======================================================================== Cybernetics in the 3rd Millennium (C3M) Volume 10 Number 1, March 2012 Alan B. Scrivener — www.well.com/user/absmailto:abs@well.com ========================================================================
In this issue:

Yet Another Reboot

Dear friends, the last year — in fact, altogether the current millennium — has been rough over here at my house, and I have neglected C3M in favor of more mundane survival activities. But the future is looking up, finally, and I believe I can resume my schedule of an issue every other month. Stay tuned.

Short Subjects: Old and New Cybernetic Gizmos; Reading List; a Translation

gizmo Arduino circuit board by Wayne Holder
"I find clutter, in my personal environment, oppressive. But crazed environments of dead tech and poignant rubbish turn up in my fiction on a regular basis, where they are usually presented as being at once comforting, evocative and somehow magical. The future as flea market." — William Gibson "My Obsession" 1999, WIRED Magazine reprinted in "Distrust That Particular Flavor" collected essays, 2012
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/039915843X/hip-20 )

K3 Hardware Doc.

I find this meticulous documentation of "ELECTRONIC ANALOG COMPUTING INSTRUMENTS" from the early 1950s fascinating. ( www.philbrickarchive.org ) ( www.philbrickarchive.org/k3_series_components.htm )

The Ubiquitous Arduino

If you want to build a hobbyist gizmo of almost any type these days, you need to learn about the Arduino. ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arduino ) My old friend Wayne Holder has been writing hobbyist articles on this topic lately: ( sites.google.com/site/wayneholder/attiny-4-5-9-10-assembly-ide-and-programmer )

IEC-1131 - The First Universal Process Control Language

According to the on-line magazine Process Engineering Control and Maintenance, ( www.webmags.co.uk/mag.aspx?magcode=PECM_Jul_Aug_2011 ) as of 2003 the state of the art in process control for professional applications is using programmable logic controllers programmed in the international standard language IEC 61131-3 ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IEC_61131-3 ) ( www.automation.com/resources-tools/articles-white-papers/process-control-process-monitoring/iec-1131-the-first-universal-process-control-language )

Octave: Free Math Laboratory Software

I have been getting a lot of good use out of the open source desktop software Octave, a Matlab work-alike, which is available on many platforms. ( www.math.uic.edu/~hanson/Octave/OctaveODE-EG.html )

Servo Magazine

My friend Steve Price, who's been doing a lot of volunteer work lately with high school kids building robots, says Servo is a useful magazine for robotics hobbyists, especially the ads in the back. ( www.servomagazine.com )

Reading List

The following are books I have read in the last year, and recommend, but don't have time now to review:

A Curriculum for Cybernetics and Systems Theory in Bulgarian

Albert Ward of Plovdiv, Bulgaria, has graciously done the work to translate my Curriculum for Cybernetics and Systems Theory ( www.well.com/user/abs/curriculum.html ) into Bulgarian: ( www.fatcow.com/edu/well-curriculum-bl )

Modeling ODEs In a Spreadsheet Explained In 371 Words

Lorenz Lorenz attractor visualization from Solving Ordinary Differential Equations in C++ ( www.codeproject.com/Articles/43607/Solving-ordinary-differential-equations-in-C ) — probably a more useful article than this one...


I've been having "issues" lately with with terseness. As an exercise, I've written this extremely short article on something I know how to do, that I think y'all could benefit from, that I've previously promised to write about.


A set of Ordinary Differential Equations (ODEs) or "change rules" expresses the rates of change of components of a vector "X" (x1, x2, x3, ... etc.) in terms of the current value of the vector at some time "t" we are interested in. For example: x1_dot = x2 x2_dot = -x3 x3_dot = x1 where "x1_dot" means "the rate of change of x1 at time t," i.e. x1'(t). Assume vector "I" (i1, i2, i3, ... etc.) is the set of initial conditions at time t = 0. This information taken together is what we call a "three dimensional set of ODEs." To solve this set of ODEs via linear algebra (calculus year three), consult a thick textbook of special cases — or use Wolfram Alpha. (To make Wolfram Alpha happy I replaced x1 with x, x2 with y, and x3 with z.) ( www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=x%27+%3D+y%3B+y%27+%3D+-z%3B+z%27+%3D+x ) To simulate with a spreadsheet program such as Microsoft Excel or Google Docs Spreadsheet, ( docs.google.com ) put the initial conditions (i1, i2, i3, ... etc.) in the first row, in the cells labeled A1, B1, C1, etc. (Letters are for columns and numbers are for rows.) Then make the next row correspond to the ODEs: A2: =A1 + B1 * $D$1 B2: =B1 - C1 * $D$1 C2: =C1 + A1 * $D$1 The value in cell D1 is a scaling factor, which should be between 0 and 1. (The "$" syntax anchors a link as absolute; otherwise it is relative.) If you want N rows per time step, make the scale factor 1/N. Next copy the second line below as many times as you want time steps, call that S, times N. E.g., if N is 10 and S is 16 time steps, copy the second row 160 times. The last row will have the values of X at time t = S + 1. If you select a column and graph it, this will show the evolution of the selected variable over time. Adjust the scale factor for smoothness and accuracy. Note: this approach uses "Euler's Method" which is very approximate. If results are too approximate, see the article on C++ cited above and use the "Fourth-Order Runga-Cutta Method" instead.

