Architectural Madness

Friday, June 5, 2009
I recently visited the Stata Center at MIT in Boston, and took these photos. The building resembles a crazily-assembled hodgepodge of textures and geometric shapes: it looks altogether unlike any other building anywhere; as though it was a human building designed by martians with only a general description of what our buildings looked like.

The effect for a casual observer is breathtaking: the building is a bizarre and visually satisfying amalgam (perhaps mishmash is a better term) of colors and textures, weirdly canted angles and shapes that appear jammed together at random.

The building was designed by Frank Gehry, who also designed other wacky architectural masterpieces-slash-modernist-nightmares, including Disney Hall in Los Angeles, and the Experience Music Project in Seattle.

Unfortunately, it appears that the functionality of the building is far less impressive than its visual appeal. There is no understandable layout to the building, and (to an unfamiliar observer, of course), it appears ridiculously easy to get lost in.

Floor-to-ceiling glass walls in some offices means that privacy is impossible. The otherworldly angles, while striking, make hanging bookshelves well-nigh impossible.

The Wikipedia article on the Stata Center lists other defects, including a lack of soundproofing, a tendency to induce vertigo in its inhabitants, and a giant-sized price tag.

Oh, and it's probably not a good sign that MIT is suing Gehry, for massive design flaws leading to cracked masonry, flooding, and mold.

The Third Rail

Thursday, June 4, 2009

I saw this sign while I was out and about. While I'm generally a fan of obtuse signage, this one seemed a bit odd. Now I now what a third rail is, but for someone not acquainted with subway electrical terminology, this sign lacks the proper amount of actual warning to be useful. And of course it misses the opportunity to use a hilarious illustration of a stick figure being electrocuted.

This is all prelude (as ever) to a reference to a bizarrely comprehensive wikipedia page: Third Rail. Seriously, is there that much to write about direct current? Ah, who am I kidding? I love it.

Why I Love Wikipedia

Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Wikipedia can be a controversial topic: message-board flamewars pop up with some regularity, with proponents and critics raging about the relative merit of experts versus amateur editors. In an academic setting, Wikipedia is a thorn in the side of many professors who've learned to dread research papers from overly-credulous undergrads who cite Wikipedia as an authoritative source.

However, for a random-fact addict like myself, Wikipedia is a gift from the heavens. Let's take a tour through one of my most recent knowledge browsing expeditions: I started out with a link to Centralia, a town in Pennsylvania, now virtually abandoned due to the vein of coal that is currently on fire, which has been smoldering for more than three decades.

That took me to the article on Mine Fires, which I was shocked to find, are actually relatively common, and can burn for not just decades, but centuries. One mine fire in China has apparently been burning since the 1600s, and China at the moment has hundreds of coal fires running uncontrolled, consuming tens of millions of tons of coal annually (how's about that for greenhouse gas emissions?).

From there, it was a short hop to the article on Peat, which can also burn. Apparently Peat (decayed vegetation matter), covers about 2 percent of the global landmass, and is still used as home heating fuel in parts of Ireland and Finland. The related links sent me to Acid sulfate soil, a form of waterlogged soil, that when exposed to air, creates naturally-occurring sulfuric acid, which can acidify water, killing vegetation and fish, and even undermining the structure of concrete and steel buildings.

Well, I couldn't not investigate what Wikipedia had to say about Waterlogging. I found out that waterlogging can preserve otherwise-perishable artifacts that can tell archeologists much about ancient cultures. Well, on to Archeology! Lots to read (skim) there, but the section on Psuedoarcheology caught my eye. Apparently fictional archeologists don't follow established practice very well (take that, Indiana Jones!).

But it was the link to the article on Xenoarchaeology that really caught my attention. Apparently this is a still-hypothetical form of the field, which will (or may) study the physical remnants of extraterrestrial cultures. The actual field is currently a haven for fringe theorists and pseudoscientists, but the links to xenoarchaeology in science fiction will definitely merit a return visit.

The related topic of The Mediocrity Principle was a fascinating one: initially put forth by Copernicus, the theory states that there is nothing particularly special or unique about Earth, as compared to the rest of the universe. One of the logical conclusions of such a principle was the Drake Equation, which hypothesized the likelihood of an extraterrestrial civilization developing in our galaxy (and the likelihood we would come into contact with it), based on: how many stars are formed, how many have planets, how many of those can support life, how many of those actually do, and the subset who develop intelligent life, and so on.

So, in the space of a little reading and clicking, I went from an abandoned town that's been on fire for decades, to the numeric possibility of alien civilizations. That's why I love Wikipedia.

I'm a Little Bit Audio, He's A Little Bit Snake - Audiosnake 01

Tuesday, June 2, 2009
A feast for the ears: the first-ever genuine Weaselsnake Podcast, Audiosnake.

Thrill as the varying degrees of audio quality invade your brain to deliver untold levels of geekiness! Gasp in horror at the in-jokes and unexplained references! Marvel at the mediocre production levels! Yawn as you realize that there's very little to care about!

If you're curious to hear what we sound like, this is the show for you. Feel free to leave us feedback, and we'll feel free to ignore it or read it on the next show.


Who thought this made sense?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Seen recently while I was out. Seriously, did someone put one (or
both) of these signs up together and think "Yeah, this makes sense.
Nobody will have any problem with this"
? At least they didn't use
quotations marks for "emphasis." Then my head might have exploded.

Pseudonym: It makes a weird sort of sense, I think, down THIS way then to the right, vs. Down to the right, this way. Do I think the signage is dumb, yes, but you can see just what happened: Some clown put up a sign that is extremely clear (but completely inaccurate) and some Deputy Clown tried to fix it by addendum. The 2nd sign makes the whole situation just the opposite, accurate, but very unclear.

Even without the written hints, I could guess this was a governmental building.