Visiting Los Angeles

Back in February, over President's Day weekend, we visited my sister in LA and spent a couple days seeing the city.  This was my first visit, and only my second trip to southern California.  Here's a map of the places we visited (or wanted to visit).  We drove down along the 5 at night - a pretty boring drive - and stayed in an Airbnb in what I think was West Hollywood.  On the first day of our visit we walked around Hollywood, seeing Grauman's Chinese Theater (home of the Star Wars premiere in 1977, among many other movie premieres) and the Capitol Records Building.  The area near the theater felt like a smaller, slightly more subdued version of Times Square.

Hollywood sign, as seen from Hollywood

Look, it's a "curtain wall"!

We then took the subway a short distance just to see what it was like.  The subway stations we visited were remarkably clean and interestingly-decorated, although since we only took the train one or two stops, I can't really comment on the overall condition of the system.  The station at Hollywood & Vine was covered with film reels and had film cameras on display.

Downtown, we checked out the Bradbury Building, where part of Blade Runner was filmed; it has a beautiful cast-iron atrium that's open to the public during business hours.  And of course, it wouldn't be a legitimate trip to LA without visiting Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall.  We walked all the way around it on the raised pathway that rings the building, with great views of the city and some interesting moments of interaction with the building.  At certain points the exterior skin is "peeled away" to reveal views down into the lobby and side theaters.  The titanium skin is somewhat loosely jointed at the sharp corners, and in other places reveals the structure holding it up.  I've never seen a more over-engineered building, with so much structure required just to make a statement.  But for a building that's supposed to grab your attention, it definitely works.

Our second day we spent time with my family, then in the afternoon/evening went to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (better known as LACMA).  We saw Levitated Mass, the gigantic boulder suspended above a long ramp that allows visitors to walk beneath it.  I think this piece is interesting less for its actual form than for its history of production.  The project took years to achieve, including a years-long permitting process for moving the boulder from the quarry where it was excavated to its final location in LA.  None of that process is evident in the final work, which I think is something of a missed opportunity, although I can understand that the work isn't really about that.  (According to LACMA's website, Levitated Mass "speaks to the expanse of art history, from ancient traditions of creating artworks from megalithic stone, to modern forms of abstract geometries and cutting-edge feats of engineering."  Nothing here about city planning, infrastructure, or permits.)  The NYTimes ran a whole series of articles about the process, which was fascinating and amazing in its complexity and execution.  Imagine moving a 340-ton boulder, by night, along the highways and city streets of California, in a custom rig, having to avoid bridges, telephone wires, unstable infrastructure, and angry neighbors who think any disruption of their streets is anathema.  I'm still amazed that they managed it at all!

We also saw an Alexander Calder exhibit and some cool large-scale sculpture in the contemporary wing.  The Calders were interesting, but I don't know enough about kinetic sculpture to have a good appreciation for what we saw.  We also ran through the rest of the museum just to get a sense of what else was there (they have a Rietveld chair!).  Unfortunately, we couldn't visit the James Turrell exhibit that was also going on, since tickets were sold out - oh well!  I had been hoping to see that one in particular, since the one Turrell piece I've seen before was quite remarkable.  Of the permanent exhibits, I especially enjoyed Metropolis II, a sculpture of a city composed primarily of model train sets and cars, that when turned on and running has a completely different feel to it than when it's stationary.  Really cool.

Metropolis II in action

Deus ex machina?  This curator/tech keeps the cars running on their tracks.

Our last day we had lunch at the Farmer's Market, which isn't what it sounds like, but is actually a permanent market of food stalls in a semi-open-air environment.  It was fun to wander around all the fancy food shops.  We had crepes and then hit the road back north.  We took the CA-1, Pacific Highway, back most of the way, then as it was getting dark, switched over to the 101.  It's a pretty nice drive since it's quite variable and you can see the ocean for parts of it, but we hadn't really allocated enough time (and it takes forever), so be cautious about attempting it if you have to be somewhere at a specific time.

