Category Archives: Architecture

Evidence of Society

When was the last time you stalked prey, ran it down and then ate it? That’s not a realistic question, is it? I mean silly, right? I’ll skip over asking if you’ve crafted your own weapons with which to hunt game, I know most people have not and the creation of the most basic tools an individual can make is a skill that vanishingly few people can exhibit. When was the last time you planted seeds, watched them grow, and then harvested the crop? Well, all of us have probably tended a garden in our lifetimes. Agriculture is in just about everybody in some way. There is something real about digging in the dirt and watching plants grow. Something very zen and rewarding about the entire process. However, gardening is definitely not the same as growing everything you need to survive all by yourself year in and year out.

Why am I asking these questions? Because that is what it means to be truly self-sufficient. To be able to produce the food you require independently. To be able to create all of the tools and clothing you require to survive in any climate in any region of the world. If I were to ask you about building your own shelter, even fewer people would understand just how difficult that process and others are. They would be clueless as to just how many people are required to create the many things we take for granted. Take for granted (i.e. an entitlement) especially in the US and other developed countries.

TED, Thomas Thwaites, How I Built a Toaster from Scratch

I have heard the challenge, repeated many times over my years in libertarian circles, to prove the existence of society. It is almost a mantra to some individualists, and I know there are survivalists out there who are convinced they could live on their own indefinitely. Some of them even can do it, I’m sure, but the number of people who could do it are a vanishingly small fraction of a percentage point of the entire human population currently living on Earth.

Coming from the other direction, the number of people the Earth could support if everyone had to live a hunter-gatherer life is probably less than one billion people. I haven’t seen anyone do a back of the envelope calculation on that in several years, so my number is off I’m sure. The point is that the number of people the world can support in a primitive lifestyle is smaller than the number of people our established technology can support. The systems built and maintained over centuries by people who just want to see their children have it easier than they did, to be able to survive without having to claw their way through every day wondering if they’d make it through the next day.

The nine-to-fiver who complains about the cost of his latte has no clue, none at all, just how many people who had to labor just to get him his coffee with milk in a container that he could just throw away when he’s had enough caffeine to keep him alert. And he gets that tasty beverage in exchange for a promissory note, a debt instrument, money, that the retailer then passes back down the chain eventually to the field workers in a far away country that actually touch the soil and grow the coffee that he thinks he paid too much for.

All of this, the high numbers of people, the ease of access to goods and services, the ability to do some task divorced from producing sustenance for yourself directly and still be fed, clothed, sheltered? All of it is evidence of society. Money is evidence of society, all by itself. Money is a socialist system, a system that exists because there are others to trade with in the first place. Without the group’s agreement, you’d still be running down prey like your ancient ancestors did, and hoping that the animal didn’t injure you before you killed it.

Watching the seventh season of The Walking Dead, I was struck by the notion that the entire group still wears clothing that doesn’t visibly disintegrate when they move. Seven years on, they still aren’t spinning and weaving thread and cloth. Patching shirts and jackets. For that matter the vehicles still run after being essentially without maintenance on the side of the road for years. Gasoline still burns even though (as anyone who has experience with small engines can attest) you’re lucky if you can get a lawn mower engine to start after it’s been sitting idle through one winter. Lucky to get it started because the fuel itself is unstable and will degrade over time. Rick and Carl and the rest of the crew? They’d be walking or riding horses everywhere by now because the fuel to run modern vehicles can’t be easily created without a vast infrastructure of technology that very few people understand.

That’s television, you say? Of course it is. It’s fantasy. And so is the notion that any of us are truly self-sufficient. None of us can replicate even the most simple of machines that we rely on daily, and yet we delude ourselves into thinking that we are capable and independent. Rational actors on a vast, mathematically predictable stage. That ability to delude oneself in that fashion? That too is evidence of society. Flat Earthers are a modern invention, and absolute proof of society’s existence. You don’t question that the Earth is round when you watch the people who will bring back your dinner tonight sail over the horizon to catch fish. The curvature of the Earth is as evident as the gnawing hunger in your belly.


I first thought about writing a post like this one after listening to this episode of Freakonomics,

I was inspired by the complexity of the process of creating one of the oldest tools modern man utilizes, the simple wooden pencil. As the episode goes into, the pencil is hardly simple at all. It took generations of tinkering and tweaking to create the object that you and I think of as a pencil when we say the word “pencil”. This TED talk portrays the complexity of the subject more quickly,


TED Ed: Small Thing Big Ideas, Why the Pencil is Perfect

Unfortunately the video is hosted on Facebook only. I apologize for the cludgy video interface design that comes along with that; the parts that aren’t directly copied from YouTube, I mean. Modern technology is so much not like the pencil. Facebook’s baldly abrasive and ham-handed attempts to acquire all internet traffic for itself are a hallmark of poor design, but that is a different subject for some other day. The subject for today is how the simplest of objects that we take for granted, a toaster, a pencil, are beyond the ability of any one person to put together and have work properly. So much for the dreams of rugged individualism and self-reliance. Would you mind passing me that cup of tea, please?

A Tale of Two Cities

I remember exactly when I first noticed it: my first year in town, wandering around the heart of the city, unwittingly crossing through Red River and Sixth Street. It was an immediate shift. Property value sank, and the sidewalks were now populated entirely with black and brown faces. Casting my gaze back west and seeing all that pallid skin bumbling around in merry debauchery, participating in all those Austin promises, made me feel a little guilty. At that moment it was clear that Austin had some unfortunate secrets, because no matter how liberal or progressive your reputation might be, a history of segregation will always rear its ugly head. – Luke Winkie writing for Vice.com 

KXAN.com

A house fire destroyed a boarding house just before New Years here in Austin, leaving six people homeless in some of the harshest weather this area has seen in several years. If you look at the images of the house in this news article, it is clear that hoarding was more than a problem in the house before the fire. The structure itself violates several current building codes, or would have violated them if it had not been grandfathered in under the rules that were being enforced at the time of its construction and/or annexation into the city of Austin. A filled construction dumpster in the driveway is a clear sign of unresolved problems within the structure that a devastating fire probably only makes worse for the people involved.

