February 28, 2013


Volume 7, Issue 23 – February 28, 2013


Spring Break!

I was interviewing one of the Civil Engineering faculty candidates today.  When I noticed that he had his Ph.D. in Civil and Coastal Engineering from the University of Florida, Gainesville, this sent my mind spinning back many years to when I was an undergraduate at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI).  Like many private colleges, WPI has a longish break between semesters, and the new year doesn’t pick up until the end of January or even the beginning of February.  During that period, wintersession courses are available and some friends of mine and I noticed that the University of Florida was sponsoring a course in Coastal Engineering.  To be honest, the course had nothing whatever to do with my major in Chemical Engineering and I didn’t really care what Coastal Engineering was—when you’re in New England in January, anything in Florida sounds pretty good.  So, we all went down to Florida in our various ways (me on Greyhound), and met up in Gainesville.

It turns out that that Coastal Engineering meant the study of how the beaches and piers were affected by the ocean, so after a day of theory, it was off to Daytona Beach for some field work.  Now that’s the right way to run a course!  I had hoped to run into a “Beach Blanket Bingo” sort of scene, but as nice as Florida is in January, it was still a bit too cold for real beach fun and Daytona was only lightly populated with bikinis.  Frankie and Annette were nowhere to be seen.  Still, we all had a good time checking out the sand reefs and the piers for a couple of days, seeing how they had to restore the beach each night from erosion, and checking out the Natural History Museum back at UF.  Study sessions at night (hah!) were well attended at the local bar, and the beer was of good quality.  I don’t remember if there were any tests or quizzes, but I apparently passed the course because I still have the transfer credit on my transcript.

After it was over, we all went down to Disney World for my first trip there ever.  In those days there was only one Disney park there and you purchased a booklet of tickets with letters on them—so many “A” tickets, so many “B” tickets, and so on, up to three or four “E” tickets.  The various rides all required a ticket of a particular type—the “A” ticket was good for small rides, like the jitney down Main Street U.S.A. and one or two other things, but the “E” tickets were good on the big rides like the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the Haunted House, and the Pirates of the Caribbean.  Since there were more “big rides” than there were “E” tickets, we had to do a bit of strategizing and negotiation as to which rides we all wanted to go on.  Of course they don’t do it that way anymore—you can’t have less than everything these days, so you now pay a much higher ticket price, but it lets you onto everything, and there are multiple parks.  The Haunted House and the Pirates rides were great, but I remember thinking how cheesy the 20,000 Leagues ride was even then.  I’ve gone back many times (almost annually when Mark was between 5 and 15) and always enjoyed it, but that first time was the best.  After Disney World it was a quick hop down to Miami to see some relatives and for some swimming and then back to the great white north of Massachusetts and the end of senior year.

Coolest Place Ever?

I often tell people that SPSU has the capability of being the coolest place ever, given the majors we offer, the students we attract, and the quality of our faculty.  It’s all too easy to lose sight of that potential while you’re bogged down in the everyday routine of this kind of paperwork or that kind of argument about some policy, but there are also lots of things that pop up regularly to remind you of how cool we can be.

Back on February 8, I had gone into Atlanta for a reception at the High Museum to celebrate the opening of a major art exhibit entitled “Frida and Diego—Passion, Politics, and Painting”.  For those who don’t know, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera are two world-renowned Mexican artists who painted in wildly different styles—Rivera in sweeping murals extolling the virtues of technology and revolution, and Kahlo more intimate—about pain and suffering, alienation, animals and dolls.  They were both ardent communists and eventually married and supported each other in their art.  Kahlo was seriously injured in an accident at age 17 and lived much of her life in pain, having to suffer through multiple operations.  She married Rivera at 22, but it was a stormy marriage—he was quite the hound and had many affairs, but Frida always seemed to forgive him, because of his art and for the revolution.

Frida Logo

The High Museum had invited me because of SPSU’s partnership with them.  In case you don’t know, we’re the only university in the USG to have such a partnership and it has led over the past two years to some very interesting and innovative things.  In June 2011, SPSU students in Mechatronics Engineering had assembled and maintained robots for an exhibit called “Digital Matter” on robot construction of digitally ornamented decorative side tables two years ago.  We hosted the gala for the 3rd Polytechnic Summit at the High Museum, with a crossover tour at the LEED Platinum certified Perkins and Will building across the street from there, in one of the best events ever.

Last semester, Mark Nunes, James Werner (both from English, Technical Communication, and Media Arts), and their students in two courses created an online exhibit called “High Without Walls” (which allowed people to select what they consider to be viable pieces of artwork and place them into a virtual exhibit), as well as a GPS program that allows people to “walk” through the museum and identify exhibits that they like and dislike.  The exhibit and program were showcased at the High on November 10.  You can read the Marietta Daily News article about the projects here, and see a blog “New Art Exhibit is Located Everywhere” as well as the “High Without Walls” exhibit gallery here.  The virtual exhibit attracted hundreds of entries from dozens of countries, with some very interesting artwork.  An example is below.  If you haven’t checked out the virtual exhibit, you really should.  So cool!


