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Work/Life Balance

Vacation Space

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We recently returned from our family vacation to Colorado. It was a great opportunity to spend some time with the family in the mountains where temperatures were significantly less than they would have been had we stayed in Texas. My girls came home with fond memories of the hikes we went on and the animals we saw. I came home with fond memories of the architecture we inhabited. 

Maybe I'm biassed because of my profession but I do believe we remember where things occurred just as much as we remember what it was that happened there. Even on vacations that are spent mostly outside, the spaces that accommodated those outdoor adventures provide a framework for those memories. I'll always remember the first time I went to Disneyland with my girls but I'll remember just as much the hotel room where we stayed and the eagerness I saw on their their faces when they woke up in their bed ready to conquer the Happiest Place on Earth.

The cabin where we stayed in Colorado was for the most part unremarkable. It had a couple of bedrooms, a very small bathroom and a single living space with a small kitchenette along one wall. Of course I'll remember the views through the windows out to the mountains but I'll also remember the views inward. I'll remember looking through the open door of my girls' bedroom and seeing Darcy wide awake in the bottom bunk, ready for her next adventure.

Chances are we'll never step foot in that cabin again. Even if we did it wouldn't be the same. My girls would be older. I would be older. But my memory of the week we spent there will live forever in my mind.

They will live in an unremarkable little cabin where the views looking in were just as good as those looking out. 

 

Making Space

When my youngest daughter doesn't get what she wants she likes to pout by rolling herself up into a little ball. As a parent I can be frustrated by this behavior but as an architect I cannot help but be impressed. When Darcy tucks her head into her knees and tightly hugs her legs she is making a space that blocks out the outside world.

In a very fundamental way she is creating architecture.

Seeking shelter is an innate human desire. At its core architecture is about creating that shelter: keeping the bad things out and the good things in. That shelter can be created with wood and steel or arms and legs. That shelter can protect you from the elements or from a bossy big sister.

Thanks Again, Mr. Rogers

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A few months ago I mentioned a documentary about Mr. Rogers that aired on PBS earlier this year. Recently I had the opportunity to see a second documentary about Mr. Rogers, Won't You Be My Neighbor, and I highly recommend seeing it.

To be more precise, I highly recommend seeing it in a theater.

It's not that it has digital effects that are better experienced on the big screen. On the contrary, much of the film makes use of decidedly lo-fi TV clips from from fifty years ago. But what is rewarding about watching the documentary in a theater is sharing the experience with a group of people. That is to say the ideas of Mr. Rogers are best explored within the context of a neighborhood.

I'm not going to lie: my eyes were not dry when I left the theater and I've often teared up as I've thought about what I heard and saw. I wept not out of nostalgia for my childhood. I wept not because the mean-spirited world we live in today seems so antithetical to the one Mr. Rogers tried to cultivate. I wept because it was so beautiful to reminded that a person could exist who was so thoroughly good and kind. Even though we never met in person I felt I knew him. The world is a less kind place without him.

Over the movie's 94-minute runtime reference was made to a series of programs Mr. Rogers produced for parents as opposed to kids. Some of these specials are available online and I recently watched one of them, a 1982 program entitled Mr. Rogers Talks With Parents about Discipline. 

On the one hand, the program is a time capsule. The appearances of the assembled parents who talk about the challenges of disciplining their children are is a word, "distracting". But what these parents said back in the late 1980s sounded remarkably similar to ones I've had with fellow parents today. It was reassuring to hear that the challenges and self-doubt parents face in 2018 are the same as the ones parents faced 36 years ago. Children were no better behaved then than they are now. Parents were no less frazzled then than they are today.

Of course the most consistent presence in Mr. Rogers Talks With Parents About Discipline is Mr. Rogers himself. He made no grand pronouncements. He never judged the parents just as he never judged the children. He listened. In his soft voice he asked questions and offered thoughts about love and kindness.

