31 January 2009

Andy Goldsworthy on Tech

Sculptor Andy Goldsworthy writes on his process: "The work itself determines the nature of its making. I enjoy the freedom of just using my hands and 'found' tools - a sharp stone, the quill of a feather, thorns. I am not playing the primitive. I use my hands because this is the best way to do most of my work. If I need tools, then I will use them. Technology, travel and tools are part of my life and if needed should be part of my work also. A camera is used to document, an excavator to move earth, snowballs are carried cross country by articulated truck."*

I am very comfortable with this pragmatic approach to technology. The problem (here begins my opinion) is not technology, in itself, it's in the adoption of technology, or technique, as "the way" (or even "the best way") to fulfill a desire. When a community (artists, for example) discovers a piece of technology that makes a part of their job easier, or a technique is developed that introduces efficiencies into a process, this is not a bad thing, per se. But if technique precedes meditation, exploration, and inspiration, then creativity withers.

*From the introduction, Andy Goldsworthy: A Collaboration with Nature.Take a look at Andy Goldsworthy's other books at Amazon.The DVD, Rivers and Tides is a very good documentary, rich and satisfying. Remember, if you can find these books at a local independent bookstore, get on your bike and go. Photo of The Neuberger Cairn (2001) at SUNY, is from Wikimedia Commons, and is in the public domain.

24 January 2009

Old Places (The San Gregorio Store)

From the so-close-and-yet-so-wonderfully-far-away dept., a 30 minute drive from Silicon Valley will take you to a place that feels far, far away and a long time ago. The San Gregorio Store is a place that could be the Anti-Tech Museum. The single building is essentially the downtown of a sub-300-population oceanside community (most of which is not visible from the store), what used to be a hotel and hub for San Franciscan weekenders in stagecoaches.

The store, which has been in operation for 120 years, is simple in architecture, and is filled with stuff of simple goodness. While, on the other side of the Santa Cruz mountains, Silicon Valley patrons can now sit down in restaurants with touch-screens for ordering their food (and then for playing video games), the San Gregorio Store has no flickering screens at all. It does have a historic bar to sit at where conversation happens, and tables set up by a wood stove and shelves of books for borrowing (and others for buying).

The store is isolated enough to stock some essential groceries, but not so much that you'd come here if you needed to stock up. But you can find a good selection of local beers (at the bar and in the fridges), oil lamps, glassware, denim, cast iron cookware, some good looking puzzles, socially progressive reading matter ("World Atlas of Biodiversity"), posters (of Bob Marley, Albert Einstein, and Marian Anderson, for example) and bluegrass music (live, if you come at the right times). In what may be the only nod to the store's proximity to Silicon Valley, you won't find cowboy hats here, only "cowtechnician hats".

It is a country store, but "country" in the way that only a large metropolitan area like the San Francisco Bay Area can produce. In other words: liberal, humanist, and intellectual, where in some other places, "country" might mean conservative, hick, and unread. Bay Area "country" means laid back ... in a socially and politically intense kind of way. The prices also betray the fact that the store is close to a major metro area: it's a bit hard for me to justify buying a t-shirt for over 20 bucks. But if that's the price of keeping a place like this on the map, then it's cheaper than a museum (and there is none of the staged feel of a museum to the San Gregorio Store).

The San Gregorio Store is on Hwy 84, just off the Pacific Coast Highway and just North of Pescadero, another old California town. Take 84 west from the store for one minute and you're at the Pacific Ocean, where the breakers will drown out all the noise and memory of the modern world. Take Hwy 84 east for thirty minutes and, as you re-enter the modern world, one of the first restaurants you'll come to is Buck's of Woodside, where bits of famous and ground-breaking computer technology are framed on the walls, gifts from famous and ground-breaking tech pioneers, many of whom were funded in part while lunching at Buck's with venture capitalists. That's the spectrum right there: the old towns of the Pacific Coast on one end of the 84, and a Silicon Valley deal-making hub on the other. Noisy waves to the west, bits of tech to the east. ... Go West, (low tech) traveler*.

The San Gregorio Store

*that is, find the point on your compass which leads you away from industry and development for a spell, and go that way.

15 January 2009

Cast Iron

This post has moved to imby.net

08 January 2009

07 January 2009


My wife grew up doing puzzles with her family. I didn't quite understand the appeal until I got a look at the puzzles they did. They came in Gold colored boxes, without pictures to guide you, and were cut from 1/4 inch plywood. The pictures themselves were interesting, full of detail, and some of the shapes were cut to resemble iconic toys: rifle ... ballerina ... boat. Puzzles are very low key, non-competitive, and interesting. Anyone can walk by and spend a few minutes poking around looking for a piece to fit. Amazingly, our 15 year old and our 12 year old each sit at the puzzle table with us at the end of the day. We blast music and lean on each other. As family entertainment, this is low-tech gold.

We've bought puzzles over the years, when we could find ones that had some visual complexity, and the first thing we do, is throw away the picture. (It's surprising that most puzzles are of scenes with very little detail. How do you assemble a puzzle of a sunset scene, when most of it is sky and water?) We don't do a lot of board games together: it's hard to agree on one we all like, and sometimes the competition is hard on the family unit.

This year we found a puzzle made by Masterpiece Puzzlesfrom a picture of San Francisco by Eric Dowdle. After looking at the picture on the box long enough to determine that it was sufficiently complicated, we tore off the picture and chucked it. Oh, man, was this puzzle hard. We've been working on it, on and off, for two weeks.

It's a picture that, by itself, does not appeal to me--you see pictures like this in tourist shops in big cities. But in a puzzle, pictures like this, packed as they are with funny and quaint details are engrossing and entertaining.

In the picture below, you can see the 1000 piece puzzle under construction in my living room, along with a couple essential tools: hot tea to calm down the puzzle masters, and a spatula for moving little groups of assembled pieces without them falling apart. My wife keeps mumbling that her father would NOT approve of the spatula. I thought it was pretty smart.

It's even more detailed than it looks in this picture. Every building has distinctive window patterns, and they are crammed together in the work in such a way that it's really hard to understand how it all fits together until you see it done. Fun!

[Update. I found a company selling expensive wooden puzzles: they look beautiful and fun in the way I remember my in-law's puzzles, full of custom-cut pieces and interesting pictures. Stave Puzzles]

Here's the San Francisco puzzle for sale on Amazon (though if you have an independent local toy shop that you'd like to stay in business, call them first, please):

General's Semi-Hex 498 2 2/4 ... Reasons Why #1

Post moved to imby.net

04 January 2009