Archive for the ‘Special Comment’ Category

Reason #1

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

In no particular order, all of the reasons why I am a sculptor, starting with

Reason #1: The Sesame Street I-Beam Video



Here is the link to the video on the Sesame Street Site.

If I can find another version of the video, I will update this post.

This is the infamous I-Beam film from Sesame Street. I am pretty sure that this is not an I-Beam, however, that is what Sesame Street’s official site titles the clip. It looks to be more of a forged component of some kind that just has the letter’s shape. A hot rolled beam would be a minimum of 24 ft. at the mill, I would think, and the form is not correct for a beam or a rail. So, what is this thing? I guess it’s not really important. I remember that in our house we called this clip “Hot Letter I,” which makes sense, because what else could you call it? I only recently rediscovered this film while watching videos on the Sesame Street site with my daughter. I can see now that it had a big influence on me. I haven’t done any forging for several years due to the Hoboken Studio’s wood floor and lack of a natural gas hookup. I could do some small stuff in the ground floor shop, but nothing as big as the forged pieces from grad school.

The I-Beam film presents the material properties of steel: ductility, malleability, oxidation, and incandescence at temperature. Pretty cool stuff compared to a puppet who eats cookies. Judging from the comments on YouTube, most people remember being scared of the segment. I am not surprised, I guess. It is a pretty real and foreign thing for a kid to see.



30,000 Songs in my Pocket and no Cure for AIDS

Monday, January 26th, 2009



CFL Madness

Sunday, January 25th, 2009


I would prefer not to write another post related to sustainability, but somebody forced my hand. Project Porchlight, a small non-profit company with large corporate sponsorships delivered a solitary Compact Fluorescent Bulb to my front doorknob. For those of you out there who love these CF bulbs, I just want to make sure that we are all on the same page. Fluorescent tube lights use a blob of mercury that is vaporized by a high-voltage charge generated in a transforming ballast. The ballast in a CF bulb is significantly smaller than what you would find in a traditional fixture. Because of their small size, they are wired up a bit differently and make use of a capacitor to provide the punch to zap the mercury. Electrolytic capacitors are prone to a phenomenon known as the capacitor plague. The plague results in the premature failure of the capacitor allegedly due to poor quality control at the manufacturer. One great example of this issue was the iMac G5 REP during which thousands of Apple iMac G5 computers emitted smoke, intermittently lost power, or were suddenly unable to be turned on. CF bulbs use identical technology in their ballasts. Traditional incandescent bulbs do not require a transformer or ballast. In their defense, at least CFL units don’t use PCB’s as insulating material in their ballasts.

The second feature of CF bulbs is the aforementioned use of mercury to emit light. The scenario looks like this. The bulb is switched on, energizing the ballast. The ballast delivers high-voltage to the mercury causing it to vaporize and emit light. The mercury does not emit any visible light, only UV, so a coating is painted onto the inside of the glass to make the thing useful. The UV bombards the fluorescent coating, and visible light is emitted.

The Project Porchlight bulb carries the following warning printed on the ballast enclosure:

Contains mercury. Dispose according to local, state, or federal laws.

Incandescent bulbs do not carry this warning, of course. The bulb packaging does not suggest a method of disposal, rather a website, Earth 911 where I found the following text:

“This type of light bulb uses a fraction of the electricity used by incandescent light bulbs. CFLs are becoming a household name for many reasons, including the attention given to them by Congress. Due to the their inefficient use of energy, incandescent bulbs will be banned by Congress, starting in 2012, with a complete phase out by 2014; even existing halogen bulbs will not make Congress’ new mandate to make all bulbs 70 percent more efficient by 2020.”

An 8 pack of 60 watt incandescent bulbs is $2.00 at Lowes and a 60 watt CFL equivalent 4 pack is $7.00. Let’s assume that a 4 pack of 60 watt incandescent bulbs has a street value of $1.00. The move to CFL represents a 7x price increase for the consumer. They are designed to last for several years, in fact, the bulb that was left on my porch has a 7 year warranty (if I use it 4 hours per day) from Silk Ventures Group which I have never heard of. I am quite certain that this company will not exist in 7 years and neither will their lumen brand. Their site uses a stock photo from iStockphoto. Never a good sign when your toxic bulb manufacturer was only willing to expend the profits from one pack of CF bulbs for their site’s main graphic.

So, if my bulb lasts longer than the company that made it, barring a capacitor failure, I should be able to re-capture that 7 fold price increase if I can tolerate the unnatural color that the bulb produces, and of course, I have to avoid breaking it. Here lies my principal issue with the CFL. They break. Sure, incandescent bulbs break too, but they are cheap and contain no mercury.  Remember, mercury is highly toxic heavy metal. The stuff is supposed to strike fear into us when it is in our water, in our living spaces, or studios. My studio building, for example, allegedly contains both vaporous and elemental mercury according to the development company that is trying to buy the property to develop a condominium project. The mercury toxicity represents death and our foolishness in using the building for anything other than a new development following abatement. Why do I want this in my house? Why does Porchlight get to leave me a piece of toxic waste without my permission?

