pay you for it!!!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Slow Media

Last night I was thinking about maps... the appreciation of maps and the time it takes to create them. As I was thinking about it, the concept of "slow media" came to me. Maps are clearly a form of slow media relative to video, TV and a heavily cross-linked web page. It takes time to view a map. The type is often small enough that you can't read the whole thing from a distance. So you end up panning and zooming with your eyes. You take in the gestalt and then zoom in on a detail of interest. Like reading a newspaper, you repeat this process until you feel like you've gotten a full appreciation for the details and the whole. For a moment, I thought I might be the first person to think of the concept of slow media but I was wrong. Helen de Michiel wrote about it in 2002. On the Wikipedia page for the Slow Food movement, there is a See Also link to the Slow Movement that references, Slow Travel, Slow Shopping and Slow Design. Personally, I don't think there is any other type of shopping when you're doing it with a woman... good for women, bad for men.
The post by Helen de Michiel talks more about slow media as it relates to the creation process using the example of her deep appreciation for the content of a documentary she worked on over several years. In this respect, almost all authoring might be considered a slow media relative to the final product. But I do understand the idea. Creating maps takes a lot of time because of the amount of detail that is typically required. And I share her experience in that if you are doing it on the side rather than your day job that it takes a lot of time and your deep appreciation is required to keep the ball moving forward.
I'm hoping to create a blog of my maps to talk about what I've been trying to create but in the mean time, a number of them are posted here along with brief descriptions.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Hotel Del Over-crowded

This is the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego. For most of its life it has been an amazing place and a fantastic example of Victorian beach architecture. The original structure and the majority of the many expansions were all built out of wood. To step into the lobby or grand ballrooms is to step back in time and yet it has been preserved so you can enjoy it today.

We have been spending a weekend here every year for the last five years. It has always been a beautiful and relaxing experience. Although it has always also been an expensive weekend, we always put up with the $4 bottles of water and the $35 breakfasts because the overall experience was worth it. But after five years, we are now ready to throw in the towel. To expensive, you can now add over crowded and, I think, over-extended.

Everthing you see in the shot above is part of the Hotel. In the last 2 years, they added a series of private vacation villas... the low buildings to the left of the main hotel. The major crime here is that while the pools, hot tubs and seating areas of the villas are all closed to Hotel guests, the restaurants and bars of the Hotel are open to guests of the vacation villas. So the Hotel has added what I guess must be 30 to 50 rooms/accomodations without expanding their dining and bar facilities. The result is a line 30 - 40 people long to get into breakfast, crowded bars, and long waits for almost every expensive amenity they offer. The amazing beauty of the surroundings is constantly interupted by the choking crowds. Some of the staff remains attentive and civil while others seem to be as frustrated with the crowds as the guests.

The owners seem to know what they're doing. The new vacation villas are tastefully designed in the spirit of the original hotel. They also seem to be keenly aware of how to charge large sums of money for everything to pay off their large investment. There is something very democratic about the original hotel. Its always been an exclusive hotel. But a stroll through the hotel, a drink at the bar, high tea was open to all. Sadly, their financial greed seems to have tarnished the Del's former sparkle.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Conflict in the Middle Beach

This a shot of Coronado Beach in San Diego. What happened here today was an amazing illustration of what I imagine must be much larger and frequent problems in the Middle East. Around 12:00 a group of around 30 Arabic-speaking people moved decisively into the middle of a bunch of other people already sitting and laying on the beach. They followed a leader who was dressed in a head-to-toe black robe and was, I assume, a religious official from their mosque. They arrived with four large pop-up tents... the kind that you see at street festivals defining a sales booth. To say there was room for maybe one would not be exagerating the case. But they proceeded to setup all four right on top of the others around them. One-by-one, we all looked up in amazement... thinking they couldn't possibly keep expanding. But expand they did. The third tent went up within a foot of my chair and the remaining space was later taken up by one of their coolers. As they continued to set the tents up, the people that had been sitting nearby... all comfortable spaced apart began to get up and move away... incredulous at what was unfolding before their eyes. I took this shot an hour later after even more people had moved away in disgust and disbelief. The fourth and final tent went up literally right on top of another couple's two chairs and umbrella. The couple was somewhere else at the time so they were up for a rude awakening when they returned to find their stuff folded up and moved away.

The majority of this obnoxious group seemed oblivious to the rudeness of their actions. Three quarters of the beach was empty... they could have had all the room they wanted if they had setup just 50 feet further back from the water. Did they want to piss off everyone around them? I have no idea. There was one teenage boy who was helping to setup and finally noticed that the rest of us on the beach were not happy. He told his buddy who seemed to tell him to ignore us. Which is exactly what they all seemed to be doing. I don't think you could do something this rude and callous if you were aware of the reactions of those around you.

It was just space on the beach. No one got hurt. But I can't help but think that their actions have something in common with the problems going on inthe Middle East. Over the last 10 years, my support for the Palestinian cause has grown while my acceptance of Israel's heavy-handed aggression has decreased. But I have to wonder whether behavior like I experienced on the beach in San Diego had a lot in common with what is going on everyday in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, the Golan Heights and anywhere else there are land disputes between Israelies and Palestinians. Disputes among neighbors are normal and happen everywhere. But most are resolved by being aware of how your neighbors react to your actions. If they can engage in overtly rude behavior in a foreign country while ignoring the reactions of people only inches away, what hope is there for the towns in conflict across the Middle East.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Boy Books & Girl Toys

I'm a member of an all guys book club which is an endless source of humor for my wife. Last night we had a men's and women's book club meetup at a local bar. Richard, one of our members, met an attractive woman from their book club at the Commonwealth Club and suggested that the 2 clubs meet. She eagerly agreed so the date was set. It was a fun evening... mostly young, single cute chicks with one attractive married woman (which was good since I was the only married male). The ruse of an intellectual "meeting of the minds" was a good ice breaker for what was for both sides a chance to exchange looks, witty banter, and hopefully... a few phone numbers.