Not satisfied with the fact that there will soon be new construction at this once poverty-stricken address in a nearby neighborhood, one of the recent purchasers of Austin real estate took exception to the state of the house as it currently sits smoldering. This is understandable to me. It is understandable because house prices in Austin are ridiculously inflated, and I’m sure this purchaser paid far too much for his property. There was no price correction in Austin after the real estate bubble burst in the rest of the U.S. There was the briefest of pauses in price inflation, and then the prices just continued to go up, rising to levels that frankly have me thinking seriously of renovating and flipping my home so that I can retire somewhere a little quieter. Somewhere with horses, so that the Wife will have something to do with her time since no one will pay her a wage to do work in Austin anymore.

The homeowner’s objections are also understandable because I have an issue with the rental house across the street from me. I’ve told a running joke about it over the decades that I’ve lived here, and the joke has only gotten darker over the years. Considering the downward spiral it has been in since starting as an owner-occupied dwelling in the early nineties, I suspect there will be cannibals living there soon. Cannibals, because there isn’t much lower for it to go on the occupant quality ladder. Cannibalism is bound to occur there at some point in the near future.

However, several of my neighbors on Nextdoor insist on calling the boarding house that burned to the ground a crack house. Repeatedly. I have to say, that’s just uncalled for. After all, it’s not the nineteen-eighties anymore. We’re well past Reagan and his cloaked racial references like crack houses. Perhaps these new property owners don’t know the history of East Austin, the history of Austin in general? As a long-time resident of the neighborhood, I’d like to offer a few pointers to these new Austin residents, in the spirit of the New Year.

Austin American-Statesman

Let’s start with a big picture, historically. Austin was officially racially segregated until 1963. There were specific redlined neighborhoods where people of color were allowed to buy property. Those neighborhoods are well South of the area of Austin that we live in, but if you add in the Great Wall that separates East Austin from West Austin, the distance South that the redlining occurs becomes almost inconsequential. East of Interstate 35 was long considered the dumping zone for housing projects and industrial uses, and any in-depth analysis of land use in Austin will reveal that East Austin carries the brunt of the load of poverty for the entire city to this day.

While you’re calculating, don’t forget to add in the depression on living standards that the Mueller airport noise levels inflicted on the surrounding areas until very recently. That is crucial to understanding the change that is occurring on the East side of Austin today. With the removal of the airport out to Bergstrom, and the removal all the airport’s associated industrial businesses, there was suddenly a wealth of under-utilized property right in central Austin. The re-purposing of this property continues even eighteen years later. The old boundaries of the airport are all but erased, but you can still see the blighting effects of landing and take-off zones near the airport if you look hard enough.

The historical racism that stifled central East Austin’s growth, now lifted, the industrial uses and noise pollution of a central airport, now lifted, the big picture of why the gentrification and the pushing out of old minority owners in East Austin should become obvious. The two cities that were Austin are being forced to become one city, and the new city of Austin doesn’t have room for people who don’t have more than a quarter million dollars to sink on a home. Especially not in central Austin neighborhoods that used to be beacons for the average American middle class lifestyle.

Just to the North of the old Mueller airport site sits some of what was the most overlooked, undervalued property in central Austin. It was overlooked and undervalued when I first started living in the area about thirty years ago but it has now been discovered and is probably overvalued. I look to see a market correction in the near future. Friends of mine in the construction industry bought into real estate at the peak of the last boom in the eighties. They lost half their investment in the subsequent S&L collapse. I expect there is another one of those nasty surprises just waiting around the corner for most of Texas somewhere in the future. We dodged that bullet in 2008, but the growth that Texas is experiencing can’t be maintained forever. Something has to give, eventually.

The house fire that started this article is in one of those quiet little neighborhoods that used to be havens from the bustling inner-city of Austin, protected by the vast bulk of Mueller from central East Austin’s old redlined districts. The closest of these neighborhoods to the Eastern edge of Mueller is Pecan Springs-Springdale. This is the neighborhood where the boarding house stood.

Pecan Springs-Springdale was two neighborhoods originally, ergo the name. There are pockets of very nice houses in this neighborhood, surrounded by marginal commercial ventures and apartment houses, especially along the main arterial boulevard of Manor Road that carries the bulk of the traffic North/South through the area, between the two neighborhoods of Windsor Park and Pecan Springs-Springdale. The intersection at Rogge and Manor, near where the fire occurred, has always been problematic. That intersection marks the boundaries between three distinct areas and uses, one corner of which is a vacant lot. That property is an investment opportunity, for anyone taking notes that still wants to live here.

We rented a house in Windsor Park for about seven years before buying our current home. We rented it for less than $500 a month if you can believe that. The houses in that neighborhood are generally smaller and sit on smaller lots than surrounding neighborhoods. They were built for and bought by people with even less money than the college professors that my current neighborhood catered to. Backed up to the original Austin shopping center, Capitol Plaza, and bordered originally on the South by the main runway of Mueller and Fifty-first Street, Windsor Park was a working-man’s neighborhood. It’s hard to see that now since most of the property there was snatched up and renovated first, before Mueller moved.

The wife and I realized that the time to buy a home was now or never as we watched the neighborhood change around us, so we gave up renting and purchased a home in University Hills, a smaller neighborhood further East, but not so close that you could see or smell the landfill still operated by the city further out highway 290. University Hills was built to appeal to the growing number of educational professionals that needed to live near the University of Texas and the price of its real estate has ballooned significantly since we moved here.

