2013 Non-Sequitur: Where Things Felt Right … Until They Didn’t

2013 in review, yay! Nature, happiness, joy, triumph of the soul, financial and spiritual freedom, a life of blissful … Wait, never mind. Let’s cut the crap. Some of my decisions worked out in the end, some didn’t. All of my decisions were a result of naivety and experience, knowledge and ignorance, broad mind and dogmatic preconceptions. There may be stuff in here that’s useful in a wider sense, but these were the things that worked (and didn’t) for me. You may find that spending major holidays in the forest isn’t your thing – in which case, my advice below cannot be held responsible for your mosquito-induced misery to come.

So, here goes:

1. Spend All Major Holidays … And Any Other Days in Nature

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“Not all those who wander are lost.” Mr. Tolkien, how did you just so perfectly express the entire philosophy of my life? Photo taken by Anthony Dewar, the only person in this world, who can magically transform me from an awkward squirrel into a somewhat elegant human-being. Canada Day in Copeland Forest, 2013

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Oh no, never mind, here’s that awkward squirrel again. Photo is still by Anthony Dewar. Christmas in Copeland Forest, 2013

Want to understand design from functional, aesthetic and experiential perspectives? Let’s start with the idea that we can experience all these phenomena, the objects and the events of the world, as they show up during your walk through a forest. The experience of the world ‘just as it is’ often requires significant attention, the quieting of the mind, the relaxation of the body, and the suspension of preconceptions. These are the skills you will learn not by studying ‘about’ nature, but learning ‘from’ nature during your walk in a forest. Once a designer can fully intake the unfiltered experience of sun and wind, light and shadow, damp and dry, fragrant and fetid, patterns of function, aesthetic, and experience begin to emerge. This is the beginning point for designing objects, spaces, systems, and experiences that engender and facilitate thoughtful solutions.

2. Become Part of a New Community

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This is a family picture of UX Conference that happened last year and I was lucky enough to be on the list of speakers. I also missed this awesome photo opportunity, because I was stuffing my face with muffins in the green room. This should go on the list of things I regret from 2013. Moral of the story: Cake is a lie. UX Conference, 2013

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Here I decide to combine business of eating with pleasure of talking. Notice, I learned from my past mistakes of missing a photo opportunity by grabbing all the available food and holding it by means of a plastic plate (as evidenced in this photo) as I discuss cutting-edge technologies with my new-found peers (not evidenced in this photo).  Maker Faire, 2013

This past year I joined two exciting communities in Ottawa: UX Design and Maker Faire – wonderfully diverse and refreshingly similar worldviews that honour the culture of play. And, after all, isn’t play the greatest part of human culture? These events raised a lot of questions in my mind, some of which you might relate to:

  • How can biologically informed design be ordered to fit the cultural context of various communities?
  • How can biologically informed design convey symbolic meaning about what culture values?
  • How shall we express through biologically informed design what is important to human culture?
  • How can ecological relationships and cultures be translated into rich human-felt experiences?

Cultural significance and meaning arise from dialogue. To have mutual understanding, you have to talk about it! To have meaningful discussion about interdisciplinary relationships in designed and manufactured objects, systems, and experiences communities must be able to perceive and experience these relationships. So, go ahead, get out of your comfort zone, join a community, and get ready to have your mind blown. You’ll be surprised how enjoyable it is to have your dogmas questioned by your new-found friends.

3. Travel the World on as Many Scales as Possible

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This is my biggest and most important purchase of the year 2013: A/O Spencer microscope model 20 with 100 watt remote halogen illuminator and trinocular head. Here I am looking at a mosquito’s head and thinking that its brain is probably a lot more evolved than mine.

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Here Anthony is looking into the night sky. Etienne Rollin, a lab supervisor in Carleton’s physics department, holds astronomy nights once in a while. You get to walk across the roof of Herzberg Laboratories into a tiny observatory with a gigantic 14 inch Schmidt Cassegrain telescope and watch a dance of particles in Saturn’s rings as moons surround it. Send an email to Etienne: etienne.rollin@carleton.ca and he’ll be happy to add you to the list. He sends out emails when he is about to do an astronomy night and is always willing to have new people visit the observatory (: The view of Saturn was a bit turbulent (there were a few clouds in the sky), but the moon was sharp!

Nature is made up of systems that are nested within systems. Each individual system is an integrated whole and – at the same time – part of larger systems. Because living and nonliving systems are so complex, much scientific experimentation had to focus on individual or small numbers of components within a single organizational level (from atom to molecule, from tissue to organism, from population to ecosystem, from biosphere to universe).

