Tom Portante has found a pair of pieces from the New York Times that give an impressionistic overview of celebrated/scornfully dismissed architect Christopher Alexander's work on pattern languages. I always thought most of what he wrote made plenty of sense.
Among computer programmers, he has attained near-guru status. Will Wright, the creator of "The Sims," the nation's most popular computer game, routinely cites him as a major influence. And he's an unlikely inspiration behind a powerful movement in software design known as object-oriented programming. [...]
Some of the more nuts-and-bolts patterns, however, have become architectural rules of thumb: ''Balconies and porches that are less than six feet deep are hardly ever used''; ''When they have a choice, people will always gravitate to those rooms that have light on two sides.'' In a profession that seems indifferent to the concerns and delights of ordinary life, Alexander has always been a humanist, a proponent of window seats, sunny spots and arcades. [...]
TO make his case, Alexander repeatedly uses a flexible and eloquent tool: he presents two images -- a pair of buildings or drawings or household objects or country roads -- and asks the viewer to choose the one that has the most ''life.'' (Sometimes he asks which one is ''a better picture of the self.'') The quintessential pairing asks people to choose between a diner-style saltshaker and a bottle of the best-known brand of ketchup. According to Alexander, 80 percent of the people asked choose the saltshaker, and his experiments with other pairings along these lines yield similar results; when asked to pick which of two images looks most ''right'' in some vague way, a great majority of respondents gravitate to one -- which does make you wonder if the question really is as vague as it seems.
Writer Kevin Kelly (author of Out of Control, among other things) has started a blog called Help Wanted to get answers to various questions that arise in writing his new book. For instance, how many objects? is an inquiry into the number of technological species that humans have breeded. Can we actually count them?
I knew some of the addresses in my blogroll needed updating and had been meaning to do just that for a while. I finally sat down this morning and got going. Next thing I knew, sitting in my email inbox were messages from Liz and Ton asking me to update my links. So I guess the time was ripe.