Smile-making Snow

Hunter Mountain is known as the “snowmaking capital of the world.” that’s certainly true this week.

Fortunately for us, there are very few skiers out on the slopes.

The Known Universe

Awesome video by the American Museum of Natural History, using Uniview.

Crisis Watch

Fineman PR released their 15th annual “top 10 P.R. blunders” list this week…

1. Military’s Flop of a Photo Op
2. “It’s a Fork, It’s a Spoon, It’s a…Weapon?” (The New York Times)
3. “Goldman Sucks,” blogs Financial Post editor
4. “My God, they’re throwing guitars out there.”
5. Domino’s Recipe for Disaster
6. Kanye West…Wanted – Chief Reality Check Officer
7. “Kentucky Fried Fiasco”
8. We “Expect More” from Target
9. Housing Crisis Solved…the Malibu Way
10. Squawking over Tweets

All good examples, with my personal favorite being Dave Carroll’s experience with United. Completely avoidable, and, ironically, they lost his luggage a few months later. His video has more than 6.6 million views — and counting:

Cleverly Evocative

“I got some groceries, some peanut butter to last a couple of days.” One of many memorable lines from the Talking Heads song “Life During Wartime.” Wow, I guess I’ve been a fan of David Byrne for thirty years.

Mediabistro’s Unbeige ran a piece on David Byrne’s intention of “rebranding himself” again…

The shape-shifting David Byrne is a man of many talents, from music and art (we recommend tracking down a copy of his 1999 tome Your Action World, which happens to have been designed by Stefan Sagmeister) to transforming buildings into giant instruments and boosting bicycling. One of the few performers who has drawn sell-out crowds at CBGB and Carnegie Hall, Byrne announced today the imminent CD release of Here Lies Love, his disco musical project involving bothFatboy Slim (Byrne’s partner on the project) and Imelda Marcos (the subject of the 22 songs sung by the likes of Byrne, Santigold,Nellie McKay, and Sharon Jones). The album drops on February 23 from Nonesuch, and in the meantime, Byrne is focusing his considerable energies on an even more personal project. “I have decided to rebrand myself, inspired by Philip Morris changing their name to Altria, Blackwater to Xe, and the train I’m riding on right now that calls itself Acela—none of which mean anything, but they are cleverly evocative,” he wrote in an e-mail sent this morning to friends and fans. “When I decide on the magic word, you’ll be the first to know.”

I’ve admired his work over the years and look forward to his new product — and brand.

Unemployment Geography

Interesting illustration from LaToya Egwuekwe

Friend of The Earth

You can learn alot from reading obituaries. Read that Malcolm Wells passed away at the end of November, an architect who advocated earth-friendly design. Interestingly, he wrote his own

A few,years before her death I asked my sister Mimi if she’d ever thought about her own obituary. She hadn’t, but it took her only a second or two to come up with one:

“I was born, I went to school,

I grew up, I got married,I had

two kids, and I died.”

Her response clearly illustrated our differences. Mimi didn’t need to tell you about her life. I had to tell you about mine. That’s why the obituary that follows will probably run to several pages.

My original name was Malcolm Bramley Wells. A great-grandmother in Cleveland was a woman who’d never heard of me. She was Mary Bramley, and she died not long after I was born. So my middle name was soon dropped. I have been just plain Malcolm Wells or Mac ever since.

My big brother, Jack, was killed on a motor scooter in 1950 at age 29. Mimi died of lung cancer at 58. She’d been a heavy smoker. Full of fun, she practically wisecracked her way to the cemetery. I, too, smoked – for 30 years – (till I was 47) but have gotten away with it so far (as I sit here coughing my way toward a{rird year of pneumonia) My whole life, in fact, has been one of getting away with it. I’m a lucky man.

My mother was an artist. She taught me to draw, to understand perspective, and to see land forms. My father, “a mere appliance salesman”, as he put it, taught me to be dependable, to look people in the eye, and to smile. Those characteristics have always opened many doors for me, although the “smile” part gets pretty well lost in my beard.

I married Shirley Holmes in 1947. She was just a month past her 19th birthday, It was she who opened my eyes to subjects like race in America, subjects I’d had till then taken liule time for, dazzledas I’d been with the wonder of myself. Later, it was Karen who continued that eye-opening process, making me aware of conditions beyond the world of architecture.

My big brother, Jack, had been one of those guys who could do anything: pick up a musical instrument and play it almost by instinct. Artist, musician, cartoonist, gymnastyou name it. And there I was, his klutzy kid brother, standing by his drawing board, trying to absorb everything I saw. I-was never able to do things quite right. So even though I fell into a life of good luck later on, it all came to me slowly, as I tried in vain to be Jack redux. I was too shy to go out for sports in high school, and I didn’t even have a date till the end of my senior year.

I don’t have a degree of any kind but as I neared 60 I was asked to teach an environmental design course at Harvard. If nothing else, teaching taught me that I was no teacher. Then, for 10 to 15 years, mostly in the 80’s, I lectured on my favorite subject, underground architecture, at schools all across the continent.

Eight or ten books later,I’d moved to Cape Cod, built another well-publicized house, and done the usual “successful architect” thing: gotten divorced and remarried.

