30 August 2011

The best book I ever read: a Blog Off post

Every two weeks, the blogosphere comes alive with something called a Blog Off. A Blog Off is an event where bloggers of every stripe weigh in on the same topic on the same day. The topic for this round of the Blog Off is "What's the best book you ever read?"


This is a tough one and I'm having a hard time narrowing it down to just one. I've been a prolific reader my whole life and different periods have always revolved around different books. I remember reading Alex Haley's Roots when I was in sixth grade and I thought it was the most amazing thing I'd ever read.

In high school I bounced between Catcher in the Rye and A Separate Peace. When I went away to college I was all about Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage until I ran into John Irving's The Hotel New Hampshire. I thought that was the most profound thing I'd ever read. A couple of years later I stumbled across John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces and it held the title of best book I ever read for a number of years.

I learned to read when I was around four and since then I've cycled through countless Best Books I Ever Read. Whether fiction or non-fiction, there's always been something at the top of the pile. But I suppose the last ten years or so have brought with them a less flexible sense of the Best Books. I have my lifetime favorites of course and I do go back and re-read some of them from time to time. But not all of them are great. These same last ten years have had me gravitating toward the social criticism (fiction and non-) from the late 19th early part of the 20th Centuries.

The times we live in now are largely the result of societal shifts that took place over the last 100 years. Going back and reading what was a contemporary commentary from 1890 and seeing how times have changed or not changed since then is endlessly fascinating to me. It drives home the point that history is a continuum and that I'm part of that same continuum. It also tells me that human beings have always been human beings. We have the same emotional range, regardless of the era and the times. There's nothing I feel or think today that hasn't been felt or thought in an endless loop since Homo sapiens first graced the scene.

So with that said, there are three books that sit at the top of my favorite book pantheon and they've help that spot for a while. I'm sure it'll shift with time but on 31 August 2011, those three books are:

Jacob Riis' How The Other Half Lives. In 1890, Jacob Riis exposed the horrific conditions that New York's tenement dwellers lived in. Due to his book and its accompanying photographs, there arose a movement to clean up the inner cities in this country and at the same time a sense that there are minimum standards in which people should live and that it's in a society's best interest to establish and enforce those minimum standards.

Sinclair Lewis' Babbitt from 1922 is a scathing indictment of conformity, suburban and bohemian alike. George F. Babbitt is a Realtor and early in the novel his professional life's described as making "nothing in particular, neither butter nor shoes nor poetry,” but that he is “nimble in the calling of selling houses for more than people could afford to pay.” It's scathing and prescient at the same time. Lewis wasn't the first to point out the holes in the American dream but I don't think anyone's ever done it better.

Finally, John Steinbeck's 1939 masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath holds a place so near and dear to me I struggle to find words to describe what an important work it is. Most people are forced to read Grapes when they're in high school and that's unfortunate. Few 17 year olds have the life experience to appreciate what goes on between the covers of that novel. In some ways it picks up where Babbitt left off. The Grapes of Wrath is all about the dark underbelly of capitalism, and underbelly that's become vogue to ignore again. If you haven't read The Grapes of Wrath since high school, read it again. If you've never read, read it for the first time. Read it before the next election.

What about you? What book or books hold the title great in your world?


As the day goes on, the rest of the participants in today's Blog Off will appear miraculously at the end of this post. Keep checking back and check out everybody's posts. You can follow along in Twitter as well, just look for the hashtag #LetsBlogOff. If you'd like more information about about the Blog Off or if you'd like to see the results of previous Blog Offs, you can find the main website here.

27 August 2011

Help me help some people who need it

Photo: Edward Russell III
Finally, I got some news from Cat Island yesterday. The good news is that Hurricane Irene passed and no one died on the island. The bad news is that a place and a people who already had very little lost even that. Here's the front page of today's Nassau Guardian.

