Ignite Photos + Extras

February 7, 2008


As promised, the set of photos from Ignite Portland 2 — plus a couple extras. Share and enjoy!


Airplanes are Magic

February 6, 2008

At the moment I’m about 30,000 feet above the ground, speeding away from Portland at close to 600 miles per hour. This is essentially a magical phenomenon.

I use the word “magic” because it’s outside the bounds of our narrow range of direct human experience. We’re higher than the peak of Everest, and moving ten times faster than a motorcycle speeding down the highway … but I can’t hold my hand out the window, or feel the bite of the cold on my cheeks. I can look out my little peep hole, but I can’t interact with the world outside because I simply wouldn’t survive it.

So we can only talk about flying in mathematical abstractions — and yet, here I am, streaking through the sky with a bunch of tired commuters in a little aluminum tube.

I can understand why doctors and engineers have historically been considered magicians (or witches), lumped in with the superstitious clergy. Today we’re (mostly) enlightened to the distinction between science and the supernatural, but that doesn’t address the deep disconnect between our experiential intuition, and our modern world. We are still required to have a kind of faith when casually interact with the mechanical, chemical, and biological marvels around us.

I think the foundation of this faith in technology is complexity — or, rather, our incapacity to fully understand the complexity of our world. If we look at the first age of technology, we can comprehend the entirety of almost every particular device: guns, winches, pianos, looms, and so forth. They existed within the “human” scope of nature, where a single individual could potentially observe, understand, and reconstruct any given device. It certainly required genius to conceptualize and create these things, but the scope of technology was mostly limited to an individuals capacity.

Things are a little different today. The airplane I’m riding in is the result of trillions of calculations, tens of thousands of people, and dozens of companies. The blades in the turbines, the plastics in the windows, the fuel in the wings, the avionics, the control surfaces — each of these are the result of thousands of hours of research, testing, and development.

So, it’s simply not possible for any one person to fully comprehend, much less reconstruct a modern commercial airliner from it’s elemental components. From this perspective, commuting to San Jose is essentially a magical experience for the individual, a faith based initiative of sorts.

Of course, there is a fundamental difference between faith in technology, and faith in the supernatural: this airplane does not exist or operate because of mystical hand waving and incantations, rather, those tens of thousands of people, as a collective, fully comprehend this aircraft and continue to reproduce and improve upon it’s design.

I guess “magic” might not be the best word for this experience, but it sure feels like a good fit. I remember watching magicians as a kid, cajoling them to pull the rabbit out of the hat, or make the quarter disappear. It feels the same when I get on an airplane, or when I see one fly over head — something special is happening.


February 6, 2008

It’s 4:30 AM and I’m getting ready to get on another plane.

I’ll be in San Jose for the rest of the week (through Saturday the 9th).  If you’re in the area, drop me a line.  I’m working a contract with long hours, but I’m always up for catching a late dinner and a beer.

Wow, this Ignite Portland was fantastic — 750 enthusiastic people, a sold out crowd at the Bagdad Theater. I had a great time, and thanks to the organizers for putting together a great show.

There are a few things I’ll be doing to follow up on my presentation:

  • I’ll be putting my presentation into a video podcast, with a little more information about what it’s all about and how it’s done.
  • A bunch of people asked about doing a photo trip to some of these sites — I’m up for it, although some of the trains and sites were cleaned up or scrapped after I took my original photos.
  • For people who are interested in the subject matter, I highly encourage you to dig around on Flickr and Google, and simply drive around the industrial sections of the city. That’s where I get 99% of my leads, and half the fun is discovering things for yourself …

Anyhow. I’ll be posting more photos, videos, and other such things as I have the opportunity. I’ll be out of town for the next week or so, but I’ll see what I can pull together from the hotel!

And, to everyone I met tonight — please send me an e-mail! I’m excited to follow up on some of our discussions.

Update: I’ve posted my photos to Flickr … plus some extras!

Ignite Portland

February 1, 2008

IgniteI’m doing a presentation at the Bagdad Theater on the evening of Tuesday, February 5th. The event, Ignite Portland, is a series of short presentations — just five minutes each — about weird, interesting, and unusual ideas.

The official site can be found here here, and the Oregonian had a write up here.

Pretty cool!

My presentation is about “Beauty in Abandonment” — it’s about photographing abandoned places and things in the Portland area. I’ll also be wandering around, helping people register, find seats, and answering questions about the whole shebang.

Anyhow. Seats are going fast, and it looks like it’ll be a standing room only event (unless, of course, the Super Tuesday primaries thin out the crowd). If you’re coming, or thinking about coming, please RSVP so that we can better anticipate everything that needs to be done to accommodate everyone comfortably: