Deep Thoughts from Isaac Asimov

The Society of Mind - Marvin Minsky - Cover
The Society of Mind - Marvin Minsky - Cover
The Society of Mind - Marvin Minsky - Chapter 2

"It is the nature of the mind that makes individuals kin, and the differences in the shape, form, or manner of the material atoms out of whose intricate relationships that mind is built are altogether trivial."

-- Isaac Asimov


This quote kicks off Chapter 2 :: Wholes and Parts in Marvin Minsky's, The Society of Mind. I am working my way through the 270 essays reflecting on the nature of the mind as a collection of autonomous agents that accumulate to a whole much more complex and rich than the sum of its parts. It is a fascinating book addressing many of my interests in science (fiction or otherwise), computation, learning (and teaching), and the stuff (stardust?) that makes us human(ish).


TicToc - A Gnarly Clock

The Clock
The Clock
lying in for a better view
A view to detail
Base form assembled
Holes for alignment and connection
Quadrant inStance
Straight off the press (printer)
Rapid Prototyping
Time at a 45
Return of the default hands

For years my mother has been asking me to make her a clock. It was always a project that went on the list and then kept moving down the list until a few weeks before Christmas. It always seemed like too much of a project to design and fabricate a working clock in a couple weeks, and do it with the quality I would like to present to my mom. This year was the same, with one small change, we added a Form 1+ 3D printer to the office last summer.

December and finals at Pratt rolled in quickly after Thanksgiving and I saw that looming "Design a Clock for Mom" task in my projects list. I had just finished a couple big projects in the office, and my main project was going on hold for a few weeks, so I thought, I can do this, design and fabricate a clock while spending my days on reviews and in meetings at school over the next two weeks. To do this I formulated a plan to dig up some forms/geometry from an old project that never materialized.

A couple summers ago I worked with a Pratt grad, Gillian Shaffer, to develop a way to translate my advanced doodles into 3D geometry and potentially into projects. We developed a component form and minor behaviors of mutation and connection from the drawing in this post, but other projects bubbled to the forefront and the work hit the shelf. It took a day of heavy dusting, editing the geometry and manipulating it to work within the context of a clock. In that time I got pulled into the organic curves and defining the behaviors of the forms and underlying geometry to express the rhythm of time. Something like a flower, or perhaps a crumpling desiccated insectoid creature started to emerge. The forms actually started to become quite spatial, reigniting my interest in developing the drawing transformation into an architectural project. For now, I am excited by the deployment of the work as a unique product design.

That takes care of the initial step, a plan for a rapid paced design of a clock form, but what about fabrication. After the first few hours of tweaking and organizing the forms I knew it was time to get this thing out of the computer and make sure that scale and fabrication were going to be feasible with my tools at hand. I extracted 1/4 portion of the clock, scaled it to match the clock motion hardware, and sent it off to the 3D printer. I had a new batch of black resin in the tank that I ordered recently and for a couple quick material tests. The result felt good, I liked the black hard finish, both expressing the fine details and hiding them in the complex play of specularity and shadow in the darkness. I also had some white resin handy and decided that white hands over an ominous black form would provide the necessary contrast to read the clock and make a graphic formal statement.

The initial prototype of 25% of the clock's base form took 6 hours to print at the fastest speed / lowest resolution settings of the machine. The quality was pretty good, but I thought I could get it better with a little bump in resolution. That pushed the time up to ~11 hours per part X4 parts was 2 solid days of printing and the deadline of my flight home was fast approaching. I printed one of the final quadrants as a test at the increased resolution and did not really make a massive impact, back to only 24 hours. The hands took several rounds of design and prototyping (and in the end still did not function properly) which devoured the rest of the 24 saved hours. I learned that the off the shelf clock motion hardware really wants to work with stamped metal hands rather than large resin forms. The resin can do super fine detail, but does not have the rigidity to maintain form in very thin parts, good lesson to know for production on this machine. Luckily I did have the generic hands that came with the clock motion, and their back sides were white so they are visible against the black.

Since the machine is pretty limited in size (more focused on detail), I broke the form down into 4 parts. I was able to integrate the alignment and connection pins into the geometry and even print the connection pins right along with the form. The alignment went together cleanly and a little clear epoxy cinched it all together in a snap. The resin sands clean with 320 grit sandpaper, taking a more matte finish (which I want to explore more) and can be brought back to gloss with a little boiled linseed oil (or mineral oil).

The clock lives, climbing my parents dining room wall, serving as a great two week, fast tracked, prototype for a pretty gnarly clock. I have some new motion hardwares to play with, I know some acid etchers/cutters near by for metal forms, I have a project to do for next Christmas.

Keep making things.


Keep it Simple Stu***

Frei Otto self organization strategies in fibers
Frei Otto self organization strategies in fibers
Frei Otto self organization fibers
Frei Otto Self Organization Structures
Frei Otto Funicular Geometry
Frei Otto

"Everything man is doing in architecture is to try to go against nature. Of course we have to understand nature to know how far we have to go against nature. The secret, I think, of the future is not doing too much. All architects have the tendency to do too much."

-- Frei Otto

A colleague used this quote in a lecture during Pratt's Technics course for first year architecture students. I was reviewing sketches in my notebook and found it scribbled on the edge of the page, without even an attribution. This means I was probably not listening as much has I should to the lecture and instead working through some design problem for the office. I am glad that this jumped out enough for me to take a break and do a little searching to find the original author of the quote. In the course of the searching I came across many such tid-bits of knowledge from Architect Frei Otto. A brilliant and very unique designer during the 20th century.

His work explores the performance and simplicity of nature, discovering novel methods for building with existing and new materials. The simplicity of his methods and rigor of testing and discovery remind me of the acronym, K.I.S.S. or Keep It Simple Stupid. I try to remind myself of this daily, as it is easy for projects to bloat and diverge on tangents.

I think I will head over to Amazon and pick up some resources on his work and career to beef up my own understanding, and get some elegant inspiration for the new year.


If you are interested in more of Frei Otto's quotes you can find many here.



Make Things

This phrase, Make Things, has become a daily motto for me. The only way I learn and understand things is through making things. While it sounds a little general, things helps  to focus on everything I am doing as a means of making something. My hope and desire is that I am always making something better.


"One must learn by doing the thing; for though you think you know it, you have no certainty, until you try."

-- Sophocles



Make It Better

Just do good work. Whatever commission you have, make it the best you’ve ever done. Nothing sells like good work.

— Frank D. Welch, FAIA, Frank Welch and Associates, Dallas



Poster for Ikiru by Akira Kurosawa

"Each of us lives most fully 'on the wire' in the face of death, daring to do the very thing which fear prevents us from."

-- Akira Kurosawa, Ikiru, 1952

I was reading Christopher Alexander's A Timeless Way of Building during a recent trip to Greece and he reference this line from Ikiru. I remember watching this movie with my Father (who is a big Kurosawa fan) as a teenager/young adult and being very touched and engrossed by the story. Kurosawa had an exquisite way of enfolding your with deep characters and meticulously crafted settings to create truly human stories. I saw this movie before my own brush with cancer, and will now carve out some time to revisit it to see how my perspective has changed. I don't remember feeling an urgency to give meaning to my life during my illness, more of a determination to overcome and move forward. I had much more to do and a lot that was already in motion, moving to New York and starting grad school, to worry about mortality. There is, however, still a small pit inside of me from the fear and uncertainty of those years, a feeling that creeps up and feeds the fire to more forward into the unknown, into challenges and discoveries.


Staircases - Georges Perec - Species of Space

Horta House Stairs
Horta House Stairs
Staircase by Victor Horta
Unknown - Perhaps Hector Guimard

"We don't think enough about staircases.

Nothing was more beautiful in old houses than the staircases. Nothing is uglier, colder, more hostile, meaner, in today's apartment buildings.

We should learn to live more on staircases. But how?"

-- Georges Perec (Species of Space, pg. 38)



"People who are unable to motivate themselves must be content with mediocrity no matter how impressive their other talents."
-- Andrew Carnegie
This reminded me of a recent reading of Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes on the great SciFi Podcast, Escape Pod.  Beautiful narration for a touching story.

Smooth Inspiration

 Visiting a job-site today and seeing all the trades slide around each other trying to bring the project to life reminded me of this little gem.  The episode The Spirit of Woodcraft from the 2006-2007 season the The Wood Wright Shop on PBS is a staple I share with first year architecture students.  Its primary focus is on how a carpenter interacts with the craft, tools, and material, it is really a wonderful monologue about flow, patience, observation, and attention.  It is also exquisitely nerdy (starting with a quote from Starwars).

You have to browse through the videos as I couldn't find a direct way to link to the video, It is also on youtube here.

"...It's a trick. Get an Axe!"

- Ash, Army of Darkness


Start with better dreams

Cover of Hieroglyph
Cover of Hieroglyph
Welcome to project hieroglyph, founded by Neal Stevenson and produced by Arizona State University's Center for Science and the Imagination. Our purpose here is to rekindle grand technological ambitions through the power of storytelling. Audacious projects like the Great Pyramids, the Hoover Dam, or a moon landing didn't just happen by accident. Someone had to imagine them and create a narrative that brought that vision to life for others. They are dreams that became real not because they were easy, but because there were hard. The editors firmly believe that if we want to create a better future, we need to start with better dreams. Big dreams--infectious, inclusive, optimistic dreams--are the vital first step to catalyzing real change in the world. As it turns out, sometimes that dreamer is a writer of fiction, often science fiction. 
This is the opening paragraph to the introduction of Hieroglyph, a new project and collection of short science fiction stories aimed at techno-optimism. The project was spurred by author Neil Stevenson and edited by Ed Finn and Kathryn Cramer. I found their  Introduction: A Blueprint For Better Dreams a welcome burst of furious color and an optimistic start to a day of dreaming with students at Pratt's Degree Project reviews. 

TechnoCrafting - The Digital Hand

A quick section for the class
Rules to Plan to Section to...

This blog started with a series of drawings. Simple black line renderings in a regularly shaped notebook I had sitting around, lacking any definite purpose. I still enjoy the time when I can step out of phase and let ink bleed into the fibers of the paper. Watching my hand deploy a few quick marks that spawn simple pseudo-algorithms of design. I find it a very relaxing process, one that is consuming and renders me into another world. A small, tightly knit world of that page, that pen, that moment, those marks, and of course, that me.

As a fun experiment I made an impulse purchase and grabbed the new Evernote Jot Script 2 Stylus to pair with my iPad. I wanted to see what it felt like to draw in a more digital, screen based medium, but with a similar intent. the images here are a collection of some of my initial experiments, quick morning exercises or studio examples for my students. I find the process somewhat disconnected as the ink flows through glass into something I have much lest connection to. I also find it very fluid, oozing shapes from my motions rather than engraving rivers of ink. I am leaning towards the digital pen as much more of a rapid sketching / concept tool, while still preferring the real stuff (pen and paper) for my more creative and meditative drawings.

One major caveat I always encounter with students is the reliance on erasers, especially in the early moments of a design. If you are unclear what should be on the page, how do you know what to delete? I like to draw through 'mistakes' and use them as opportunities, maybe even registrations of a more complex relationship between the paper/screen, pen, eyes, hands, and imagination. So the implementation of an undo feature to my sketching feels very strange, and a little dirty. DO, not unDo, or better still, make things!


Make {Beautiful} Things

California Cactus, Competition.
California Cactus, Competition.

The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men

-- Henry David Thoreau, Walden pg. 489

A reminder that what we do makes an impression and that we should be critical in our actions, striving to make wonderful and beautiful things.


Swelling Bud

What flower may come?
What flower may come?

Spring is finally peaking out from the long dark veil of winter. The warming air and crisp refreshment of thawing ground is very welcome after this year's prolonged chill. This drawing started at the beginning of march, and looking back, it was likely in a response to all the plants waiting to bud and bring their flowers into spring. Soon their sweet musky fragrance will fill the air.


Poetry of Design

"The poet proceeds in full knowledge of the fact that 'this is not the way we do things around here' create is to break the silence of conformity. It is to make a noise. Poetry is war, not with one another, but with ourselves, and effort to expand the territory of the known; to make is to break the known so as to cross the border into the unknown. The desire to create is a desire to surpass, not as an utopian dream, but in order to make manifest a difference between how things are and the mere possibility that they can be otherwise."

- Marcos Novak, 'The PanTopican and the Architecture of Noise' Center vol 9 / 2995 University of Texas Austin

ARNICA (softly)

Perfect Fit Packaging - Photo by LC
Perfect Fit Packaging - Photo by LC
The ring wraps my finger every day, battle tested and much approved
I can't help but wear these at least twice a week.
The Initial Collection
ARNICA - Photo by LC

It's HERE! After what seems like years (or actually has been years) we have the initial offerings from the ARNICA collection live and available. I hope that they inspire and delight your visual senses and entice your desire for beautiful things.

Now...A word from our sponsors (us, ARNICA,, Miscellaneous Projects)

Arnica is a collaboration between Laura Coombs and Robert Lee Brackett III. We create Arnica objects through our interest in translating biological forms into rich materials on an intimately wearable human scale. We search for novel creations by combining digital technologies with traditional craft, merging digital organic modeling, 3D printing, and CNC machining with lost wax casting, rare metal alloys, and detailed hand finishing. At the core of Arnica is our shared curiosity to understand and transform organic form into material beauty.