That's a large photo, click on it to see the whole thing. From the reports I'm getting, the headline in that newspaper couldn't be more true. Also from today's Guardian is an article reporting from the island itself. It doesn't sound very good, but Cat Islanders are a hardy lot and I don't doubt they will recover in time. In the short term however, the electricity and phone systems (which were always rudimentary) will be down for months. The massive flooding from the storm surge has fouled wells and ruined crops. The next six months will be difficult to say the least. I'd been planning to head to Cat Island for a vacation next month and in discussing it with my traveling companions, we're still going. Our vacation's been turned into a mission to help dig out and alleviate some misery but the prospect of being able to be of service for a week holds more appeal to me than lounging on a beach ever did. If you've ever been on a cruise through The Bahamas or been to an all-inclusive resort there you'd be surprised to learn that The Bahamas is very much a part of the developing world. Their national economy is completely dependent on tourism and maintaining that cash flow is priority one for the Bahamian government. As international aid starts to arrive in that country, it will be channeled into repairing the landscaping around Sandals in Exuma and the Atlantis on Paradise Island. What doesn't end up in the hands of the big resorts will be fixing the swimming pools of a variety of ministers in Nassau. Places like Cat Island, where there's no real tourism, will be the last in line for help after the first shipments of food and water stop. The only way around that is to give money, supplies and help to people there directly. One of the things I hope to accomplish there in a week and a half is to alleviate some of the hardship of the people of Cat Island. There's an orphanage on Cat, the Old Bight Mission Home. It's just down the road from the house where I stay and it provides a place to live and an education to ten orphaned kids. The husband and wife who run it are living saints. They'll need all sorts of things and I want to be able to lend a hand. The cultural life of Cat Islanders revolves around a handful of churches. It's those churches who will end up feeding everybody until things start to turn around. I want to be able to give them some money to help to do that. So, I am throwing $500 of my own money toward this effort. I'm turning to you guys to help me double that, at least, between now and when I leave on September 6th. I'm not at all used to asking for you to do more than click on the occasional link, but this is pretty important. So if you can help at all I know a whole bunch of people who'll be tremendously grateful. Give it some thought and thanks.

If that button doesn't work, click this link instead.

8/28 edited to add:

The Palm Beach Post just added this video to their website. It's an interview with two women who describe what it was like to live through the storm surge on Cat Island last week:

23 August 2011

Storm comin'

Hurricane Irene is barreling toward The Bahamas right now.

If you click on that map the 2am track is connected to an M in a circle. M stands for Major Hurricane and that 2am track has Irene squarely between Exuma and Cat Island. A Major Hurricane is a category three or above.

I'm scheduled to go back to Cat Island in two weeks and if the airport's still there after tomorrow, we're still going. Instead of a vacation that'll have me perched here for six days,

My trip to Cat this time's going to become a humanitarian mission. That porch probably won't be there, but it's insured and will be rebuilt.

It's the non-expats of Cat Island we'll be going over to help.

When you're a typical Cat Islander, things like insurance are an unheard of luxury and when your house gets destroyed in a storm you live in a tent until you can raise enough cash to rebuild your home. In the meantime, you scrape by as best you can. That's who we'll be going to help.

The folks on the Carolina coast are going to get walloped by this storm this weekend and the damage there will be widespread. I'm not minimizing the the threat and trauma my fellow citizens are in for. But I can't help but worry more about a group of people I love who have so little already.

As soon as I get word about what's happened on Cat, I'm going to start raising money to help with relief efforts on Cat. You have been warned.

20 August 2011

An intro to engineered wood floors

OK gang, my overview of engineered wood floors went live on Houzz.com the other day. Click on this slide show and it will take you to Houzz.com post haste.

18 August 2011

Meet the Miele Futura Series dishwashers

In early summer, Miele rolled out a new series of dishwashers in North America, the Futura Series. Miele bills the Futura Series as the "world's most intelligent dishwashers" and I'm inclined to believe them after I read through the specs.

Miele introduced cutlery trays to dishwashers 25 years ago, an industry first. In the Futura Series, the cutlery tray is adjustable and will allow a user to change the tray's configuration based on the different heights, depths and widths of the utensils being washed. So now large ladles, whisks and spatulas can fit in the tray. The cutlery tray's flexibility adds to the flexibility to the middle tray. The cutlery tray adjusts from side to side as well, to better accommodate tall objects in the center tray.