At a park along the coast

There were many other places I wanted to visit, but didn't have time to see: the Getty Museum; Santa Monica Pier; LAX Theme Building; to the northeast, the Hollywood sign, Ennis House, and Lovell House; and further away, the Crystal Cathedral and Gamble House.  Lots to do on my next visit!  If you've lived in LA, what else would you recommend?  The Getty Villa?  Other cool downtown buildings?  In any event, I'm sure I'll be back, if only to make my way to Disneyland, which I hear has an Indiana Jones ride that they don't have at Disney World...  Clearly I have my priorities in line!

For listings of cool historic buildings in Los Angeles, check out this helpful website, or the Los Angeles Conservancy, and if you want to learn more about urbanism and transit in the area, I recommend following Alyssa Walker.  (Her website is appalling but if you follow it on your feed reader of choice, you don't have to look at the garish background images.)  LA may have a bad reputation as a city, especially to New Yorkers, and I think it deserves its car-dependent rep, but as a classically "American" place, it should be on everyone's must-visit list.  I'll be back!


Movie Review: Snowpiercer

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

- Robert Frost

In Snowpiercer, director Bong Joon-ho gets to have his ice and his fire, too. I'm a big fan of the apocalyptic action thriller, especially when it involves a focus on questionable science (see also: The Core, The Day After Tomorrow, Armageddon), but I did not enjoy this film. I don't enjoy gory or overly violent movies, and had to close my eyes during violent episodes throughout the movie. So with that caveat, I have a few comments.  For a more general review of the movie, check out the NYTimes' review.

The film has some scenes of beauty, both of the train's interior and of the frozen tundra outside.  What's left of the world is snowy, but not with deep enough snow to hide the frozen forms of the destroyed cities and ships that the train passes on its annual journey.  I liked that time was marked on board by the passing of landmarks outside.  I wish more film time had been spent on developing the relationship between the train and the frozen earth over which it passes - how does this train work, exactly?  But the film's focus was almost exclusively on life inside the train.  (Perhaps the graphic novel goes into more detail.)  But evidently this film does not fall neatly into my category of "apocalyptic action thriller with a focus on questionable science," although it does flirt with the genre.  It's also part-horror and part-drama, with a tiny bit of sci fi.

I enjoyed the few moments of Terry Gilliam-esque absurdity, especially the scenes with the school-car and the food production.  Even the part when they discover Timmy (I won't spoil it) had a certain Gilliam-like quirk to it that I could appreciate, though (or despite that?) it reminded me of the Doctor Who episode "The Girl in the Fireplace."  The overall set-up of the movie also reminded me strongly of the BioShock game series, with its separate worlds run by businessmen of questionable morals, and with its high amount of gory violence.

So while I can appreciate the comparisons that A. O. Scott for the Times makes to Brazil and The Poseidon Adventure, both of which are movies I greatly enjoy, I have to come down against the film on a personal level.  Most of the movie I found myself turning away.  If violence doesn't phase you, this might be a great summer movie.  It might even get you thinking.  There's some stuff about class going on, and environmentalism too, but I was too distracted by the bloodshed to notice.  As someone who enjoys seeing the world saved at the end, I was a bit disappointed, very disturbed, and somewhat confused by this film.  All I really took home from it is, "humanity is awful and we're all going to die."

As the poet imagined, if the world is to end twice, both ice and fire will do - in this case, you can expect both.  But don't expect much humor or hope along the way.


Visiting Detroit

A few weeks ago I visited Detroit for the first time while in the area for a friend's wedding.  We hear so much about Detroit these days, as the poster-child for urban decay, that I must admit I was pretty interested in seeing it for myself, and wondered what I would find there.

My impression is that it's a fairly small city, with a small, well-developed core but extensive, decaying suburbs.  We drove a short ways out to visit the Heidelberg Project, and saw some of the crazy inner-ring suburban emptiness near there (countless vacant lots, overgrown fields that used to be houses, etc), but most of what we saw in the downtown area wasn't too shabby.  We missed getting to experience the Eastern Market by arriving about an hour too late, which was disappointing, but instead got some very tasty ice cream at Neveria la Michoacana.  That was definitely an adventure for us and really fun!

All around the downtown area we saw signs of new buildings, construction, and city pride, so I don't think anyone should count out Detroit in the long run.  For now, though, it's a good place to buy tons of land/buildings for cheap.  It's hard to say exactly what the city will look like when it's done with all this upheaval, and I personally would not want to live there - too far from "real" urban centers, too cold, and too, well, Midwestern.  But not a bad place to visit!  And we didn't even get over to Ann Arbor, or to the Henry Ford Museum (Dymaxion car, anyone?), or to the Ford plant (where you can see them make trucks!  live!), or to a variety of other cool-sounding things.  Next time!

