Wednesday, February 24, 2010

2010 evolution of greenhouse concept (thus far)

Maybe I should blame the planted aquarium I started late last year.  After all, it is just as culpable in reigniting my interest in building outbuildings, and in particular a greenhouse, as anything else.  I had a desire to expand a growing trend.  Since the start of this year my ideas have evolved quite a bit.  Here is a fairly comprehensive (yet incomprehensible) list detailing the evolution:

Thursday, February 18, 2010

longhouse variation

For a long time I had considered using trestle frame construction for a greenhouse, the internal framework is heavily braced owing to the numerous triangulated sections. And it is simple- a series of trestles with two rows of beams extending as long as is needed. Fundamentally, virtually all structures follow this vertical post and horizontal beam layout, only here it is reduced to its essential features. The basic unit shows a heavily braced right angled hexahedral polyhedron (a cube, more or less).

Recently I was reconsidering Roald Gunderson's log buildings (see also here), where logs are used in place of dimensional lumber. He built a greenhouse that resembles a very primitive longhouse - one beam, supported by a single row of posts, and a gabled roof with low or absent walls. Although in such a design - kingpost columns supporting a central beam - the amount of cross bracing appears low when compared to trestle frame buildings, there are three cross braced sections in different planes that support one another.  In fact any two of the sections can support each another, providing more than the minimal needed for a tripod.  The kingpost (third section) adds structural support and permits easier construction.

Friday, February 12, 2010

existential angst, part III

The absolute freedom and responsibility we have is so pervasive it encompasses even the power to end our own lives.  And though we have so much freedom, we do not have anything essential or fixed within our nature to guide our choices (hedonistic desire alone is no longer sufficient).  If only we did!  This is the feeling of existential angst, a basic human condition.  In death alone, leaving all that one was behind, is one released from freedom, responsibility, and its attendant anxiety.  Hence, the greatest source of fear also becomes a fearful temptation that the imagination fantasizes in when the burden of responsibility overwhelms any rewards life presents.  Is this a method the mind uses to cope with stress?  I would postulate that, operating under the principle of enantiodromia, it does have a cathartic effect.  (To be sure, and mercifully so, for the uncompromised individual whose judgment is sound, and in light of the beauty and richness of continually unfolding human experience and the companionship of others, numerous other temporary and perfectly acceptable solutions are considered before taking any such permanent and irreversible action.  Robert Service presented another perspective as well.)

But what is the purpose of cathartic self-sacrifice when it may be more effective yet to reflect on the impermanent nature of life?  Nothing lives very long, really.  It is saddest of all for me to realize that my own children will grow up tomorrow, mature, and die as surely as do all other things.  As will my parents, my wife, and as will I.  I could try to realize this eventual fate as intimately today as it will be tomorrow to live an "authentic life".  From what may be regarded as the most appropriate of all perspectives, in a flash I am born, live, and die.  What freedom and responsibility I have now, is over in an instant.  And that instant is where I am right now.

I have written before about dukkha, the Pali word for unsatisfactoriness, the condition of life identified by the Buddha. I had thought it was something to be prevented, an "avoidance goal" in effect. But as a basic condition, it really isn't something to be avoided or approached, it just is. In such a world the best that can be done really is to walk a middle path between extremes, keeping in mind a profound understanding of the pervasive quality of dukkha.

existential angst, part II

The example provided by Haufniensis (Kierkegaard), and often cited online, to explain the concept of existential angst is from his book The Concept of Anxiety: 
"Anxiety may be compared with dizziness.  He whose eye happens to look down into the yawning abyss becomes dizzy.  But what is the reason for this?  It is just as much in his own eye as in the abyss, for suppose he had not looked down.  Hence anxiety is the dizziness of freedom…"
- Kierkegaard, Søren (1980), The Concept of Anxiety, Princeton University Press, page 61
This selection alone says little about “the lure of vertigo” or how “the eye which looks down into the abyss both fears and desires it”.  (An earlier English translation of the book contains the word “precipice” in this section.)  The metaphor of “the fall” is rich, and John M. Hoberman in his essay "Kierkegaard on Vertigo" explores it very well.  After reading his essay I learned that Sartre adopted Kierkegaard’s example and gave it a slightly different meaning, the one that I, and most other people with a casual interest in philosophy, associate with it. 
"First we must acknowledge that Kierkegaard is right; anguish is distinguished from fear in that fear is fear of beings in the world whereas anguish is anguish before myself.  Vertigo is anguish to the extent that I am afraid of not falling over the precipice, but of throwing myself over.  A situation provokes fear if there is a possibility of my life being changed from without; my being provokes anguish to the extent that I distrust myself and my own reactions in that situation." 
- Sartre "Being and Nothingness" trans. pub. 1966 pg. 65 or 2001 pg. 29
Hoberman comments on this selection in his essay, further illuminating it:
"Sartre's primary interest is to show the fact of human freedom and the flight from freedom, the nostalgia of the for-itself for the condition of the in-itslf (a nonhuman stasis).  The temptation, as Kierkegaard points out in the second journal entry on vertigo, is to construe a pressure that comes from within as one that comes from without.  To avoid anguish and vertigo, says Sartre, it is necessary "that I apprehend in myself a strict psychological determinism."  Kierkegaard is far less interested both in the illusion that such a determinism represents and in the attendant wish to reify oneself.  It is not Kierkegaard but Sartre, with his affinity for images of petrification, whose gaze is transfixed by the Biblical "heart of stone."
This is exactly the meaning I took from the description of existential angst I read that was attributed to Kierkegaard, a description that may owe more to Sartre’s reworking of it (though that attribution seems largely absent online).  So it was very refreshing to find a citation I could locate within a work which confirmed my understanding of the concept.  It is hard to tell if Hoberman takes a dim view of Sartre here, though his language seems to suggest so.  But I agree with Sartre about the flight from freedom to a “in-itself” condition being a common human desire.  What else is this but existential angst?  I understand the desire to “apprehend in myself a strict psychological determinism” to avoid feeling that same existential angst.  (Religions address this desire, but inappropriately I believe.)  And I can see how imagining throwing myself over the precipice would be a quite effective way of reacting to the uneasy feeling of vertigo, the symbolic representation of existential angst.  Sartre seems to have certainly understood the need to grapple with these powerful internal feelings in a creative way. 
For an evaluation of Sartre's debt to Kierkegaard, see William McBride's "Sartre's Debts to Kierkegaard: A Partial Reckoning," in "Kierkegaard in Post/Modernity" ed. Martin Matustik and Merold Westphal 1995 pp. 18-42 [I have only seen this reference, but not read it.]

