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May 31, 2009

New York Earth Room — by Walter De Maria

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Long story short: Located at 141 Wooster Street in New York City, the 1977 work (above) contains 140 tons of dirt. The piece has been on permanent display since 1980.

Here's William Powers' May 20, 2009 Washington Post article about his visit.

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A Sanctuary of Dirt in New York

The scent of soil arrested my nostrils as I stepped into "The New York Earth Room" in Manhattan's trendy SoHo district. Before me: a fortune in indoor floor space tied up with nothing more than 280,000 pounds of loamy dirt.

Stunned, for several minutes I could do little but stare. Light poured in through several windows, glistening on the textured soil. I vaguely registered the muted sound of a cab passing outside. Only a knee-high sheet of Plexiglas separated me from the dirt. There were no other visitors, but that was not particularly surprising. The art installation is way too avant-garde to advertise, or even put up a sign out front; you have to hear about it from someone in the know.

In the quiet behind me, I heard breathing and swiveled to see a tall man with an Elvis-style flop of hair: Bill Dilworth, the "Earth Room's" keeper. He told me that this "piece" has been on permanent display -- astonishingly -- since 1980. But the number of visitors has doubled since last year.

"Why is it becoming more popular?" I asked.

His cryptic reply: "Earth."

To clarify, he gestured out the window to a changing climate choked with greenhouse gases. "And there are two other reasons: First, we're in a recession, and the 'Earth Room' is free. Second, it's a sanctuary in crisis. Safe, and priestly."

And bizarre. On a tip from Dilworth, I walked up Prince Street to West Broadway and entered another chic SoHo building with vaulted ceilings and almost nothing else. The vast room was 99 percent empty space, with 1 percent occupied by 500 highly polished solid-brass rods arranged in rows. As I absorbed the luminous shine of that golden, broken kilometer, I gradually tuned in to the silence around it.

Both the "Earth Room" and "The Broken Kilometer" are the work of ingenious Manhattan artist Walter De Maria. Formerly of the Velvet Underground rock band, he's a towering figure in late-20th-century conceptual and minimal art, along with Andy Warhol, John Chamberlain and Dan Flavin. De Maria is best known for his answer to Stonehenge, "The Lightning Field," a visually arresting 1-mile-by-1-kilometer arrangement of lightning rods in Quemado, N.M.

De Maria's SoHo rooms have been loyally maintained in dirt and rods for 30 years by the low-profile but highly influential Dia Art Foundation, backed by an austere French clan, the de Menils of Texas. The foundation wants to tear down the idea of temporary exhibitions. "Bring the art to a place," said another of Dia's founders, Heiner Friedrich, "and let it speak over time."

When I returned to the "Earth Room" two days later, Dilworth was, of course, there. He has been there, in fact, for two decades. I was going to ask him about De Maria but instead heard myself ask, "Does anything ever grow in there?"

"Mushrooms, sometimes," Dilworth said. No, not Elvis; with his bushy eyebrows, Dilworth actually looked more like Tom Waits. He pushed the unruly bangs off his forehead and told me he "routinely" ate the mushrooms.

Indeed.

"Do you water it?" I asked. Yes, he rakes and waters the dirt and scrubs the walls clean of mold. The late-afternoon light cast an otherworldly phosphorescence on all that soil, and the silence grew thicker. Dilworth seemed heavy with intriguing secrets. So did De Maria's earth sculpture.

De Maria does not grant interviews to art historians or journalists. In fact, he never talks about his work, saying only that it's to be experienced directly or not at all. So I boarded a train at Grand Central Terminal to directly experience his 1976-77 "Silver Meters" and "Gold Meters" at Dia: Beacon, a mega-museum in the quaint riverside town of Beacon, up the Hudson from the city.

I knew the Dia foundation was flush with money. But I didn't realize it was fabulously, ridiculously flush with money until I arrived at Dia: Beacon's colossal 240,000 square feet of space housing the work of a few dozen contemporary artists. Joseph Beuys stacks framed photographs in piles, so the art is not visible to the viewer. Michael Heizer trenches deep holes in the museum floor; they're so deep that you can't see the bottom.

This is a theme of many Dia-sponsored artists, the idea of storage: representing not what humanity is now, but what it might potentially be.

At last, I arrived at De Maria's piece. A patch of floor is illuminated by 16 squares, barely visible amid oceans of empty space. In precise proportions, the artist embedded a pound of pure gold and silver, most of which we can't see.

And that's when I finally began to get it. It's like the words left out of a poem: De Maria and his colleagues affect us not because of what is there, but because of what is not there.

A week later, back at the "Earth Room," Dilworth said, "Sometimes they go in."

"You mean visitors walk onto the earth sculpture?"

He nodded gravely. I asked him how he responded.

"I usually let them," he said, adding that when they leave, he rakes away their footprints.

Then Dilworth went quiet. He sat, sagelike, as I watched the late-afternoon light nestle amid folds of rich soil. New York's concrete and commercialism felt light-years, rather than mere feet, away. In a posh SoHo space where something should be for sale, a bunch of dirt has sat silently for three decades. Perhaps that is how De Maria seeks to change the world: by clearing out unexpected spaces where our imagination might grow.

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In the video  below,

Bill Dilworth, who has cared for the Earth Room for 19 years, explains why it's not so much a job as "a way of life."

May 31, 2009 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Potato USB Hub

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That's different.