I really enjoyed getting to take the Detroit People Mover (began operation in 1987) on its 20-minute loop around downtown; architects notoriously like seeing buildings from a bird's-eye view, and I'm no exception.  I was especially intrigued to see the station signs were in English, Spanish, and Arabic.

Architectural highlights of our tour were the GM Renaissance Center (1977) by John Portman, One Woodward Avenue (1962) by Minoru Yamasaki, and the Lafayette Park Apartments (1956) by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.  Detroit is a great place to see examples of International Style and late Modern architecture.  The Renaissance Center was one of the craziest buildings I've ever been in; in 2004 they installed a new walkway around the interior that helps visitors understand where they are, but before that it must have been very disorienting to visit.  It's a ring of round towers, all alike, with floating round "pods" hanging from the walls and a multitude of levels.  Amazing concrete work, though.

Renaissance Center, with the added Wintergarden (by SOM, 2004) in the lower left.
Inside the Renaissance Center

One Woodward Avenue

an "Aztec"-styled skyscraper

Lafayette Park

I hope I'll be back sometime in the future, to see how things change and to see more of the city!

Postscript July 11th:  Here's a nice NYTimes piece on how things are going in Detroit today.


ARE We Done Yet?

Thanks, NCARB.

The lateral forces of destiny have continued to make my free time shear torture, as today I took the Structural Systems portion of the Architect Registration Exam (ARE).  Let me get a few allowable loads off my chest.  I had planned to write a witty review of my time studying for this massive and inflexible exam, a review that would have been full of puns about mental strain and bending over backwards to learn this stuff, but I'm just too stressed.  (See what I did there.)  The tension of waiting for my results is practically unbearable.  (The compression isn't great, either.) When I couple the forces of failure with those of success, the net outcome seems... indeterminate, like a beam fixed at both ends.  It's like there's an overturning moment with roughly 1.5 times the dead weight of my emotions, and I can't decide if I'm more angry or more depressed at how it went.

Anyway, as I've been telling myself, Structures is over now for at least the next six months!  (At which point I can take it again if I failed.)  If I passed, it must have been by some miracle, since there were a lot of questions I wasn't sure about.  I'll find out in a week or two.

If I've learned anything from this experience, it's that this process is long, hard, and a serious drag strut.  And those "fatal errors" on the vignettes that everyone likes to talk about?  They're real.  See Exhibit A, below.  I was pretty confident that I passed Site Planning, and it turns out, I basically did pass - except that I must have done something stupid in one of the two vignettes, which I failed, and which caused me to fail the entire exam, even though I passed all the other sections.

Fatal errors: They're dead serious.
What's frustrating about this exam process is that the report, above, is all you get if you fail, and you get no feedback at all if you pass.  What did I do wrong?  I don't know, and all I can do is take the entire test over again and hope for a different result.  There's really no way to know exactly what I did wrong.  I have a few guesses, but the only way to confirm them is re-taking the exam.  And if I fail multiple-choice sections, it's hard to know how much better I need to get, since there is no official standard for how many right answers you need to pass (I've heard theories range from 50% correct to 70-80%).

For anyone else out there studying, resources I used for Structural Systems were Kaplan's Structural Systems book, Ballast's ARE Review Manual (better than Kaplan, I think), and the PPI Sample Questions book.  I also had the Kaplan Questions & Answers book on hand but didn't have time go through the 400+ questions in it.  I also read the "Buildings at Risk" guides from the AIA on seismic and wind design, plus other stuff online about seismic and codes.  Everything I used was available from my office.  I thought the PPI books were easier to understand.  I'll let you know when I get my results back whether this was sufficient prep or not.  I took roughly 2 months to study for this exam, but with dedicated daily studying only for the last two to three weeks (approx 2-3 hours per night plus all day weekends).  I felt fairly well prepared going in, but the actual exam was more challenging than I expected, and I am not confident in how well I did.  I don't think I had any trouble with the vignette, though.