People looking for a real estate investment should be well acquainted with this fact, that housing prices are at an all-time high in Austin, since it would be part of proper due diligence to have looked at historical prices for the area before investing. Some of the original residents still live in our neighborhood, and I bought my house from one them twenty years ago. There aren’t too many left these days, but their investment of $40-60k when they bought their places back in the nineteen-sixties would not compare favorably with the investments people are laying down now to get in this neighborhood. Some of us still don’t have that kind of money and we are being forced out of our neighborhoods by a growing number of people who do.

not very neighborly

Which brings us full circle back to the transplant complaining about a boarding house he has to drive by on his way to work that burned down having once been purportedly used for drug sales. The question I want to ask people like him is, how do you live with yourself? How do you ignore the underpasses in Austin littered with homeless people, even in freezing weather? Let me put it this way; I apologize to you for your neighbors, neighbors who were clearly having a hard time paying to remain in a neighborhood that has left them behind. Now that they are homeless, I’m sure the weather will get on with killing them faster so that their property can be better utilized by the next owner and not be a drag on your property in the future. That way you can flip that property you sank every penny you had into and make a profit. How does that sound?

Don’t mind us long-term residents, the people who just lived and worked here over the course of a lifetime. We certainly won’t notice when you are gone, any more than we noticed the last five people who owned that property before you. If you think I’m being too harsh, then I suggest you get out and help the homeless in your area, right now. Now is the time when homelessness hurts the most, when we lose the most people to exposure. If you have the quarter-million dollars to blow on an investment, then you certainly have enough scratch to make the difference in a homeless person’s life. Maybe you should re-prioritize your to-do list and see if you can make the world a better place for someone else. They’ll probably thank you for it and it might even be more rewarding than that profit you are lamenting you won’t make.


This recent (04/11/2018) episode of Code Switch deals with the subject that I was talking about in this article, namely redlining, what redlining was, and what redlining did. The after effects of redlining are still felt here in Austin.

NPR, Let’s Talk, Why are cities still so segregated?

It’s hard for people who have never been poor to understand what poverty does to you. It’s even harder to understand what not being able to pass for white does to you. The barriers that are placed in your way. The things that keep you from being able to succeed, the things they blame you for? Those things are external, barriers to entry that allow those who have what you want to point at you and say “see you don’t deserve what I have.”


NPR, Code Switch, Housing Segregation In Everything

I wanted to post a link to this episode because this was the first episode of Code Switch that I could link directly. The first episode that had a specific page that I could find and link to with the content that I heard on the air present on the page. It was a nice change that I hope they keep up with. It’s hard to share insights like you get from podcasts like this if there isn’t a location on the internet to send people to so that they can hear that specific thing you are talking about. In this case, redlining. Forcing people into poverty for the sake of having poor people to look down on, to take advantage of. This structural racism and economic stratification? This bullshit has to stop, and it should have stopped a hundred years ago.

Why is Work Making Us Miserable?

FT Podcast Feed

Lucy Kelloway’s podcast episode Why is Work Making Us Miserable? made me wax nostalgic for my working days of yore.

I had (still have) a love of architecture, a desire to understand a process and to make it work seamlessly. This made drawing architecture doubly or triply interesting. Generally I was dealing with at least two processes; how to use the tools I had effectively and quickly, and how to draw so as to produce the most insight into the finished design the leadership of the design team wanted. On the best projects I was also learning about the process the architecture would enable. Public speaking or sales or manufacturing. Even parking garages had unique traffic flows.

But all of that doesn’t add up to loving drawing, which is ultimately what my job was. I haven’t drawn a thing since struck with the epiphany that I really hated producing illustration. That I am unapologetically bad at drawing by hand, and that I really wanted to be doing anything else.

I learned to crib graphics as a method of timesaving. I would type or have someone else type notes and affix those transparencies to my drawings. I would draw details in such a way that I could duplicate them easily using a Xerox machine, or wholesale duplication of sheets of work. The whole industry of architecture was undergoing a change as I underwent these changes, but it was the echos  of “you’re slow, Anthony” in my own head that made it imperative that I cut every corner I could in order to turn drawings out as quickly as possible. – Coping With Dysgraphia

Is it weird then that I would still go back to architectural drawing in a heartbeat? I would. I would loathe drawing elevations and stairs again. Details and plans. But I would be a part of that process again. I would feel that my existence was  meaningful again, contributing to something larger than I am. 

Facebook status backdated to the blog. I loved Lucy Kelloway’s podcast for the Financial Times. She always made me laugh with her dry wit. I hope she is enjoying her new teaching job.

Coping With Dysgraphia

For Gregory

When I was a senior in high school I had a friend who would borrow one of the novels I carried everywhere with me and casually doodle the most amazing cartoons on the flyleaf. His cartoons were better than the things published in MAD or Cracked. My memory of that time may be a bit hazy now, but they were better to me then. Funnier. I marveled at the effortless way the pictures just came out of his hands, at his ability to draw, to write. It struck me as such a wonderful gift, to be able to take a pen and have it just make the lines you wanted to make and to make only those lines in the ways you saw them in your head.  Freehand artwork, freehand writing, is almost magic in my eyes.

They didn’t have a word for my disability when I was in school. I was never quite like the other children. Teased frequently, I hid in books and stared at my desk, afraid of catching anyone’s eye lest I be subjected to more derision. I didn’t know what made me different, but I knew that I was different all the same. The teasing I was subjected to originated with my second grade teacher who thought it would be a good idea to have the other kids torment me to make me write faster.

In my mind the first and second years of elementary school seem to blur together. It’s hard to separate one form of abuse from another. One of my teachers thought that teasing me was the ticket to getting me to perform. The other one thought that daily corporal punishment was it. Both were dissuaded from their delusions by my parents. The corporal punishment stopped, but the teasing continued until I moved away from that town. I wasn’t to be free of the hangups that this teacher’s cruel methods of instruction inflicted on me until well into adulthood. To this day I remain a public school skeptic largely because of my experiences in school at the hands of the children and this particular teacher, evidence of just how much damage one wrong idea can inflict.

