Attending TEDx Rochester 2011

Today was the third year of TEDx Rochester, held at Geva (75 Woodbury Blvd.) TED is a lecture series that originally focused on "technology, entertainment, and design" (providing the words for the acronym) but shifted to simply, "ideas worth spreading". "TEDx" lectures are independently produced, but attempt to mimic that theme. This year, TEDx Rochester featured sixteen live discussions, two video presentations, and a proper video lecture from TED itself.

Adam Walker kicked things off talking about a project he's involved with: The Kosovo Wind Gardens. The idea is to create small electricity-producing windmills all around countries without infrastructure for a reliable electric grid. Kosovo is one example, as it has very few power plants (their largest is a 1950-designed coal-burner with disastrous emissions) and simple things like dairy milk production are hampered by unreliable power. The windmills are designed with "appropriate technology" in mind: not just something from an industrialized nation, but a design that relies on simple materials and manual labor (rather than efficiency of mass-production) to better suit local self-sustainability. I was impressed with Walker's presentation and the keen sense of appropriateness and a focus on the people being assisted.

Next was Andrew Perry who discussed Visual Literacy and Graphic Narratives. His thesis was an attempt to show that the means of storytelling and communication are changing — whereas the poem was central to literature prior to the 16th century the novel became the dominant form starting around then, and now we are seeing a new form that integrates text with images and diagrams (in a creative, literary way, not solely for factual reference). There is a new manner of storytelling that goes with it and, while I'm not sure it will become a dominant form, it has definitely come into its own as a rich and complex literary form.

Ashley Aberg then spoke about the difficulties of changing medical thinking when it comes to gender. She centered her talk on what medicine calls "intersex" — neither dominantly male nor female. It is because the male/female binary-gender system influenced the medical community that the medical community considers it worthy of "correction" that typically involves surgically modifying the appearance of a child's genitals. Aberg's point is that there is nothing life-threatening or unnatural about intersex, and as such, it is society that should adapt to it. In some ways a radical concept, but in others, it is solely habit that keeps society's view of gender from matching what nature produces.

Next, Christopher Azzarra spoke about Improvisation: Musical Literacy Beyond the Page. As a music teacher, he observed that formal musical training does more to hamper individual music development than it helps. Since the measurement and analysis of music is so mathematical and sterile, it is hardly the place to start. Instead, he provided some examples of how natural it is for children and for professional improvisational performers to communicate with one another purely with music. Music touches us deeply because it is a fundamental part of our being.

Next was a video presentation of Raymond McCarthy Bergeron's La Lune et Le Coq — an amusing animation wherein the moon and rooster compete at the end of the night.

Dr. Tim R. Mosmann, Ph. D. gave a presentation on the complexity of the immune system. He gave a depth-first tour of immune response and how astonishingly complex it is. At each of a half-dozen levels (from the body to the lymph nodes to the chemistry of the lymph nodes to the cellular interaction to sub-cellular and so on) a huge amount of information is known on how it all works. But then we can extrapolate the exponentially large amount of information, since each specific example was only a fraction of the interaction at that level. In essence, the amount of information is too large to aggregate, so we need new tools to handle it.

In another radical turn, next was Jim Maddison who gave a case for building the The Roc City Skate Park under the eastern terminus of the Freddy-Sue Bridge. Like the shift to accept graphic novels or intersex individuals, skateboarding is a perfectly acceptable leisure activity that offers a mix of exercise, creativity, and accomplishment. Maddison and his team have been working to break down the entrenched view of skateboarders as ne'er-do-wells and hoodlums.

Xanthe Matychak presented Make Better Stuff: the rise of social business and distributed manufacturing. She sees a major shift in manufacturing where it will be possible to build on-demand at nearly anywhere in the world, alleviating the need for the manufacture/transportation cycles we have now. I tend to agree that these new technologies are a game-changing development. But I don't think it will have as nearly a large impact as she thinks or hopes, unless we see a major change in how people view money and cost that would permit local artisans to overshadow the desire for cheap mass-production.

Emcee Howie Jacobson presented his own project: Vote Be Heard. The gist is to encourage primarily poor, primarily black, and primarily inner-city people to vote in major elections to make their world better. Although I think the effort was valiant, it did not strike me that much care was given to the voices in those communities. In other words, it seemed like some comparatively wealthy white people got together and made what they thought would be powerful messages for a group they largely do not interact with. As I see it, the inner-city poor (like the Occupy Wall Street movement) have little idea what they can do to improve their situation without the benevolence of the wealthy people who keep them there. Because of that, voting has comically little effect, and the oppressed are wise enough to know that.

Theresa B. Mazzullo followed that talking about a group she's involved with, $eedNY. They have financial resources to fund start-ups and other technology ventures. I spent her entire talk trying to give her the benefit of the doubt, but I was seething as I wondered why people with great ideas and people with the ability to produce things (and often some of both in one person) were not already rewarded with great wealth — and those who have great wealth have neither ideas nor means? Further, I seethed at the whole "venture capital" concept where a person with an idea presents it to those with money, and if they are given money to proceed, either they fail and the gambled capital is lost (and they probably have to pay off crippling debt regardless) or they succeed and the bulk of the profits go back to the investor, reinforcing the cycle.