My current inertia is pushing me to finish out the tests with as much velocity as possible, but at the moment, I'm thinking of deflecting the next ones until a later date.  It's not worth the stress/strain (=E).  In any event, I've got a lot more exams to go.  At least this one is over for now.  Better enjoy my weekend while I can, before it's time to start studying for the next one!

Note: I received my score report this week, and amazingly, I passed the exam!  No idea how that happened.  So I guess the moral of this story is, you can feel terrible about the outcome, and still pass.  Good luck.


Rejected from McSweeney's: An Open Letter to a Prometric Test Center

Dear Suburban Prometric Test Center,

It's me, an ARE candidate, who's visited twice already and expects to be back at least 6 more times.*  Let me say straight off that I do appreciate your convenient location near a major highway interchange, although the anonymous office park in which you are located is a bit confusing and makes you hard to find.  And let's be honest, getting to you at 4pm on a weekday can be extremely frustrating, what with crazy traffic, and having to leave work early, and your lack of nearby food choices when I'm going to be visiting you for at least 5 hours and would like to bring some dinner with me.  (I'd come see you at a different time, but you never seem to have any other free time available.)  But truly, your staff have been nothing if not pleasant while wanding me with the metal detector, and have been practically apologetic when asking me to lift up my pant legs & sleeves and to stick my hands in all my pockets (even in the tiny vestigial one that's inside another pocket) to make sure I'm not cheating or something.  You even have a water cooler that's actually cold!  Good on you!

So with that in mind, let's come to the heart of the matter.  As I mentioned, I'm here to see you to take the Architect Registration Exam.  So let's just say that I'm kind of into design.  I'm not an interior designer or anything, but I know something about it.  And in my humble, not-yet-licensed-to-practice-architecture opinion, you are the most depressing space inside of which I have ever had the misfortune to anticipate spending at least 45 hours.  Your carpet is pocked and sad, your ceiling tiles are dingy, damaged, and sad, your furniture is sad, your lack of decoration is sad, and by extension, everyone inside of you is sad.  The few tiny touches of charm that have been added are made unbearably sad by their juxtaposition with the rest of your space.  I'm referring to the small canvases arranged on that one wall, the two vases of glass pebbles sitting on the entry shelf, and the two lamps.  I know you think they're helping, but they're just sad.  Without them, you might pull off "minimalist-chic."  With them, it's merely "we refuse to spend money on any interior improvements-chic."  Your industrial lockers, bizarrely-full coat rack, and piles of empty water jugs from the water cooler do nothing to help.  The saddest and strangest part of all is the rear end of the window-unit air conditioner that sticks into the lobby through the wall, facing some mysterious room beyond.  Who thought it made sense to cool one room by heating another?  What could possibly need a window AC unit in that room so badly as to warrant exhausting heat into the lobby?  Why is a window unit installed in a wall in the first place?  Did no one consider the noise that the unit would make, or the weird smells, or the fact that it's a collision hazard (at head height) for people walking by, or that it's just plain crazy weird?  This is what I wonder as I sit on your Ikea chairs, next to your Ikea side tables, munching on gummy bears during my mandatory 15 minute break.  The rest of the time I stare out your one window into the parking lot.  Hey, at least it's not a blank wall!

Let's face it, Suburban Prometric Test Center.  You are but one of 10,000, probably all of you outfitted exactly alike, that is, with the bare minimum of furniture necessary to accommodate a few staff members and a bunch of annoyed, nervous people waiting to take computerized tests.  You think you have no need of humanizing touches like an unmarred coat of paint, or undamaged floors, or furniture that isn't threadbare and falling apart.  Perhaps you even think you are ensuring a testing environment free from distractions, cheating, and vulgar happiness.  But what you are really doing is driving me crazy and making it impossible for me to focus on my exams.  I am so busy wondering what kind of idiot installed that air conditioner that I cannot remember the answer to the arbitrary memorization questions I'm being asked.  And the more tests I fail, the more I have to come back to retake, creating a vicious cycle.  I pass over the suggestion that you are complicit in this cycle in order to extract more testing fees from me - for such a suggestion would be unsympathetic to you.  But I digress.