Re: Joyce

McLuhan as Magritte painting
"Mulligan stew for Bloom, the only Jew in the room Saxon's sick on the holy dregs and their constant getting throw up on his leg. Molly's gone to blazes, Boylan's crotch amazes any woman whose husband sleeps with his head all buried down at the foot of his bed." — Grace Slick, 1967 "Rejoyce" "Joyce devoted his tenth and last thunder in Finnegans Wake to TV, 'the charge of the light barricade.' The viewer is the screen (not the camera, as in a movie)." — Marshall McLuhan, 1970 "Culture Is Our Business"
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0345026950/hip-20 ) Dear readers, I thought you might like to know I've embarked on a project to read the complete, deliberately published works of James Joyce (excluding letters & discarded manuscripts published posthumously). So far I have read "Dubliners" (1914) and "A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man" (1916) and am about 1/3 the way through "Ulysses" (1922). Along the way I've created a few documents to help me:
  • Correspondences in the Stages of the Careers of James Joyce and the Beatles +--------------+--------------------------+----------------------+ | a new voice | Chamber Music | With the Beatles | | | (1907) | (1963) | | | Dubliners | Please Please Me | | | (1914) | (1963) | | | Stephen Hero | Beatles For Sale | | | (1944) | (1964) | +--------------+--------------------------+----------------------+ | a new direc- | A Portrait of the Artist | A Hard Day's Night | | tion | As a Young Man | (1964) | | | (1916) | Help! | | | Exiles | (1965) | | | (1918) | | +--------------+--------------------------+----------------------+ | a new style | Ulysses | Rubber Soul | | | (1922) | (1965) | | | | Revolver | | | | (1966) | +--------------+--------------------------+----------------------+ | odd lot | The Cat and the Devil | Yellow Submarine | | | (1936) | (1967) | +--------------+--------------------------+----------------------+ | like nothing | Finnegans Wake | Sgt. Pepper's Lonely | | even done | (1939) | Hearts Club Band | | before | | (1967) | | | | Magical Mystery Tour | | | | (1967) | | | | The White Album | | | | (1968) | | | | Abbey Road | | | | (1969) | +--------------+--------------------------+----------------------+ | scraps | Letters | Let It Be | | | (1957) | (1970) | | | | Past Masters | | | | (1988) | +--------------+--------------------------+----------------------+
  • James Joyce's "Ulysses" chapters A handy guide suitable for printing out and keeping in the book. ( www.well.com/user/abs/Cyb/archive/ulysses_chapters.html )
  • Marshall McLuhan on James Joyce A work in progress. ( www.well.com/user/abs/Cyb/archive/mcluhan_joyce.html )
Why am I doing this? Well, a number of smart and talented people have claimed this stuff is vital. Media guru Marshall McLuhan quotes Joyce in just about every book he ever wrote; I haven't found an exception yet. His "War and Peace in the Global Village" (1968) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000NPDT7S/hip-20 ) (written with Quentin Fiore and Jerome Agel) is an in-depth look at Joyce's relevance to media studies. He quotes Finnegans Wake so often that he saves time by just referring to it as "FW." Rock star Grace Slick in the above-quoted song from the Jefferson Airplane album "After Bathing At Baxters" (1967) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0000A0DRX/hip-20 ) sings the praises of Ulysses. Audio comedy troupe the Firesign Theatre has been called Joycean (as has Thomas Pynchon, come to think of it) and their album "How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You're Not Anywhere at All" (1969) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0000024UU/hip-20 ) concludes with a direct quote from Molly Bloom's final soliloquy in "Ulysses." Counter-culture philosopher Robert Anton Wilson refers to Joyce repeatedly, and his book, "Coincidance: A Head Test" (1988) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1561840041/hip-20 ) (with title taken from Finnegans Wake) contains the most incisive Joyce analysis I've seen. Fair enough, but what does this have to do with cybernetics, you may well ask? Before answering this question, on a lark I Googled "James Joyce cybernetics" ( www.google.com/search?q=james+joyce+cybernetics&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&hl=en ) and found a treasure trove of stuff, including a page from the American Society for Cybernetics called "Noted Contributors to Cybernetics and Systems Theory" ( www.asc-cybernetics.org/foundations/cyberneticians.htm ) which has this bio of Ernst Von Glasersfeld:
"Philosopher & Cybernetician. He spent large parts of his life in Ireland [1940s], in Italy [1950s] and the USA [current]. Elaborating upon Vico, Piaget's genetic epistemology, Bishop Berkeley's theory of perception, James Joyce's Finnegans Wake and other important texts, Ernst developed his model of Radical Constructivism — which is an ethos shared by all of these writers to one degree or another, sometimes it is difficult to see where their epistemological agreements begin and end — but that is part of the fun."
Nice to know I'm not alone in seeing the relevance. But this is cheating. The answer from my own background is that I remember McLuhan saying in "War and Peace in the Global Village" (p. 53) that Joyce claimed to be "the greatest engineer who ever lived." This piqued my interest more than anything. One thing I'm already aware of is Joyce's talent for overloading words with meanings. Wilson deconstructs his sentence:
"It's as semper as oxhousehumper."
"Semper" is a pun on "simple" and also Latin for "always" or "eternal." (Marine Corps.' Semper Fidelis — always faithful.) The phrase "It's as simple as..." is often ended "ABC." Pulling apart "oxhousehumper" we get "ox," "house," and "humper." The original Phoenician alphabet had what we now call "A" as a symbol for ox, "B" as a house, and "G" (which later mutated into "C") as a camel, complete with hump. Here we find reference to the simple yet eternal alphabet, ancient civilizations, and a sophomoric sexual innuendo. That's Joyce in a nutshell. (Or as he sometimes called it, a "notshall.") The Firesigns appropriated this technique in their comedy. In the routine "Forward Into the Past" collected on the album "Shoes for Industry! The Best of the Firesign Theatre" (1993), ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0000028OU/hip-20 ) we get this sentence about World War II era wartime recycling:
"Remember, garbage that goes bad comes back at our boys in baggies!"
In the 1940s baggies were the loose pants worn by the military, our "boys in baggies." But the 1960s audience of the Firesigns knew baggies as plastic food storage bags, from companies like Du Pont which also gave us body bags in Viet Nam. The allusion to our boys coming back from the war in bags is hard to miss for a Baby Boomer. The phrase is overloaded with meaning about changing public attitudes towards war during the twenty year interval. Similarly, Joyce also overloads the meaning of entire books. "Ulysses" seems on the surface to be about a couple 'a guys wandering around Dublin on June 16, 1904 (now known as "Bloomsday" to Joyce fans), but it is well known that it also maps onto the Odyssey by Homer. "Finnegans Wake" seems to be a surreal (dare I say psychedelic) re-interpretation of the same events in 1904, but according to McLuhan it also maps onto a history of disruptive technology from the Paleolithic to the electronic, including television as it was known in 1939. ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_and_Peace_in_the_Global_Village ) More on this exploration as it unfolds.

