Saturday, March 15, 2008

It's a Question of Aesthetics

I was an undergrad at the California State University in Hayward in 1993, and was really ready to graduate. I had applied to grad school and been accepted, and although I still had 2 quarters of course work to complete, there was really only one quarter remaining before I had to start graduate work.

So I concocted a crazy plan. Take all the classes (30 units) in one quarter, and if I don't pass -- take an incomplete and finish in the few remaining weeks. That required that I get the Dean's approval, and I swear that's the only time I ever met him.

Dr. Russ Abrams, a philosopher, after accepting my initial argument that, as a senior and fairly smart guy, I could probably easily pass his freshman level course in Clear Thinking if I only attended every other class (since he seemed to do everthing twice), seemed genuinely glad to see me when I showed at his class every other session. I was candid, and so was he; I asked the frequent question and he needed that. So we got along fine.

When I got the first test score back and it was an 18%, I freaked, confident I was going to fail. The highest score was a 98 and I was second, and as it turns out, a "B".

So we marched through 11 weeks of that ... me with an 18% B and he and I enjoying delightful conversations about my grandmother the astronaut, and other unbelievable but possibly true characters. I succeeded despite such poor attendance, and he revealed that I deserved an "A", however, since I had taken the course pass/fail ... I would just pass. Rumour has it that had I taken all those 30 units for grades I would have graduated summa cum laude. But, that's just a rumour.

On the final lecture Russ gave me a great treat. He made the astounding argument that Mathematics, because of it's principle of elegance, ultimately is founded on a principle of art. I don't think I have failed him at all in taking this to mean that Art itself is of the highest order in the realm of knowledge. I have many arguments in my life about the importance of art in understanding the world.

SO I was a bit surprised during the last job interview I went to when I was informed "I don't think I've ever interviewed any one with a Master of Fine Arts degree." "Then I guess it's your lucky day," says I. Guess who didn't get the job.
User Interface design, games, usage, etc. ... are all about aesthetics, which I am a recognized expert in. I don't know what they were thinking. I think they might have been a bit full of themselves.

A lot of what we do in our lives is about aesthetics ... In San Francisco, they made it against the law to use styrofoam containers for take out food, and outlawed plastic bags at grocery stores because they are bad for the environment. Personally I think that the noise stryrofoam makes would have been sufficient cause, not to mention the smell of it when it vaporizes. Or the fact that everyone in town knows what you've bought because it's in a shapeless, formless, semi-transparent, plastic bag. A paper bag has strength, character, wisdom, and it's a pretty good source of fuel. A paper bag is much more aesthically pleasing than a plastic bag.

But never mind that. It was the right thing to do -- and since we all hate that sound -- we're all better off. Amen.

This week, I am going to Durango, Colorado with my son, to look at going to college there. He doesn't really want to go. I said "Whoa, I would go there." Skiing, rafting, hiking, the San Juan mountains, nice. Wilderness. He doesn't want to go to Colorado. He wants to stay here. Even my son is making aesthetic choices. He doesn't want the wilderness, he wants to be in the city. Here.

Here. I am working in information. I live in a house that is shared by my family. I am a contractor, a mercenary. A hacker. My contract is up in May. My kids are both adults. I had this idea that I might go get a summer job and spend my summer in Alaska, Moab, or Yosemite, or Yellowstone ... ya know, drop out for a bit. Hike the Pacific Crest Trail.

Now, my current assignment would like to make me permanent. That is going to screw my plan. My job is not that attractive. It's really about aesthetics. I think I'll tell them no. And go anyway.

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