All of the trays in a Miele Futura Series dishwasher are adjustable and come complete with removable inserts, right and left fixed and foldable spikes, single section cup ranks, height adjustable glass holders, bottle holders, foldable glassware rails and stainless steel GlideGuard extension rails that allow the baskets to easily glide out and in.

Miele added four, 20-year, LED lights to the interiors of these dishwashers, making them better illuminated that any other brand on the market. As smart an innovation that is, it's when the dishwasher door is closed and the lights go dim inside that the real work these machines do kicks in. They automatically adjust water temperature, monitor room temperatures, drying times, rinse aid and more. This saves time as well as water and energy. All Futura dishwashers are Energy Star qualified. In fact, Miele exceeds 2012 Energy Star requirements by 25% for water consumption and the new Futura Series is 35% most efficient than previous generations.

The Futura Series Dishwashers have a manufacturer's suggested retail price that ranges from $1,249 to $2,849, depending on the model.

You can read more about Miele's dishwashers and other appliances on the Miele website. Check it out.

16 August 2011

My life 20 years from now, a Blog Off post

Every two weeks, the blogosphere comes alive with something called a Blog Off. A Blog Off is an event where bloggers of every stripe weigh in on the same topic on the same day. The topic for this round of the Blog Off is "What will your life look like 20 years from now?"


Portrait of an Old Man (Johann Harms); Egon Schiele, 1916;  Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; New York

In 20 years I'll be 66 years old. That sounds old, but then again, 20 years ago I was 26 and 46 sounded positively ancient. But at 46 I can say that 46 doesn't really feel very old. So I'm sure the 66 year old version of me won't think he's old.

But the last 20 years ago have taught me a thing or two and I expect that the next 20 will teach me even more. One of the important things I've learned is to avoid making predictions about a future I can't control. Had I been asked this question at 26, the prediction I would have made at the time would have born zero resemblance to what my life actually looks like today. I can't tell you what a great thing it was to have been so wrong about so much.

One of the best gifts I've received as I've grown older is patience. When I was a lot younger I was devoid of it entirely and I wasted countless opportunities in my rush to have the future arrive. A future I had all mapped out of course. But some time in the last 20 years I learned the folly of getting to hung up on specific plans, specific results and specific futures. I've learned that if I can instead plan for intangibles like "I want to be happy," I end up in a better place when it's all said and done. More important than that, I can then concentrate and enjoy every moment of the constantly inventing itself present.

If I get too attached to the end game, I can't alter my plans and I can't jump on the new opportunities that show up so consistently. If I can fully commit myself to now, tomorrow takes care of itself. That sounds counterintuitive, but it works.

So what will my life look like in 20 years? I wouldn't hazard a guess but I have a feeling it'll look somewhat like my life does today. I will be engaged in something productive that pays the bills and makes me feel fulfilled. I'll have a lot of contact with the people I love. I'll continue to learn and grow. I'll still delight in the actions and activities of my nieces and nephews as they strike out on their own and build lives for themselves. I'll have traveled to a bunch of new places and will have collected a whole lot more stories. I'll still be writing in some capacity. I'll be happy.

That's it. Me in 20 years. It'll be interesting to see what my life looks like then but not nearly as interesting as the path I'll take to get there. What about you?


As the day goes on, the rest of the participants in today's Blog Off will appear miraculously at the end of this post. Keep checking back and check out everybody's posts. You can follow along in Twitter as well, just look for the hashtag #LetsBlogOff. If you'd like more information about about the Blog Off or if you'd like to see the results of previous Blog Offs, you can find the main website here.

13 August 2011

Something light for a Saturday, the blessed curse of red hair

Modigliani, Redhead in a Black Dress, 1918

I read something interesting and well written on The Huffington Post yesterday. In and of itself that's news. As my Dad would say, "Even a blind pig can find an acorn once in a while." Anyhow, the piece if found was an essay written by Katherine Bindley called Being a Redhead: Why it's a Love Hate-Relationship.