License To Kill — Some Thoughts On the Assassination of Bin Laden

execution this news photo of South Viet Nam's dictator Nguyen executing a prisoner of war without trial enraged American liberals in the 1960s
"We are lucky men, for we have a cause worth dying for. This honor is not given to every generation." — Esther Forbes, 1943 "Johnny Tremain" (novel)
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1580930166/hip-20 ) I grew up watching Walt Disney's live-action entertainment on his Sunday night TV show. I learned about patriotism and human rights from episodes such as The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh, Swamp Fox, and Johnny Tremain. Set in England and Colonial America, these stories put a human face on the struggle of our ancestors to achieve freedom. In Johnny Tremain (1957), ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005JM6F/hip-20 ) based on the 1943 novel by Esther Forbes, ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1580930166/hip-20 ) a young man joins the American revolution for the excitement, and then later learns about the principles it is based on. One night at a Philadelphia inn he begs to be allowed to deliver refreshments to a meeting of the "Sons of Liberty" and overhears patriarch James Otis answering the question, "For what will we fight?" The dialog comes almost verbatim from Forbes' book:
'To free Boston from these infernal redcoats and...' 'No,' said Otis. '...that's not enough reason for going into a war...I hate those infernal British troops spread all over my town as much as you do. Can't move these days without stepping on a soldier. But we are not going off into a civil war merely to get them out of Boston. Why are we going to fight? Why? Why?' There was an embarrassed silence. Sam Adams was the acknowledged ringleader. It was for him to speak now. 'We will fight for the rights of Americans. England cannot take our money away by taxes.' 'No, no. For something more important than the pocketbooks of our American citizens.' (Enter Rab): 'For the rights of Englishmen — everywhere.' 'Why stop with Englishmen?' Otis was warming up. ...'For men and women and children all over the world,' he said. 'You were right, [Rab], for even as we shoot down the British soldiers we are fighting for rights such as they will be enjoying a hundred years from now. ... there shall be no more tyranny. A handful of men cannot seize power over thousands. A man shall choose who it is shall rule over him. ... the peasants of France, the serfs of Russia. Hardly more than animals now. But because we fight, they shall see freedom like a new sun rising in the west. Those natural rights God has given to every man, no matter how humble...' He smiled suddenly and said, ...'or crazy,'...
These stories taught me that winning of our freedoms has been a long, historical process. That's why I'm alarmed to see apparent reversals of history recently. But before I step squarely into the middle of partisan fire, let me talk first about somebody else, somewhere else. Remember the Siege of Sarajevo, "the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare?" ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Sarajevo ) That siege began in early May of 1992. Were you alive then? Where were you? There were riots going on in Los Angeles, the space shuttle Endeavor made its first trip into orbit, the America's Cup races were going on in San Diego, the last episode of Golden Girls" aired on TV, Altman's "The Player" and dog movie "Beethoven" were big at the box office, and on the radio "My Lovin' (Never Gonna Get It)" by En Vogue and "Under the Bridge" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers were in heavy rotation. The siege was lifted nearly four years later, in February of 1996. Remember that time? Garry Kasparov was in a chess battle with an IBM computer named "Deep Blue." Snoop Dogg and his bodyguard were acquitted of first degree murder. At the 38th Grammy Awards: Alanis Morisette won for "Jagged Little Pill." That was a pretty eventful four years in the U.S. It was Clinton's first term. Windows '95 came out and the internet got big suddenly, and computing was getting cheaper very quickly. We were riding the growth curve that became the dot-com boom. And rumbling along in the background, there was that siege in Sarajevo. Wikipedia says: "It is estimated that nearly 10,000 people were killed or went missing in the city, including over 1,500 children. An additional 56,000 people were wounded, including nearly 15,000 children." Jeepers, that's nearly a 9/11 a year for four years. A city of 525,980 having 66,000 killed or wounded -- the Romans had a word for that: they called it being decimated. ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decimation_%28Roman_army%29 ) So why did so few care in the West? Well, by unhappy accident the conflict wasn't on anybody's Powerpoint presentations in Washington as part of a Democratic or Republican push for anything, so it remained invisible. The fact that the good guy were Moslem and the bad guys were Christian probably didn't help either. For a while it seemed like only the super-band U2 adopted this cause, with their song and video "Miss Sarajevo." ( www.youtube.com/watch?v=cuEt7EvPMVU ) Wikipedia tells us: "'Miss Sarajevo' is the only single from the 1995 album Original Soundtracks 1 by U2 and Brian Eno, under the pseudonym Passengers. Luciano Pavarotti makes a guest vocal appearance, singing the opera solo. ... While the song did not reach the Billboard Hot 100, it reached #6 on the UK Singles Chart and was a top-ten hit in many other European countries. Bono cites 'Miss Sarajevo' as his favorite U2 song." ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miss_Sarajevo ) At 5:44 in the video you see the Miss Sarajevo Pageant contestants with a banner -- in English -- reading "DON'T LET THEM KILL US." kill surreal scene from the Bosnian Genocide This pageant was a publicity stunt, based on the principle that sex sells, with a polite request for rescue from genocidal extinction. My own cynical theory is this: the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan were coming up, ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nagano_Olympics ) and it began to dawn on the administration that every time somebody on TV mentioned the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarajevo_Olympics ) they were going to show pictures of the current day city, with the Olympic facilities destroyed by bombs, and mention that it was still under siege. That became the deadline. ruins Olympic village in ruins As a result, we and NATO waged a rather miraculous "air war" in which none of our guys got hurt, and Sarajevo was saved. Before we move on from this happy ending, I'd like to, hypothetically, ask, what advice would we have given to the citizens of Sarajevo in 1992, when the siege began? Be patient? The system will work eventually? What if they'd wanted to suspend their own human rights principles and go after their enemies with indefinite detention and torture? Would we advise them not to do it, not to give up their own humanity in their fury? Sure we would've. Talk is cheap. But it was different in America after 9/11. Suddenly it was us being attacked. We who hadn't had a strike on our mainland, virtually, since the British burned the White House, meaning before modern warfare. It was different when it was us. And, to get technical for a minute, what kind of philosophy is it that makes me more important than you, merely by virtue of being me? I'd call that solipsism, ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solipsism ) the belief that only I exist. Among modern thinkers, it is probably best exemplified by the scandalous Frenchman we know as the Marquis de Sade. ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marquis_de_sade ) His reputation has been softened up by recent practitioners of a sexual flavor called "BDSM" often associated with the slogan "Safe, Sane and Consensual." Wikipedia calls it an "erotic preference." ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bdsm ) Celebrities from Madonna to Rihanna have "flogged" this style. (Sorry.) But the original Marquis was far less Safe, Sane and Consensual. He believed his pleasures came first, and were a human right just because he said so. I'm trying to point out how ugly this seems when it's somebody else doing it. I think I'm ready to drag the Republicans and Democrats into this. In the Washington power-grab right after 9/11, the Republican administration of George W. Bush pushed through the Patriot Act, nuking a bunch of our rights, and invented Enemy Combatants, an Orwellian Twilight-Zone category between civilian and soldier, along with the Twilight-Zone-like Guantanamo Bay facility, run by our military on the edge of a communist enemy power. The Democratic administration of Barack Obama, after some hemming and hawing, has decided it likes the previous power grabs, and has added a presidential "license to kill." This seemed so sexy when James Bond was doing it, but the important thing to recognize is that by granting a government agent this license we're throwing away Habeas Corpus rights going back to the twelfth century, even before the Magna Carta. ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Habeas_corpus ) For half a millennium English kings lacked the power to have someone killed without a judge being in the loop, and now the world's first true democracy looks to let that one slip away without a fight... I've mentioned before, in C3M vol. 4 no. 5, that "I for one am grateful for [George] Lucas giving us the wonderful line in [Star Wars] Episode II, spoken by Senator Amidala: So this is how liberty dies, with thunderous applause. If we remember it, it may someday help us to save our republic." ( www.well.com/user/abs/Cyb/archive/c3m_0405.html )