In another topical twist, Jon Schull presented a history of transportation, paying particular attention to bicycling and human-powered vehicles. Although his talk was interesting and sometimes enlightening, it lacked a call-to-action punch. Rather, it seemed to advise going along for the ride and to be prepared for things to change in the future. Having lived a zero-automobile lifestyle for 4 months now, I feel deeply relieved that I need not worry about all the maintenance owning an automobile brings. I tend to work from broad goals — even in 1994 when I bought my Civic, I was already thinking about rising gas prices (which never hit until 10 years on), and since then, I tended to steer my life toward eliminating the need for a car. Having finally achieved that, I feel well positioned for the future. I advise people to do the same: it's much easier to plan to live close to work 10 years from now than it is to try and achieve next week, so start now thinking how to adapt to our world in 10 years.

Mark Noble presented some recent developments in stem-cell research. Again, an informative lecture, but pretty much just that. And again, part of me gets annoyed that (in America, at least) this lifesaving technology is reserved for the rich people who can afford it. It's kind of disheartening to know that I'm less valuable as a person than someone else.

Triggering more irritation was Hasan Elahi's video lecture from TED titled Hasan Elahi: FBI, here I am!. In this case, I was annoyed with the totalitarian police state we live in, not in Elahi's lecture. He talked about how he was interrogated by airport security because of a name mix-up and how he now lives his life under constant government scrutiny. His solution was to publish the minutia of his life: he uses his smart-phone to periodically (and frequently) document his whereabouts along with other things like photos of his hotel rooms or the urinals he uses. In the end, it's a clever redirection of energy that is resulting in a surreal art project on surveillance.

Prove Your World was next: a group of people who are working on a science-based program for children that tries to be better than either dry lecturing or vacuous demonstration. By that, they mean that (like Christopher Azzarra said about music) exploring the theoretical side of something first turns people's interest away, yet by simply offering a flashy demonstration without explanation leads to no learning (or, for that matter, curiosity) whatsoever. Their technique is to start from a simple question (in their demonstration it was, "what's a supernova?") and use demonstration as a tool for learning. Of all the lectures, this was the one I want most to get involved with. Of course their pilot episode is about how airplanes fly, and I cringe that they will reinforce the "equal-transit-time myth" of the airfoil.

Jim Gresko and Dave Vogler paired up to talk about how design is similar to jazz improvisation. I thought it was an innovative approach to discuss the concepts and it worked well.

Next was a discussion of Empathy in Education by Timothy Cottrell. He runs a program called The Center for Mindfulness and Empathy Education which pairs high-school students with people in Hospice care. Students' own testimonials revealed a surprising maturity for people in young adulthood.

BELIEVE/Visual Intervention is a film by Ian Wilson and Philip Night that documents a street-art project bringing in international talent side-by-side with Rochester's own on projects on Troup Street and the Union Street railroad bridge near the Public Market.

Relatedly, closing the show was Joan Hildebrand — "the Voice of the Public Market". She had simple, straightforward observations on adapting to change, as she went from a mid-time TV personality to being nearly unknown in this small town, but rather than harp on what she lost, she found new vitality in her work with the Market.

Overall, I found this year's TEDx Rochester to be an even and varied distribution of good discussions. I found it a little heavy on money and products in that many lectures centered on either an existing or future product or project, or gave significant focus to money and profitability. Of course, that may be more my own bias as I tend to seek TED lectures that are more philosophical or human-centered, and tend to ignore those that highlight a new technology or product. I find it a little off-putting, though, that in their re-cap blog post, they note that they "partnered with RIT & U of R to help us recruit new talent for the stage" and add that in the coming year they are "looking to also partner with groups like The Entrepreneurs Network and High Tech Rochester to expand our net." To me this means even more focus on money, product, and project rather than ideas and exploration.

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Attending TEDx Rochester

I headed to Geva (75 Woodbury Blvd.) to see the TEDx Rochester lectures today. I attended the premiere year last year, and hoped for a few improvements. Many were met, and some surprising updates, but I still found it fell short.

Registration was easy and our passes had a little surprise. I hadn't realized until I was approached by Chris Horn — a former co-worker — who pointed out that on the back of our passes, we had a list of three people. His said, "Ask Jason Olshefsky about a 'tadpole trike'," a project I mentioned when I had originally signed up. I thought it a near-perfect ice-breaker (although, in general most attendees migrated to people they already knew … this is Rochester, after all). A curious serendipity was that the other person who found me by name was another former co-worker from a different company. People speculated that TEDxRochester did some Internet snooping, but I was pretty sure it was just random.

Anyway, the presentations were generally good although only a couple approached the lofty goal of TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design): Ideas Worth Spreading. One of my college techniques was to take virtually no notes, expending my effort listening and thinking and referring later to reference materials. To my [mild, mild] horror, the brochure listed the presenters alphabetically with biographies rather than a title (or even a taste) of what their presentation was about. Thank goodness for TEDx Rochester Live blogging or else I'd have no idea who said what in what order.