A highlight:
I admit that being a redhead isn't the only hair curse. Having tightly wound, frizzy, unmanageable locks is no blessing for your average kid, either. And yet, I've never heard anyone threaten to "beat someone like a curly haired stepchild."

Disclaimer: I am a redhead.

Every word that woman wrote rung so true I couldn't believe it. It's as if she talked to me before she wrote her essay. But really, she didn't have to talk to me. We're members of the same tribe. She knows and I know what having red hair means without uttering a word.

Redheads are tormented as kids, tormented. That can't be repeated often enough. We're tormented. If there's any truth to the idea that we have quick tempers, that temperament stems from an endless chorus of "redhead peed the bed" we hear all through elementary school. It's an easy difference to spot and latch onto. That it's encouraged by absurd stereotypes their parents hold onto just makes it worse. In the West, we're the other kind of white person and having red hair taught me early and valuable lessons about what it feels like to be an other.

Red hair's not an exclusively Caucasian trait though and it's thought that it first appeared in Africa some 50,000 years ago. Asian, African, Middle Eastern and European redheads get our hair color from a genetic mutation on chromosome 16. Due to that mutations, we produce more of a pigment called eumelanin than we do the more typical melanin. Our skin color tends to follow our hair color and regardless of race, redheads are always more light complected. That light complexion is a double-edged sword. In tropical climates we get more skin cancer. But in temperate climates we can make more vitamin D in low light. Tropical redheads are a lot more rare than temperate ones as a result.

In addition to being able to make more vitamin D in low light, we're also more prone to be left handed, we require on average 20% more anesthetic to knock us out, we retain heat better, go deaf more often, have worse than average vision and bees sting us more readily.

Worldwide, we make up between 1 to 2% of the population. In the US, we're somewhere around 3%. Scotland, the land my red-headed ancestors called home, has the world's highest percentage at 14%.

History hasn't been kind to us, redheads have always been viewed with a suspicious eye. In the Spanish Inquisition, people with red hair were assumed to be Jewish automatically, rounded up and slaughtered. In ancient Egypt, red heads were rounded up and burned alive to purge society of bad elements. Adolf Hitler's insane beliefs about genetics led to laws that forbade two redheads from marrying. In Medieval Europe, red hair was seen as a sign of someone who was oversexed and untrustworthy. In England today we're called gingers and discrimination against gingers is reported to be widespread. In Australia, we're called rangas, slang for orangutan.

Here's a quote from Heinrich Kramer's Malleus Maleficarum. Heinrich Kramer a Catholic Inquisitor in Germany in 1487.
Those whose hair is red, of a certain peculiar shade, are unmistakably vampires. It is significant that in ancient Egypt, as Manetho tells us, human sacrifices were offered at the grave of Osiris, and the victims were red-haired men who were burned, their ashes being scattered far and wide by winnowing-fans. It is held by some authorities that this was done to fertilize the fields and produce a bounteous harvest, red-hair symbolizing the golden wealth of the corn. But these men were called Typhonians, and were representatives not of Osiris but of his evil rival Typhon, whose hair was red.
Being a redhead then makes dealing with the childhood harassment of today seem mild to say the least.

It's taken me a lifetime to get used to my red hair and at this stage of my life I love it. I think the tide turned some time when I was around 25 or so. I had about a 15 year run until it started to change color to something more like reddish brown. The hair on my head at any rate. Without getting too indelicate, the hair on the rest of me is as red as its ever been. That hair color change is also reported to be typical. redheads tend not to get gray hair. Rather, our hair changes color all at once. From coppery red as kids, to something more red-red as teens, to brown-red as adults, then onto gold-red, light gold and finally, white. Based on what I saw unfold for my beloved grandmother Stewart, I will be an old man with gold-tinged hair at some point in my late 60s. When I hit 75, it'll be as white as snow.