But scientists are now gaining the capability to go beyond the interactions of components within a single level of biological, chemical, or physical organization and the study of one or a few components at a time. Biologists are increasingly able to integrate information across many organisms, from multiple levels of organization (such as cells, organisms, and ecosystems) and about entire systems (such as all the genes in a genome or all the cells in a body) to gain a new integrated understanding that incorporates more and more of the complexity that characterizes living and nonliving systems.

We often explore systems on just one scale, our scale. So, invest in a microscope and sign up for an astronomy night, and experience travel on a completely different scale!

4. Celebrate Achievements of Your Loved Ones

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Terry Flaherty, you are my brilliant handsome role model. You have travelled a long journey and I am in awe of your strong, passionate, truly magical character. Please, let 2014 bring you closer to your dream of living in peace, harmony, and happiness.

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My wonderful sister Nina Iouguina single-handedly organized and held HeArts On Fire: exhibit plus fundraiser to inform about and aid the ONLY orphanage for handicapped children in Ukraine. An official part of Winterlude programming in partnership with Avant-Garde Bar, Council For The Arts In Ottawa, and Downtown Rideau BIA. Main highlights of the night included the artworks by the children of Tsyurupinsk orphanage of Ukraine, performance by children’s group Peekaboo, all-revealing slideshows and video interviews, silent auction, food, drinks and last but not least – the performance by Ukrainia at 9pm during the after-show at Avant-Garde Bar. January 2013

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After over two years of renovations, MacOdrum Library of Carleton University held its official opening two at the end of 2013. In attendance were Premier of Ontario Kathleen Wynne, Mayor Jim Watson, Ottawa Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi, and Ottawa South MPP John Fraser. And, of course, Anthony Dewar held a series of presentations and workshops that demonstrated the great potential of 3D printing technologies. December 2013

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Avant Garde Bar, a collective child of my family is hitting pre-teen stage: 10 years and counting! Better than ever music, brighter than ever patrons, stronger than ever community. Dear mom and dad, thanks for keeping and growing the spirit of Avant-Garde and Ottawa one day and one beer at a time! December 2004 – 2013

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Shortly before midnight of January 1st, 2014 3D Monstr got the most amazing gift of the year – thanks to Kickstarter community, my uncle Eduard Nesterov and nephew Vova reached their campaign goal to build this state-of-the-art machine! Incredible achievement of 2013!

All living things in an ecosystem are interconnected through networks of relationship. They depend on this web of life to survive. We as humans have evolved beyond the point of survival and need to cultivate relationships on a different level, a level of love. I want to express gratitude and awe at the personal triumphs my family and friends have worked hard to reach.

… Which brings me to this.

5. Spend Time With Your Family and Friends More … A Lot More!

My great-grandmother Bulya, in my opinion, belonged to the category of distinguished women – highly intelligent, polymathic, sensible – but, unable to devote herself wholeheartedly to developing her vastly scientific mind, chose a different path and became a primary school teacher. She also cried, along with everyone else, at the announcement of Stalin’s death more than half a century ago. I always thought of her as Ursula Buendia from ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Now that I am older and have had enough time to investigate the basic mechanics of heredity, I can say with assurance that Bulya passed on a lot of her personal idiosyncrasies and several illnesses to me. Bulya died on Saturday early morning, July 13th, 2013 peacefully in her sleep. I still don’t know the precise cause of her death: I had been told rather vaguely that it was from old age, her body simply failed, yet her mind was still as sharp as ever, albeit some memory loss.

I called her very rarely in 2013. I was so preoccupied with comparatively superficial personal trauma that I managed to reduce a highly complex, deep, and wholesome relationship with my great-grandmother to just a few phone calls. And this inexplicable sorrow and feeling of bitterness produced by the life-long connection with her, which I had been carrying in my heart for so long, which up till that dreaded Saturday had seemed to me to be immortal, but all the time, was connected to my brain with millions of frail spider-silk threads that are now starting to dissolve one by one as my own memory begins to fail me with time.

“Good design is a sense of responsibility” reads my blog’s tagline. Perhaps, I need to take a bit of a different perspective on the term design.

“Good life is a sense of responsibility”.

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So, Happy New Year, my friends! In 2014 let’s have a sense of responsibility and spend more time with the loved ones, be it family, friends, or nature.

P.S. Chances are, we didn’t hang out in 2013. Or if we did, it was ridiculously briefly, right? I am now publicly known as The Hobbit.

Let’s change that in 2014. Who wants to have tea with me?

<cricket sounds>

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