The girl's club is a bit more open minded than ours when it comes to sticking to the books. We police our meetings to make sure we actually spend a decent amount of time discussing the previous books and get in heated exchanges over what the next book should be. Their meetings include wine tasting trips to Napa, cooking classes and even... a Tupper Ware-style sex toy party sponsored by Good Vibrations. It was the married woman who confessed this to me. Maybe the fact that I was married made it easier for her to share this juicy secret. Its interesting when an attractive woman you don't know confesses that she owns sex toys. You want to ask a lot of questions but you have to feign only casual interest so she doesn't become uncomfortable and change the subject. She told me that the girls spent over $500 on "toys" that night earning her bonus store credits which she has yet to redeem. I left wanting to know more. I let her know that my wife was looking for a book club and that she might enjoy discussing "books" with the girls. She extended an invite today so we'll have to see where it all leads.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Bocce... Like father, like son

This is Buzz and Alexander at Campo di Bocce in Los Gatos, CA. When I was living in New York, I would occasionally see older men playing bocce in some of the Italian neighborhoods. But there is something special about bocce that I think the Italians have known for a long time. Bocce is a game for all ages. It takes skill to master but almost none to play. But it is experience and not physical strength that allows men to continue playing into their later years. Lastly, the primitive simplicity of the game... throwing balls in the dirt makes it possible for kids as young as 1 or 2 to participate in a mock game without disrupting the real game further down the court.

I first came to this realization while playing with some friends and my brother and sister in law. It is beautiful in it's simplicity. Seeing Buzz and Alexander wonder the court together made me think that it would have been nice to play with my father.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Stumbled upon this billboard today. Its a smart campaign and a clever Acronym for Sony that they are using to promote the high image quality of their TVs, digital cameras and VAIO computers. Sony still has lots of challenges to overcome but maybe this is a sign they've turned the corner... at least from a marketing perspective.

Old and New San Francisco

This is an old but newly exposed apartment building just off Market Street In San Francisco. The city recently approved a new zoning plan for the Upper Market area that will allow for buildings along Market St. to be up to 10 stories tall. Since Market bisects the city at angle there are numerous odd-shaped lots like this one that will now be turned into large apartment buildings. I had never seen the shingled apartment building in this photo until the demolished the building and billboard that were here.

The plan was controversial but I think it is a good one. There are so many old, single story buildings in this part of the city that were always ugly and have gotten worse due to disrepair. It didn't make sense to fix them because the owners probably weren't making enough money from rent of a single story business. The city also has a long term housing shortage that it needs to deal with and in-fill housing (the name for expanding urban density with existing lots) is the right way to deal with it. It should also do away with some of the seedier businesses that have occupied this part of city for the last decade or more. We are close enough to Market St. and adjoining Church St. That the plan could have a positive or negative impact on us. Hopefully it will be positive. We have a parking lot across the street from us which gives us great natural light but a homeless problem as well so it could go either way if they build something big across from us.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Delft De-constructed

Two shots of the Tulip sculpture and fountain in the courtyard outside the Disney Concert Hall in LA. The entire sculpture is composed of the shattered fragments of blue and white Delft pottery. The petals of the fountain appears a bit heavy as you approach it but the real joy of the piece is when you realize what its composed of. There is a fractal quality in the tiny floral details of the pottery itself contrasted by the sharp, angular edges of the fragments and then the soft, curving forms of the larger fountain.

Although not evident throughout the sculpture, I really like the places where typographic fragments appear near each other in Picasso-like compositions.

The only bummer is that I think I remember hearing on a tour that to make the sculpture, Delft started with perfectly fine pottery and then had them shattered. I would have though that they would have plenty of seconds, or pieces that had already been chipped, broken, or otherwise compromised. To me, it undermines the integrity of the piece to know that it started with a bunch or perfect blue and white plates.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Writing and Remembering My Father

It’s my Dad’s birthday today. It’s also been a bit more than 2 years since he passed away. My Dad always enjoyed reading stuff that I wrote and thought I would make a great writer. It is one of the things I’ve wanted to do and one of the reasons I keep this blog. But between my day job and my other pursuits, I am not yet devoting enough time to writing to make a go of it. I have ideas for a book, and thoughts about a column about design and technology but they are just thoughts for now. My Dad was always so supportive of my interests. I’m sure he is proud of what I have achieved so far. Still I can’t help thinking that writing is part of my destiny and that I am letting my Dad down by not pursuing it more. I also wish I had spent more time with him and been better about sharing my thoughts with him... perhaps it would have made writing easier. Miss you Dad.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Remembering George Yu

George Yu passed away this past weekend. George was an architect based in LA. Before striking out on his own, he spent time working for Thomas Mayne of Morphosis. He taught at Sci-Arc. As a designer, what I admired most about George was his belief in the purity of a concept. I suspect that many of designers start out strong in the concept phase. But over the years, the compromises in design for the real world water-down our concepts to the point where they become solutions more than pure concepts. But breakthrough designs require a high commitment to concept and vision. George had an almost child-like excitement about his designs and yet a stubborn-like commitment to keeping them pure. I admire that.

In response to a request, I shared some thoughts about how George used modeling in his design process.