Kicking off was Almeta Whitis who presented a "song of welcome". I found it enjoyable and impressive that she inspired me and most of the audience to join her in the chorus. An idea worth spreading? Yes — in a very unique way. She attacked the issue warmly, honestly, and with a flair for entertainment: we are all human and should behave as such. In essence, "it's the humanity, stupid", not the iPhone nor the pressing project.

Next was Dr. Benjamin Miller. He talked about detection of proteins and antibodies as markers for disease and how new technology works to do that instantly with silicon chips. His broad topic was one of understanding through a triangular diagram of vision (our ability to observe), direction (a selected methodology of exploration), and control (a defined set of target results) — essentially, a subtly different view of the scientific method. As such, technically an "idea worth spreading" but one that is spread pretty far and wide already, particularly to the largely technical-minded audience attending. I also noted a severe defect: he presented an underlying assumption (the "protein-interaction problem can be solved by drugs") was one that can be questioned. Why is that the best path? Or is that the most logical one — the one that is most likely to yield results that are easy to fit into the model of scientific exploration? Alas, I feel a far more interesting talk would have discussed that question.

Karlie Robinson spoke next. She owns Webpath Technologies (40 Charles Ave., Henrietta). She talked about how hard it is to find courses in basic computer literacy. She gave the example of how we all know basic operations (cut, copy, paste, undo) are similar across all kinds of different computer systems — something we take completely for granted but which is really a pivotally important idea. Like Miller's discussion, this one is sort-of an "idea worth spreading": more "a problem whose solution is an idea worth spreading". And (also like Miller's discussion) I found myself dismayed at ignorance of the underlying assumption: that technology is a good thing and should continue to be applied all the time. A more interesting discussion would concern why menial labor can't simply show up, work, and get paid — what value have we added by tracking names, addresses, Social Security numbers, pay, and taxes. Is this really optimal?

I think Darren Stevenson (co-founder of PUSH Physical Theatre) gave one of the best discussions. He started with a demonstration of a performance then went on to define what art is. At least that was his topic which he attacked with wit, humor, and insight. His point was that creating and experiencing art is subjective and personal. Our culture tries to make everything objective and communal — to give things dollar-values and quality-values that everyone can agree upon. However, art is defies that very notion. It even defies explanation, another facet of our culture: we try to explain everything in words because explanations make things safe; things we understand are safe. We don't look at an autumn tree [how creative, Jayce: did you just look out the window?] and try to understand "what is the tree trying to tell us?" It just is, and we can enjoy it for that. Yet somehow when it's a creation of man, we feel it must be a simple metaphor instead.

The bar was set high at the start — three very good discussions. Then Jane Andrews, a Nutrition and Product Labeling Manager for Wegmans Food Markets (1500 Brooks Ave.) gave a commercial for Wegmans. Ok, so it wasn't literally a commercial — she was talking about the techniques developed at Wegmans to foster good nutrition. My own bitter bias about Wegmans and how they abandoned the city neighborhoods (especially mine) led me to ask the underlying assumption: "why do only rich suburbanites deserve good nutrition?" Regardless, the ideas she presented were good ideas run through the hot-dog factory of marketing so they'd be palatable to the general public, such as "split your plate": fill half with salad, then have whatever else you want on the other half. Unfortunately, it's extraordinarily similar to the "small plate" movement (such as outlined in the 2008 book The 9-Inch Diet by Alex M. Bogusky.) Alas, I couldn't tell if the "idea worth spreading" was "here's some ways to eat better for the simpleton", or "Wegmans, gosh, isn't it great?"

Moka Lantum, co-founder of The Baobab Cultural Center (728 University Ave., formerly on Gregory St.) spoke next. Although his presentation style was not nearly as polished, his idea was one that I felt warranted TED: in areas with that have a high prevalence of earthquakes, we should build homes that are locally-sourced and earthquake-stable. The underlying assumption of earthquake relief efforts is that they help — but is there a better way? Lantum impressed me by attacking that very question — and again with broader scope, "is there a better building technique than the platform-framed wood houses we take for granted?" Lantum outlines a building technique that uses bags filled with local, sifted dirt for the primary structure then covered with a locally-generated stucco-like surface. The high thermal mass works well to regulate temperature, particularly in hotter climates like Haiti where these structures were given a test as temporary emergency shelters. I thought his topic was perfect TED material: it's something that I've thought about before, and I can't think off-hand of a way to significantly improve upon the presented solution. (My only lament is that he didn't say where to find more information; a little searching leads me to an article on The Honey House which I believe is the specific technique Lantum was talking about.)

Next was Shanterra Randle, an associate coordinator at The Center for Teen Empowerment (107 Liberty Pole Wy.) Her speech could easily have been a free-form poem. She encouraged us to take the ideas we have and hear, and put them out there — to make our community better. We all have good ideas, but a good idea laid dormant is just as good as no idea at all. Another worthy candidate for what TED is all about, and as a bonus, brief, creative, and directed.