Just as it was so reassuring to hear his voice talking to me as a child it was it was just as reassuring to hear his voice talking to me as a parent. "Children have very deep feelings," he said. "Just the way everybody does."

I firmly believe spending time watching Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood made me a happier, kinder child. I have always been thankful for that. Now I'm finding spending more time watching him will make me a happier, kinder parent.

Thanks again, Mr. Rogers.

 

 

Seven Years Ago

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Seven years ago I took advantage of a free flight I had on Southwest Airlines and took an evening flight to Orlando, Florida. I checked into a cheap hotel on the outskirts of town, slept for a few hours and then got up at 3am to drive to Titusville. Once there I walked about midway across a bridge where I then sat and waited for five hours.

I did this because ever since I was a boy I had wanted to experience the launch of a Space Shuttle. At 8:46 on May 16 of 2011 I was finally able to do that.

It takes about eight and a half minutes for a Space Shuttle to get into space. Unfortunately due to a low cloud bank I was only able to see about the first six seconds of that. To be sure a lot of time, effort and money went into those six seconds, but It was worth totally worth it.

I will never forget the intense brightness of the exhaust plume. I will never forget the overwhelming sense of excitement and patriotism. I will never forget how I, along with the several hundred other people on the bridge couldn't help but cheer as this amazing piece of human engineering made its way towards the heavens.

I will never forget that I am, and always will be, a complete and total nerd.

 

HiWorks at Five

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Data from the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that about half of new businesses don't survive past their fifth year. HiWorks is now officially five years old so, well, I guess that means we're awesome.

Of course one interesting (and telling) thing about this particular anniversary is that I totally forgot about it. Legal documents say HiWorks was established on November 1st of 2012. November 1st, for the record falls right smack in between Halloween and one of my daughter's birthdays. This year it was particularly busy in that we were preparing for a birthday party and had a dance performance to attend. All that is to say the anniversary came and went and I didn't even realize it until a week later.

I suppose it's a good thing that the survival of my business enterprise is no longer a noteworthy event. HiWorks today is a lot different than I would have expected five years ago. It'll be interesting to see where we are five years from now.

Leaving Home

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I found a box of old photos recently.

Now these were real photos - 4x6 prints from back when photographs were physical things that you held in your hand. I found this one picture of a rather goofy looking boy standing in front of a yellow rental truck. Although it was not timestamped I knew the photograph was taken in early July of 2000. If the picture had been taken five years later it would have been captured digitally and would have been saved on a hard drive but never printed. It would never have become a physical artifact that you could find in a box.

It is early in the morning and what you can't see is that the boy has loaded all of his worldly possessions into the rental truck behind him. In a minute he will leave his childhood home and spend two days driving a thousand miles to the north. He will get a job in a city where he knows next to no one. He will make friends. He will build a career. He will eventually move back to Texas, but he will never move back home.

He will eventually marry and have kids of his own and they will grow up in a different home in a different city. On occasion the boy will visit his old home - the one he grew up in - but he will always be a guest there.

Even when his kids are young the boy will squint and be able to imagine a time when they, too, will pack up all of their worldly possessions into a truck. Like their father before them they will leave home to create a life and a family and a home of their own. But before they do that - before they leave their home one last time - he will take their photo. He'll print out a copy of that photo and he'll send it to wherever it is his kids are going. 

His kids might not think much about the photo at first. They might think it strange to receive a photo of what they were leaving behind. They might put that photo in a box and forget about it for many years.

But one day they'll find the box. They'll look at the photo and remember the day they left home.

The Screened Porch

At the beginning of this year we finished work on a screened porch for our house. It is something we had been thinking about for as long as we've owned the house (which for the record has been about a decade). The house had an existing back porch but after we demolished it we made the counterintuitive decision to make the new porch smaller in order to make it more functional. By pulling one side away from the house, prevailing breezes could more effectively flow through and cool the space. The addition of a built-in concrete bench and a hammock ensured that the space could be used throughout the year. The lines of the original house were maintained so that the addition felt like an integral part of the original structure.