I’m honored to have had the chance to work with George. When George was first diagnosed with cancer, he had been working on the Sony Design Center in LA. I was the lead for the project on the Sony side and worked closely with George for about 18 months. It was at the launch of our Sony office that George was introduced to the head of the Honda Design Studio, which led to his commission to design their Pasadena studio. During the Sony project, George made several study models including one that gave a floor-eye view similar to a reflected ceiling plan. It was appropriate to the project as it was an open ceiling with a number of key elements relating to the ceiling plan. There were a number of repeated architectural elements and George was able to build quick and effective models thanks to digital prototyping tools. We were familiar with these techniques because Sony has always relied on model making to review product designs. Years ago, models were hand made the same way architectural models were. But as digital prototyping tools became available, Sony moved quickly to take advantage of them. These tools significantly raised the bar in terms of what was achievable in a model. It allowed the designers to be more aggressive in their designs because it could be accurately modeled for review and approval by senior management. In the same way, George’s models allowed us at Sony to review and approve higher fidelity prototypes of his design. George was clearly comfortable with the digital prototyping process and had been using it for client work and his experimental projects. He made regular use of these tools at Sci-Arc.

Whereas Sony never prototyped anything larger than a TV, Honda was using the same tools to prototype cars at full size. I think George saw this as an opportunity as soon as he started the Honda project. Prototyping something at full size was the natural next step from working on scale models. A couple of months after the Sony office was completed, I flew to LA and met George for lunch. It was early in the process for the Honda project but he already knew what he wanted to do and had gotten Honda’s approval. I think he was on an experimental cancer drug at the time and was always fighting a cough. I’m sure all the thoughts that come to you when you hear the word “cancer”; had occurred to George but that was not what was occupying his thoughts that day. Instead what I saw was pure joy and excitement. He knew the solution for the Honda Studio was to build part of the office using the same tools they use to prototype cars. He knew this would enable him to build something unique to Honda… something that would otherwise be hard to build and that was not found in any catalog. He was like an excited boy with a new toy and at the same time a passionate designer intent on bending the technology to his creative will.

Many years ago, the Museum of Modern Art in New York did a show on the Deconstructavist movement. The show included drawings by Frank Gehry, Peter Eisenman and Steven Holl among others. One of the things the show made a point of illustrating was the difficulty of both communicating and building the new designs these architects were proposing. Digital design and fabrication seems to be eliminating both of these challenges. Initiating construction now seems closer to hitting the “Print” button on your laptop than figuring out how to communicate it to a builder. I think George learned this early in his career and was working as fast he could to implement it in his work. I only wish he had more time.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Lessons from Africa, Part 2

This is Bi Kidude as she bowed to a standing ovation on the TEDGlobal stage. She is a 96 year-old Taraab singer from the island of Zanzibar off the coast of Tanzania. Bi Kidude could challenge just about anyone’s stereotypes. She is a Muslim woman who smokes, sings, dances, flirts and plays drums. Seeing her perform reminded me that everything in the Muslim world is not as Al Qaeda or the Taliban have defined. There are traditions that survive that are a testament to the richness of the full Islamic culture and the strength of character of women like Bi Kidude. She is considered a national treasure in Tanzania and continues to perform Unyago music and ceremonies that help prepare teenage girls for marriage. Unyago songs speak frankly about the joys of marriage, sex and men but also warn girls about abuse and oppression. Having survived and left two failed marriages and being as strong and independent as she is, one can only imagine what advice Bi Kidude offers.

I wonder what would happen if the Taliban crossed paths with Bi Kidude. I also wonder where belly dancing fits into the restrictive rules of Islamic fundamentalists. Most of all, I am glad there are women like her to remind me to keep an open mind and not believe everything I see and hear on TV about Islam.

Lessons from Africa, Part 1

In June I went to Africa for the first time. We attended the TEDGlobal Conference in Arusha Tanzania and then climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. I’m hoping to post my Kilimanjaro journal separately but wanted to start by posting a few of the lessons I learned while in Africa. This is the first (of many).

I'm probably no different than most first time visitors to Africa… I brought lots of stereotypes with me. My first realization of this came on our very first morning. We were having breakfast at our hotel, the Ngurdoto Mountain Lodge in Arusha. Initially there were only three or four people at the table (all non-African) and we were marveling at these huge birds walking around just outside the hotel. We later learned that they were Marabou Storks but at the time, all we knew is that they were huge, bizarre and yet somehow charismatic in their ugliness. As we were all staring out the window, two men from Africa joined us and had the same reaction we did. One of them even said, "what the hell are those?" I was thinking that these two guys being from Africa, should know what kind of bird this was but they had never seen them before. The birds are only found in Sub-Saharan Africa and the two men were from the North and South of Africa. On the plane I had read an article titled, "How to write about Africa." by Binyavanga Wainaina. One of the first satirical recommendations the article made was, "always treat Africa as if it is a single country" (ignoring that it is one of the largest and most diverse continents composed of more than 50 countries). So here I was a mere 12 hours later doing exactly what the article warned not to. I suppose its natural to condense your image of a place you've never been to. At least now I am in the position to know what an amazing place Africa is and how much more of it I have yet to see.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The Limits of Control

I'm ashamed to say it but when I wrote my previous post, I hadn't finished reading Adam Greenfield's insightful essay on the false trappings of "experience design". It is a must read for anyone calling themselves an experience designer.

When I was first exposed to the term interaction design, IDEO was doing some consulting work for my group at Sony. Their design solution was great but I remember hearing one of their interaction designers explain that it was called interaction design because they believed in designing, "the way people interact with a product rather than just the interface." This bothered me.