My problems in school were bad enough that the school insisted my parents take me to see a specialist. We went to see the same diagnosticians in Denver two times; once in second grade and again in 5th grade. The school insisted that there was something wrong with me; it wasn’t the teacher, it wasn’t the other children. There was something wrong with me. So my parents paid for the doctors and paid for the travel, and off we went on what was a grand adventure from the perspective of my seven year old self.

I remember the experience because it was such a rare occurrence to be in another place. The Rocky Mountains around Denver were about as different from the grassy plains of Kansas as you can get. It was the first airplane flight I could remember, and it made me love flying. I have a great love of Colorado largely because of the experiences I went through in Denver on those two visits.

The doctors were nice. They gave me various tests. Handwriting tests, drawing tests. Clearly they were looking at motor control in the manner after the time (late 60’s early 70’s) trying to figure out why I couldn’t write well. Writing really hurt. It still hurts. The stupid pencils never went where I wanted them to go. Lines were never straight. Letters were never legible. Cursive? Cursive was a practice in slow torture. Every assignment in school made me suffer in silence; unable to write and yet required to write. Homework went undone. Not because I didn’t want to do it, but because I literally would grow tired from the constant pain of writing and simply pass out on my homework.

My mother doesn’t remember the word dysgraphia being used at the time, but what I was suffering through was distinctly dysgraphic in nature.

I loved to read. Reading and writing are two completely different exercises in the mind. The words would sometimes get tangled up in my head, but the places I could go while reading were so much better than the reality I was facing that I just soldiered on through the occasional confusion. But writing? I flunked a semester of english my sophomore year in high school because half of my grade would be based on a term paper I would be required to write long-hand. The subject of the paper that was selected for me was of no interest to me. I asked the instructor for a different subject more than once, only to be told I would write the paper and to stop arguing about it. In one of my first acts of rebellion I flunked the class rather than spend a week or more in agony only to have the paper rejected because it couldn’t be read.

I have never taken notes in class. When told to take notes I would write a few lines and stop (a trick I learned early. If the page is blank the teacher will notice and scold you) Notes were pointless. By the time I had written down the first sentence I’d have missed the next three sentences. What I learned to do was listen and absorb so that I could repeat what was said almost verbatim, at least briefly. Eventually I learned to synthesize the information internally and was able to rapidly apply it to new problems without ever having to write anything on paper.

I only recently learned that the ability to synthesize data internally is itself a special skill. Most people cannot remember things, cannot apply knowledge, without writing these things down.

Few of my teachers believed that I could do this, that I could absorb and apply knowledge without first committing it to paper. They especially didn’t believe it because I failed so frequently to do anything demonstrative in front of the class. I was afraid to write poorly and so would take far too long at the blackboard to be able to demonstrate anything to anybody.

Even though the specialists who tested me in fifth grade issued written instructions, specific to each teacher about the challenges I was facing learning in a classroom environment, the instructions were discarded as lending favoritism to a child that the school teachers and administration frankly thought was the problem in the first place. My mother was livid at the time and still gets angry talking about the subject. Did they know how much all of this testing cost? Paid for twice out of my parent’s own pockets? At the insistence of the school? Testing and findings to be discarded as too much trouble to institute, to much trouble to turn into a different teaching model?

What they did instead was slap a label on me. They called me slow.

I carried that label with me from second grade through seventh grade. The label and the torment only stopped at that point because I moved away from my hometown in Western Kansas for a few years; and when I came back to Kansas for my sophomore year of high school it was to a different town, Garden City, and to a different school. I never did spend any significant time in Leoti from that point forward. My nostalgia for the place I long considered home is leavened with ambivalence and rebellion. Rebellion against the label slow.

My sophomore and junior years of rebellion in Kansas and the custody of my father got me sent back to Texas and my mother. The all too familiar plight of children caught up in divorce. Shuttle diplomacy and holidays with the other parent. Custody battles and missed child support payments. From Leoti, Kansas and slow to Stinnett, Texas and rebellion. Garden City, Kansas and missed opportunities to Sweetwater, Texas and make the best of what you have left.

My senior year of high school in the late, hot Texas summer of 1980. My friend and his artwork were also transplants to the town and the school. Since we were both new, we decided to navigate the terrain together. Watch each other’s backs. The counselor lined out the required classes we would need to finish the year and graduate. He and I would be in organic chemistry together. A class we both found so boring that I would read and he would doodle on my books. We also had a few other classes together.

This is small town rural Texas, education isn’t something they spend a lot of money on. In the Kansas high school I had attended the previous year I had automotive mechanics and welding and a virtual smorgasbord of other classes I could have picked through if I had wanted to test my abilities in other areas. In small town Texas I essentially had two elective choices; metal shop and woodshop. Home economics would not be offered to boys. There was an FFA group, but animal husbandry was not my thing even if we had a farm to raise animals on (we didn’t) When we were unimpressed with the first two options, the counselor did admit that they also had a typing class and technical drafting. These were clearly choices she didn’t think anyone should be interested in. When we went around to talk to the various instructors to see what we might be interested in, I had an epiphany.

An epiphany in the example drawings from the drafting class. Drawings that illustrated how to build things. I had been a model builder for years by that point, but it had never occurred to me that someone had to draw those assembly instructions. It was the drafting equipment. The drafting machines, boards, lead holders, straight-edges and triangles. The realization dawned on me. I didn’t need fine motor control as long as I had an edge to guide the pencil. I could focus on pressure and distance and not worry about direction. Writing? Slow, painful, tedious work; but block lettering gave me the ability to finally be able to communicate what I wanted to say clearly. Leroy lettering guides kept the hands moving, forming the correct shapes.