Dr. Ralph Spezio gave an impassioned and emotional lecture on his experiences as principal of School 17 and how lead poisoning was revealed as the cause of educational problems in his school. If there's one thing to take away from his speech, it's to consider the possibility that when assessing the quality of education, sometimes great teachers and great parenting is not enough. Likewise, Michelle Cardulla presented her work as Executive Director of The Museum of Kids Art (MOKA) (90 Webster Ave.) I felt her presentation could have been better rehearsed, and the idea that kids are natural artists could have been more central. Clarinetist Dr. Ramon Ricker presented an interesting topic of making your life about you and your skills. He was largely talking about marketing yourself in terms of what you are good at and what you like to do rather than what you think other people want to hear. It may have resonated more with others, but me (and I think a lot of people in the audience) were already aware.

Jim Tappon, Communications Manager of COOL Rochester gave a commercial for COOL Rochester. He spent as much time talking about vague methods to conserve energy as he did talking about how you can download information and present it to your friends and acquaintances. I think his idea of conservation through small steps is generally good, but his insistence that we become the carriers of this information à la pyramid scheme was downright offensive.

Finishing up, Jen Indovina, President and CEO of Tenrehte Technologies, presented the nearly opposite view: that it is impossible for people to change their behavior in any appreciable way, so we should make technology that lets us live exactly as we do, only makes it efficient. I found it patently offensive that adaptation is impossible, and further offensive that more products can make things efficient. As someone with a custom remote system to control lights and such, I can tell you it's nearly impossible to make a machine that can predict your behavior and not irritate the hell out of you. To buy something off-the-shelf that would work is an absurd concept. I tried to do some research on the products at the Tenrehte Technologies website, but all the products and catch-phrases presented on the website appear to be nothing more than vaporware marketing-speak: there is not even a description of what anything does, much less any technical information. Without a physical address, I can't fathom how any production is taking place, and I'm strongly suspicious that the whole company is just a scam.

As such, I left this year's TEDx Rochester in a thoroughly pissed-off rush. Walking home, I could only think fo Indovina and her insistence that we can't change our behavior; if I were driving a car I'd have classic road-rage. Thankfully I headed into Mt. Hope Cemetery (791 Mt. Hope Ave., the North Gate) and got a chance to chill out before getting home.

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The Art of the Steal

I went to see The Art of the Steal at The Little (240 East Ave.) tonight. I wasn't sure what I was getting into because I'd read just a little about it, but it turned out to be an excellent documentary … at least for me.

It sets up the battle between Albert C. Barnes and the Chicago art community. The deal is that when Barnes was alive, he began collecting works of modern artists of the middle 20th century; further, he displayed those works only once at a Chicago gallery and the works were derided by the art community as inferior in nearly every way to true art. This only fueled his disdain for that art community — and he was embroiled in full-out battle when they realized his collection was one of the most valuable in the world, after that form of modern art became popular. Upon his death, he set up a trust for The Barnes Foundation (300 North Latch's Ln., Merion, PA) which was an educational institution for teaching art in a unique way — stipulating that it was specifically not a museum of art, no artwork may be loaned out, etc.

The film sets up Barnes and his foundation as the heroes, and the art community as the greed-infested enemies. As I understand it, Barnes had a view of works of art as things that had value because they spoke to human beings; and specifically that monetary value had no place being attributed to art. The art community intertwined historical value, personal value, and monetary value in a jumbled mess, and never understood Barnes' point.

So, blah blah blah, they go about dismantling the trust and gain access to the collection in ways Barnes never intended.

The reason I found it an excellent documentary is it opened more reasoned questions than it answered. How long should one man's dying wish be honored? How should we view art? By what mechanism does a person's property become public when they die?

But at its heart, the film asks: for any clause in a person's financed trust, how do we measure if it goes against the public good so much that it must be overturned? That's essentially the argument: the Barnes Foundation has all these great works "locked away" from public view. But how many people can really appreciate an original Matisse, for example? Isn't uninformed public viewing just a matter of bragging rights — don't most people say they saw this-or-that artwork and begin with its appraised value rather than any deeper understanding?

I didn't really see Barnes as the "good guy". I agree with his philosophy of art, but think that important works should have public access (even when it's pearls before swine). Perhaps I'm looking back with a lens tainted by 2010's copyright laws and seeing a world where ideas are longing to be free but are blocked. I'm sure Barnes saw a future where art whose dollar value drops below its value as fuel would simply be burned for heat. I don't know if either of us is wrong.

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For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism with Gerald Peary at the Dryden

Ali and I headed to the Dryden Theatre at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) for the discussion with Gerald Peary. It turned out he was screening a documentary he directed: For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism. The documentary was okay — it touched on the major "eras" of public film criticism, primarily in America. Motion picture making itself is barely 100 years old, and critical analysis necessarily followed. As documentaries of a history go, it was an imperfect, but generally pretty good essay on the topic.