I was an early member of the Experience Design Group at the AIGA. I really enjoyed meeting about what was then a very new concept. There were two general themes to the early discussions… the specifics and practice of design in the related fields of interface, usability and web design, and the expanding responsibilities of the “experience designer”. It was this theme that led some members to talk about designing and controlling the whole experience. I remember debating this with a couple of members. My experience at Sony was reflecting a larger role for design. I was working on several Internet-enabled products that had physical product, user interface and websites/services attached to them. But my experience was more struggle than omnipotent control. Influencing all of these process areas (and co-workers) to arrive at an innovative product was truly a difficult challenge. I had no pretense that my work would control the user’s entire experience as I was too busy trying to influence the internal teams. In the end my primary design goal was that the product be simple and usable.

I’m not sure where I read it but I thought I heard Bill Moggridge (author of the excellent book, "Designing Interactions") describe the origin of the term interaction design as being more about the interaction of various parts of a system rather than the user’s experience. The example I remember is the design of an interface / control panel for a paper copier. The scope of the design brief was limited to the control panel but they quickly figured out that some of the problems they were trying to solve were unsolvable unless they could influence the design of other parts of the system (internal functions, paper feeder, collater, etc.). So what they were really saying is that in order to create a simple user interface, the entire system has to be designed to be simple.

This meaning of Interaction Design is much closer to my beliefs and experience as a designer. In product development (as in life) there are things you can control and things you can't. How people will use a product is not something you can typically control which is why usability tests can be so eye opening. But as the copier example illustrates, there are almost always internal issues to the project that are not under your direct control. So being a good product developer, whether engineer, designer or business person, involves identifying these issues early so you can either fix them or design around them. Years of experience teach you to spot these issues and to collaborate beyond your domain in fixing them. I like calling myself an interface designer because I have significant and tangible impact in that area… even if I sometimes have influence on business issues as well.

It’s important not to get too hung up on semantics. Call yourself an interaction designer or an experience designer as long as you don't take yourself too seriously and think you’re capable
of controlling the complete experience. As Adam has so expertly pointed out, most efforts in this direction end up disappointing the very users we're trying to please. There’s an old Irish prayer... "God grant me the Courage to change the things I can change, the Serenity to accept those I cannot change, and the Wisdom to know the difference." I think that says it all and the author wasn’t even an experience designer.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Multi-Domain Solutions Design

This is an interesting post by Adam Greenfield that talks about the emergence of "experience design" and the realization among businesses that successful consumer solutions increasingly do not confine themselves to a single bucket of product, website or service.

The challenges he speaks of are very reminiscent of the ones I faced at Sony (and that they continue to face). Its ironic that Sony has been operating in multiple domains (Electronics, Music, Movies, Games) for years even though it continues to struggle to offer consumer experiences that span the domains of product, Internet and service.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Hoods in the Haight

Just saw the new Panhandle Bandshell for the first time... a small stage and bandshell made out of reclaimed car hoods. It looks cool both inside and out and the use of junked, reclaimed parts is totally appropriate for a neighborhood known for things like the "Free Store," the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic and spontaneous free concerts by the likes of the Grateful Dead within feet of the new bandshell. Rock on.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

William's Windmill

This post by White African has a great summary of William Kamkwamba's amazing accomplishment and public introduction at this month's TEDGlobal event in Arusha Tanzania. Although he built a windmill from scratch and on his own, William was so quiet and reserved on stage that his story might never have been known were it not for everyone else singing his praises. But you can tell from the photo that William is proud of what he's done. Judging from the response he got at TED his future is looking quite bright. William got one of the many standing ovations at the conference and made many in the audience (including myself) cry in amazement and joy. And thanks to the support of the TED community, he now has an email address, a computer, and at least one angel investor for his future. I think he's going to need a bigger windmill!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Anne at Uhuru Peak

Anne at the top of Mt. Kilimanajaro. It took us about 9 hours to climb the last 4000 feet to the summit. "Pole Pole" as they say in Swahili.

Mt. Kilimanjaro from Shira Camp

This is a view of the top of Kilimanjaro from the Shira Campsite. Of the 5 places we camped, Shira Camp was by far my favorite. The views up to the peak and down towards "Shira Cathedral" were amazing. It was also the one camp where it was warm enough to walk around in sandals and relax outside in the afternoon sun.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Mt. Kilimanjaro: Summit Night: Night 4 into Day 5

The porters woke us up around 11:30 at night. We scrambled into our boots and gaitors and up to the mess tent for some oatmeal and hot tea. Then we went back outside and saddled up for the climb. Headlamps were key as we started out for the summit at 12:30 AM. I'm amazed that the lead guide could follow a trail as you see almost nothing except the rock at your feet and the person in front of you. If you are summiting from Karanga Camp then the hike will start by climbing up on a huge rock lava flow. It’s good that it’s dark because out of the corner of your eyes, you can tell that the drop off on either side of the lava flow is steep and fast. Once off that, the hike turns into a long, increasingly steep climb on dirt, scree and a few patches of ice. Its all frozen on the way up so the footing is firm.

This is where it gets tough. I really struggled on summit day. My heart was racing perhaps as much from the diamox as from the steepness and thin air. Breathing feels the same as when you are at sea level, you just don't get the energy you need from each breath. I have asthma and while I was on Kilimanjaro I never got that gasping for air feeling asthma gives you... only an absence of stamina. At one point, I had been struggling... breath, step, pause, breath, step, etc. and then I felt like I was getting my "second wind". I felt energized and set out with new found strength. But the second wind literally lasted about 4 steps before I was right back in a mental struggle.