I have a very large family. I have five brothers and a sister. I have 23 nieces and nephews, two great-nephews and a great-niece. I love those kids with a love so deeply it scares me sometimes, regardless of their hair color. In total, my immediate family now numbers 39 people once I include my sibs, their spouses and kids. By any stretch, that's a lot of people. Two of my older brothers are red-headed too and despite how prolific they've been, there haven't been any more redheads in the generation that follows me. However, all of that changed last spring with the arrival of my great-nephew Xavier.

Even in his pre-verbal state, the redhead brotherhood runs as deep as it runs strong. That little boy and I share the same mutation on chromosome 16. Beyond that, when he and I lock gazes, we share something else, an almost knowing allegiance. I make it a point not to have favorites among my many nieces, nephews and assorted greats. But this little guy's going to challenge all of that.

All of those kids I'm related to are already perfect in my eyes and there's nothing any of them can do that will ever make me think less of them. However, Xavier's something more than perfect. He's something closing in on sanctified.

I know he's going to get hassled when he's a kid and I know he'll always be described as "that red-headed guy." But what Xavier can't know that I do know is that he's going to age better than his peers will. He'll have a better tolerance for pain (which will help with the bee stings). He'll be viewed as an exotic species for the rest of his life, and eventually he'll see that as a positive. By the time he's 25, I'll be the drooling, inconsequential old man in the corner and though he may not know it then, he will have always had the the undying adoration of his great-uncle Paul. Even though he doesn't play favorites.

Chime in if you're a redhead (or ginger or ranga)!

12 August 2011

Reader Question: What's my style?

Help! I'm getting ready to renovate my house and I'm in a bit of a quandary. I like all kinds of things, from antique sofas to hyper-modern appliances. I've been going through the magazines and hard as I try to, I can't categorize my style. It's one thing to be indecisive but there's a lot of money on the line here and I'm wondering if there's a website or a tool that will help me find my style?

I haven't run a reader question in ages but this one was too good to pass up.

Sun in an Empty Room, Edward Hopper - 1963; Oil on canvas, 28 3/4 x 39 1/2 inches; Private collection 

Why the rush to categorize what you like? No one categorizes how she or she dresses and I don't understand why anybody would want to pigeonhole him- or herself into a rigid category someone else defines.

Before I go any further I want to ask you to do something for me. Stop watching HGTV. I suspect that network is where you're getting this need to categorize yourself. Contrary to how it looks, HGTV doesn't exist to educate you. It's there to sell you the products that pay to appear in their programs. Any time you see Genevieve Gorder or David Bromstad pick up or call out a branded product, that's a paid placement. It's easier to sell people stuff by forcing them into a category and that's what drives the idea that there are people who are country, contemporary, cottage or what have you.

Reality works a lot differently than that because people can't be categorized so easily. It's human nature to want to break massive amounts of information into manageable groups but resist the urge to do that with yourself.

Morning Sun, Edward Hopper - 1952; Oil on canvas, 28 1/8 x 40 1/8 inches; Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio

The other notion to rid yourself of is the idea that there's such a thing as timelessness when it comes to design. All design looks like the time when it was installed. Even retro styles are modern interpretations of other times. The reason for this is simple, times and people change. If you're looking for longevity, there are classics aplenty but even they are hardly timeless.

Rather than categorizing everything you see into a a specific style, concentrate on the individual elements of the rooms photos you're drawn to. Join a site like Modenus.com or Houzz.com and start collecting scrapbooks of photos. As you add each photo, write a note about what you like in the shot.

In a very short time you'll have a collection of images that can be called eclectic, which is what most people end up with. Eclectic means a bit of everything and it's a perfectly fine thing for an aesthetic sensibility to be.

Rooms by the Sea, Edward Hopper  - 1951; Oil on canvas, 29 x 40 inches; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut 

Once you have a good collection going, start interviewing designers. Interview them as you would interview an employee. There's no real hurry but what you want is to find someone who can listen as well as he or she can advise. Good designers, not the ones who end up on HGTV, don't have specific styles they work in. Their job is to channel your sensibilities to give you the home you want. A good designer can look through your seemingly unrelated scrapbooks and find the common threads that will make you feel like your renovated home fits you.