* * * * * *

I actually began writing this essay right after Bin Laden's assasination, but before the subsequent "hit" on cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. ( www.washingtontimes.com/news/2011/sep/30/ron-paul-cleric-al-awlaki-assassinated ) I was planning on saying that I found the administration's plans for al-Awlaki even more troubling than the Bin Laden mission. This man, an American citizen, was targeted for death for his speech. How do you get on the list to get offed by Uncle Sam? An undisclosed person puts your name on an undisclosed list, and other undisclosed persons then fail to remove it. I'm reminded of some chilling imagery in the Soviet era exposé of communist tyranny, "The Gulag Archipelago" (novel, 1973) by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1843430851/hip-20 ) He describes how when the U.S.S.R.'s secret police, the KGB, dragged someone away in the night, they would drag away a neighbor as a "witness" to satisfy now-vestigial laws designed to guard citizens' rights. The only remaining function of this was to terrorize the neighbor. He wanted to remind us how spooky the ghosts of rights could be.

The Radiant City: What I Learned About Bucky Fuller, EPCOT and the Moderns While Researching Virtual Worlds

Le Corbusier's Radiant City (unbuilt)
"The characteristic question of the day: where will you find the money?" — Le Corbusier quoted by B. Korshunov Stroitelnaia Promyshlennos 3, no. 12 (1925)
The last time I wrote about architecture, two people called me verbose and one of them unsubscribed. I guess I'm just bursting with things to say about the topic, and once again I have too much material for the short essay I've planned, so I will focus on being on-message. Here goes...