Around 4:30 or 5, you start to see the sun coming up. It's silhouetted against the horizon and Mewenzi Peak... the mountain's sub-peak / crater. This gives you something new to look at and lets you know that you're making progress. The peak is still another four hours away so even though you’ve been hiking all night you’re only 1/2 way up.

As the sun comes up, the switchbacks get tighter and more frequent and you can see the rim of the crater above you. Feeling the altitude fully for the first time, it all started to look like something I was watching on TV. You see people above you and remember later that they were in your group but at that time, they seem like strangers in a TV movie. I also remember thinking that they looked so far ahead of us and doing so much better. But they were just a few minutes ahead and struggling just as much as us. You just feel a bit clueless. Alan, one of the climbers in our group was also struggling. He and I were bonding without anything more than looking at each other. We were both too tired to talk. Anne on the other hand was strong, lucid and focused. She had toppled slightly once or twice (as we all did) but was now really strong. She became my coach and without her I might not have made it to the rim. She was strong enough to also be attentive to me. She got me my water bottle when we stopped to drink, made me eat some energy gel and gave me words of encouragement.

Every adventure we've ever been on has exposed the strengths and weaknesses of the group. What is usually nice about this is that everyone becomes a coach one minute and the coached the next. This is definitely true of my relationship with Anne. Anne was an inspiration and my lead guide in getting to the top. Her friends know that she is stronger than she seems at first. She is a fighter and a true adventurer.

Its 8:15 and we are just below the rim. The trail is getting incredibly steep but we’re so close to the top. It looks like the top of a steep bowl at a ski resort. One that you would never think of climbing back up once you had dropped in. A final hard push and we are up and over the rim. I'm feeling really bad at the rim. I get some hot tea from one of the porters which I force down. I sit down and crash. Traci from our team is asleep in Alan's jacket which he had given her halfway up. She was cold and couldn't stop shivering. Evan was up or came up with us, not sure.

After about 10 minutes, Jonas starts to rally the group for the final push to the summit. I knew that I was done climbing. My heart had been beating so fast that I was worried that I had reached my limit. My head was in a fog and I was dehydrated so I told Anne that I was done. In hindsight, I question my decision. The crater rim still counts as a successful climb but I regret not continuing to the summit. At the time, I was really certain that I was in bad shape and needed to get down. But everyone felt like crap and yet most continued except for the 3 of us who stopped at the rim. You also recover relatively quickly as you descend that it becomes hard to recollect how bad you were at the summit. I was so close and most likely won't be back. I'm very proud of Anne for making it but I'm jealous at the same time. I also wish we could have made the final push together. In that sense, our story is probably fairly typical. In every group... some make it and some don't. I felt great everyday but the final day and that is really the nature of hiking at such altitudes. Kilimanjaro is much easier than Everest but I suspect that Everest climbers are also much more fit and experienced. Yet every year some make it and some don't... often some of the fittest. It must weigh on them too... especially when you get so close and have to turn back. Anne continued on with Jonas and four others and made it to the summit about 45 minutes later.

The descent was relatively easy but not without its drama. A few of us were hanging at the top when the first group to summit came back to the rim. We took some photos and then all decided to go down with the one guide that was available. This descent is probably the one time you need gaitors. The dirt and scree free up with the sunrise and become loose. Plus the fastest way down is to run and slide down through the scree. We started down as a group but quickly separated. The whole trip, Stefan seemed to seek out one-on-one attention from the guides. He seemed to have trouble understanding that with a group trip there are fewer guides than climbers and you have to work as a group, not an individual. So Stefan, in his rush to get back to the camp to see his wife (who had to be taken back to camp ½ way to the summit) kept urging the guide to rush, leaving the majority of the group behind. The guide should have known better but he was a very junior guide / porter and allowed himself to be swayed by Stefan. What made this more frustrating is that since his wife Joy had been taken back to camp by another guide. That meant that we had already lost 2 of the guides for the summit so he should have been able to see the importance of allowing the 2 remaining guides (the other went with the second summit team) to work with a group. Luckily this doesn't happen too often and I think most guides know to look out for this behavior. We see it happen at a summer camp that we volunteer at. But if you are reading this and planning a trip, I would watch for signs of this happening and let a guide know of your concerns. Later, when we were hiking to the next camp, Stefan tried it again and I let him know he needed to choose between hiking ahead of us alone or with us and the guide and he finally got the message.

The trail down from the summit back to camp takes about 3 hours. It’s a braided trail that continually divides and reconnects. So as Evan and I descended without a guide, we were never sure if the fork we were taking was headed to a different destination or not. A third of the way down it got very hot. We had been walking continually and still had warm clothes on so I finally realized we needed to stop, drink and shed some layers. We finally made it back down and went immediately to our tents and crashed. I knew I was still dehydrated so I got my camelback out and forced myself to sip water for the next hour even though I didn't feel thirsty. Anne finally got back about 2 hours after me. She was still looking strong but was tired too. None of us wanted to make the remaining 4 hour hike down to the next camp. It just felt like chaos at camp... there were still 3 or 4 climbers on their way down, we were all feeling weak and tired and there was no radio or lead guides around to clarify the plan. I never slept but Anne crashed for about an hour. After that, we grabbed a light lunch in the mess tent, packed up our stuff and then started down for Mweka Camp. It was long and tiring but you feel better and better as you go down. You don’t really notice the air getting thinner going up but you definitely notice it going down… and it feels good. Your energy comes back and you brain comes back online. We arrived at camp just after dusk about 7:30PM. We had been hiking about 28 of the last 36 hours. I passed out in our tent before dinner. Despite the fact the camp was crowded and noisy, I fell asleep shortly after climbing into the tent. I would have slept through the night if Anne hadn’t woken me for dinner. In the morning we would start to appreciate our accomplishment but right now, we were just tired.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Mt. Kilimanjaro: Day 4