CFL Marketing

The CFL is marketed as seen above in this image that I captured with my iPhone. The bulb makes money saving claims. Is this simply recession marketing or is there something else to it? These bulbs have obviously been around long before the recession hit, and it is likely that they would have never existed if there wasn’t a massive bubble of artificial wealth such that people would consider throwing money away at a more expensive bulb. I would suggest that most of these bulbs get purchased because they are there on the shelf within reach. It took me some real effort to find the incandescent bulbs at Home Depot. Now that things are economically sour, we have an abundance of CFL products and less money to spend on them. Let me digress for a moment. Perhaps this should be the subject of another post, but I want to suggest a very profitable business principle. You can’t squeeze blood from a turnip is a common phrase, but what if you had 200 million of them and you just squeezed a little bit more than you did before. To make bank, you have to find something that was priced fairly and figure out a way to inflate that price either by replacing the product or altering the market.

I took my awesome CFL down into my basement to do some insulating in one of my two crawl spaces that I prefer to call antechambers. I put the CFL into my auto shop style light thing so I could take it with me because the room has no lights. I was in antechamber A on my back working on stuffing R-13 Kraft backed fiberglass into the floor joists of the room above when I hooked the cord of the auto-shop thing and pulled it down from the nail it was hanging on. The CFL shattered and I was in the dark. No seven years for that bulb. I tried to remember my cleanup instructions. Leave the room for how long?

Let me throw one additional related comment into this mix. What if all this green stuff we are being bombarded with is similar to the propaganda driven materials recycling drives during WWII. I know that some materials were in short supply, but the majority of the steel was never used for anything, and most certainly paper and other more useless stuff was just buried. The similarity is that we are trying to make an individual effort to help and we need somebody to tell us that we are doing a good job. We all want to believe that we can make a difference, but perhaps packaging production is the problem, not how much packaging gets recycled. When NYC dumps 600 subway cars into the ocean, it creates a beautiful reef, right? How much money did I save last year by using a CFL instead of a traditional bulb when the Federal Government was purchasing thousands of barrels of Sweet Light Crude for the strategic oil reserve driving the price artificially high?

Perhaps this idiotic coffee setup at the Wawa in Toms River, NJ could be scaled back a bit. If Wawa has a coffee pot configuration like this in all 570 of its retail locations, and if its competitors like Quick Check and others who offer self-serve coffee do the same, is that enough to make my electric bill higher at home by increasing regional demand? These embarrassments must go, but how about keeping the extra hot plates for when one breaks down. Knowing what I know about retail, Wawa will remove these soon to appear more green, but they will be thrown in a dumpster, not recycled and not reused. This kind of behavior will go on and on but I supposedly will no longer be able to purchase a halogen bulb after 2020.  


Tadashi Kawamata in Madison Square Park

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009


Now that Tadashi Kawamata’s installation, Tree Huts, in Madison Square Park is officially decommissioned, I guess I can blog on it. I am pretty certain that this piece is a total failure. Kawamata’s work is usually so intense and so substantial that I can’t quite figure out what happened with this piece. Was it a much larger proposal that was reduced due to safety or park access concerns, or was it simply a budget and profit decision. 

My problem with this installation is that it has little to do with any reality either in NYC or globally. It uses kiln dried lumber and not the usual recycled lumber that Kawamata generally is associated with. Kiln dried lumber is a virgin material, so in effect trees were consumed to create this installation of impermanent objects that will end up in the back of a NY compactor truck that will no doubt drive to NJ to put this sculpture in a landfill.

The ad-hock appearance is stylistically in tune with Tadashi Kawamata’s other work, but it really doesn’t have much validity in context. Madison Square Park is kind of known as a dog park and the place where tourists (and business people) line up to get a burger at the Shake Shack. Basically, the park smells like a dog kennel with occasional wafting greasy smoke. It’s just a park, so what? Why shouldn’t there be art installed there? I just can’t see the site-specific metaphor.

The greatest oversight is the number of homeless persons who are typically in and around the park. How is a viewer supposed to reconcile a flimsy structure that is so obviously out of reach to these individuals with their need for shelter? Is it a tease? I am inclined to think that Kawamata had perhaps never been to Madison Square Park until the installation was being installed. Perhaps he was there, how could he not personally scout out the site? I wouldn’t pass it up either. Who could say no to a months long installation in midtown. What’s worse is that these structures couldn’t safely support somebody in need of shelter anyway, so, in context, the material used is wasted. It only represents a house. It is not a house.

Perhaps a better solution would have created a useable building, but how could that be achieved? NYC would never allow an authorized concentration of homeless people in a public park, so obviously that option would have to be carefully considered. Kawamata’s structures are obviously unsafe, so it would not be a project for him. Perhaps a group like Simparch could build something that would work in context. How about a passive house type structure that would maintain itself as the temperature dropped between October and January. Furthermore, a building created from recycled material would create no impact, whereas the kiln dried pine has an obvious Home Depot origin. The freezing cold wind blowing through the gaps in the cheap lumber does little to support the concept of sustainability. Basically, that is the real shortfall. As public opinion swayed toward more greenness, this piece was left as an anachronism. Certainly, it was planned years in advance during a roaring economy based on debt and an inflated housing market. We are left with a foreclosed neighborhood of Tree Huts.