My mother could not believe I wanted to draw when I came home from school that first day. After everything I had been through, the problems I had writing and communicating all my life. Writing, she told me, was something I always wanted to do. I wanted to tell stories. She would write things down that I asked her to, and then I would meticulously copy each character onto another page. But drawing? She couldn’t figure out what the attraction was. If that was what I wanted to do, she wouldn’t stop me from doing it.

An appreciation of Kenneth L. Zonge

It was another senior class that finally showed me how to write painlessly. Typing. I knew touch typing would be a useful skill because I had already seen my first computer keyboard.

My uncle, Kenneth Zonge, was a genius. No two ways about it, the guy is hands down the smartest man I’ve ever met by several orders of magnitude. Smarter than I am by about the same distance. He did early research into electronic mapping of rock strata, using computers to analyze the data and produce results that would tell miners where to dig for various minerals. His company Zonge Engineering and Research still does work in various fields in countries all over the globe. Back in the mid-seventies we went to visit him on a family trip, and he wanted to show off his portable computer.

Still looking for an image of
the “Red Baron”

The computer was built into a suburban; as in, it filled the entire inside of the vehicle aside from the driver and passenger seats. You had to open the side doors to get access to the input and output terminals, sitting outside the vehicle in the Arizona heat. As kids the science went right over our heads, but I do remember that he could type on a keyboard and the computer would print the clearest, most precise letters I had ever seen. It talked back to him. He played a text game for us and we were completely blown away by it.

Presented with the chance to learn how to touch-type as a senior, I took advantage of it. IBM Selectric III’s seem clunky and slow now, and error correction was a pain in the ass. But in the 80’s, for me, it was like being given access to electric light for the first time. I could type whatever I wanted on the keyboard and it would produce exactly what I wanted it to say almost as fast as I could think it. I had never had access to anything like it before. I asked to be able to do my homework in the typing lab, it was so much easier to just type it than it was to write it. I knew I’d never be able to afford a machine of my own, but if I could just be able to work in an office, there would be machines in the office I could use.

The pieces of my future were falling into place before me, whether I knew it or not. My intense interest in architecture could be accessed through drafting for architecture. My inability to write could be bypassed by access to a typewriter. After a year of drafting in high school, and a twelve month technical course at the local campus of TSTI, I took my label slow and my newfound tools and went out into the land of design and construction. Went out into the business world and was almost immediately flummoxed by the fact you have to sit still in an office. Sitting still drives me absolutely nuts. Give me some decent shoes and rugged clothes, and I’ll spend all day for weeks exploring every inch of ground around me for whatever can be found. I never really thought about it; but I imagine being cooped up inside revisited the torment of school, being asked to engage in rituals I found painful and to gauge facial expressions I found confusing at best, incomprehensible at worst.

Maybe I need the physical stimulation to make the mind work.

In any case, the first barrier to office work wasn’t actually the writing and drawing. No, the first barrier was getting over my own internal loathing of sitting still. That took years, longer than it took me to learn to type or to draw with precision. Eventually I learned to tap into what is commonly termed as flow now; and I could draw essentially effortlessly for hours at a time, longer and better than my peers. I had to be more dogged, more persistent. I had to be because I was slower than they were. That is an unpleasant, unavoidable fact.

My hand drawing production rate was much slower. However, because I had to take time to make sure the lines were exactly right, my drawings were also generally of better quality. This is not bragging, this is me relating the feedback that I got from dozens of years of work in the field. Yes, Anthony. Your drawings are beautiful. Can you turn them out faster? The same old label of slow coming back to haunt me.

“You are slow, Anthony.” Sounds like stupid in my ears, and it is meant to sound that way. Yes, I take longer to get there, but it will be worth the trip unlike some draftsmen I won’t mention. That is the line that ran in my head in response. I had to bite that retort back more times than I can count.

I learned to crib graphics as a method of timesaving. I would type or have someone else type notes and affix those transparencies to my drawings. I would draw details in such a way that I could duplicate them easily using a Xerox machine, or wholesale duplication of sheets of work. The whole industry of architecture was undergoing a change as I underwent these changes, but it was the echos  of “you’re slow, Anthony” in my own head that made it imperative that I cut every corner I could in order to turn drawings out as quickly as possible.

In the end, I did it.

Not because I got faster at hand drawing than anybody else. No, all of my peers can sketch rings around me. They always have been and probably always will be able to draw rings around me. The few times I’ve ever had to draw anything by hand in the field I was embarrassed to do so. My contractor friends, men who trusted my drawings implicitly, were always careful to assure me it would be fine; but I know just how childish my scribbles looked.

They were bad, and it was a barrier that kept me from advancing in the field of architecture. More than once I was offered promotion to supervisor or manager and I always balked at it. Why? Because supervisors and managers draw freehand right on the paper, and the draftsman just takes what they draw and cleans it up. I was really good at the clean up part of the process after years of practice. I was never going to be good at the freehand part. That was not something I would be able to do, and deep down in my heart I knew it was a barrier that I could not cross.

What changed things for me was the early exposure to computing at the shoulder of my beloved uncle. The exposure that made me understand the power of computers.

When you draw something in the computer, it can be duplicated endlessly without degrading the copy. The digital world allows you to be able to replicate whatever work you’d done previously by simply copying and pasting. Drawing guides are built in, so shaky handwork is irrelevant. The initial precision was the determining factor of replicability, and I had honed precision to a fine art already. It was just a matter of mastering the new tools.

Since I couldn’t get my employers to see the vision of my uncle’s suburban filled with computer gear, I took it upon myself to enroll in courses at Austin Community College so that I could gain access to contemporary PC’s of the time (386‘s probably) while the motor control problem makes me a klutz with hardware, software is just a matter of understanding the logic of the system in a way that allows you to utilize shortcuts built into it. Classes in programming were more than I wanted to deal with at the time, and programming itself means little to me still, but breaking security barriers on the simple GUI’s the school used at the time was child’s play, and I spent a year learning how not to get caught doing things with the computer that weren’t allowed, while learning the reasonably simple (for an experienced draftsman like myself) drawing exercises that I had to produce in order to pass the class.