Karen North Wells, the landscape painter, has now been my wife since 1984. Her two kids, Jonathan Kelly (1970) and Kirsten Engstrom(l972) seemed to have survived, even thrived, in spite of having inherited a geezet. Each is now married and a parent of two children.

My three kids, Kappy (1949), John (1951), and Sam(1955), have made me a three-time grandfather. My kids, as you might guess, are wonderful. My luck in life continues.

I am an atheist, a Democrat, a skinny old bearded guy, and an owner, with Karen, of the Underground Art Gallery at673 Satucket Road in Brewster. My former wife, Shirley, down in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, remained and is a better person and

better sport than I would have been if she’d left me. (My luck continues.) And Karen’s art is more widely appreciated every year, thank goodness, for she now supports me. She, like Shirley, is a wonderful woman. Sunshine and roses.

I have so many old-age health problems, Karen must devote even more of her time to caring for me, which she does not only without complaint but with enthusiasm!

But wait: don’t cut me offhere. I haven’t told you about my two years in the Marine Corps – World War II – studying engineering at Georgia Tech and carrying a wooden rifle, of working with the Seneca’s, or doing a World’s Fair building, or

designing a quilt, or never having touched a computer or a cell phone, or having done dozens, probably hundreds, of incredible designs and…

Attention, editors of the world’s leading papers: I want that last sentence to tail off into a string of dots.

Read what they actually wrote and published…

He also designed the RCA Pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York (yeah, I was there). Check out this Francis Thompson film promoting the fair.

Apocalyptic Socialists*

That’s the official opening film of the 15th United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.  They have a channel up on YouTube, they’re tweeting like canaries in a coal mine, and they have friends galore on Facebook.

Connie Hedegaard, Minister for the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen 2009, is blogging

The world is watching. In the last year, we have seen an unprecedented popular mobilization. Students and professors, union leaders and CEOs, politicians and grassroots, scientists and leaders of faith. People from all parts of the world, all walks of life have raised their voice demanding that we act now.

Now climate change is getting interesting. Especially after all this “hoax” stuff is surfacing among the scientific community.

Enjoy the news and opinion. Personally, I like Hopenhagen’s white organic bamboo T-shirts. I’m all for living green. For real.

*h/t to Sev Onyskevych for coming up with “apocalyptic socialists” in one of his FB status updates.

iPhone Orchestra

It had to happen. Using the iPhone as a musical instrument is not new. A graduate course and orchestra, that’s new.

The University of Michigan’s “iPhone Orchestra” will debut next week, via 9to5Mac (h/t to Gizmodo):

Given that the iPhone offers more processing power than the original iMac, this next story had to happen: December 9 will see a live performance by an orchestra, each and every one of whom will be using an iPhone to make the music happen.

Students at the University of Michigan are learning to design, build and play instruments on their Apple smartphones as part of a course called “Building a Mobile Phone Ensemble”. This course is taught by Georg Essl, a computer scientist and musician who has worked on developing mobile phones and musical instruments.

This class, believed to be the first formal course of its type in the world, merges engineering practices, mobile phone programming, and sound synthesis with new music performance, composition, and interactive media arts.

Students in the class program their iPhones to accept input from the devices’ multitude of input sensors, and to create sound based on that input.

The touch-screen, microphone, GPS, compass, wireless sensor, and accelerometer can all be transformed so that when a performer runs their finger across the display, blows air into the mic, tilts or shakes the phone, for example, different sounds emanate.

Students then compose for these new instruments and ultimately perform their works. Because the course brings together so many aspects of engineering, composition, and performance, the class demands a high degree of both creativity and technological savvy.

Several years ago, Essl and his colleagues were the first known to use the microphone as a wind sensor – a tactic that enables popular iPhone apps such as the Ocarina. Ocarina essentially turns the phone into an ancient type of flute.

“The mobile phone is a very nice platform for exploring new forms of musical performance,” Essl said. “We’re not tethered to the physics of traditional instruments. We can do interesting, weird, unusual things.

“This kind of technology is in its infancy, but it’s a hot and growing area to use iPhones for artistic expression.”

If you can’t make it to the performance, fret not – there’s even a Facebook page for the ensemble if you want to head across to say “hello”.

Ever hear of ZEE in Germany? They may have been first…

License Plates

Renewed our car’s registration online yesterday, and paused for a moment when asked whether I wanted a special one. No, I don’t need one of those. Vanity plate? No, thank you. Although people can get pretty creative. Locally, there’s a commuter who drives U.S. Route 1 in the Princeton area that some of us have seen with “IH8RT1.”

But this one is in poor taste, via Jalopnik and Andrew Ross Sorkin…

Andrew Ross Sorkin, author of the book “Too Big to Fail,” brings us this personalized license plate belonging to Morgan Stanley Vice-Chairman Rob Kindler who thought it appropriate to make a joke of the current financial mess.

If I were him, I’d change it promptly. This is not good P.R.

Remember the John DeLorean joke from the early 80’s? He used to make cars, now he’s making license plates!

Sugarloaf’s Open!

Last week’s snowstorm…

…brought opening day on 29 November 2009…

I’ve been a “Sugarloafer” since 2002, and I hope I get to ski it this season. Contemplating a visit in late March.

There’s also a band in Hungary that goes by the name of “Sugarloaf.” They did a nice cover of “99 Luftballoons,” one of the more memorable songs from the early 80’s…