We've been using the screened porch quite a bit for outdoor meals, birthday parties and simple relaxation. We've also used it in ways we could have never imagined.

Bear Buildings

On the advice of a colleague and friend Dan Wigodsky my family and I traveled to the YMCA of the Rockies located on the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park just outside of Estes Park, Colorado. It was a great little vacation for us to go on as a family: there are tons of things to do there and the girls had never experienced mountains outside of those in west Texas. As beautiful as those may be, they have nothing on the Rockies.

One of the more memorable moments occurred when we took an aerial tramway from Estes Park up to Prospect Mountain. At the top of the mountain you can buy bags of peanuts to feed the chipmunks who have grown quite chubby on the daily handouts they receive. I suppose one could take issue with encouraging tourists actively interacting with wild animals, but man those little guys are cute and the girls had a blast watching them fill their little cheeks with nuts.

We were so engaged with the chipmunks that we didn’t notice a black bear had wandered into the area. While the humans retreated to the safety of an elevated walkway, the bear nonchalantly ambled from one trash can to another and stand on its hind legs to knock it over so it could rummage around inside for food.

We always think about architecture as a thing that is all about people: we design primarily for their needs and their comfort. But the built environment invariably exists within the natural environment and so it makes sense that animals other than people will interact with it. These interactions can be good (I’m thinking of the bat habitat that was accidentally created under the Congress Avenue bridge in Austin) or they can be bad (I’m thinking of how skyscrapers that are brightly illuminated at night can confuse and ultimately kill migrating birds).

There are black bears in the San Antonio Zoo that I’ve seen with my children on countless occasions. But watching that same kind of bear inhabit an environment created for humans was a thought-provoking experience. I haven’t reached any conclusions about what this means or what as an architect I’m supposed to do but it did make me think about things in a way I hadn’t done before.

And that is pretty much the best thing a vacation can do.

Location, Location, Location

So the Cardinal family that we watched raise a family a few months ago has returned: they built a new nest, and they laid a clutch of new eggs. Sammy found the nest - a little lower to the ground this time - and we all were looking forward to watching another set of baby chick hatching. Unfortunately tragedy struck when something - probably our neighbor's cat - decided to have some eggs for breakfast early one morning.

I have often noted that being an adult is hard. It is, but being a cardinal in the wild is apparently much, much harder.

The Architecture of the Rink

To be perfectly honest, roller skating is something that I have thought very little about in the past several decades. The only reason I mention it now is that my daughter recently read a graphic novel about roller derby that piqued her interest and she wanted to give roller skating a try. It turns out "The Rollercade" is just a little over two miles from our house and so last Saturday I took her there so we could tie rental skates to our feet and have a go of it.

I honestly can't remember the last time I had done this but my best guess is that it was around 1989 and that it was at the "Skate Connection" in Arlington. My general impression of "The Rollercade" in the late 2010s is that it is basically identical to the "The Skate Connection" in the late 1980s. The dim lighting, the disco balls and the polished parquet floor (with a rough patch in the corner where a roof leak had warped the wood) was all eerily familiar. Some of the music was new of course - songs from Taylor Swift's 1989 were not available in 1989 - but "The Hokey Pokey" and "Thriller" seemed to be played directly from the playlist of my youth.

Although modern four-wheeled roller skates and the rinks where they were deployed date back to the mid-1800s they became a staple of the American suburb in the 1950s. The wellspring of post-war American suburbs, Levittown, naturally had its own mid-century skating rink. Roller skating underwent a renaissance in the late 1970s and early 1980s when polyurethane wheels improved the skating experience and disco music gave skaters something to do

Although the inline skating boom of the 1990s saw a renewed interest in skating as a sport, part of their appeal was that this type of skating could occur on any paved surface and so did not require a trip to the local rink. As a result the skating rink itself remained in a state of arrested development: the lights may be updated to LED and Tab may no longer be offered at the soda fountain but otherwise the roller skating rink of the 2010s is basically the same as the one of the 1980s. 