If a designer you're interviewing doesn't listen or if you're not 100% comfortable, then move on. Don't expect the designers you meet with to do anything but talk to you about your project and expect them to ask what your budget is. Holding onto that piece of information in particular helps no one. Their goal is to help you spend your money more wisely, not to fleece you. Working with a designer will save you money, despite how counterintuitive that statement may sound.

But it's only a designer who can show you how to knit together all the disparate things you like. A good designer can make sleek, modern appliances work with antique Hoosier chests if that's your thing. A good designer can combine a Duncan Phyfe sofa with an Eames Lounge and an Arco floor lamp and make it work.

Hotel Room, Edward Hopper 1931; Oil on canvas, 60 x 65 inches; Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection

So the answer to your question is to stop trying to categorize yourself and find a good designer. I'm plugged into an amazing network of dedicated designers and if you need a referral I will find you someone.

11 August 2011

Speaking of wood floors

Here are my Hardwood Floor overviews that have run on Houzz.com these last two weeks. Click ont he slide shows and they'll send you to the original postings.

The last wood species I profiled is an Australian wood called Spotted Gum. It's breathtaking and it spurred a bit of a sidebar conversation about gum trees and koalas, check it out.

10 August 2011

Meet the highly innovative Next Generation Europa Collection of ventilation hoods from Zephyr

The Milano Glass Island Range Hood

Household ventilation powerhouse Zephyr just released a newly-imagined collection of ventilation hoods called Next Generation Europa. These hoods are game changers on a whole bunch of fronts and it's exciting to see an appliance manufacturer be so willing to abandon business as usual in the quest for greater efficiencies.

The Milano Wall Glass Range Hood

What kind of efficiencies? Well, the entire Next Generation Europa Collection produces 77% less noise, delivers 30% more cubic feet per minute (CFM) of ventilation, is 77% more energy-efficient and uses low-temperature, high-definition light bulbs that will last for 68 years.

The Modena Island Range Hood

All of that efficiency is hidden in designs that are so sleek and beautiful you'd never imagine they were using a "green" approach to appliance design. Throw away the hair shirts, this collection proves that beauty can use resources wisely too.

The Modena Wall Range Hood

There are a couple of key components to Zephyr's core efficiencies. The first being a an onboard computer that not only manages the user interface, it runs a DC controller. What that means is that these hoods take AC current from the wall and convert it to DC. DC power is more controlled and DC power allows the motor to generate higher torque with fewer RPMs.

The Napoli Island Range Hood

Another key component to these new hoods are the high definition LED lights they use. The bulbs were developed by Bloom and they use 3 watts of power to generate a light level that's nearly as warm and intense as halogen. The "warmth" of a light source is measured in degrees Kelvin and the lower the number, the warmer the light is said to be. Most white LEDs come in at around 5000K but the HD LEDs from Bloom and Zephyr come in at 3200K. Traditional halogens come in at around 3000K, so unless you're doing a direct comparison, I doubt anybody would be able to identify these lights as LEDs. Those HD LEDs also come with something else that's unheard of for a light bulb, a three year warranty.

The Venezia Wall range Hood

Finally, the last and most noticeable key component to this collection is a motor Zephyr calls a DCBL motor. The DCBL motor uses 26 watts to operate as opposed to 115 watts for a traditional blower motor. On its lowest setting, the DCBL motor generates enough CFMs of air circulation to effectively vent one 10,000 BTU burner and one 15,000 BTU burner when both are set on high but it does so with 77% less noise and 30% more CFMs. The DCBL motors have six power levels and even when they're running at full bore, it makes 11% less noise, uses 43% less electricity and delivers 38% more CFMs than a traditional motor.

The Verona Wall range Hood

Am I getting too techie? I can't help myself some times, I know. Did I mention that they're pretty to look at too?