When the classes were done and I felt prepared for what I saw as the inevitable future, my employers threw me a curveball and bought into a CAD program other than the one I had trained for. While I had spent a year learning AutoCAD, other CAD programs had made inroads in the architecture field and my employers purchased a program called CADvance and hired an operator from outside the firm to run the system.

Hoval calculator and measuring stylus

Side note. It’s nice to know I was actually behind the times when I started my evangelizing for CAD and computers in the architecture sphere. I found this article over at Reanimation Library on Boyd Auger’s 1972 book, The Architect and the Computer quite interesting.  Quite interesting that in 1972 the trend towards digitization was this apparent to anyone, even if they were really only promoting the products they had created to digitize documents.  I really do hate to think that something that I thought was apparent was invisible to everyone else. Clearly, not everyone.

Undaunted, I simply learned the far more straightforward command parameters for CADvance. The process took all of three days and I was already (unbeknownst to me) as fast or faster than the outside help my employers had hired. I mastered his system and improved on it before realizing I wasn’t going to be going anywhere in that firm and made the move to another firm. A larger firm that used both systems I already knew.

It was about the time that my new employers adopted a third system Microstation and I mastered that program (with the help of the Wife’s student software discounts, her then ongoing pursuit of an MLIS and her still invaluable proofreading skills. Love you too, dear) and then started helping my co-workers become proficient with this new third system that I began to realize that I wasn’t the slowest person on the floor. In the middle of a monologue of self-criticism about streamlining some process or other, the co-worker I was talking to stopped me cold to inform me that “you know you are the fastest draftsman on the floor, right?” No, I hadn’t known it until he pointed it out.

Liberation from false constraints, from labels you never wanted, never accepted is a feeling that is hard to describe. Hard to fathom. I will be eternally grateful to my friend and coworker who pointed this fact out to me. It was years of additional work understanding just what it meant to not be seen as slow and stupid. To not have to push back against a negative view, a constraint you internalized and never let go of until long after everyone around you had stopped holding the view and instead were puzzled by what continues to drive you to be faster.

A recurring argument that I had with a few of my supervisors and fellow architects (back when I had a license, back when I was one of them) was the common belief that people aren’t in nature when they aren’t working on a 2D paper surface. The misguided notion that the synthesis of ideas requires a fixed medium (paper) and a writing implement (pencil) to engage the creative brain.

Future architects are explicitly told by some college professors that they “cannot design in a computer environment.” This false limitation being taught to so many students appals me to my core. It invalidates everything about me, my experiences, my pain and trials and eventual triumph. Is it a good thing that I never went to college to learn architecture? Had I followed the traditional route, embarked on a master’s degree in Architecture, I might have had this additional bad information to wrestle with and put behind me. Computer design is wholly artificial and so it can’t be a place to design in.

Hogwash. 

If I accepted this falsehood as truth I would never have embarked on my journey in the first place. I’d be just as disabled and just as hopeless, but with no belief that I could ever be more than that. Paper and pencil are natural to the people who find them natural. If the characters will not flow from you hands using them, find some other medium to express yourself in. All of them are natural. Do what you can do and never apologize for having to take a different road than everybody else. None of them know what experiences you have, what disabilities you will have to cope with. What gifts you might have hiding inside.

This is the end of the story of Coping With Dysgraphia. It only gets me to the middle of my architecture story, a story I still haven’t told fully; beginning, middle or end. That story will have to wait for another muse, another time. My parting thought on the subject of dysgraphia is, I wish I could remember what the subject of that term paper was that I refused to write way back when. When I was a sophomore in Garden City in 1978 flunking out of english class. I could write a whole book on the subject now with the tools we have today. I wonder what kind of story that would have been then if I could have simply been able to do what I do now?


Listening to The Hero’s Journey TED radio hour inspired me to put this story into words. Specifically it was the story of Ismael Nazario who was convicted of a crime and sent to Rikers as a teen. There but for grace go I. The difference that the color of your skin can make. 

The Fourth Estate

Another question from Robert Reich. I find his posts truly useful for stimulating thought on particularly thorny issues.

According to a new study by the Pew Research Center, 40 percent of Trump voters got their news about the election from Fox News (in distant second place was CNN at 8 percent, and the rest mainly from social media).
Clinton voters got 18 percent of their political news from CNN, 9 percent from MSNBC, 5 percent from the New York Times, and only 3 percent from Fox (the rest from an assortment of networks, local news, radio, and social media).
Fox News – especially Trump surrogate Sean Hannity – delivered a steady stream of pro-Trump infomercials. If America still has the “fairness rule” that used to require media to be truly fair and balanced, Fox would be out of business.
What do you think?

I think we need to destroy political machines wherever they are, whatever they are. Political machines are a barrier to democracy because they supplant the will of the people for their agendas, which the leadership of the machine thinks is important.

News reporting should simply be held to a truthful/useful standard (which FOX would also fail) because any other standard introduces a bias that is unnecessary. There are not just two sides to political arguments and this is true across the board.  It is long past time we started dismantling the machines that have grown up around the framework that was established with the constitution; machines that no longer serve the purpose they were established for.  Machines like party primaries. Party-favoriting rules in legislatures. Party-backed campaigns.

There are new ways and new machines that we need to build so that we can introduce the vast majority of the US population to actual governmental involvement. The old machines are only going to get in the way.

Journalism needs to be governed by a professional organization empowered to police their ranks in much the same way that the AMA licenses Doctors, the AIA governs the practice of Architecture. State bars govern the practice of law. This has been my opinion for a very, very long time. There is no organization which can establish truth standards in reporting that organizations can be held to if they want to qualify as legitimate news outlets, and there really needs to be.  This has never been clearer in history than it is right now.