A roller skating rink is a singular architectural experience. Like a bowling alley or a baseball stadium it is a place whose sights, sounds and smells are instantly familiar even if you haven't been inside one for a quarter of a century. I hope the memories my daughter made last weekend survive as long as mine have.

I hope "The Rollercade" survives that long as well.

The Armadillo

If you lived in a world where armadillos did not exist and suddenly had one thrust upon you, it would be natural to assume this bizarre thing was some sort of alien creature from another world. Indeed, it is an animal like no other.

Of course growing up in Texas the armadillo is merely a part of the normal landscape like bluebonnets and an overabundance of firearms. They are the butt of jokes (re: the Texas speed bump), an important part of the music scene (re: Armadillo World Headquarters) and can even be used as a musical instrument themselves (re: the incredibly disturbing charango).

At any rate, a fez of armadillos recently started hanging out in in the front yard of my in-laws home and like honey badgers, armadillos don't care. When I arrive to pick up my girls in the afternoon they are out and about rummaging around in the dirt for bugs to eat (the armadillos are the ones eating bugs - not my daughters). Unlike other animals, they don't seem to mind that that we are watching and taking pictures of them while squealing with joy (my daughters are the ones that are squealing - not the armadillos). They go about their business, protected as they are by their thick skin. And if they get into trouble, they merely roll up into a ball until the problem goes away.

We could learn a lot form the armadillo, regardless of what planet they come from.

C: None Of The Above

Life often presents us with what appear to be opposite, binary choices. Something is good or bad, black or white, left or right. As I grow older I am constantly reminded of how things are in reality located on a spectrum. Something can be both good and bad. Almost everything exists as a shade of grey.

Being a father reminds of this fact every day.

Take my youngest daughter, Darcy, for example. At four-years-old she can be an absolute terror. And she can be an absolute joy. She wakes up ungodly early in the morning and yet I can't wait to see her and give her little body a big hug. She is stubborn and illogical and yet she can be incredibly sweet and see things in a way I never could as an adult. She doesn't see the world in terms of "A" or "B" but instead she sees all the possibilities that exist in between. Rather than choose to run up the ramp or take the stairs she chooses to climb the wall that separates the two.

This is but one of the many reasons why I love her and her big sister.

An Open Letter To John Cornyn

One of my two senators recently reached out to his constituents to solicit stories about their personal experiences with the Affordable Care Act. Even though I'm pretty sure he's already made up his mind on the issue I appreciated the gesture. I shared my story with him and I thought you might be interested as well:

May 18, 2017

Dear Senator Cornyn:

I appreciate you reaching out to your constituents regarding their personal experiences with Obamacare. I imagine you have received a range of responses but I wanted to take you up on your offer and share with you the part the 2010 law has played in my life these past few years.

For me the passage of Affordable Care Act will always be closely tied to my decision to start my own business. For years I had wanted to establish an architecture firm of my own but like countless other aspiring small business owners I had a family to consider and had to make the difficult calculus of determining whether or not making a such a professional move would endanger the welfare of that family.

The largest single concern for us at the time was the high cost of health insurance. 

As you will recall before the implementation of the Affordable Care Act the cost private insurance was egregiously large. Even the health insurance I had been receiving through my employer had experienced double-digit premium increases for many years before.

Because the Affordable Care Act promised reasonable rates for self-employed individuals such as myself I had the confidence to launch HiWorks. Although there were many things that kept me up at night those first few years, health insurance was never one of them. When it came time to make use of the Health Insurance Marketplace we found the website reasonably easy to navigate and we were able to find a plan that matched our previous one. Even though we received no subsidies our premiums actually cost a little less and we were able to keep our doctors.

Our experience was a good one. I know that doesn't match the story that is often told but I can honestly say our experience was positive - or at least as positive as one can expect dealing with health insurance.

