Issue #163 - The Spaces in Between
It’s been a busy week and I’ll try and get through as much as I can. I wondered about separating everything but you know, that’s how it goes, maybe next week will be busy too, even through I have to say the schedule is a little sparse for now, I know I’ll be catching up with colleagues and trying to get ahead of my writing schedule.
I have to tell you too that I kicked off the week with an evening boating on the three rivers, enjoying CWP’s annual Beer Barge with incredible views of the city, music, beer, cookies and good company.
I’m writing Thursday evening and at the time this issue drops into your inbox, we’ll be driving west on I-70 through Columbus and the I-71 to Cincinnati. My eldest has a soccer tournament, so we’re all going, heading to some nondescript hotel in the middle of Ohio down the road from a college or school that has acres of sports fields, for three, possibly four games if they get through the qualifiers.
There’s a swimming pool at the hotel, we’ll enjoy a meal with the team and a few beers with the other soccer parents, and maybe a few hours to have a drive around and check out the area. I know this sounds like we’re not enthused about the trip, but it is fun to watch him play, he loves playing and the games can be quite exciting. Just wish it wasn’t so far away…
Especially as I really just want to read and recover, it’s been a busy week and my eyelids are sending urgent rest signals. I’ll have an early night. I can’t cover it all, so I’ve included a few nuggets from the week. I’ll definitely revisit some things in future issues. Here we go.
Spaces to Connect
This is the last week of teaching, and I’ve attended a few end of semester presentations and shows, there are a couple more to follow, just before graduation (or commencement as they call it here). I was wondering about hiring a gown, but I won’t be handing out any awards, so put on a suit and join the audience of proud parents and friends and share in the pride and admiration that these young people so richly deserve.
On Wednesday I attended my the Intro to Physical Computing final critique, where five groups of students presented the designs they’ve created for local people living with disability. The clients themselves attended and was so great to see how these projects has come together. There was a food thermometer and timer for a user with chromatic vision deficiency, who can’t judge whether meat that he’s cooking is done, just by the color.
There were a couple of solutions to help users with schedules, either with visual or voice-based reminders, and an excellent custom phone holder and alarm clock to help ensure that a client always put their phone in the right place (with a sensor and LED array). I need that! The solution was elegant, and designed to fit on a wheelchair armrest.
The other creation that stood out for me was a wonderful mood signifier for someone who prefers non-verbal communication, there were touch sliders and buttons designed the help the user convey various emotional states or needs. I just thought this was brilliant and again, could see its use in so many contexts.
I have to commend the class and my brilliant colleague Zach, who instructed the students. There are just so many facets to the learning, the designs were superb, and it was clear that the teams had not only listened closely to their clients requests, but learned about their lives and created empathetic solutions that spoke to their interests and character.
I’ll maybe say more about some of the other sessions I attended, this is such a wonderful time of year and I just wish I’d been able to see everything, from calligraphy exhibitions, musical performances, design and engineering showcases, and also hear graduates defending dissertations. The place has been buzzing with activity.
This week we launched a new virtual reality project for the room, called “We Belong Here”, it highlights the terrible rise in anti-asian hate crime and the increase in verbal and physical attacks on the AAPI community, stoked by political rhetoric and racism during the pandemic. In 2021 eight people, six of them Asian women, were killed in Atlanta in a mass-shooting. When Californian Hong Lee was abused and threatened, she responded by organizing, founding Seniors Fight Back, a group dedicated to teaching straightforward self-defense skills and raising awareness about anti-asian hate crime. The organization empowers the AAPI community with tools and resources to defend themselves against acts of violence and racism, and has now run hundreds of sessions, working with groups across the US.
Hong features in the VR film, and on Monday we welcome Julia and Ron, two expert self-defense instructors to run a workshop at CMU. As the weather was just about okay, we decided to head out onto the cut, the open grass area on campus, where we learned some moves that we might employ if we feel unsafe or threatened. I was amazed to learn that our instructor Ron Scholesdang is an MMA and Muay Thai World Champion! Later that evening, I watched some of fights with my son and couldn’t quite believe how the warm and smiley guy I’d spent the day with, could become such a focussed and mean fighter when he steps into the ring, what a pro.
After the self-defense session we came back to the room to host a conversation with Hong Lee and the film’s director, Jaehee Cho, who I’ve worked with for a number of years now and displays a similar level of professionalism and craft that Ron does when dispatching opponents. Jaehee’s work explores challenging themes through the use of immersive technologies, finding ways to tell stories that many of us might rather not face, in a way that is sensitive and again demonstrates empathy, treating subjects with great integrity. It was a privilege to host the event and make space for our participants, certainly we’ll stay in touch and hope that we can continue the collaboration.
Lost and Found
On Tuesday evening I managed to fit in a gig, heading out after a full day to Pittsburgh’s Spirit Lodge, a wonderful venue in the Lawrenceville neighborhood. Playing that night was Shana Cleveland, usually the lead singer of surf noir band La Luz, and this time playing her solo material, 60’s and 70’s influenced folk and psychedelia. Shana and her band, a simple quartet or keys, pedal steel, drums and acoustic guitar played songs from her new record Manzanita, which is a wonderful follow up to her debut Night of the Worm Moon. It was a sparse crowd, but the show was so intimate and beautiful. Shana’s a storyteller, her song woven delicately with themes of motherhood, hope and loss. I enjoyed listening to her talking with the audience, it felt like watching some incredibly talented friends who’d just drifted into town for the evening.
I tell you it’s been quite a week, because on Wednesday evening we spent an evening in the company of Colson Whitehead, the writer of many books including The Underground Railroad, Harlem Shuffle, and The Nickel Boys. It was great hearing him speak to a full auditorium, guiding us through his books, how what he enjoyed or put up with as a writer. His books jump genres, and include sci-fi and crime, alongside the historical novels that fictionalize aspects of Black history. I’ve read a few of his books now and I’m struck with how they’re paced, like movies, capturing the reader, gripping and exciting, although often unflinching and hard hitting. We had a wonderful evening, he has an easy presence, and we laughed and cried as he guided us through his universe, from childhood to adult life, in his self-deprecating, intelligent and perceptive manner.
I’m only slightly pleased that Rugby practice was cancelled tonight, it’s been a full week and at least we all get the chance to recharge our batteries before we head off on our travels. It’s probably going to rain all day tomorrow while we’re on the interstate, but the weekend promises to be good weather.
I hope that you’re well, I know if you’re teaching that you’re getting to the business end of your courses and it’s exhausting, trying to find time to get things done and think ahead to what you need to do in the summer. Hang in there.
See you next week.