We had an awesome night sleep and we were feeling energized and ready for the Baranco Wall. We started out around 8:30. It was actually an enjoyable climb. A steep rocky trail intermixed with sections requiring hands and feet scrambling. An hour and half later we were at the top of the wall and were greeted by a Mars-like landscape. The landscape seems to change both as a factor of altitude and which side of the mountain you're on. The Machame Route moves almost 180 degrees around the top peak before the final ascent so even though we had already been at this altitude, the terrain was decidedly different on this side of the mountain.

The trail profile for Day Four is like a roller coaster. We had climbed to the top of the Baranco Wall but then immediately proceeded to descend into two more valleys before lunch and then another two after that. I realized after producing the map of our climb that we were essentially moving up and down the flutes at the base of the summit peak. On Mount Tamalpais in the Bay Area, the comparable trails typically stay at the same altitude and go in and out of the drainages… here we sort of traveling in a straight line vertically but going up and down. It was definitely more of workout. If you use trekking poles, you end up putting them away a lot as they definitely get in the way when you need your hands or are on the edge of something steep. But the variety of ups and downs makes the day go faster. The last ascent before camp is a long gradual up hill capped off by a final steep climb to 15,200 feet and one of the stranger campsites I've camped in.

Karanga camp is defined by a bunch of small, tent-sized clearings scattered on a hill that would otherwise be strewn evenly by large rocks. It would be a scree field if the rocks were a bit smaller. In one direction, you see the long side of the peak stretching away from you. In the other, at the far edge of the camp, you see Mewenza Peak, another eruption point of Kilimanjaro. It reminded me a bit of a much larger version of the Pinnacles in California with its strongly defines jagged peak and lava flow lines.

Day Four's hike is a long one so we got to camp late... just shy of sundown. We had about an hour and a half to get washed up and organized for the final climb to the summit. One key tip if you are reading this as advice for your own climb... lighten your load for the push to the summit. If you've ben carrying extra stuff that you really don't need on summit day, put it into your duffel bag so you climb as light as possible. I had our big camera, a small but still unnecessary first aid kit, poncho, travel insurance forms, etc. Collectively it probably added to more than 5 pounds. That's a lot for what may likely be the toughest day of your life. They tell you in terms of training that every extra pound you can get rid of will help on summit day and the same is true for equipment. Also, if you are not a serious camera buff and others in your group are, leave the big camera in camp. If I had the trip to do over again, I would have taken only a small point and shoot camera. They're lighter and easier to keep handy for candid shots on the trail which have proved to be may favorites for telling the story of the climb.

After getting organized, we had dinner. Most of us ate but some had lost their appetite. You tell yourself to eat anyway because you need the fuel. After dinner, Jonus our lead guide briefed us on what to expect for the final climb.

Here's my advice on optimizing for success on summit day…
Water: have 2 Nalgene bottles of water with you for the summit ascent… preferable both filled with hot water when you start. The temperature bottoms out around 4:30 in the morning and when its that cold you don't want to drink really cold water. I had 1 Nalgene bottle and a camelback. You probably will hear that camelbacks will freeze on summit day. This is true (actually, the hoze freezes). The Nalgene bottles can be stored upside down and insulated with a wool sock on summit day. I drank out of the camelback for the 1st hour and then switched to the Nalgene bottle. But the struggle I had was that after drinking out of a camelback all week, I was struggling to hydrate with the Nalgene since it was inaccessible and difficult to open with mittens. So if you are switching hydration methods on summit day, pay special attention to your hydration... its key the whole climb but never more than on summit day.

After dinner, we changed into our clothes for the summit save out boots, gaitors and shell. We laid down and slept for perhaps an hour or two.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Mt. Kilimanjaro: Day 3

Day three saw our first real taste of life at altitude. Anne felt it almost as soon as we left camp but was generally fine once we slowed our pace a bit. The scenery also transitioned from scattered shrubs, flowers and lichens to almost nothing but rocks. Anne commented that as we got higher and higher, the cover for bathroom breaks on the trail got fewer and smaller. Luckily, this coincided with all of us getting comfortable with each other. This was accompanied by more talk of bodily functions.

I was also starting to feel like the summit was very achievable. Seeing the summit from our first camp made it look distant, stormy and intimidating. This continued on day 2 but by the time we got to Shira Camp on Day 2 it seemed approachable. Like a reasonable day hike... something it probably would be if it were 15,000 fett lower. After lunch we hiked up to Lava Tower at 15,200 feet for an hour of acclimatizing before descending to our next camp at 12,600 feet. Lava Tower is at the base of the summit peak so by the time we got there the summit felt very close. It feels like you could just walk up the last hill and be there by dusk but there was still another 4000 feet above us and with it a dramatic change in how your body feels. But where we were at Lava Tower, we could all feel the altitude but it was very manageable... you just feel slightly off.
After an hour we started down to Baranco Camp. A steep but manageable trail with new sights and vegetation along the way. As we got down into the Baranco Valley, I got my first sight of the Baranco Wall... our starting point for the next day's hike. This was what I was most worried about leading up to the trip. The guidebook described it as very steep and cliff like. I don't mind steep or high but what makes me nervous is being in a situation where one slip up means death. The few times I've been in this situation (Half Dome in Yosemite and a canyon hike in the Grand Canyon come to mind) I've always marveled at how much of it is a mental game. If the physical challenge were 6 inches off the ground you wouldn't give it a second thought. But take that very same challenge and put it 70 feet up and it feels completely different. Fortunately, the majority of Baranco Wall is not like this. As I got my first site of the wall, I could see that although it was steep and high it also had enough of a slant that you would rarely be on the edge of a cliff. My intimidation subsided and I was ready for the next day's challenge.