It should be mentioned that I come to this topic from a relative position of privilege. Our family could afford health insurance before Obamacare and we could after it was implemented as well. For me the real benefit of the law was that it ultimately allowed many more Americans to have health insurance. Even if I had ultimately paid more for my premiums I would consider it a bargain if those less fortunate than me might gain coverage for their families.

I understand that the Affordable Care Act has its flaws and issues that need to be corrected. I see it as the responsibility of my elected officials to fix those flaws and address those issues. I wish that could have been done over the last seven years.

I am happy to report that my business is doing well and that my family is healthy. But I would be lying if I said I was not concerned about the House’s passage of the American Health Care Act. I realize the bill in its current state is merely a starting point but I do feel it heads in a problematic direction. Specifically I take issue with the proposed removal of the safeguards that prevent insurers from raising insurance rates for preexisting conditions.

You see, I am asthmatic and I have been all my life. I also have a father with heart disease. I have a friend with multiple sclerosis and a business partner with brain cancer. At the moment all of these conditions are manageable with the high quality of health care we enjoy. However each of these represents a preexisting condition that insurers could exploit under the House proposal. The fact my wife gave birth to our two children may also qualify as a preexisting condition that could cause our rates to increase as well.

I realize we are now talking about hypotheticals and there is considerable uncertainty moving forward. I do not envy your position as I know your constituents are evenly divided on this issue. As the senior Senator you are in a unique position to provide leadership and work to repair the existing law or develop a new one that offers the same protections that all Americans deserve.

I hope the perspective I have described here has been helpful. I thank you for your service-

-J. Brantley Hightower

Happy Mother's Day Ms. Cardinal

It's spring in Texas and outside our family room window a group of cardinals have built a nest. I've personally enjoyed paying special attention to the family dynamics. Male (bright red) and female (dull brown) cardinals mate for life and during courtship males have been known to try and impress the target of their affections by feeding them. Both male and female share responsibility for feeding and raising their young although it should be noted the female takes the lead in nest building as females are better architects.

Our family has enjoyed watching their family in the week leading up to Mother's Day. It has reminded us of the important role mothers (and fathers) play in tending to insatiable and demanding fledglings.

 

Meanwhile in Boulder...

I was in Colorado this last week for reviews at the University of Colorado at Boulder. While there I was able to see some cool sites, visit with some good friends and even experience some snow. Being as how highs were in the 90s in Texas when I left, the later item was quite remarkable.

I went on a hike with my fellow HiWorks associate, Betsy Johnson, because apparently that's what people do for fun in Boulder. We walked up the foothills of the Flatirons and as we did we talked of many things. We talked about our work, our families and our ambition. We talked about Bjarke Ingels and weather or not we should/could be as successful/famous as he is at his age.

It was during this conversation that we realized that we didn't exactly know weather Mr. Ingels was from The Netherlands, Denmark or Holland. We tried to figure this out without looking it up but we were unable to do so. We eventually resorted to Wikipedia and there was good reason for us to be confused.

Denmark (where Bjarke Ingels is from) and The Netherlands (where fellow architect Rem Koolhaas is from) are both countries that border Germany; Denmark to the north and The Netherlands to the west. "Holland" actually refers to a region of The Netherlands but is often informally (if imprecisely) used to refer to all of The Netherlands just like people sometimes say "England" when they are actually talking about The United Kingdom

People from Denmark are Danes. People from The Netherlands are Dutch. This makes no sense whatsoever but is explained in this helpful and entertaining video.

This public service message has been brought to you today by HiWorks.

"Good Morning America How Are You?"

This week was spring break in San Antonio and my family decided to go visit my parents up in Arlington. We do this every few months and now that we have two girls we usually just drive. Although navigating I–35 and all its associated joys may be the least expensive option it is by no means the most pleasant. Clara and I were less-than-enthusiastic about the possibility of spending five-or-so hours in a car with small children when some friends of ours mentioned they were taking the train to St. Louis.

The train: why hadn’t we thought of that sooner?

