“I love your big refrigerator...”

“I love your big refrigerator...” --Traveling Wilburys

I just got back from a quick and I carbon-laden trip to New Orleans where I was part of a series of panels convened by Autodesk at the giant SIGGRAPH convention. I have to admit that I had never heard of this event, which is a gathering of folks from the computer gaming, animation, film, research, and the general digerati elite. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay long enough to dive deep into the culture, so very unlike that on my home world, but I was there long enough to get a grasp on the myriad interconnections across the visualization spectrum. Thousands of attendees, most of whom looked barely old enough to travel unsupervised, are even now still roaming the cavernous halls of the New Orleans convention center sharing schemes to make the un-real ever more seductive.

Convention centers, like convention hotels and airports are strange liminal non-places. (Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, by Marc Auge, which I confess to not having read, only read about) Once ensconced in the capsule of the event, I could have been in Crystal City except for the extra-vehicular activity for dinner a few blocks away. Had I been able to stay longer I would have gone on many more excursions, if only to escape the deep freeze. It’s an odd thing to say about an August visit to New Orleans, but, except for a few intervals of wet-blanket heat, I was absolutely freezing from the minute I boarded the plane here in Washington until I returned home yesterday morning. The airport, the plane itself, the taxi, the hotel—no operable windows in my 10th floor room, which always gives me a queasy form of claustrophobia—the convention center, the restaurant, all seemed to have their collective thermostats set to 55.

It’s not that I like the heat; I don’t. But I like to know where I am, and that knowing comes from all of the senses. Seeing New Orleans from the window of an icy taxi is strangely disorienting. It’s like watching an animation, which of course is what the thousands of SIGGRAPHians spend their time doing. I prefer my reality real...even if there is some discomfort associated with it. Without the haptic verification of place, I am unconvinced I was really in New Orleans, boarding pass notwithstanding.

New Orleans has become such a complex knot of nostalgia and catastrophe, an icon veiled by its own mythology that it hardly seems real anyway. It is locked in a destructive relationship with oil, sucking it up out of the Gulf like a junkie, even though it knows the acute and chronic health consequences are dire. The businesses super-cool visitors, so know one has to see them sweat. Next time I go back, I’ll carry an umbrella for the sun, get a sandalwood fan, and get out of the animation.

But enough of that...One of the speakers on our day-long urban planning sessions was from the non-profit Environmental Simulation Center in New York. If you’re not familiar with them and what they do, you should be.

And, finally, I’m heading to an undisclosed location for the next week so the next post won’t be until the week of the 17th.

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