The Milano Island Stainless Range Hood

The Next Generation Europa Collection is a small part of Zephyr's large number of available models. Poke around Zephyr's website to see more and to learn some important terms about kitchen ventilation. There are even some online tools to help you determine the proper height for a range hood and how to buy the ideal CFM rating for your kitchen hood.

The Milano Wall Range Hood

09 August 2011

Wood floors to drool over

I've been working on a ten-part flooring series over at Houzz.com for the last couple of weeks and have moved onto wood floors. Last week and this week are all about solid plank floors and next week I dive into the world of engineered wood floors.

As the series unfolds I'll post slides shows and links here every week and when it wraps up I'll consolidate everything into a flooring super post. In the meantime, follow the action over at Houzz.

A company that's been instrumental in my research on wood floors is BR111. They have a stunning website, complete with prices and a store locator. If you're interested to see what's available in solid wood, engineered wood, locking, bamboo and wall treatments, spend some time with BR111.

One of the things I look for in a manufacturer's website is high-quality photography and BR111 doesn't disappoint in any way. Here are a couple of their shots.

Kingsbridge Oak

Brazilian Teak

Macchiato Pecan


Thanks for being such a terrific resource BR111. Again, here's their website.

08 August 2011

Open Source meets design

Ronen Kadushin is a Berlin-based industrial designer who's onto something he calls Open Design.

Through Open Design, Kadushin distributes his household objects under a Creative Commons license. Anything you see in the Open Design catalog can be downloaded and recreated, shared and owned by anybody who adheres to the agreements spelled out in Creative Commons.

Creative Commons holds that anything made available through it can be used by anybody so long as the originator gets credit for his or her work. This website is published under a Creative Commons license and it's something I support wholeheartedly.

I'd always thought of Creative Commons as it relates to internet content and I think it's exciting that a highly-regarded industrial designer is distributing chairs and lamps to the world through it.

All you need is AutoCAD and access to a CNC router and you can have any of the items in the Open Design catalog. Just download the .dxf file and you're ready to go.

I'm fascinated by this idea of course, but Kadushin seems to have included something in his Open Design catalog that's intended to be a lure for me specifically. Here it is.

Does it look familiar? It ought to.

It's a light fixture based on the centerpiece of Picasso's Guernica. Click on this photo to expand the painting.

Guernica is the first painting I ever studied and through it I learned just about everything I know now about art appreciation.

Pablo Picasso painted Guernica for the Paris Expo in 1937. It was his response to the German and Italian bombing of the Basque village of Guernica at 4:30 in the afternoon on a market day. The men, women and children killed that day were innocent civilians and Picasso's painting drew worldwide attention to the bloodbath that was the Spanish Civil War.

In the years since 1937, Picasso's Guernica has become an emblem of the futility of war and the unacceptable toll it takes on innocent civilians. It's one of the most profound pacifist statements of the 20th Century. Look past the Cubist conventions Picasso used in this painting and read a bit about what he's saying.

As an interesting and nearly unknown aside, the estate of Nelson Rockefeller commissioned a tapestry replica of Guernica for the United Nations. From 1985 through 2009 it hung in the UN's headquarters in New York. However in February 2003, when Colin Powell arrived to make the case for the US's invasion of Iraq, the tapestry was covered by a blue tarp so that it wouldn't be the backdrop when he appeared on camera to address the press.

It's since been placed on permanent loan to the Whitechapel Gallery in London. Presumably so as not to embarrass any more war-mongers.

Anyhow, check out Ronen Kadushin's entire Open Design catalog. If you have access to a CNC machine, I'd love to see some results of your downloads. If you find yourself short of a CNC, you can buy Kadushin's stuff already made at Movisi.

05 August 2011

Cersaie needs your vote

The world's largest trade show for the tile and bath industries happens every autumn in Bologna. Last year, Cersaie occupied 176,000 square meters in Bologna's Exhibition Center and had more then 82,000 attendees during the course of the four-day show.

By any measure, that's a big trade show.

Cersaie is currently running a contest to select the poster for next year's show. There are 13 finalists and they were culled from more than 200 entries submitted by design and architecture students in Italy. The winner will be announced on September 22nd 2011, so follow this link and get your vote in now.