As we stayed through the question-and-answer afterward, I kept revisiting a negative opinion: that the whole evening was packed with ignorance. It wasn't until later that I pinned it down: critics that made an impact were good writers who happened to critique motion pictures, but critics seem to co-opt the respect of being a good critic while ignoring the necessity of being a good writer first. This resonated with me strongest in the last segment that covered the Internet age. It seems that paid critics disliked the presence of Internet critics because they felt that the fact they were paid automatically made them superior. Rather, I think that the best critics — Internet or otherwise — are able to examine a film from a unique perspective that gives insight into that film.

Peary also insisted that a critic's role is to analyze a film within the context of film-as-art, not to identify whether you, as a reader, should see it. I think this is misguided. First, I agree that there is a majority of people who just want a movie review that tells them "good" or "bad" — they literally want to be told they will like a film (and further, I think their opinion is heavily swayed by what critics tell them). However, there is another group of people who read film criticism beforehand for its context in film-as-art so they can determine whether they want to see it. In some cases, it is to explain, "how can I enjoy this film?", or "why is this film important?" I've written in the past about how I use film criticism and synopses, noting that a review should bracket my experience and help me understand what to expect. For instance, I don't think a film like Vals Im Bashir (Waltz With Bashir) could be considered a movie that "people would like", but I'm glad I saw it and I think it was a great film. It was because I knew something of the film that I decided to see it — partly trailers, and partly through critical review. But I used those tools specifically to determine whether I should see it.

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Vacation to Acadia National Park

In case you hadn't already noticed, there was no blog activity last week, and the events list might have been a little more erroneous than usual. The reason was that Ali and I left on July 18 and headed to my parents' house in Schenectady, my friends Jan and Shannon in New Hampshire, Acadia National Park (State Highway 3 and Paradise Hill Rd., Bar Harbor, ME) for 3 days, Ali's friend in Boston, a brief stop at my parents' again, and back home on the 25th.

Naturally, when we got to Schenectady, we got a late lunch/early dinner at Jumpin' Jack's Drive-In (5 Schonowee Ave., Scotia) for their highly prized fast food. Afterward, we took a drive out to Frosty Acres (150 Skyline Dr., Schenectady) which is a local campground that I've seen signs for since I was a kid. By the time we left, we dubbed it "Shady Acres" — not only was the site that was recommended for us to check out a mud pile (and $25 per night), the clientèle was a mix of people residing there and/or passing through with no other living options. In essence: a bit of a rough crowd. Topping it off was the strict, literal enforcement of the 51⁄2 mile-per-hour speed limit. We ended up staying on the land in back of my parents' house, giving us a chance to fully test the tent and its set-up and take-down.

On Sunday we left for New Hampshire; this time taking the Turnpike through Massachusetts and forgoing the scenic, slower, and shorter trip through Vermont and New Hampshire. We hung out with Jan and Shannon, and my friends John and Michelle visited from Boston as well. We stayed through Tuesday before heading out to Maine.

Despite the rain, we decided to continue with the plan of following scenic Route 1. We got off Route 95 (which I guess now is 295 as 95 is now the toll road once known as 495 … thanks, Maine) at Freeport. We stopped at Classic Custard (150 Lower Main St., Freeport, ME) and had a hearty snack before continuing into town to visit L. L. Bean (10 Depot St., Freeport, ME) … I mean, how can you not, especially on a camping trip? I can only assume that L. L. Bean was there first and the shopping nightmare of "outlet" stores cropped up sometime later, but at least their store was competent … in my opinion, not worth a trip out of your way, but if you're a fan, it's worth it to at least stop.

Anyway, travel was excruciatingly slow and Route 1 is not nearly as scenic as it implies. That said, it's far more interesting a drive than Rt. 95, but the time cost is pretty high. We arrived at Acadia National Park (State Highway 3 and Paradise Hill Rd., Bar Harbor, ME) around 8 p.m. in steady rain. We decided to sleep in the Roadmaster after putting the coolers outside. Ali also wanted to get some dinner more substantial than the snacks we had; she settled for cheese and wine. We also got a chance to check out a Ranger lecture on the geology of the area at the park's outdoor amphitheater, giving us a taste of just how engaging the park really is. The rain kept the crowd light and most of us joined the Ranger on the covered stage. The rain got heavier as we left and we were confined to the car for the night.

Wednesday proved to be much better. We got the tent set up and had breakfast at camp. We took the "free" [paid for by our $20 car fee and L. L. Bean; once again] shuttle from the campground to nearby Bar Harbor. We signed up to go to Baker Island on Friday through The Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co. (1 West St., Bar Harbor, ME) — apparently a family of 12 lived on the remote island some considerable distance from shore during the 1800's. We stopped by Alone Moose (78 West St., Bar Harbor, ME) and chatted with the owner Sherry, stopping at the gallery upstairs, The Gallery Upstairs (78 West St., Bar Harbor, ME) to check out works by J. Stan Mason that greatly appealed to me.

Sherry recommended The West Street Cafe (76 West St., Bar Harbor, ME) which was excellent — and refreshingly inexpensive. I had the Cafe Special which was lobster and shrimp tossed with mushrooms over linguine; Ali had the lobster special which included a 1 pound lobster, clam chowder, and a slice of blueberry pie which we shared á la mode. Everything was excellent, and with 2 local beers, we barely cracked $50.