For those lucky enough to have access to private automobiles and commercial air travel, Amtrak exists somewhere between a quaint anachronism and a punch line. Although trains on the Northeast Corridor run often enough to be usable, those elsewhere on the network do not. Departure times are notoriously inconvenient in my hometown. For example the romantically named “Sunset Limited” that heads west towards Los Angeles departs San Antonio at the decidedly unromantic time of 2:45am.

I could spend this post talking about passenger rail transportation in America from a historical / political standpoint: how federal subsidies of first the highway system and later commercial air travel helped kill the passenger rail industry in the United States after the Second World War; how the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (better known as Amtrak) was formed in 1971 as a public/private entity to ensure the continuation of passenger rail service; how Amtrak never managed to turn a profit in the 45 years since it was created.

I could do that, but I won’t.

Instead I want to simply mention what a joy it is to travel by train. Even when traveling through familiar country, you see it from a completely different perspective. You enter towns not through a continuous loop of chain fast food restaurants and gas stations, but through their figurative and literal back yards. You see the mowed lawns of homes that back up to the tracks before seeing the grain elevators and warehouses of the towns themselves.

You see the landscape in between not through the the tiny window of a commercial airliner at 30,000 feet, but through a wide picture window bigger than those of many houses. Instead of being crammed inside an aluminum cylinder you have room to stretch out and the freedom to walk about. You get to experience the architecture of a train before experiencing the architecture of your destination. 

Of course, our trip to Fort Worth and back again took over two hours longer than it would have had we driven and had all the inconveniencea of hauling luggage and arranging transportation to and from the the train station / airport. Still, the girls had fun and it was a memorable experience. It is an experience that will probably need to live in our memories as the current administration plans to defund Amtrak among other things it deems frivolous.

Maybe passenger rail travel is unnecessary in the grand scheme of things. Maybe trying to make a nineteenth century mode of transportation relevant in the twenty-first century is a fool's errand.

Or maybe that's what make it so wonderful.

 

Moving On

I was going to stay up until midnight tonight - not so much to ring in the new year but to ring out the old one.

2016 was a rough year and its roughness was remarkably varied. Between the hail, the election and the brain tumor, it was hard to know which direction the sucker punch would come from next.

Of course on paper it was a good year for HiWorks. Financially we were prosperous even if artistically and philosophically we were somewhat less so. As architects we serve the needs of our clients but we also serve a greater public good. We need to do a better job of that next year. We need to live up to our potential and do what we said we were going to do: we need to build a better world since it's clearly not going to build itself. 

That's a tall order as there's a lot of work to do. When facing large challenges it's best to start with a good night's sleep.

So good night and good riddance to 2016. We'll see you next year.

On Visiting Santa (and Chewbacca)

We took the girls to visit Santa this week; something we've tried to do every year. The line was long, the girls were impatient and when they were finally seated on Santa's lap, Sammy asked Santa for the one thing we weren't able to find for her.

But our Santa is a skilled Santa. He saw how Mommy and Daddy cringed at the mention of the word "Hatchimal" and modified his response accordingly. He said the elves were having a hard time making enough of those up at the North Pole. He asked if there was anything else Sammy wanted and she replied, "Surprise me." Clara and I breathed a sigh of relief. 

Well done, Santa. Well done.

We know the number of Christmases where our kids will believe in Santa are finite: for all we know this may be Sammy's last year to believe. But that's OK. I think she'll still want to visit Santa. I still do. Even as an adult whenever I interact with someone in a Santa suit I do feel something. Even though I know it's just a guy in a suit there's still a part of me that gets a little excited and a little nervous like I'm meeting a celebrity. It was like when we had our photo taken with Chewbacca at Disneyland. Of course it was just a tall cast member in a furry suit, but it was still pretty cool for the girls. And for Daddy.

We suspend our disbelief not because we choose to but because it's part of our nature as humans. We want to believe there is magic in the world and so we invent stories and legends and architectures to amplify that world and give it meaning. In doing so we do indeed make the world a more wonderful place.