Here are some highlights:

03 August 2011

The August issue of Destinations

The August issue of Destinations Travel Magazine features a story about Valencian architecture penned by yours truly. As a bonus, the article includes a bunch of photos by the world-famous, Dallas-based architect Bob Borson.

Here's the link to the article.

02 August 2011

Dumbo and me

Every two weeks, the blogosphere comes alive with something called a Blog Off. A Blog Off is an event where bloggers of every stripe weigh in on the same topic on the same day. The topic for this round of the Blog Off is "What one thing did you really want when you were a kid?"


When I was a wee lad, my most prized possession was an LP and an accompanying story book of Disney's Dumbo. I played that LP to the point of wearing it out on a portable RCA record player. I would listen to the story (it was essentially the soundtrack to Disney's 1941 movie) and read along in my story book and be transported.

Here's a copy of my old LP I found on eBay.

What got me more than anything was the introduction to the Disney story book. One of the first illustrations in it was this map of Florida.

It looked so exotic and peaceful. Palm trees were something my Pennsylvania young self could only see in books and I longed to live in a place where they grew. Even as a kid I loathed winter and I ached to live in a place where it didn't exist.

The house I grew up in was not a TV kind of place. In fact, we didn't get our first color set until I was heading into high school. I was a very loved and very valued member of a large family. We had a big house and a big yard, something my brothers and I were charged with maintaining. Between all of the stuff we did outside, homework and the tomfoolery inherent when there are six boys under one roof, watching TV never really figured into our lives very much.

However, everything else we were doing stopped on Sunday nights at seven o'clock. A lot of people reading this will be too young to remember what Sundays at seven on NBC meant. But to those of us of a certain age, Sunday nights meant this:

(The actual intro starts at :20) That's right, The Wonderful World of Disney. In a time before DVDs and DVRs, most of us saw the classic Disney films on The Wonderful World of Disney. They never failed to enthrall me, even though I saw them on a black and white TV.

I found the intro to Dumbo. Watch it before Disney yanks it off of YouTube.

At one point in those years somewhere in the 1960s and 1970s Old Walt himself introduced the world to his vision of Disney World on a Sunday night during a telecast of The Wonderful World of Disney, something he was planning to build in where else but Florida.

I somehow knew better than to want to go to Disney World when I was a kid. We took our vacations in rural Canada, something I loved as much as I loved life itself and to miss that was unthinkable. Even at six or seven or eight, I knew that the Florida thing was going to have to wait.

However the die was cast some time around 40 years ago. Even then, I knew that some day I would call Florida home. As exasperating as life and times can be in this banana republic sometimes, every time I walk out the front door I see palm trees that I grow myself. It doesn't matter what our ridiculous governor is doing, I sink my feet in the sand and watch the sun setting over the Gulf of Mexico any time I think to walk on the beach at the end of the day. So what that our grandstanding legislature practically insists the world is flat, I have palms and parrots and geckos and 75 degree January afternoons.

Every time I hear the wild parrots squawking or hear the thump of a ripe coconut falling I remember back to a time when all of this was unthinkably exotic. I remember back to a childhood lived out in the rolling farmlands of Pennsylvania and I just smile to myself because when it's all said and done, I got what I wanted.

So to speak to this week's Blog Off topic, what I wanted more than anything when I was a kid was to lead the life I lead today as a middle-aged man. I toy with leaving this part of the world all the time. Some small part of me remains fundamentally attached to the northeast US. However the palms, the sand, the parrots and the geckos make me want to stick around for just a little while longer.

And there you have it. My childhood fantasy, realized. What about you?


As the day goes on, the rest of the participants in today's Blog Off will appear miraculously at the end of this post. Keep checking back and check out everybody's posts. You can follow along in Twitter as well, just look for the hashtag #LetsBlogOff. If you'd like more information about about the Blog Off or if you'd like to see the results of previous Blog Offs, you can find the main website here.

As the day progresses, a list of participating bloggers will appear here. Check out how everybody participating tackled this topic.