We headed back to our campsite then walked to Sand Beach — pretty much the only substantial traditional beach in Acadia, and a place where you can go swimming. The water temperature is claimed to be around 50°F, and I believe most adults (like Ali and I) experience pain from cold by letting the water wash over our feet. However, I couldn't resist playing in the ocean as it's so rare that we get there, so I used the technique the Ranger from last night suggested: run at full speed into the water. It turned out to be not as bad as first expected, and I stayed in for the better part of an hour; my body apparently adjusted much better to total immersion.

We used the park shuttle once more to get back to camp. I couldn't get much of a fire started, but neither could anybody as everything was so damp. We ended up eating what we could cook on the camp stove instead. I stayed up for a while trying, but I never could get the wood to stop boiling off water enough to ignite.

Thursday was also a nice day. We hiked up Beehive: one of the small mountains in the area, although much of the climb is quite steep. So much so, in fact, that iron rungs were installed to assist along the trail when it went vertical. The climb isn't all that high — only 500 feet or so — but it does yield a dramatic view of the coastline. There's also an easier trail that leads through the woods past Bowl Lake which was startlingly serene.

The park shuttles transfer at Bar Harbor's town square, so we spent some time once again there. We had another good meal at The Thirsty Whale Tavern (40 Cottage St., Bar Harbor, ME): I with a fish fry club sandwich (fried haddock, bacon, lettuce, tomato), and Ali with a lobster roll (big pieces of lobster held together with a bit of mayonnaise). We shopped for souvenirs and provisions: particularly, fire-starting sticks such that I might be able to get a fire going that would be capable of cooking something.

We decided to get ice cream and Ali joked that was going to get lobster ice cream so I said if they had it, she'd have to get it. As it turned out, Ben and Bills Chocolate Emporium (66 Main St., Bar Harbor, ME) had lobster ice cream and it wasn't all bad, although I let her off the hook and just forced her to taste it. We also stopped by The Bar Harbor Brewing Company (8 Mount Desert St., Bar Harbor, ME) which we'd had at the West Street Cafe and picked up a sampling of brews.

We got back later than we wanted, but still with plenty of daylight. I set to getting the fire started which went much better with the fire-starting sticks, but the wood was still too wet to yield good coals to cook over. We used it anyway, and had steak tips and corn for dinner along with some beer. We decided also to take down the tent as it was supposed to rain that night into Friday. And it did: starting around 2 a.m., waking us with its drumming on the roof of the car.

Friday was the day of the cruise to Baker Island, and we had set alarms to get up on time. No shuttles run that early, so we drove to Bar Harbor around 7 a.m., leaving the waterproof items behind for the time-being. We had a mediocre breakfast at Jordan's Restaurant (80 Cottage St., Bar Harbor, ME), forgetting that in most areas, diners are a "theme" restaurant and as such, expensive. Ali couldn't get over the fact that an unassuming vegetable-and-cheese omelette ran $11 … I almost had to take away her placemat menu! Further, the ship to the island was cancelled due to dangerously rough seas.

Instead, we decided to drive around the park loop. We drove up Cadillac Mountain — the highest peak on the Atlantic Coast north of Brazil — although it was essentially a steep grade in a blanket of fog and rain yielding a view of the sides, tops, and bottoms of clouds. We got back to camp and the rain had subsided as much as it was that day so we packed up and headed out.

We had our eyes out for those famous Maine blueberries. We stopped at a farm stand but the berries in the area were still too tart. Nonetheless, the guy also baked pies and had a blueberry one in the oven right then. Ali wanted it but I didn't want to wait for it to cool. After much disagreement, we finally decided to get it: as it turned out, it would cool fine in the car even if it wasn't perfectly level (it wasn't going to slop out as I thought). We made our way through Maine on I-95 (the new one, including the toll part) and hit Boston right at 5 p.m. The remaining 10 miles to Ali's friend's place took another hour and a half, but we ended up having a really nice time.

Saturday we got up and hit the road, stopping one last time to visit the ocean. We got to Schenectady by 4 p.m. and arrived at Ali's parent's at 8 p.m. to pick up our dog, Lucy. By 10 p.m. or so, we were all done and ready to take some time off to recuperate.

I was kind of expecting Acadia National Park to be like Stony Brook State Park (10820 State Route 36, Dansville), but alas, it's more like Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho) — only smaller in size. It would probably take a month to hike all the trails, attend all the Ranger discussions, and otherwise sample the whole place; much longer to savor it; and much longer than that to know it. I greatly enjoyed the "fractal effect" — that you could look at a grand-scaled wonder, then at the lay of the land and its geological history, then at the vegetation and stones nearby, then at the individual plants and the details in the individual pieces of stone, then at the lichens and mosses and their diversity — each time, there is something interesting to catch your eye.