From the website:

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USB Potato 4-Port Hub

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USB 2.0, backward compatible with USB 1.1.

Plug and play.

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Works with Windows 2000/XP/Vista, Mac OSX and Linux.

9cm x 5.5cm x 4.5cm.

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Polyresin.

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$16.

[via 7 Gadgets]

May 31, 2009 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

What are they?

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Answer here this time tomorrow.

May 31, 2009 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Paket Table — 'Is your lifestyle larger than your living space?'

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Table open: 43" x 43" x 30"; Closed: 25" x 25" x 30".

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Table $499; chairs $125 each.

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Orange, Gray or White.

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Here.

May 31, 2009 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

AA battery-powered car hits 76 mph

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No, not a toy car but a real one, complete with driver.

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It happened on August 6, 2007, with 192 Oxyride AA batteries providing the push.

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Wouldn't you really rather drive a Panasonic?

[via gearfuse and Cliff Hatch]

May 31, 2009 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Hunt-and-Peck Keyboard

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From the website:

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Hunt-and-Peck Keyboard

The perfect (and perfectly logical) computer keyboard for the one-finger typist.

If you never took typing and still use the hunt-and-peck method, here's the keyboard for you.

No more searching among the asdf's and qwerty's — now just follow the traditional alphabet to find the letter you need (for experienced typists, push a button to return to a standard keyboard layout).


Details:

• Takes the ordinary keyboard and gives you three different ways to use it, making it great for one or two finger typists

• Press the "ABC" button and the keys will type in that order

• When the "ABC" button is switched off you can type as you normally would on a QWERTY keyboard (letters are laid out on the keyboard right under the keys laid out in alphabetical order — but in red)

• Also toggles between function keys and common instant messaging abbreviations to make IM-ing easier

• No special software needed — just plug into the USB port on your computer

• Compatible with all versions of Windows and all Apple computers

• Standard size — fits any computer desk

• Special "www" keys for Internet use

• Keys for email abbreviations, too

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$21.99.


May 31, 2009 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

'The Case for Working With Your Hands' — by Matthew B. Crawford

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His above-titled essay in last Sunday's New York Times magazine is the best thing I've read this month.

What's the shortest known interval of time?

That elapsed between finishing his piece and ordering his new book, "Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work."

Excerpts from his Times essay follow.

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Many of us do work that feels more surreal than real. Working in an office, you often find it difficult to see any tangible result from your efforts. What exactly have you accomplished at the end of any given day? Where the chain of cause and effect is opaque and responsibility diffuse, the experience of individual agency can be elusive.


The Princeton economist Alan Blinder argues that the crucial distinction in the emerging labor market is not between those with more or less education, but between those whose services can be delivered over a wire and those who must do their work in person or on site. The latter will find their livelihoods more secure against outsourcing to distant countries. As Blinder puts it, “You can’t hammer a nail over the Internet.” Nor can the Indians fix your car. Because they are in India.


The trades suffer
from low prestige, and I believe this is based on a simple mistake. Because the work is dirty, many people assume it is also stupid. This is not my experience.


There probably aren’t many jobs that can be reduced to rule-following and still be done well. But in many jobs there is an attempt to do just this, and the perversity of it may go unnoticed by those who design the work process.


Like the mechanic, the manager faces the possibility of disaster at any time. But in his case these disasters feel arbitrary; they are typically a result of corporate restructurings, not of physics. A manager has to make many decisions for which he is accountable. Unlike an entrepreneur with his own business, however, his decisions can be reversed at any time by someone higher up the food chain (and there is always someone higher up the food chain). It’s important for your career that these reversals not look like defeats, and more generally you have to spend a lot of time managing what others think of you.


My job was structured on the supposition that in writing an abstract of an article there is a method that merely needs to be applied, and that this can be done without understanding the text. I was actually told this by the trainer, Monica, as she stood before a whiteboard, diagramming an abstract. Monica seemed a perfectly sensible person and gave no outward signs of suffering delusions. She didn’t insist too much on what she was telling us, and it became clear she was in a position similar to that of a veteran Soviet bureaucrat who must work on two levels at once: reality and official ideology.


On paper, my abstracting job, multiplied a millionfold, is precisely what puts the futurologist in a rapture: we are getting to be so smart! Yet my M.A. obscures a more real stupidification of the work I secured with that credential, and a wage to match. When I first got the degree, I felt as if I had been inducted to a certain order of society. But despite the beautiful ties I wore, it turned out to be a more proletarian existence than I had known as an electrician. In that job I had made quite a bit more money. I also felt free and active, rather than confined and stultified.


A good job
requires a field of action where you can put your best capacities to work and see an effect in the world. Academic credentials do not guarantee this.


The visceral experience of failure seems to have been edited out of the career trajectories of gifted students. It stands to reason, then, that those who end up making big decisions that affect all of us don’t seem to have much sense of their own fallibility, and of how badly things can go wrong even with the best of intentions....


The good life comes in a variety of forms. This variety has become difficult to see; our field of aspiration has narrowed into certain channels. But the current perplexity in the economy seems to be softening our gaze. Our peripheral vision is perhaps recovering, allowing us to consider the full range of lives worth choosing. For anyone who feels ill suited by disposition to spend his days sitting in an office, the question of what a good job looks like is now wide open.

May 31, 2009 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Space Invaders Ice Tray

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Food grade silicone.

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4.75" x 8".

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$7.50.

[via Cliff Hatch]

May 31, 2009 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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