Monday, October 26, 2009

That Autumn Feeling

"Trees eat themselves" - Timonthy Cavendish, Cloud Atlas.

My brother, sister-in-law, and I recently went exploring country east of Ottawa. It was a dewy Autumn day. Foliage confetti, fallen branches and barren trees striped of their pride and joy. Looked a bit like an abandoned war zone.

Whenever it comes around, I always proclaim Autumn to be my favorite season - but I do the same for Spring and the first snowfall as well. Autumn is usually too transient for you to ever really feel like you are in the season. But, this Autumn, to Summer and most people's chagrin, started early. I don't recall enjoying so many days kicking leaves.

Another quote from Cloud Atlas on the end of Autumn, this one from Robert Frobisher:

"Air in the chateau clammy like laundry that won't dry. Door-banging drafts down the passageways. Autumn is leaving its mellowness behind for its spiky, rotted stage. Don't remember summer even saying good-bye."

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sunday's before dusk

There's a pregnancy in the air on Sundays afternoons, brimful of anticipation of the week ahead and stuffed full of unfettered relishing of the weekend's final moments.

Children play games in the street, ignoring their parent's beckoning calls, smells of laundry billow out of apartment vents cleansing the neighborhood air, little girls set aside their school outfits and pack their knapsacks with their perfect show-and-tell items, 'one-day-we'll-make-it' bands savor the final set of their weekly jamming session and matrons add the last pinch of paprika to their autumn pumpkin stew.

Preparation for the week ahead and a final reverence for week past. Beginnings and closures in the same space.

The air is pregnant on Sunday afternoons.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What I see, what I see not

The mobile phone has enabled us to easily be in 2 places at once, interacting with two realities in the same physical moment of time (although, arguably, we've always been doing this as exemplified by introspective thought - through introspection one is interacting with oneself and the environment simultaneously). The internet has also facilitated this dual-processing sensation with programs like Google Earth allowing one to visit any street corner or ocean floor of choice within the comfort of one's favorite armchair or wifi-enabled cafe.

Still, sitting in front of the Pompidou among a mix of Parisians and tourists, and taking part in that elegant public group choreography of people mingling, talking, sitting, getting up, moving etc., I wondered what is happening outside the Tate Modern, or the SF MOMA, or the MALBA in Buenos Aires. What are the people outside those similar, but different locations on Earth doing right now? What form of choreography is occurring there?

Which led to this idea: An observation deck type installation with live-streaming of a variety of locations on Earth. With this, one could take part in multiple public dances in real-time - the penultimate global village expression (and maybe long distance lovers would use this installation to blow kisses)!

And then my lovely bourgeois art idea took a fierce ideological turn: This live streaming of multiple places would be even more powerful if one juxtaposed contrasts, e.g., remote vs urban, affluent vs. impoverished. Use it to hit people with a dose of global reality. We all know what is in front of us, but do we know what is not in front of us? And by learning what is elsewhere, what does that say about our current condition? What if beside every check-out register in the developed world, there was a small screen displaying a live streaming of life in any suffering nation...would never happen, but I would think twice about my $200 jeans for sure.

Math + Art + Biology

One of the coolest intersections of Math, Art, Design and Biology I've seen in a while is BIOTHING - an architectural design program that uses computer programs and algorithms to organically evolve the design of a building according to some base 'genetic' principle (almost like a seed for a fractal composition). The user can also enter design constraints and designate specific areas of structural voids / structural localizations and the program will naturally abide to these conditions. Best to watch the video in action.

I saw this exhibit at the Pompidou in Paris today and was completely in awe of its potential. Another cool thing, the program was designed by a woman. Alisa, you are my hero! :)

The Kiss: Heaven or Hell

Prima facia, Rodin's sculpture, 'The Kiss' represents the epitome of a beautifully passionate and deeply lustful embrace. The curvature of the two figures alludes to complete surrender and the sculpture seems to capture the beautifully pure and romantic transcendence of a full-body kiss.

However, beyond superficial inspection, one can notice that the man is actually hesitating slightly - his body is actually holding back from the girl. Further, their lips are almost, but not touching, same with their legs.

So then, perhaps this doesn't symbolize an impassioned embrace, but in fact, the opposite, that terribly arresting moment of second guessing, uncertainty and hesitation.

Rodin described this sculpture as the embrace between two lovers that could not be. 'The Kiss' is actually quite a sad tribute to unrequited love and hence is a recurring motif in Rodin's masterpiece, 'The Gates of Hell'...