Building Virtual Worlds

a city view in Sundog: Frozen Legacy
"You know, the only way I've found to make these places is with animators — you can't seem to do it with accountants and bookkeepers." — Walt Disney quoted in "Animation: Form Follows Fun" (2004) by Regina Dahmen-Ingenhoven
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/3764366338/hip-20 ) As reported here before, I've been working on a project to port a classic Apple ][ game, "Sundog: Frozen Legacy" to the iPhone. ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SunDog:_Frozen_Legacy ) ( www.gamefaqs.com/ast/952333-sundog-frozen-legacy/images/box-110518 ) The original game had scores of cities on dozens of planets, all represented as two-dimensional grids as in the screen shot above. For the new "reboot" we have been planning to have fully 3D cities. The problem is the sheer amount of work required to create all the solid models of buildings, especially if they are to look like they represent a variety of cultures. One of the ways we are exploring to address this is to have buildings defined procedurally, ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Procedural_generation ) but that will only help us get results faster, it won't tell us what results we need to get. In casting about for inspiration, I remembered a book I borrowed from my friend Will A. years ago, called "Yesterday's Tomorrows: Past Visions of the American Future" (1984) by Corn & Horrigan. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0801853990/hip-20 ) Past Visions of the American Future It chronicles changing visions of "the future" in recent U.S. history. I thought some of these "obsolete futures" might be useful sources of city ideas. Then I remembered something in Tom Wolfe's popular book on architecture, "From Bauhaus To Our House" (1981). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/055338063X/hip-20 ) Describing the career arc of French modernist Le Corbusier, Wolfe says,
"Le Corbusier. Mr Purism. He showed everybody how to become a famous architect without building buildings. He built a Radiant City inside his skull."
and shows a photo of Corbu in his trademark owl glasses, pontificating. Wolfe was referring to the unbuilt design for the Ville Radieuse, or Radiant City, for a major Moscow redevelopment — later a similar concept was created for Paris. ( http://www.google.com/search?q=Ville+Radieuse&hl=en ) "That's it!" I thought. I recalled that many of the pioneers of Modernism had grand plans for huge futuristic cities that were mostly unbuilt. Since you can't copyright architrecture, I thought this was our chance to strip-mine the history of the future. For each type of utopian vision, we could have families of cities in similar style, with stylistically similar buildings forming the stores, taverns, banks, hotels, warehouses, monuments, and other city components. (In most cases it was certainly a blessing that these designs weren't built, replacing large historic districts, but there's plenty of real estate in cyberspace!) So I set out to study these utopian visions:
  • Le Corbuser's Radiant City (see picture above)
  • Frank Lloyd Wright's Broadacre City Wright sought a "prairie Architecture" ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broadacre_City )
  • Mies Van Der Rohe's Alexanderplatz design for Berlin Mies Van Der Rohe's Alexanderplatz (unbuilt)
  • Irving Gill's plan for Torrance (partially built and now partially gone) Irving Gill designed portions of "workers paradise" Torrance, California
  • Victor Gruen's regional shopping center and urban core renewal designs Valencia core model by Gruen
  • Walt Disney's design for An Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT) Victor Gruen's urban planning inspired Walt Disney's E.P.C.O.T.
  • Bucky Fuller's giant land, air & ocean cities "Old Man River's City" designed by Fuller for East Saint Louis
Along the way a learned a few fascinating things not directly connected with my virtual worlds project which I'd like to share with you all.

21st Century Moderns

Tugendhat House photographed by Thomas Ruff
"The Tugendhat House was occupied by the family for little more than seven years. The family emigrated in 1938 in the run-up to the Nazi- German invasion. As 'unappropriated Jewish property' the house was confiscated by the National Socialists and registered in 1942 in the estate register as property of the Reich; during the war it housed occasionally a design office of the aircraft engine company 'Ostmark,' but by then the ebony wall and the Lehmbruck sculpture had already vanished. In 1945 the Red Army took quarters in the villa. In 1950 the house became property of the Czechoslovakian state and used as an institute for physiotherapy. In 1963 the Villa was declared cultural monument, restored in 1985, and in 2001 listed in the UNESCO International Cultural and National Heritage list." — Claire Zimmerman, 2006 "Mies Van Der Rohe 1886 - 1969 The Structure of Space"
It's customary to put the bibliography at the end of an article, but I'm going to wedge it in here, because I have a point to make. Below is the list of books I've read so far for this project. You'll notice that almost all of them were published in the last dozen years. The only exceptions are books by the architects themselves, and a few surveys which have been re-issued in the 21st century. There seems to be growing interest in what is now called "Mid- Century Modern" style. Another example is the restoration of Mies Van Der Rohe's Tugendhat House in the quote and picture above. Perhaps this is just a case of "don't know what you've got 'till it's gone," but I see a lot more interest now than 40 years ago. Here, then, is the book list:

Pure Functionalism As Just Another Aesthetic

attack of the 50-foot store window by Gruen
"The evolution of culture is synonymous with the removal of ornament from objects of daily use." This idea should have given rise to a new joy but it gave rise to sadness at ornaments not being produced. Objects without ornament in the past were carelessly thrown away, and any rubbish with the smallest ornament was collected and displayed. Every period had a style, which meant ornament. Our period however does not: it is important because it cannot produce new ornament, has out-grown ornament. The streets will now glow like white walls. — Adolf Loos, 1908 "Ornament and Crime" "We have now become aware of the possibility of arranging the entire human environment as a work of art." — Marshall McLuhan, 1968 "The Medium Is the Massage"
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0000CO31L/hip-20 ) It's tempting to take an aesthetic approach in analyzing these works. Architecture is, after all, considered an art form, at least partially. But we quickly encounter the paradox that "pure functionalism" can so easily devolve into just another aesthetic. Wikipedia tells us about Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus School, waging a successful campaign to influence his fellow architects with a new functionalist aesthetic.
"In 1913, Gropius published an article about 'The Development of Industrial Buildings,' which included about a dozen photographs of factories and grain elevators in North America. A very influential text, this article had a strong influence on other European modernists, including Le Corbusier and Erich Mendelsohn, both of whom reprinted Gropius's grain elevator pictures between 1920 and 1930."
( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Gropius ) (Some critics have pointed out that most of these buildings had annexes attached in front for managers' offices, done in popular styles such as Neoclassical, Italianate, Spanish Colonial, Streamline Moderne, and Art Deco. "The Silver Fox" as they called him, just went around back to take the pictures of the unadorned industrial buildings. Also, it's worth noting that as we speak, Disney is retrofitting the Main Street in its California Adventure theme park in Anaheim to have new buildings in many of these styles added, to invoke a re-creation of Hollywood in the 1920s and '30s.) ( www.kcet.org/updaily/socal_focus/history/la-as-subject/how-disney-imagineers-recreated-1920s-and-1930s-la-in-21st-century-anaheim.html ) But it's not hard to sympathize with the original impulses of modernism. Styles such as Victorian and Queen Anne had become so ornate and baroque, it was a widely-held wish to simplify things and start with a clean slate, which led to the Arts and Crafts Movement, the Craftsman Style, and California architectural pioneer Irving Gill's attempts to scrape all the "Churrigueresque" deally-bobs and flourishes off of the Mission Revival style to make it a collection of arches, arcades, flat roofs and plain plaster walls. La Jolla Women's Club by Irving Gill, 1913 My interest in Gill lead me to Adolf Loos, an early Austrian modernist who was apparently the first to sing the praises of Gill's work to European architecture magazine readers. Loos is most famous for an essay called "Ornament and Crime" (1908), which was highly influential with other architects worldwide. He made a moral argument against ornament, saying it was okay for primitives like New Guinea islanders who tattoo their bodies, but us moderns have evolved past that. He really hammers the point:
The Papuan tattoos his skin, his boat, his oar, in short, everything that is within his reach. He is no criminal. The modern man who tattoos himself is a criminal or a degenerate. There are prisons where eighty percent of the inmates bear tattoos. Those who are tattooed but are not imprisoned are latent criminals or degenerate aristocrats. If a tattooed person dies at liberty, it is only that he died a few years before he committed a murder.
In an odd way he has a point. One sign of the great culture turn on the "hinge of history" that occurred with the advent of Post-Modernism in the 1970s and '80s was the resurgence of interest in body art among the non-degenerate. Chroniclers of the avant-garde in the high art world reported on this in the "Re/Search" series book "Modern Primitives" (1989) by V. Vale, et. al. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0965046931/hip-20 ) As an avowed Post-Modernist myself, I have railed against the anti- ornament stance of the Moderns since at least 1985. Imagine my surprise, then, when I found during my latest research that the Moderns actually for the most part designed really pleasant and beautiful single family homes. Just this year I have been engaging in a hobby called "Gill Walking," which combines walking for exercise with photographing houses in San Diego county designed (or co-designed) by Irving Gill, and then posting the pictures for my Facebook friends. a typical "Gill Walking" post on Facebook (Windermere Cottage, top row center, has since been demolished) One thing I noticed was that the Gills often stood out. His later solo works, especially buildings that haven't been heavily modified, stand out, even on the tony streets of San Diego's historic neighborhoods. They look well-designed, livable, and have a Zen-like simple elegance. Gill believed in modern theories of hygiene, sunlight, ventilation, not unlike Florence Nightingale, and favored indoor-outdoor living and easily cleaned unadorned surfaces. His ideas suit Southern California. Most of his homes are nicely gardened, a practice he loudly encouraged:
"We should build our house simple, plain and substantial as a boulder, then leave the ornamentation of it to Nature, who will tone it with lichen, chisel it with storms, make it gracious and friendly with vines and flower shadows as she does the stone in the meadow." (Writing the Craftsman Magazine in 1916.)
As I read the book list above, I found in the profuse illustrations proof that the other Moderns similarly designed impressive homes. Loos used small, cozy, split-level rooms and half-staircases to create a veritable maze of rooms in 3D, and terraced them on the outside to provide an indoor-outdoor living experience. Mies developed the open plan, allowing more flexible space use, and emphasizing the simplicity of the overall design. Le Corbusier also favored indoor-outdoor spaces with ambigouos transitions between the interior and nature. It was when these architects began designing skyscrapers that things got weird. As Tom Wolfe explains in "...Bauhaus..." (op. cit.):
"Every great law firm in New York moves without a sputter of protest into a glass-box office building with concrete slab floors and seven-foot-ten-inch-high concrete slab ceilings and plasterboard walls and pygmy corridors — and then hires a decorator and gives him a budget of hundreds of thousands of dollars to turn these mean cubes and grids into a horizontal fantasy of a Restoration townhouse. I have seen the carpenters and cabinetmakers and search-and-acquire girls hauling in more cornices, covings, pilasters, carved moldings, and recessed domes, more linenfold paneling, more (fireless) fireplaces with festoons of fruit carved in mahogany on the mantels, more chandeliers, sconces, girandoles, chestnut leather sofas, and chiming clocks than Wren, Inigo Jones, the brothers Adam, Lord Burlington, and the Dilettanti, working in concert, could have dreamed of. Without a peep they move in! — even though the glass box appalls them all."
The other hinky thing was that the Moderns used an aesthetic approach called "expressed structure" intended to make buildings more honest. Not totally honest, mind you, just more honest. Wolfe makes a big deal out of Mies' Seagram Building in New York. He'd wanted to leave the structural I-beams unsheathed in cement, but fire laws forbade it, so he additional, ornamental I-beams stuck on the outside of the building. "expressed structure" in the Seagram Building, New York (1958) So, ornament is okay as long as it's "functional looking" enough? No indictment of Modernism is complete without mentioning the book "Form Follows Fiasco: Why Modern Architecture Hasn't Worked" (1978) by Peter Blake. failure modes of "form follows function" ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0316099392/hip-20 ) Blake shows how Modern Architecture fails by its own standards; when a flat-roof, no-overhang box has "Nature ... chisel it with storms" the result is too often water damage, roof collapse, etc. Somehow things got turned around and "functional style" ended up lacking in functionality. Against this failure of both aesthetics and functionality, it is useful to contrast the work of Bucky Fuller. It seems to me from where the sun stands now that, by their own standards, Bucky was the greatest Modernist. He used to say that he didn't consider aesthetics at all while he worked on a design, but when it was done, if it wasn't beautiful, he knew he'd done something wrong. From this last batch of reading, I learned that neither architects nor engineers liked to hang out with him. Artists instead seemed to prefer his company most, and when he lived in a New York loft and threw rooftop parties a number of famous ones came. In fact, the architects were quick to point out that he wasn't one of them, as were the engineers, and one way to interpret his life, which he called "Guinea Pig B," is as a work of performance art. Like "environmental artists" such as Christo, Fuller made his life a "demo" redefining the interface between humans and nature. He practiced what he called "Anticipatory Design Science" as a lifestyle. I also learned that Fuller began his geodesic explorations while evolving what became the Dymaxion Map. An early version was based on an unfolded cuboctahedron, which later was replaced by an icosahedron. early Dymaxion Map with squares and triangles This project inspired him to apply geodesics to shelter problems, and the domes were the results. He was like an artist moving from 2D drawing to 3D sculpting. I find his designs incredibly beautiful (though I know this is a controversial opinion), and their goals are always efficiency, "more with less."

