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The James Turrell Skyspace
December 3rd, 2013 | View Post
Today I had the pleasure of being invited to one of the most amazing visual art installments I have ever seen anywhere in the world. The piece was created by James Turrell and sits atop the Student Activity Center on the University of Texas at Austin campus.

I most certainly cannot do the piece justice in words, but I will try to describe it objectively. Atop the student building is an oval-shaped concrete dome. There is a single entrance on the east side. Inside are polished concrete seats wrapping the edges, save for the entrance. The seats are angled so that the viewer can more comfortably gaze up at the ceiling. All of the walls and ceiling are painted white; the seats are a darker gray. In the middle of the white ceiling is an oval-shaped hole. The viewer sits on the seat and stares into the sky through this hole, of course only able to see a small bit of the sky at any given time.

Less than an hour from sundown (and sunrise), the light show begins. As the lights [very] slowly rotate through a series of vivid colors, the viewer gets entirely lost in the color-shifting effects in the sky. As the surrounding light changes, it contrasts the sky so vividly that the juxtaposed images appear to shift the color of the sky. Of course that is not actually the case at all and instead our eyes simply perceive this to be happening. The color differential also creates an illusion that the opening in the ceiling is a floating egg (or similar physical entity). It's incredibly surreal, peaceful, and amazing.

A view of the dusky sky surrounded by yellow lighting. This was my favorite color sequence. When I would let the scene take over my eyes, I thought the scene looked like a giant sunflower.

Another photo just to show how significant the color difference makes to the sky.

Although I wasn't previously familiar with Turrell by name, I actually had the pleasure of seeing one of his private light installments on a daily basis for over a year. I worked as a contractor for Dimensional Fund Advisors in their Austin office near Bee Caves. If you're not familiar with them, DFA is an incredibly successful mutual fund company that was started by David Booth in Santa Monica, California. They moved their headquarters to Austin about five years ago and built one of the most amazing buildings I have ever seen. As it happens, David's wife, Suzanna Booth, is a huge proponent of the arts. The entire building is essentially a private art museum and the Turrell piece is just one of many amazing elements within it.

So although I already really enjoyed the artist, this was the first time I had the pleasure of actually learning about him. I would highly recommend it to anyone, especially those interested in the visual arts.

Backstage with Snoop and MIA
November 10th, 2013 | View Post

MIA half-way through her set on Saturday night. One of her dancers looked to be about 12 years old.
A lovely friend of mine was able to get me a pair of backstage passes (playfully known as "Homie" passes) to this year's Fun Fun Fun Fest. Having never actually gone before, I thought this would be the year to check it out. My good friend from São Paulo, Brazil also happened to be in town and so naturally he and I took advantage of the access.

I'm undoubtedly the furthest one can be from caring about celebrities and all of that, but it's still kind of amusing to see the artists hanging out before major performances. Day one was especially amusing. I really only went backstage because there were private bathrooms available, but was directed over to the trailers with Snoop Dog and company (or Snoop Lion - whatever four-legged creature he may be these days). If I'd come prepared with the proper organic ingredients, I'd have walked right over to him just to say it happened. But alas, I am not that cool.

We left the show early enough to walk to the State Theater and saw Kyle Dunnigan, Doug Benson, and Sarah Silverman. I think Doug was actually my favorite of the three.

Day two was pretty cool only because we got there early enough to see a number of bands backstage from the "Orange Stage". We also accidentally ran into Craig Robinson (from the office), but didn't actually get to see him at the Mohawk later that night (it was absurdly to capacity with a line wrapping the block - namely due to Tenacious D). We stuck around for most of MIA's show having bribed the backstage attendee with beer thus ensuring we kept a great viewing spot. Outside of playing with the band, I don't think we could have gotten any better seats.

Grandparent Teaching Photos
November 9th, 2013 | View Post

Catherine Ludlow presiding over her class. Side observation: high schoolers used to look incredibly old.

Howard Ludlow Sr. presiding over his class (or at least I assume there exists a class out of frame)
My dad recently came across a few photos he had tucked away of my grandparents (his respective parents) teaching in their fields. I found this a little surprising seeing on how I have archived thousands upon thousands of our family photos and albums and thought that I had all of them. Nevertheless, I'm always happy to come across more photos for the catalog.

My grandmother was a high school Spanish teacher (amongst other fields I'm sure) and my grandfather was a professor and dean of the economics school at Seton Hall University in New Jersey.

They were both in academics for the entirety of their lives (and incidentally died within just a few months of one another).
The Symphonic House of Michigan
September 30th, 2013 | View Post
As part of my recent visit to Grand Rapids, Michigan, we took a 2-day road trip to northern Michigan. It was just me, my dear friend Mark, and a new friend Felip. We explored the Sleeping Bear Dunes, Traverse City, countless wineries and cider shops, and perhaps most interesting, a piece of real estate for sale known globally as The Symphonic House.

The house was incredible. The house was beautiful. The house was unique.

It was constructed with countless forms of recycled wood, glass, and metal, and was simply wonderful to experience. Every room was built to serve a function. Certain windows were designed to catch the sounds of the wind through the nearby pine trees. Others were designed to echo the gentle sounds of the waves from Lake Michigan. The back steps of the house led to the private beach, a lagoon-like cove of the Great Lake. The house was only 6,200 square feet. It may seem large, but not with a price tag of roughly $4.5 million. The costs were due to the house being an architectural dream.

Beyond all of that, the most fascinating part of the house was that it was built to be playable. I know it sounds a little crazy. Essentially the architect had installed various sets of brass strings roughly 30 feet in length in various rooms. The most prominent ones were accessible from the second story and ran over the main living room area. They were attached along two structural trusses in the house with wooden sound boxes set behind them to catch resonating strings. With rosin-laden gloves, the house could literally be played.

And how could I not?

Even better is that we had the added benefit of getting a personal "behind-the-scenes" tour of the architecture from the architect himself, David Hanawalt. Mark had spoken with him a few days earlier and managed to set it up. It was a truly unique experience for all of us!
Monday Evening Piano
August 20th, 2013 | View Post
I've been going up to the UT School of Music for years to play on the pianos. I've never been a particularly good pianist, but I thoroughly enjoy playing. I went up there about a week ago and was disappointed to find all of the practice rooms locked; I thought they had instituted a new policy.

I went back yesterday to check on this and was happy to have been proven wrong.

Canyon Lake Gorge Private Tour
August 19th, 2013 | View Post
There is a geological formation in Central Texas unlike any other place in the world, or so I'm told. Thanks to some wonderful connections, I was able to go on a private tour of this geological wonderland over the weekend.

Over the July 4th weekend of 2002, two massive storms collided over Central Texas and dumped rain for days. The results were cataclysmic. New Braunfels and Canyon Lake were two of the greater causalities in the state with Canyon Lake filling to one and a half times its capacity. When the pressure built up enough and the spillway didn't hold, a massive rush of water began to flow destroying everything in its path, including the Earth itself.

The very fact that this is possible fascinates me, but a new canyon was carved into the Earth in a long weekend. Think of a very small version of the Grand Canyon. This is what is known as the Canyon Lake Gorge.

My friend Mark knows one of the caretakers and naturists and was able to get us on a private tour of the canyon. It was only about a 1.80 mile hike, but we experienced an elevation decline of about 220 feet and traveled back through time about 1.5 million years (between the beginning and end of the hike).

The canyon is full of fault lines, fossils, and incredibly well-preserved dinosaur tracks.

A view of the canyon. The water has that milky blue look due to the limestone deposits in it

Pretty incredible fossils

Evidently one of the most visible fault lines in the entire world

Posing inside one of the caves along the way