How journalists go about governing themselves is a question I’d like to see journalists discuss. What will work? What won’t work? What kind of standards would they be able to establish and enforce? Should be an interesting discussion.

Twin Towers Alliance Video

Busy day for causes today. Here’s one I haven’t heard from in awhile, but I’m still 100% behind the effort. A video tribute to the World Trade Center as it was…

read more | digg story

…and plans to rebuild them as they should be. The Restoration Alternative Shows the latest conceptual models of what a rebuilding project on the site might look like.

The surest way to show that we will not be terrorized by terrorists, is to put back what they took from us, to the fullest extent possible.

What about the Losers?

Originally titled Austin, the Portland wannabe, this entry has morphed into an In Related News type column (with a tip of the hat to Dan Carlin) because Common Sense 113, What about the Losers asks the same questions that were being asked by Jeff Ward when he interviewed Austin Mayor Will Winn on Our Little Show a few months ago.

At the time, I was screaming at the radio “It’s because Austin desperately wants to be Portland!” but I think the answer will take more explaining than that. Probably quite a bit more.

First, let’s deal with Dan’s assertion that we live in a capitalist system. This is important because Dan’s point is quite valid; in a capitalist system the growth of the markets should be robust enough that even the least ambitious, least able to compete amongst us can be provided for charitably from the fat left on the table. The problem is, we don’t live in that system.

Ask any economist and they’ll hem and haw and finally explain that we live in a managed market system, a hybrid market managed from the top down with central controls placed there by government to ostensibly protect the investors/users/general population from the dangers of an uncontrolled market.

What those dangers are is anyones guess, because hindsight has shown that the failures of the stock market can generally be traced back to interference in the market by the Federal government, or by it’s monetary arm, the Federal Reserve (before the Federal Reserve the fluctuations in markets were probably an offshoot of the legalized theft that is Fractional Reserve Banking. I’m leaving that discussion for another time because this thing is almost a book already) Most of the other markets haven’t so much failed, as they were never allowed to fully bloom before being stifled by state and local controls placed on whatever resource or talent the market formed around.

But the controls do serve the purpose of keeping the markets in check (whether the controls are professional licensing, health inspection, zoning and planning, or just the good old Securities and Exchange Commission) Keeping the markets in check being indistinguishable from slowing growth.

So we don’t really live in a capitalist system, and it’s been getting less and less so for more than a hundred years now. We do still live in what is largely a meritocracy (which is better than the alternatives) but it’s a far cry from the kind of capitalism that most laissez-faire capitalists dream about, and the profit margins are getting leaner all the time.

If there’s limited profit (what it means to be lean) then there’s limited fat to provide for those marginal types on the fringe of society. And no amount of exhortation to buckle down and provide for them from outside is ever going to result in their getting more of what they need. Like a parent telling a child to be good and share, if there’s only one toy, the toy’s owner gets to play with it.

Globalization (Dan’s second point) was occurring whether we drafted and joined GATT, NAFTA, CAFTA, et al, or not. I would actually offer up the observation that the agreements appear to have been drafted to favor the staid multi-national corporations after the wilderness had been tracked by more nimble entrepreneurs.

[much like the stock tech bubble was burst just in time for established corporations to wade in and take over newly created tech industries. But it would be very black helicopter of me to say that, wouldn’t it?]

So blaming the state of affairs on these agreements suits me just fine. I just wouldn’t waste time kicking the scapegoat of Globalization (whatever that means) for the fact that you can’t make $30 bucks an hour doing tech support for (insert giant corporation’s name here) anymore. As Dan rightly points out “they have smart people in India too” and they’ll work for much less. Any corporation bent on reducing costs is going to outsource work in those sorts of circumstances, globalization incentives in place or not.

It’s not globalization’s fault, because that’s only part of the big picture. There’s also the consistent devaluation of the dollar (generally referred to as inflation) by spend-happy congressmen bent on buying their way into re-election at the top end of the government chain (not to mention crusading Presidents with Foreign Dragons to Slay) These actions reduce the purchasing power of the dollars you have left after your job was outsourced to India.

On the other end of the government chain, you have cities (like Austin) that have activist governments bent on achieving various goals, either for the enrichment of the powerful within the city, or to satisfy the security/comfort demands of the citizens, or both. In Austin, the government has used zoning, licensing, and control of the water/wastewater and road system, as well as what’s known as an Extra Territorial Jurisdiction (ETJ) to limit growth and prevent what city planners refer to with distaste as sprawl. The predictable results have been growth outside of city controlled areas (leading to congestion and a mad dash to toll all roads that lead into Austin) and a steep climb in real estate values within city boundaries.

I say predictable, because this is the same formula that Portland and other cities modeled after Portland have used to limit growth and encourage compact city centers. The problems with this model have been documented in CATO studies, which I have perused often enough that I end up in a screaming match with my radio when the Mayor is interviewed.

Traffic congestion, homelessness and poverty. All of these are attributable side effects of limiting road construction, driving up the cost of housing, and diverting public funds to programs (such as light rail and subsidized housing) that do not produce the benefits promised. When you couple that with multi-national corporations outsourcing employment to countries where three generations of a family live under the same (small) roof; and the devaluation of the wages that remain, you have the recipe for the near unavoidable disaster which looms on the horizon.

Hello, interesting times. The ancient Chinese guy I was just talking to mentioned you.


So, what about the losers? What’s the solution? A lot less government, and a lot less government interference. It’s what will occur whether we head that way voluntarily or not. We might as well plan for it.

On the local end it’s going to mean relaxing building restrictions at the city level and perhaps relying upon the licensed professionals to do their job without the city looking over their shoulder (an architect can dream, can’t he?) it means privatizing road ownership (road construction, contrary to popular belief, is already mostly private) so that real maintenance costs can be established and funded. Privatized mass transit systems (London’s seems to work just fine)

On the Federal end, who knows? Can Washington be reasoned with? Considering the battle in California over medical Marijuana (a clear states rights issue if I’ve ever seen one) I’d have to say it looks like no. Can the out of control bureaucracy be brought to heal? That remains to be seen, but also doubtful.