Anne's nausea had been getting better steadily as we descended and she was now feeling pretty good. There was another trail across the ravine and on it we could see Cyndi and another guide. Cyndi had been throwing up all morning and was having a tough time. After lunch she decided that she couldn't continue and headed directly to camp via another trail. Although we had continued climbing after lunch and had sat around for an hour, we were still getting into camp around the same time as Cyndi. The two keys to a successful Kilimanjaro ascent are water and a slow pace. Lose the benefit of either one and your health diminishes quickly. Being sick makes you lose water and then makes it hard to drink so it quickly becomes a losing battle at altitude. The next morning, Cyndi and Jonas, our lead guide made the decision that she needed to hike out. I don't know if a helicopter rescue is possible at that altitude but short of a life and death situation, you are forced to hike out on your own. She was accompanied by one of our guides and a mountain ranger... one in front of her and one behind her. That morning, as we were doing our scramble up the Baranco Wall, Cyndi was essentially descending it. Going down a steep cliff is usually harder and scarier than going up one. Doing it while you're weak, dizzy and dehydrated must have been really tough!

Sleeping well at 12,600 feet would normally be a problem. But after going up to 15,200 and then descending to camp, your body feels better. So we all slept well that night. Many of us woke up feeling the best we'd felt since we started (except poor Cyndi). We were ready for the Baranco Wall.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Mt. Kilimanjaro, Day 2

The second day was my favorite day on the mountain. We started out at 10,000 feet and hiked to 12,600 feet… our shortest hike of the 6 days and with breath-taking scenery the whole way. We started out at the forest’s edge in the Moreland zone and made our way into the Heather zone defined by smaller, moss covered trees and eventually just shrubs. We had lunch at a great spot and the weather was pleasantly warm all day. But the real treat was coming into the beautiful Shira Camp while it was still warm and with several hours of daylight left. The sun was shining and it was warm enough to walk around in sandals (the last time I wore them until we were down.

As we came into camp, there were 4 porters hanging out on some rocks singing a song about Kilimanjaro in perfect four-part harmony. It was beautiful even though they mainly seemed to be doing it to relax and pass the time. I was glad to see that they get some downtime too after seeing them carry everything they do for two days.

Shira camp is also beautiful because the views up and down are beautiful. You have a clear view of the summit looking up and the clouds that had partially covered it when we arrived kept clearing until the peak was unobstructed. Looking downward, you see Shira Cathedral, the camp’s namesake. The Shira ridge used to be as tall as Kibo Peak (the name of Kilimanjaro’s Summit). The glaciers used to end close to Shira Ridge, 1000s of feet below where they are now. Day 2 was a dream all around. The hiking was beautiful and not that strenuous and the camp was one of those places that makes camping so amazing. Even though we were already above 12,000 feet, we wouldn't start to feel the altitude until Day 3.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Mt. Kilimanjaro; Day 1

Day 1 started at the Kigongoni Lodge in Arusha where we had our briefing the night before. The lodge is located at the top of a hill with the individual bungalows scattered along the steep hillside. It was our first encounter with porters carrying our bags in what was to become a daily pattern on the mountain. But were already at a bit of altitude and as Sunny, one of the trekkers commented, "its hard to watch but not as hard as carrying them yourself."

We drove to the Machame Gate at 6000 feet, the starting point of our climb. There we signed in and handed off our bags to the mountain porters already busy loading up the rest of the supplies. We had heard the night before that there would be 45 porters supporting the 14 climbers and 6 guides but when you finally see them, the scale of the effort (and guilt) sets in. We reminded ourselves that it's good work for the porters and the returned to our more personal worries at the trek ahead.

Although we had been in Tanzania for 5 days, we had yet to have a good view of the mountain. Today was no different as there was a thick fog that had settled around the gate for the start of the trek. So, suited up in our gaters, rain shells and technical wear, we started hiking. This was also our first experience of, "Pole Pole"... "slowly" in Swahili. We had heard about it but now that were finally experiencing it first-hand we were amazed at just how slowly "pole pole" really is. Little did we know how hard it would be to do anything other than pole pole on summit day.

The truly amazing thing about the trek to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro is that the scenery changes dramatically every day. Today, we started in a dense rain forest... full of fog and inhabited by colobus and blue monkeys. Five or six hours later, you arrive at Camp 1 just at the edge of the rain forest and the beginning of the moreland zone marked by fewer, thinner, moss covered trees and our first view of the peak high above us. From here, the top of Kilimanjaro still looked a long way off and the swirling clouds and fog gave it a stormy appearance. It was just enough to make it appear intimidating and the perfect setting to contemplate the hike ahead.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Getting Ready for Africa

This is a picture of our guest bed covered with clothes and supplies for our trip to Africa. Instead of making me psyched it ended up making me feel guilty. We're taking the trip to find about Africa and organizations that we might be able to support with time or money. We're also climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro with a National Geographic guide and a eco-friendly guide company. We're going in part to see the effect of global warming on the glaciers of Kilimanjaro. So we're going with the best of intentions. But seeing all the clothes and gear on our bed made me feel guilty at how much energy... clothes, oil, shipping goes into getting 2 people to Africa and then up Mt. Kilimanjaro. We've joked that getting ready for the hike has become a part time job but it really is and made me think. If we put this much energy and prep into a non-technical hike up Kilimanjaro, imagine how much effort goes into prepping for Mt. Everest. It is a very selfish activity, particularly if you leave family behind who will worry about you. Your adventure becomes their concern until you're safely off the mountain.