So please, for the sake of all that is good, get some new carpet, and maybe new paint.  Consider cheerful posters reminding us of the evils of cheating and of carrying items in one's pocket-within-a-pocket(s).  In fact, take the DMV as a model, with its plethora of signage, bad fonts, and poorly placed apostrophes.  For you, my test center friend, fall far below even the DMV in your welcoming aspect and level of comfort.  At least at the DMV I can amuse myself by looking for grammar errors on the copious signs.  When visiting you, I can only recoil in horror at the many accessibility violations and hope that one day you will install a real trash can instead of the cardboard one you currently have.  You know the one I mean, it's the kind that's used at outdoor events like tailgates.  You can do better.

Suburban Prometric Test Center, I'll be back.  I'll be back so often that you'll get tired of seeing me, in fact.  So before this gets between us and destroys our fragile friendship, please - please - renovate your space.

A Test Candidate

*In case you think I miscounted, I regret to announce that I have failed my first exam (well, it's the second exam I've taken, the first I've failed) so I get to come back at least one extra time!  Huzzah!  Thanks, Obama.


Competitions, Critique, and Pop-up Tents

I've been ambivalent about architecture competitions.  As these competitions are usually run in the US, a group of some kind (usually a non-profit or a professional organization like the AIA) will openly solicit designs with a monetary prize for the winner, while requiring entrants to pay an entry fee.  Entrants who do not win get nothing, and usually the runners-up get only publicity for their designs.  On the one hand, I sympathize with those who, like my professor Paul Segal, are strongly opposed to competitions on the grounds that they take advantage of the goodwill and artistic tendencies of architects (see also: "starving artists")  to get quality design work for free.  Can you imagine engineers or doctors or lawyers paying money to their clients in order to do their usual work for free?  It's preposterous.  It's also a frustrating experience for the designer because you never get any feedback on your design.  It's equivalent to throwing your ideas out into the void, without the chance to refine them in the way you would in a regular project with a real client.

There are, of course, some competitions that are run differently; these are usually for very large projects, in which a limited number of architects will be invited to compete for the commission, and will be paid to provide a preliminary design.  But the fees in these competitions, I am told, never cover the full cost of the work that goes into the designs, so the architects still lose money; they are only willing to participate because they hope to be chosen for the actual project or because of the prestige of participation in the limited selection process.

And then there are other designers who favor competitions, and while they may not approve of entry fees and so forth, are willing to pay the fees in order to enter because they think the publicity of winning will be worth their time and money, or because they simply are so excited about the design project that they can't help but participate.  (Most everyone agrees that the prizes alone don't make the work worthwhile.)  Once you've done the work of solving the design problem and putting together some drawings, why not go the final step and enter your design in the competition?  Those of us who are young and hungry for design work also see these events as a way to push ourselves, to design more exciting things than we get to do at our regular jobs, and to have fun.  We get to control the design, develop our own ideas, and ignore those pesky building codes.

So last month I entered a competition with two of my co-workers.  This is now the fourth design competition I've entered, having done two while in school, and one last summer before I started working.  We entered the AIA SPP Pop-up Project competition, which asks entrants to design a better pop-up tent for use at farmer's markets.  And who doesn't love farmer's markets, the hipsters that we are?  Of course we were excited.  And then I started really thinking about this brief.  How were we, with a budget of $500, supposed to design something that could actually be better than the existing pop-up tent?  The existing tent costs $160 on Amazon, weighs only 50 pounds, can easily be assembled by one person, doesn't require anchorage to the ground, adapts to all kinds of conditions... and is exactly what the brief asked us to design.  How could we possibly beat that?  Not without mass production, I decided.  And certainly not within the given budget.

So that's what I told my teammates: this brief is flawed and seems to ask for the impossible.  It wants something that is exactly the same as an ordinary pop-up tent, but that isn't one.  So let's not fight it - the best solution to the design problem posed is the existing pop-up tent.  Then how do we make it better?  We decided to make a new cover for the existing tent, which integrates shelving, signage, and corner weights, and simply hangs off the tent that every farmer's market vendor already owns.  Then vendors won't have to buy or haul around tables and signs anymore.  Our tent would also look much better.  We covered the tent walls with grommets to provide attachment points, called our solution "walls & grommets," spent several long nights making the drawings, and turned it in.