[I’d be interested to see what would happen if the states insisted on payment of federal debts in Constitutional money; precious metal coinage. I think the Fed would have a hard time winning that battle in court]

So the real question is “will the Federal government survive the collapse of the dollar?” (which appears to be underway right now. It’s been slow so far, let’s see how long that lasts. And yes, I’m being serious. When have you ever seen the USD trade at parity with CAD? I’ve never seen it, till now) I don’t think it can be avoided. If, by some machination of events beyond the average persons comprehension collapse is avoided, and the federal government continues, there’s no telling what it will look like. Better to not worry about events beyond our control.

As for the plight of the losers, I’ve been rolling this idea around in my head for years now. Since we don’t use real money anyway these days, and since the banks can create money out of thin air when they need it, why can’t we do the same thing for that portion of society that would do without necessities if they aren’t extended the equivalent of credit.

There would need to be a standardization or nationalization of accounts, so that each person would have one account (and only one account) into which his electronic funds are transferred when he works, and from which funds are drawn when purchases are made. But rather than having a lower point at which no more funds are available, as in today’s bank accounts, the loser hits the point where the cash card becomes a charity card. Businesses would be given direct tax write offs for extending charity, and charity would be limited to strictly defined necessities (such as utilities, food, etc.) If you want a large screen TV, sorry you’ll have to do without. If you became productive again, then after a set period of time your charity card would once again convert to a cash card, and you could purchase whatever you wanted with it.

Not a libertarian solution, but a solution all the same.


I can see several of my AnCap acquaintances bristling from all the way over here. So, why should I care if the losers do without necessities? If I don’t want to give them charity, I don’t have to. And that’s true, as far as it goes. This post is already too long, but I thought I’d touch on the issue of haves and have-nots (or winners and losers) because it’s the have-not / have quotient (and the correlative societal highs and lows of money and status) that defines whether a society can continue to function peacefully or not.

Too high a number and the have-nots are emboldened to take what they want from the haves; and not all of us are or want to be Joe Horn. Too low a number, and human nature takes over correcting the trend turning haves into have-nots through natural laziness.

So obviously, it’s in the haves best interest to act in advance of the outset of violence, by not allowing the number to get too high; and the easiest way to do this is to keep the low end of the have-nots from falling too low. Put whatever conditions you want on the charity that makes you happy (after all, this is an exercise in “what if?”) Sterilization of the lowest portions of society so as to prevent a blossoming of their ranks through reproduction, in the event that they go on charity status. Repayment of charity before cash status is returned. Whatever.

Just remember that the more draconian the penalties, the less effective the charity will be at mediating violence. Which is the point of offering it in the first place, if human decency isn’t enough of an appeal to move you.

The Best Laid Plans: Transportation

Another CATO daily podcast episode featuring Randal O’Toole; I think I may have to buy his book. Sort of a follow-up to Zoning’s Best Laid Plans this one discusses the shell game of mass transit vs highway funding. Very informative.

The Best Laid Plans: Transportation

There’s also Debunking Portland: The City That Doesn’t Work for those Austinites curious to know what your city planning department wants to subject you to.

Free Talk Live: IP and Disney

Listening to the Wednesday edition of Free Talk Live on my Treo 650 today; listening to Ian pound Mark over the head for his support for Intellectual Property rights. (third day in a row, I might add…)

Generally, I agree with Mark on this issue. As an architect, I know that the thought that goes into design is a valuable commodity that needs to be protected. Otherwise the less scrupulous out there will simply wait for someone else to do the hard work of invention so that they can then profit from it at the inventor’s expense. Contrary to Ian’s assertions, I’ve not seen any evidence that people will do the months and years of work required to bring something to market unless they have reasonable confidence that they will make a profit from it. If anybody can copy a design and be free to sell it the day after it hits the market (or as in the case of the Chinese clothing ‘pirates’, even before it hits the market) then the chances for profit are greatly reduced. I don’t know of any business that stays in business without making a profit.

On the other hand, I don’t really believe that corporations (like Disney) should be allowed to hold rights to intellectual property. Those rights should be limited to real people, not legal entities that will continue to expect a profit long past the lifespan of the original author. Disney is a prime example of this, since their lobbying was instrumental in getting the latest extension to copyright terms passed.

There is a phrase that applies to the subject of Disney characters and the school mural that was the subject of rather heated discussion on Wednesday’s show. That phrase is “work of art”. A work of art is generally exempt from claims of copyright infringement. That doesn’t stop the corporations with lawyers and money at their disposal threatening people with legal action if their demands aren’t met. The truth is that the school blinked when Disney decided to play hard ball. If push had come to shove, Disney would probably have dropped the case.

Copyright terms expiring was the real reason for Disney going after public displays of their copyrighted works. Like Coke being synonymous with cola and Kleenex with facial tissue, Disney was fighting the battle of keeping their property from passing into the public domain; and they won that battle by passing new legislation. If corporations were excluded from owning these types of property, the entire battle could have been avoided.

[On the question from a listener concerning the objectivist opinion on the subject; as an objectivist myself, I think I can vouch for the fact that objectivists in general understand the need to protect the “mind’s contribution” to the creative effort]

Oh, and Ian, your disbelief in intellectual property doesn’t equate to the non-existence of intellectual property. But your willingness to steal other peoples ideas speaks volumes to the subject of why the MPAA and the RIAA are willing to go to such lengths to protect their investments.

For what it’s worth, this is one of those arguments that illustrates the very narrow difference between a communist (in the government-less nature of the word ‘commune’) and the little ‘a’ anarchists and the extreme edge of the Libertarian party. They would also tell you that ideas ‘should be free’, but I’m not willing to live in their version of utopia either.