The Geometry of Infrastructure

Victor Gruen on city cell planning and evolution
"We're riding on the escalator of life, We're shopping at the human mall." — Robert Hazard, 1982 "Escalator of Life"
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0000033B3/hip-20 ) ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wIT2DpdcPzI ) Robert Venturi, the scholastic architect who pushed us into Post- Modernism, once described a nearly ideal building as a "decorated shed." (He later upgraded his vision to a shed covered with pixels, the building as HDTV.) The shed part comes from the fact that, in the age of steel, our "best" all-purpose building design is the hangar or warehouse, with a pitched roof for runoff. Clearly any decoration (or pixels) are to be applied after the fact. No letting the ornament department mess with the engineering specs. It wasn't always thus. The early Moderns in the 1920s and '30s saw themselves as engineers. Somehow, by the 1970s, engineering had split off entirely and had assumed the uneasy role of saying yes or no to the crazy architects. For example, in 1966-73 the prestigious modern architect Minoru Yamasaki designed the World Trade Center, and then the engineering firm of Worthington, Skilling, Helle & Jackson told him whether they could build it. They invented "a new structural model: a rigid 'hollow tube' of closely spaced steel columns with floor trusses extended across to a central core," and were able to say "yes." ( www.skyscraper.org/TALLEST_TOWERS/t_wtc.htm ) I'm not at all clear when or how this transition took place; it probably had something to do with the Moderns getting into skyscrapers after World War II. But it is quite fascinating to look at the engineering innovations originally pioneered by early modern architects.

* * * * * *

One of the things Irving Gill developed and demonstrated was the "tilt-up" concrete construction method, which he used for small homes mostly, but are now a "default" design for small commercial/industrial buildings in Western Civilization. ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tilt_up )

* * * * * *

As mentioned above, Mies Van Der Rohe pioneered the "open plan," utilizing the new steel frame construction of modern buildings to dispense with interior walls. As Zimmerman (op. cit.) tells it:
"...he achieved significant results at the Stuttgart exhibition: his apartment block at the Weissenhofsiedlung, with a load bearing steel frame construction, contained apartments with nonstructural partition walls, which produced potentially flexible grounds plans."
Only a few case-study homes were built this way, but it became the template for the modern commercial office building and its sea of "cubes."

* * * * * *

Le Corbusier was a champion of forced-air heating, cooling and ventilation in buildings. I've come to realize that he saw the limits of an old paradigm. Consider the Bradbury Building in Los Angeles, designed by pre-modernist George Wyman. Bradbury building (1893) atrium It's a beautiful building, everybody loves it, been in many movies and shows, "Outer Limits," "Blade Runner," bla bla bla. ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bradbury_Building ) But its basic design — three or four stories (I forget), offices on the outer walls with windows, and the whole roof a skylight to illuminate the atrium — just won't scale much. Embassy Suites Hotels have about pushed it to the limit, while "wasting" a lot of interior space. That glass roof is tough on energy use in severe climates, too. Corbu realized that to build larger buildings it would be necessary for some rooms to not have exterior windows. What he called the "environment exact" was a program to introduce new ventilation technology to allow larger structures. He also collaborated with the visionaries who wanted to build the first "sleep lab" as a kind of panopticon for sleeping Soviet citizens, to aid in the optimization of their slumber. In addition he did groundbreaking design work in acoustics and crowd flow management for the unbuilt "Palace of Soviets" in Moscow; its final shape was determined, from the inside out, by these concerns.

* * * * * *

Perhaps the most remarkable infrastructure work I was exposed to in my reading was by Vienna-born Victor Gruen, father of the modern regional shopping mall. I will never look at a shopping center the same way again. I first became aware of Gruen's work from Disney fan blogs, in which I learned — as I mentioned above — that Walt got many of the ides for E.P.C.O.T. (the unbuilt city, not the theme park) from the work of Victor Gruen. ( micechat.com/blogs/samland/1771-walt-disneys-epcot-heart-our-cities.html ) ( micechat.com/blogs/samland/1777-epcot-heart-our-cities-part-two.html ) Gruen's most innovative ideas come from his infrastructure work, not any aesthetic or anti-aesthetic positions. I used to look at a shopping center and ask myself what style it was in: Classical Revival, Modern, Post-Modern, Deconstructionist or what have you. Now, thanks to Gruen, I ask: "How do the trucks deliver the goods to the stores?" Gruen developed a taxonomy of mall design based on whether the trucks came in the same way as the cars, or around back, or underneath. Gruen also argues, like Corbu, that — short of "getting rid of" populations somehow — you can have high density or you can have sprawl, and density is better. (Stewart Brand revisits this argument in "Whole Earth Discipline," op. cit.) Gruen drew upon his Vienna roots to analyze how high-density city centers remain relevant. By his appraisal, old town Vienna has lacked sound economic or logistical reasons for existing for a long time, but due to cultural "baggage" (in a good way) persists as a vital civic core. He aimed to recreate that legacy somehow in regional shopping centers. He argued to developers that only by having spelling bees, fashion shows and ballet recitals (etc.) in a mall could you create the urban heart he sought. Actually, I don't think he had the right answers, but he was asking the right questions. Unfortunately, the "new mall" phenomenon — in which shoppers flee old centers for the latest and greatest — ending up making urban zombies of his early work. ( http://www.core77.com/reactor/deadmalls.asp )

