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    Pompous = Survival

    Michael Rogers
    Nov 2, '09 4:27 AM EST

    I was trying to explain to an acquaintance one morning over breakfast what it was that I was studying at the DRL. He was erroneously trying to sell it as Architecture and I was arguing that it had nothing to do with buildings and all to do with systems. Generative, networked and manipulatable systems to be exact. “Like a computer network?” he asked. “Sure, if that is where the research leads” I answered. (At this point I do not realize he is an x-computer science professional) “Like a Star System?” he asks. “Sure, if that is what was needed.” “How long would it take you?” “I don’t know, give me a week and I am sure we would have something working.” His reply: “YOU ARE ENCREDIBLY POMPUS!” That is when the fireworks broke out. The next few minuets were full of detailed and emphatic descriptions of why it was ridiculous of me to have the opinion that a DRL team could begin to sort out the complexities of a Star Computer network in a week (whatever a Star Computer Network is). We both left angry but for different reasons.

    He was absolutely right to call me pompous. To boast that a week was enough for a few people to understand and build a computer network with no prior experience is naively ridiculous. That being said, he was also completely wrong because pompous is exactly what I have seen the DRL excel at over the last two months. Teams have tackled problems, built machines and written code without any thought to whether or not they were qualified to attempt such a task. Of course, no one is claiming to be a professional in computer science, robotics or any other discipline that they may be tinkering with but the notion of what is outside our capabilities has somehow completely vanished. There seems to be a general assumption that there is someone in the program who knows something about the task at hand and if not, then there is a manual or a hack or an online tutorial or a book out there that can be easily found. This type of attitude might well explain some of the frustration associated with developing projects here but the fact that the attitude exists and is operated on daily by DRL students struck me as amazing. The mental barrier of what one can’t do has largely evaporated and stands in stark contrast to my friend who has been schooled to respect the boundaries of his discipline. I think that without this fearlessly naive attitude and all of its associated problems, the DRL would be a much less interesting place to be in.


    • maybe the world has simply moved on.

      one of the best of modern SF writers, Verner Vinge, recently came out with a very good story about how and what kids learn in the near future will be how to assemble information instead of just remembering skills. book is called "rainbow's end". give it to computer guy. in vinge's universe he is possibly obsolete.

      Nov 2, 09 5:46 am
      Kirk Wooller

      Next step will hopefully be to lose some of that naivety while retaining the students' enthusiasm, so as to rigorously develop the conceptual underpinnings of these ideas.

      Nov 2, 09 6:04 am

      I will be checking out that book

      Nov 2, 09 9:02 am

      I did the SCI-Arc summer program, and the attitude there seems similar. Not the pompous part (at least not in my experience), rather the lack of barriers. Need a desk? Go ahead and build it. Don't know how? Go find someone and ask. It was really refreshing, especially nowadays that the focus is on interdisciplinary thinking.

      Nov 2, 09 2:44 pm
      Carl Douglas (agfa8x)

      its exactly the same when architecture students talk philosophy with people who actually know philosophy.

      Nov 2, 09 4:41 pm

      The DRL and GSAPP share similar "pompous" qualities, which is great.

      Nov 2, 09 8:38 pm


      there is short story that preluded rainbow's end called "fast times at fairmont high"...i think. also very good, and an easy read if in a hurry to get the point.

      pure knowledge in our heads is important but the way we work is more like the flaneur than ever.

      the difference between the shallow philosophy of the 90s architects and the slapdash programmers of today is that the philosophers had no real product that came from the process, whereas today's archi-students actually have to produce something that works as a result of the mechanical mash up and software sleuthing. you can see it in schools all the time. it is a bit like the early days of personal computing when we were all learning fortran and then C, without a teacher and no orthodoxy, and certainly no one telling us we couldn't.

      Nov 3, 09 12:04 am

      check out michael speaks' lecture from the 'future of design' - seems the "quick and dirty" is in the air.

      as an aside, i'm not sure yet how that translates into the profession. in my experience, if we haven't figured it out in the design phase, there are two possibilities: 1) we'll figure it out in construction administration or 2) it will fail and we'll be in trouble.

      maybe "quick and dirty" is best for idea generation and innovation but has to be jettisoned in realization? so innovation has to happen in the school environment or the well-capitalized entrepreneurial or design-only firm environment, but not in the more normative environment of the profession?

      believe me, i'm looking for ways for this not to be true, but carving out space for innovation within the normal project delivery cycle is hard to build into the fee structure for most projects.

      i expect your computer professional's reaction might be coming from a similar place. there is a reason that the programming industry is bifurcated - those that innovate and those that slave away at places like EA. innovation is nothing without realization and the business model for realization is often very different.

      Nov 3, 09 6:45 am

      that sounds true steven, at least for most of us.

      on other hand the way we always work is to have idea then figure out how to make it happen. that means it is always a new project for us and stupid amounts of learning are involved.

      it is not the way to make money in short term at least. not sure about what happens in longer term. i have intuition we are learning things that at some point no one else will be able to do. not talking computers mind you, just processes...if we are lucky someday that is going to matter.

      Nov 3, 09 9:11 am
      vado retro

      that's some pithy polemic, steven!

      Nov 4, 09 8:55 am

      so if i get into sci I not get a desk?

      Nov 5, 09 12:27 pm

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