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Maira Kalman at RIT

I headed to RIT (One Lomb Memorial Dr., campus map) to see Maira Kalman speak as part of The Caroline Werner Gannett Project. As far as I can tell, she's a respected artist who generally paints with a feeling of childlike innocent observation. The title of her talk was Just Looking — and I understood that to refer to the act of looking without distraction, without thinking, and without judging. Her discussion was very similar to her TED Lecture, "Maira Kalman, the illustrated woman" in case you'd like to see for yourself.

Overall I found her to be charming, witty, and kind-of irritating. She's has a disarming self-defacing kind of demeanor at this lecture — for instance, she referred to her art as "just a side thing", claiming that cleaning is her main task in life. I felt as though she gets a lot of credit for observing the small things in life that go unnoticed by the seeming majority of people. And that group, I think, finds her observations incredibly fascinating. But I, well — not so much. This kind of observation is not particularly new to me, and pretty integral to my way of life.

She also seemed to take great pride in not knowing anything — something I disliked on two levels.

First, I think it's a philosophy that attracts bad communists. By that, I mean that there is a certain kind of person who has little in the way of skills, but who feels entitled to be cared for by others. And by skills, I mean not only job-worthy skills of the day, but basic functional survival skills.

In this day and age, it's somewhat irrelevant, because despite what people who write books about winning say, this is a plentiful age. As such, "survival of the fittest" is not relevant today — we're in the equilibrium between the punctuating of the punctuated equilibrium theory of evolution. It's only during those times of dramatic hardship that hoarding and winning against your neighbor is necessary.

And so these people are not "entitled" but "lucky". True: there is a certain amount of luck to surviving when a volcano erupts and causes a tremendous change in the world's climate, but knowing how to purify water, prepare food, and build reliable shelter are things that would shift your chances of surviving. "Knowing nothing" won't help you nearly as much.

Second, the whole claim to "not knowing" is a lie. She knows full well how to observe, how to paint, how to filter the finest grains of the world — all things that show in her work. I think her point might be that "knowing" is not the be-all, end-all of existence. "Doing" is another significant part of a rewarding life — for "doing" is the only success there is; "not doing" the only failure.

But by focusing on the "not knowing", there is another kind of person who irritates me who embraces that meme: those who argue that knowledge is a folly. They're frequently also lousy communists, but occasionally they're just philosophers who are too deep in the rabbit hole. The basis for their argument is irrefutable: you cannot predict the future. If you can't predict the future, then any knowledge is barely a guess as to what's going to happen — so why try with this whole "knowing" thing at all when it's just a recording of the way things happened before?

It would be a disturbing day indeed if I had a basket of six apples and put three more in, only to find there were now 4,388 apples in the basket. But until that day, there will be nine apples in the basket. So as long as metal conducts electricity, and gravity is pretty much constant, and I can catch a ball, and the Internet does what the Internet did, I'll stick with knowing.

The trick, I think — and my interpretation of Kalman's talk — is to be able to turn it all off. It's a fascinating exercise to see the world not as objects in space, but as strangely behaving colors and shapes. To look at a tree and just see it as a trunk that splits and splits and splits ultimately into tiny twigs is good. To live in that world of wonder all the time … eh, not so much.

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Dogtown, Oh My God

After Ali and I had lunch at Dogtown Hots (691 Monroe Ave.), I headed to The Rochester Contemporary Art Gallery (137 East Ave.) to check out the installation there: Sam van Aken's Audition. Ali and I went to the opening reception last week, but both Thumper and Oh My God were works based on sound, and it was pretty much impossible to fully experience them with all the crowd noise.

I have to admit I was enamored of the idea of Oh My God: a 60-foot-long, 10-foot-high wall of mismatched speakers, impossibly arranged to form a perfect rectangle. I knew from the opening that it sporadically played voices and sounds. I sat in front of it for (what turned out to be) nearly the entirety of its 7-minute loop. The phrase "oh my God" — versions thereof collected from famous and not-so-famous media sources — emanates sporadically from one randomly-selected speaker. And then from another, and another, and so on — gradually playing more and more frequently until building to a cacophonous and overwhelming climax.

As I was letting myself get lost in the experience, I recognized a few of the voices and their sources from popular movies and television. Sometimes I'd recognize a voice that was played earlier being played in a new location. I was also aware of the digital distortion from the variety of low sampling rates and MPEG-styled compression artifacts — a specific kind of harmonic whine that tended to distract me. But certain voices I didn't recognize (save for their intonation), and they brought me specifically to the events of September 11.

In reading the information binder for Oh My God, it turns out that was, in fact, Aken's inspiration. In unavoidably viewing the terrible footage that day over-and-over until he became numb to it, the one thing that rang out was a woman's voice saying, "oh my God" in one of the clips. [In case you don't recall, the World Trade Center was destroyed by terrorists piloting hijacked commercial airplanes on September 11, 2001.]

I was kind-of saddened that the point was so … simple: that this impressive-scaled work, reminiscent of the ideally-packed order of Manhattan's maps and its skylines, was just a reflection of the numbness achieved by repetitive playback of an event by the media by creating numbness to a phrase by parroting its own frequent use in media.

I still want to like it so bad, but I'm at a loss to find any more depth in it. But hey: maybe that's the point too.