* * * * * *

Of course, we've always known that Bucky Fuller was mainly interested in function, not form. My reading of "Buckminster Fuller: Designing for Mobility" (2005) by Michael John Gorman (op. cit.) revealed that he'd always been interested in mobility in architecture. Perhaps realizing that whether by plate tectonics or solar nova, all places are doomed to be destroyed and we must be a mobile species, all of his work has pushed in that direction. I had never given it much thought that I have seen lots of the works of the other moderns, especially Gill and Gruen, but very few of Fuller's. It's because his structures are designed to be temporary. They pop up at world's fairs (EXPO '67), theme parks (EPOCOT Center), playgrounds, as high-tech mountaineering tents (REI), and at big outdoor music venues (Coachella) and art events (Burning Man).

Don't Blame the Avant-Garde For the Dogma Fifty Years Later

Soviet architecture praised by Le Corbusier
"Because of its pure geometric shape, its flat roofs and its overall white appearance, opponents of the new style ridiculed it as 'Arabville' and 'Bolshevist Barracks.'" — Claire Zimmerman, 2006 "Mies Van Der Rohe 1886 - 1969 The Structure of Space"
So how do we grade the moderns with the hindsight of history? I'd say they were best at what they claimed to be up to, following function to form, and worst at scalability and at applying their covert "functionalist" aesthetic agenda. (These are two areas where Bucky beats them cold at their own game.) But I admire them more for their courage, and their hardship. Just because architecture spent fifty years following in their footsteps doesn't mean they ever had it very easy while alive. Mies originally sold his services to the new German government in the 1930s, because he was mister "new," and none of the traditionalists would deal with him. Of course that was the new Nazi government. Eventually they stopped employing him because he wasn't Nazi enough, and later he fled to America, where he was occasionally accused of having Nazi architectural ideas. Corbu was also mister "new" in France, and had trouble getting Paris traditionalists interested in his work. He did some gigs in the Soviet Union (and had trouble getting paid, alas) but then they stopped using him because he wasn't Communist enough. Upon his return to France, and later flight to America, he was occasionally accused of having Communist architectural ideas. (It certainly didn't help things that the Soviet government tore down a historic Russian Orthodox cathedral, "Christ the Savior," for the site of the Palace of Soviets that Corbu was competing to design, but I never saw any evidence that he knew this.) Though Gruen was financially successful he was made a pariah as the inventor of the mall. No matter that he repudiated the design and focused on center city renewal with projects like the Fulton Mall pedestrian zone in downtown Fresno, California. ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bdTS_LLJvcw ) The damage was done. He had once envisioned the architect as a sort of renaiasance man urban planner, businessman, engineer, artist, sociologist, traffic flow designer and banking expert. But the developers cherry-picked his ideas and routed around him. As Alex Wall (op. cit) explains:
In the dense mixed-use environment of the historic core of Vienna that had modeled so much of Gruen's thinking, commerce, culture, and all other human activities were woven together. As architects lost their leading role in shopping-center development, however, Gruen believed that subsequent projects were stripped of their social and cultural functions, transformed into a formula by developers and their institutional investors, and then replicated countless times across the American landscape. Far from identifying and serving the needs of an existing community, developers knew that people would flock to the giant shopping center, whether it had social and cultural facilities or not, and no matter what the distance to existing communities.
Perhaps it's lucky Mies wasn't alive to see the cultural dissing his work received from Prince Charles, who opposed Modernism but in a way that made me thing he wanted to go back to 19th Centuryy excesses. Mies designed the "Mansion House Square and Office Tower" in 1967 for a lot that wouldn't be available until 1986. By then Prince Charles had stopped the project. And yet this unbuilt building has its own Facebook page in 2012. ( www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150345249085379.389921.56200560378&type=1 ) I guess the bottom line is that I no longer blame the Moderns for Modernism. As I said in the headline of this final section, "Don't blame the avant-garde for the dogma fifty years later." It is the mediocre and the cowardly who gave us a fifty-year empire of Modernism as an "ism." Those who defied the norm were vilified by fellow architects and other cultural critics. Wolfe (op. cit.) describes the careers of Eero Saarinen ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eero_Saarinen ) and John Portman ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Portman ) as "apostates," and to that list I would add Welton Beckett. ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welton_Becket ) He was very successful and designed many of my favorite buildings in Southern California, and yet I'd never heard of him until I was Googling theme park architecture just last year and found he'd designed Disney's Contemporary Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida (1971). The world of "serious" architecture seemed to have "disappeared" him. What all the architects I've named in this essay have in common is courage, and think we need more courageous architects. Robert Venturi, with his Judo-trick of post-Modernism, has provided some cover for those who wish to expand the frontiers of architecture, but who knows how long that will last in this deconstructed era, and anyway, it's no substitute for courage.

Note Re:

"If It's Just a Virtual Actor, Then Why Am I Feeling Real Emotions?"

mask Part four of this serialization will appear next time.

Comments On Comments

In our last episode I introduced a comments widget from Facebook as an experimental way for you all to comment, non-anonymously. I am now abandoning this experiment, for the following reasons:
  1. Almost none of you used it. The only commenter was off-topic, asking for help tracking down some information which no-one replied to.
  2. The total number of comments I got via email also dropped dramatically.
  3. Facebook broke the widget, as near as I can tell.
So, as before, if you have feedback, email me. (My address is in the header at the top.) Be aware I may quote you in this 'Zine. Keep those cards and letters coming in!
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Last update: Sun Mar 4 19:15:04 PST 2012