We try to use less in our day-to-day life... we don't drive an SUV, we bought an old house instead of a new one, we take public transportation whenever possible. So maybe this is a splurge, a life experience that interupts our normally restrained lifestyle. Maybe this trip will lead to an opportunity for Anne or I to make a more positive impact on the World and it will end up offsetting any negative impact of all this oil we are personally consuming to get there.

We'll see

Sunday, May 27, 2007

View from Mt. Diablo Summit

Looking East from the top of Mt. Diablo. We're half-way through our last training hike before leaving for Africa. 3 hours to the top but lots of nice views on the way up.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mount St. Helena from Mayacamas Ridge

This is a view of the mountain from the opposing ridge that separates Napa and Sonoma. It was taken just off Petrified Forest Road where we stopped to check out Mayacamas Ranch. After a 2 hour hike up into the canyon at Bothe-Napa State Park, we stopped for some serious barbecue at Buster's on the edge of Calistoga. Its almost embrarassing to say but we spent the whole weekend in wine country and didn't stop at a single winery. We actually drove around the heart of Napa to get to Calistoga to save driving time. Although we enjoy showing Wine Country off when we have visitors we just didn't feel the pull this time. Our one nod to Wine Country was doing a flight of wine at dinner. There is something unspoiled about Calistoga that we really enjoy. The town is small and has a striking mountain ridge (the South flank of Mt. St. Helena) that dominates the view down Main Street. It makes Calistoga feel more like a mountain town than a part of Wine Country.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

View from Mt. St. Helena

This is the view from the top of Mt. St. Helena (not to be confused with the more famous, Mt. St Helens in Oregon). Mt. St. Helena sits at the top of Napa Valley and despite being the tallest mountain in the Bay Area is not very well known. If you're looking to do all 4300 feet of it, you might be out of luck because the main route to the top starts in Robert Louis Stevenson State Park about 200 feet up the mountain. The view from the top is nice in all directions but that's because you're not looking at the mountain itself which is non-descript and covered with radio towers on multiple scattered hilltops. There are almost no trails on the mountain. All ascents are made via a single fire road which branches out at the top to the North and West Peaks. The hike is just OK... a good workout but thats about it.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Conduct Unbecoming

Senator McCain is a Republican. But his biggest strength has always been his integrity and his honesty in voicing his views wherever they fall in the political spectrum.

I'm a Democrat. Until recently, I had been thinking that I could see voting for him as President specifically for the above reasons. I believed that his integrity would lead him to make the right decisions regardless of its level of support by his own party. I saw in him the potential to heal the Red State/Blue State divide that has created so many problems. He stood to get my vote because of his integrity not his party affiliation.

There is a great scene in the movie "Flags of Our Fathers" where John McCain's father visits West Point to check up on how his son is doing. He finds out that he is not doing so well academically but seems disinterested. He then inquires whether the younger McCain has done anything dishonorable... anything that would be considered "conduct unbecoming of an officer." Although this is of less interest to the academic, he says that McCain has conducted himself with integrity. His father makes it clear that this is all that matters and leaves. It is this integrity of character that clearly defines the rest of the movie and McCain's behavior in real life.

But in the last few months, he has lost a bit of this integrity. He has been slowly but steadily shifting opinion on a number of core political issues. All of it appears to be aimed at shoring up support from Bush's core constincuency... the religious right and political conservatives. But it is exactly this move that is making him far less attractive to me. So in an effort to get the support of people in his own party he is losing the support of people on the Democratic side of the fence. By changing his true colors, perhaps for the first time in his life, he is losing support from people like me who have always admired him for being so true.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The art of war

Interesting winning photo by Spencer Platt in this year's World Press Photo Contest. It spurred me on to look at some of the other winners. Viewing the photographs gave me the uncomfortable feeling of how beautiful war and despair can be in the hands of top photographers. It reminded me of the images of Edward Burtynsky that I first saw at the TED conference in 2005. Having gone to architecture school in Buffalo, NY and in the shadows of the steel industry, I have always found industrial architecture aesthetically interesting. Burtynsky takes that aesthetic appeal to a whole new level with his large format, crisply lit images of the fringes of our industrial world. In his photographs, the cast offs and decaying stages of heavy industry look somehow more beautiful than "healthy" and thriving industrial scenes. It takes time to understand what you're looking at. You first enjoy its aesthetic beauty and then start to decode what you are looking at. Over time, you realize that while the images are quite beautiful, the workers who appear in them are real victims... often of the same industries that bring oil, tires, minerals and plastic toys to the USA each and every day.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Fanfare: Yes, Common Man: No

I just watched Arnold Schwarzenegger walk out on stage as part of his swearing in ceremony. He hobbled out on crutches to the tune of Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man". I've heard Fanfare many times but never in place of a US state's equivelant of "Hail to the Chief". It was very strange. When I hear "Fanfare for the Common Man" I think of the dawn of human civilization, grass roots organizations and stories of average men and women accomplishing something amazing. I don't think of a highly staged event where some larger than life Hollywood celebrity walks out to the applause of thousands of his party supporters with news cameras flashing. As beautiful as the song is, the combination with "Arnold" makes it seem out of tune.