Monday, February 8, 2010

existential angst

The mere fact that one has the possibility and freedom to do something, even the most terrifying of possibilities, can trigger immense feelings of dread. Take for example the experience one has when standing on a cliff where one not only fears falling off it, but also dreads the possibility of throwing oneself off.  “I could throw myself off the cliff and nothing would stop me.  That thought is so terrifying that I wish it were not even possible.”  But the metaphor is more consoling than terrifying.  With nothing to hold me back, I have the freedom, the responsibility, to choose my own destiny.  I am always standing on the edge of a cliff gazing into the abyss.  I could end it all with just one step.  Or not.  The “cure” for existential anxiety, the terrifying feeling of absolute freedom, is found by facing it in its ultimate form – the freedom to choose between life and death.  Then we must make the choice to take responsibility for our own destiny and stop looking for external sources to compel us to act in one way or another.  Existential anxiety will never leave, it is a basic human condition.  And what better way to acknowledge it than this powerful metaphor.  You're always standing on the edge of a cliff, the freedom is terrifying.  But the terror brings with it a focused concentration and immediacy of experience that is lost if you recoil from it.

There is an odd mental process that can go on here, where someone is so afraid of one thing that they will do the opposite, even though they are fearful of that as well.  "If I throw myself over, then I don't have to worry about falling off."  That would release one from absolute freedom into the hands of fate.  The choice made is not responsible, but the burden of making it has been lifted and the desire for a predetermined destiny has been fulfilled.  For some, a bad future that is known is preferable to a future of free choices and individual responsibility. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


Composed mostly of big gorgeous pictures of minka, I read through Chuji Kawashima's 260 page “Japan's Folk Architecture: Traditional Thatched Farmhouses” in two days. It is a great book that has probably done more to help me understand these buildings than anything else. It is a well written, fairly comprehensive, and rationally organized introduction to the subject. As with any good book, I took notes as I read and ended up with a full page. One house that was interesting, to take an example, is the sao-ie style of minka in Miyazaki Prefecture (described on page 108). It literally means “clothes-drying-pole house”, but is essentially laid out in the so-called longhouse configuration (also called heiretsu-gata). Later on page 162-164 (in the Longhouse subsection of the Hipped Roof section of Part 3: Styles) an example of this style of minka is given: the Takeyoshi Migita house (Shiba-mura, Higashi Usuki-gun, Miyazaki Pref.). Figure 270 is a floorplan drawing of the house; it is elegant in its simplicity, yet it also contains all the distinctive features of minka. Why longhouses in Japan? Here they are an adaptation to building on narrow terraces cut into the slope of steep terrain that does not permit building wide houses.

If the structural layout of the Migita house could best be described as linear (and it could), then the Nohara house (a modestly porportioned gassho-zukuri minka, page 115) would be called symmetrical. The visual impact of the stout ushi-bari beam bisecting the length of the house with curved chona-bari beams perpendicularly flanking it on either side gives the impression of a rib cage (see picture). Japanese minka are fascinating for their materials, craftsmanship, and variety.

Monday, February 1, 2010

goal mapping

I want to represent my goals in a new format, a sort of hierarchy/network/flow chart. I guess the best way to describe is is like those “Internet map” images, a tangled mass of nodes and rays connecting to one another. My “goal map” would also be many dimensional, so that it could contain all different kinds of information about those goals, even including the particular seasons the goals become more/less important, etc. I started it already, but it will be very hard to create it in electronic format, even harder to periodically update as needed. I wouldn't imagine that there is a freeware program that could help me do this? (Hmm... looks like there is, more to come here later...)

(Update 2/3/10)
And the software I chose to try is called FreeMind, which is very easy to use and the results are nice.  But there are a lot of other interesting options available.  I ran into one hitch while installing it that was solved by temporarily changing one of the language preferences on my computer (so that it would run in English instead of Japanese).  It was a simple solution that I found here.