Monday, September 21, 2009


The French do everything slower except drink coffee - actually, they either do that incredibly slowly (1hr) or far too fast (2 secs).

French movie theatres play movies at a normal, comfortable volume, it's fantastic.

French kids are better dressed than I will ever be.

Despite common misconception, American bubble gum pop music does not sound better in France.

Parisians don't use their cell phones nearly as much as people in NA. It's very rare to see someone talking on their cell while walking or at a park. Actually, most people in parks seem to be doing nothing at all, just sitting, watching, sleeping, resting - seems like a bit of a meditation. I like these restorative pauses in life.

To be continued...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

JIT in Paris

'Juste a temps' is probably not a commonly used Parisian phrase because (at least from my modest observations) Parisians are never rushed and punctuality is considered to be just a waste of wrinkle-lines. So naturally, "just in time" doesn't make sense in a place where you can't be late. But Parisians seem to invoke a JIT philosophy to many things even though, they would probably be the first to deny any sort of pre-meditative approach to life.

Over my past two days, I've observed JIT in Paris in many forms:
- The city's fantastic bicycle renting system (like many in Europe where one can rent and drop of a bike at multiple locations all over the city) works on a JIT philosophy in multiple ways. First, no one relies on a map to locate where stations exist. When you need a station you will find it. Precision of location, like precision of time, is superfluous. Second, the bike to parking spot ratio seems to be fairly tight - meaning that if you are parking your bike at another location across the Seine you depend on someone else also taking a bike out and liberating a parking spot for you. So the system depends on a fairly equal ratio of bike renters to available bikes. But if there are many more bikes than spots, then people will have trouble returning their bike, and in the opposite scenario, renter-enthusiasts would have difficulty finding an available bike. So how come this seemingly delicate, impossible-to-perfect ratio persistently seems to equate? Always a bike available, always a spot to park? I don't know how the Parisians did it, but it's great. It's another version of this JIT that seems to pervade Paris, you'll get what you need just when you need it, probably not a minute sooner, and don't push it, but infallibly you will get what you need.

- Another example of perfectly efficient availability was around the Tuileries Palace fountain. Parisians treat this as a beach, relaxing on the reclining chairs, reading, playing with miniature sailboats, eating ice cream, sipping cafe and catching up with friends. Finding chairs at this highly coveted location should have been like trying to find a parking spot in Manhattan. Hardly. The moment my girlfriend and I begun searching for chairs, we found them. And when people vacated their leisure spots, others gracefully, without any sense of urgency, naturally occupied these spots. It was a very elegant game of silent musical chairs where everyone always managed to find their chair, JIT.

So, yes I'm on vacation and probably seeing everything in rose-coloured lunettes, and my experiences could be cast as being the product of just plain luck, or the product of my relaxed, laissez-faire attitude. Probably a hint of luck and a splash of positive attitude, but it's amazing what happens when you just let it.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Erdos-Bacon number

A recent game of 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon (which shouldn't be played with people who grew up in the 80s) got me thinking about Erdos - that insanely prolific mathematician. He published over 1400 papers in his lifetime (1913 - 1996). It's now commonplace for mathematicians to chest bump over their Erdos numbers (it's true, I've seen it).

Interestingly, a small number of people are connected to both Erdős and Bacon and thus have an Erdős–Bacon number. Actress-mathematician, Danica McKellar, best known for playing Winnie Cooper on the TV series, The Wonder Years, has Erdős number of 4 and a Bacon number of 2 (I always liked Winnie). The lowest known Erdős–Bacon num is 3 for Daniel Kleitman, a math prof at MIT; his Erdős number is 1 and his Bacon number is 2 (he had a short cameo in Good Will Hunting).

I wonder what the degrees of separation are between Erdos and Bacon?

Seed planting


I'm really not much of a writer, so we'll see how this goes, but I often have ideas, opinions or news items that I want to share with anyone who is interested! I'm too loquacious for Twitter and Facebook Posts get muffled too quickly, so I'm trying out Blogging...

Champaca is an evergreen tree, native to South Asia and Southeast Asia. It is best known and cultivated for its strongly fragrant yellow or white flowers. The flower is the main scent present in commercial 'joy' perfumes (e.g., J'Adore by Dior to name one) and is commonly referred to as the 'joy perfume tree'. It has a really exquisite smell that transports me to a sweet tropical night and the lobby of a lavish Parisian hotel at the same time. Perfect escapism all from a few oderant molecules. I hope to do the same here with typeface.

Thanks for reading and may Champaca Tree bring you a little joy!