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Hogan's, Station 55, and the Bug Jar

Ali, Stacie, and I went to Hogan's Hideaway (197 Park Ave.) for dinner. I stuck with the sure bets of a good wine, French onion soup, and a grilled cheese and was not disappointed. Well, okay, except the sandwich which wasn't grilled as much as I'd like.

After that we headed to Station 55 (55 Railroad St.) for the ArtAwake event. We were surprised to find that they charged a cover at the door — not exactly an art-gallery-kosher move. I was then disappointed to find the works were not particularly impressive. Worse was that the lighting left nothing to the imagination and there were no nooks to explore. It didn't help all this any that there was no wine to be found either — which, among other things, can help loosen one's ingrained bindings with America's corporate-consumer culture. Alas, it was a big disappointment for me, and kind of kicked off the evening poorly.

So then we went to The Bug Jar (219 Monroe Ave.) a bit early to catch the bands there. Unfortunately — despite it being a rather popular headliner — GaylordMySpace link, in their last Rochester show before moving to Atlanta — the happy-hour vibe was still in full-force: blaring house music and all. I only really saw the first band, Razor Wire ShrineMySpace link who are an instrumental chaotic rock band with subtle influences from all over the place. I only caught a little of Fledgling DeathMySpace link, a thrash/heavy metal kind of band. By then the three of us were quite tired and decided to call it an early night.

In related news, The LandfillMySpace link (625 Weiland Rd.) has been shut down (related because sucky Station 55 has not — it's too milquetoast to displease the aristocracy). I recall reading it in a news clip from The City Newspaper but it doesn't appear to have made it to the online edition. I believe it was a casualty of Mayor Robert J. Duffy's plan to shut down house-parties, as I was pretty sure it was some guy's house. When I first heard of that law, I was concerned it would be abused beyond its original intent: to give police the leeway they "needed" to shut down house parties when they came upon them. Now, my vision of a house party that needs to be shut down is one that is completely out of control — where the residents have lost their ability to control the party themselves.

Once again — like the shutdown of A|V Art Sound Space (N. Union St. at Trinidad St., #8 in the Public Market, formerly the All-Purpose Room) — the creative fringe of this city has had its hands chopped off. And once again, I theorize that this will push one more of these inspirational creators to go find a tolerant city. And the Mayor and all his cronies will sit around and not care about those one or two fringe people, but to me, they inspire — and I assume so of other creative people. And unfortunately that is not a column in their spreadsheet and it doesn't compare well to tax dollars.

So, I'm left giving this advice: don't trust the police. They are not your friends. They are not there to help you. If you see them, go away from them.

I hope this is what the mayor has in mind.

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Rochester Contemporary Re-Member Closing

I got a chance to check out the closing of Re-Member at The Rochester Contemporary Art Gallery (137 East Ave.) Although I didn't find anything so captivating I couldn't leave, there were quite a few works there that I at least liked enough to keep looking at and absorbing. I didn't get a chance to see the bands but I at least got to say hi to the players — particularly Dave of Autumn In HalifaxMySpace link whom I haven't seen in months.

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Colaborating artists from Athena and Petra Designs

I stopped by The Arts and Cultural Council for Greater Rochester (277 N. Goodman St.) to listen to Melanie Updegraff, and Sharon Jeter discuss Athena and Petra Designs: Two Artists, One Product Line. What Makes It Work? It was rather fascinating and I wish I could have stayed longer, but I had to leave right at 8. Stupid America with its "this starts right now" mentality!

Anyway, the two women discussed how they collaborated artistically. First off, they were friends first — they always valued their friendship over their art; and their art over their business. Melanie commented that she thought it funny that artists can barely utter the word "business" much less deal with selling their work. I guess I can understand both sides a bit: as an artist, I'd like my art to find a home that fits rather than to just make a buck (or allow the work to be cut up for scrap) and as a businessman, I understand the importance of connecting "earning a living" with something that is rewarding. But with "Athena and Petra", they develop art that has a ready market — jewelry — so I think it's easier for them than an artist who makes works in varied media, or even "traditional" media but with widely varied styles.

But that was only part of it. They didn't have a nice easy answer to "what makes collaboration work?" Their tiered approach to their relationship was certainly a start. It seemed to me, though, that they always respected the other's opinion — they were never dismissive of an idea. They also understood the value of play: that when creativity dries up it's because it isn't fun, so fun is very important.

What I found fascinating — and I think I may track them down to get a better understanding — is that they were able to collaborate on the creative design. My understanding of collaborative projects so far is that a single creator has to own the idea, they need to understand what is important and what is not (i.e. can it be shiny or green? and is it important that it be done one specific way?), and the people who collaborate with them need to allow the creator to dictate certain aspects and let others be decided by the collaborators. What I've never seen is two people coming together to work on the same idea — Updegraff and Jeter don't split the creative process; it seems they actually collectively contribute to central design elements. As a counter-example, I've seen experimental films created where one person creates the visual experience and the other creates the auditory experience but not two people working on both.

It's killing me not to know how this all works.  But, like I said, I had to get going, so I couldn't even stay for the question-and-answer.

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