rendering by Ron Ajel & Liz Shearer

If I learned anything from four years as a Lincoln-Douglas debater, it's how to run a critique (or kritik).  This strategy is when you refute a position by pointing out the flaws inherent in the question you're asked to answer, rather than by attempting to answer it directly.  I have no idea if this was the right way to address our design problem, but this strategy reflects my evolving and conflicted feelings about design competitions.  Design competitions are getting designs the wrong way, by abusing architects and cheapening design work in general.  The competition system reveals that architects will design for free, which in turn indicates that their products (designs) must not be very valuable!  So perhaps the right way to answer a competition brief is to say: no, this is not the way to resolve this design problem.  The right way is to value design - and by extension, your problem - enough to hire a designer to work it out.  If you just want ideas, then fine, post your question on a public design forum and wait for the responses; don't try to charge people to give you their time and energy.  Designers are usually happy to think about your problem and give you their suggestions.  But don't expect them to provide you with a finished design for free.

I don't think I want to enter any more competitions, or at least not any more that charge entry fees.  I would much rather do pro-bono work, where I can have a real client relationship, get feedback, and know that my work is benefiting someone who wouldn't otherwise get a solution.  Design competitions direct the work of many designers toward one problem - what if instead the many designers spent their time each working on a different problem?  Many more problems would be solved.  It's not always as simple as that, but we do have a finite amount of time, so let's focus on solving more, rather than fewer, design problems for those in need of solutions.

Our tent, by the way, looked awesome, and even though we didn't win, I learned something in this process about myself, about tents, and even about design work in general.  The moral of this story:  Don't work for free.  Just... don't.  I think I'm starting to agree with Paul Segal that competitions are on par with unpaid internships.  If none of us do them, then they won't be permitted anymore.  Do your pro-bono work, by all means, but don't give your time away to groups that don't really need it, and certainly don't let them charge you for the privilege.  I hope in the coming year to get more involved in pro-bono design, and that doing so will give me the outlet that until now I've found in competition work.

You can view the rest of our design for walls & grommets here.  Credit goes to my co-conspirators Liz Shearer & Ron Ajel for the design and images.


My Friends are Awesome

We're from the mid- to tail-end of the 1980s, and what are we doing now?  Living the dream, that's what.  Maybe it's not quite the dream our parents had for us, but it's a dream nonetheless.  Sometimes I like to sit back and think about what my friends are doing and give a tiny mental fist-pump for everyone.  Maybe because I never really had a clear idea of what I was going to be "when I grew up," I'm still not quite over the idea that so many of us have "made it" - to jobs or positions or universities where we get to do/study/research/practice what interests us.  And most of what I see written about our generation (apparently we're the "millenials") is that we're all wasting our precious youth, or having it wasted for us by the recession economy: we're working in dead-end jobs with only a fond wish for promotion, sleeping on a lot of sofas, drinking ourselves to death, and looking for love in all the wrong places.  So for once, I'd like to celebrate those of us who are making it.  We're doing ok, you guys, and I think we're going to be ok.

Shout-outs to:
  • Half a dozen teachers, teaching in Oakland and Fairfield and Tallahassee and beyond
  • A good crop of medical students & MD/PhDs, getting ready to go out and save some lives in New York, New Orleans, Los Angeles, the Bay Area, and beyond
  • Several stunning scientists researching chemistry and biology and even sharks
  • Some resourceful religious types helping the rest of us figure it all out
  • So many amazing "intern architects" trying to save the world through design (and black clothing)
  • All those prodigious programmers who keep our computers from taking over the world
  • A watchsmith by day, and artist by evening
  • A composer.  For real.
  • An opera singer who moonlights (daylights?) as a tutor
  • A soon-to-be-veterinarian, reminding us that the world is more than just humans
  • Several social workers, non-profit/NGO gurus, and social-workers-in-training who make the world better for the humans most in need
  • Some lawyers making a difference in international politics, or at least making money!
  • All kinds of engineers (transportation, mechanical, electrical...) making cool stuff and making sure we get where we're trying to go
I know I've forgotten to include some awesome jobs here (policewomen, cartoonists, film & theater folks, arts administrators, astrophysicists), but you get the idea.  Artists, teachers, sciencey-types, humanities-types - they're all there.  I'm so proud of all of you.

Good work, team '80s.  Keep it up.  (And if you want to share your blog/vlog/podcast/whatever, send me a message!)