And so from all of us to all of you, Merry Christmas.

Regarding Kenny

As I go through life I'll often find reoccurring themes in people I meet. Someone I meet today in San Antonio might possess a similar collection of characteristics to someone I met decades ago when I was in college in Austin. I know it's problematic to categorize people into "types" but it's something we all do.

Still, every once in a while you meet a person who doesn't really fit any existing definition. There is no category that adequately describes the unprecedented mixture of qualities they embody. They are an outlier.

Kenny Brown was one such person.

I first met Kenny when I started working at Lake|Flato back in 2002. "Buff" and "tattooed" and "physically intimidating" are not descriptions usually given to members of the architecture profession. And yet Kenny was all those things. He also incredibly focused and really good at his job. When I would arrive at the office early he would often already be there.

He also happened to be an incredibly sweet human being.

Kenny and I were never close friends but we we ran in the same professional and social circles. Years after both he and I left Lake|Flato we shared office space together. He was always helpful to me and incredibly kind to my daughters. He would let them play with his dog and Sammy in particular was taken by Kenny (see above: no girl can resist a bad boy on a bike).

Kenny was involved in a horrific motorcycle accident back in September and although we all hoped and prayed he would eventually recover, we learned this past Saturday that was to be. 

I'm not smart enough to divine the meaning of a tragedy such as this. I know Kenny touched the lives of many and that he will be dearly missed. We will miss him all the more because we know we'll never meet another quite like him.

The Analog Past vs. The Digital Future

We were up in Fort Worth this Thanksgiving to spend time with my family. In order to work off some of the massive amount of calories we had ingested the day before, on Friday we decided to take the girls to the Fort Worth Science and History Museum. The girls enjoyed the trip but I came away a little disoriented.

The museum played an important role in my childhood. It was THE museum we would go to as it was only about a half-hour from our house. My brother and I attended "Museum School" there during the summer and we both have fond memories of exploring its vast and sometimes creepy collection of artifacts. The diorama of a neolithic trepanning was especially memorable / frightening: it featured 3/4 scale cave men holding down and cutting into the head skull of one of their comrades.

Good, clean family fun.

The museum underwent a major renovation in 2007. The resulting building is almost entirely new and is completely unrecognizable from the one I knew as a kid. The physical reality of the museum has no connection to its former self. The exhibits have changed significantly as well. It's now much more of a interactive "children's" museum than the "natural history" museum that I knew it to be. The museum I knew exists only in the nostalgic "Hidden Treasures: Celebrating 75 Years" exhibit on the second floor.  More interactive museums are clearly where the money is these days - there and in the oil and gas industry. The largest and most impressive exhibit was dedicated to telling the magical story of hydraulic fracking to the next generation of young Texans. 

While we were at the museum we also watched a show at the Noble Planetarium. Like many other planetariums, it has switched from an analog to a digital method of presentation (Fort Worth has a dual system that has both digital and analog capabilities, but the attendant I spoke to says they only use the newer technology). In other words, rather than seeing a field of stars projected mechanically through a "star ball" with holes cut for individual stars, several computerized LCD projectors are deployed to cast an animated image of the universe onto the planetarium dome. 

There are certainly advantages to this approach. LCD technologies have the advantage of allowing video to be projected rather than just stars. The show we watched featured Big Bird and Elmo explaining how to find the North Star. That would have been impossible in the planetarium that existed when I was a kid.

Then again, the resolution and dynamic range of LCD projects is less than their analog predecessors. Or at least I think they are. The show we watched on Friday was muddy and blurry. The shows I remember going to as a kid were bright and crisp. Or at least I remember them being that way. My memory could be flawed.

It is hard to compare what is now with what was many years ago. We tend to remember things being bigger when we were smaller. We also remember things being more impressive when our world of experiences were more limited. It can be disorienting trying to rectify these past memories with current realities. The past will always be clearer because we know how it all turned out. The future will always be muddier and blurrier because we do not.