Baldissero Canavese, Italy—posted by Donato Mangialardo

Anyway, I had two tickets and wife Jill couldn’t make it.  I offered the other ticket to Bernice Nuhfer-Halten (SIS, Spanish), who I figured would love the exhibit for obvious reasons.  Unfortunately, she had family obligations, so I called Mark Nunes to see if anyone in ETCMA wanted to go, and wound up attending with Erin Sledd, one of our newer faculty members, who had a past history of having done some curating of art exhibits herself.  We met down at the High, enjoyed the Mariachi band and the hors d’oeuvres, and ran into Pegah Zamani (Architecture) who was there with one of her students.  It turned out that Pegah, upon hearing about the exhibit, saw an opportunity to create a project for her students.  I hadn’t heard about this before, so I made her promise to come by and tell me about it and we then went off to see the exhibit, which was quite wonderful.

As promised, earlier this week, Pegah came by to give me the scoop on the project.  Its title is “A Living Machine”, and consists of a series of five representations of Frida and Diego’s home and studio in Mexico City.  In the words of the exhibit booklet, “The rationalist building, inspired by Le Corbusier, has been characterized as a factory, a Machine for Living for its exposed industrialized mechanical and electrical systems.  The house is composed of two concrete blocks—one for Diego and one for Frida—independent of one another, but tied by a narrow bridge joining the rooftops.  The bridge, as an indirect path and an ‘in-between’ space, operates as an element of connection as well as separation.

The five studies represent the home and the bridge during different periods of the artists’ lives and passions: “creation”, “desire”, “tension”, “isolation”, and “broken”.


Pegah invited architecture students to apply to participate in this project.  Carlos Castillo, Joseph Kainoa Keomaka, Julia Cassidy, Matt Rosenberg, Fiorella Dimiceli, and Hakim Hasan were the ones chosen, and they worked like demons for a five-week period, all while taking their regular courses, to strategize, design, and construct the exhibit.  Each of the five architectural “machines” captures Frida’s and Diego’s motions and emotions, and “embodies the rhythm of the two artists’ complex relation.

Student Team

The student team

The work was displayed in the High Museum’s Wieland Lobby and was presented on February 27 to a rapt audience who found the process of how the project came together to be fascinating.  The exhibit is being kept at the High to be displayed at future special events during the Frida and Diego exhibit.

A student trip to the High on Trolley Thursday is planned for March 28.  We plan to bring “A Living Machine” back to SPSU for display and a talk, and to schedule a showing of the movie “Frida” (starring Salma Hayek, the movie won six Oscars) at the same time, as part of SPSU’s Cross-Cultural Conversations series.

We have a faculty committee that helps coordinate our partnership with the High Museum.  If you’re interested in participating, please contact Pegah for details.

The idea of this project coming together in such a short time and giving our students the opportunity to have had their work exhibited at a major American art museum is just stunning, and just underlines how SPSU can be the coolest place ever.

Last Time’s Trivia Contest

Questions last time focused on the Oscars, and lots of entries were received.  The winner was Jacqueline Stephens, an adjunct faculty member in Construction Management, with a fabulous five correct.  Here are the answers:

  1. Not Felix—the sloppy one.  Oscar Madison (The Odd Couple).
  2. South African bladerunner, arrested for allegedly killing his girlfriend.  Oscar Pistorius.
  3. Broadway composer, partnered with Richard Rodgers.  Oscar Hammerstein.
  4. Canadian Jazz pianist.  Oscar Peterson.
  5. That is what I truly wanna be…An Oscar Meyer Weiner.

This Week’s Trivia Challenge

In honor of the art exhibit discussed above, his week’s trivia challenge will focus on the name “Diego”.  This one’s a little harder, so don’t hesitate to try even if you only know a few.  No looking up the answers now!  SEND ALL ENTRIES BY EMAIL TO zszafran@spsu.edu, since if you put them as a response on the BLOG, everyone will be able to see them!

  1. Large city in California, home to a large zoo and naval base.
  2. Nickelodeon children’s television series, similar to Dora the Explorer.
  3. Former Argentinian soccer star, arguably the greatest player of all time (he won the FIFA Player of the 20th Century, along with Pele).
  4. Actor who plays Mike Faber in Showtime’s series “Homeland”
  5. Strategic island in the Indian Ocean, home to British/American military bases.
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2 Responses to February 28, 2013

  1. Tom Rotnem says:

    Hi Zvi,

    Saw your blog today and wondered if you knew some other interesting facts regarding Kahlo/Rivera. She had a brief amorous fling with Leon Trotsky, who was staying (along with his wife) in one of Rivera’s properties outside Mexico City in the late 1930s. Trotsky was quite taken with her, but she dumped him in the end. (You had mentioned that Rivera was quite the “hound,” but it should not be left unsaid that she was very much herself taken with the “free love” notions of many Socialists of this day and age.)

    As far as Rivera goes, he finally fell afoul with the 4th Internationale of Lev Davidovich Bronstein, and Trotsky moved to another compound (just before his death in August 1940). I want to say, but can’t be entirely sure right now (as my sources on this are at school and I’m writing from home), that one of Rivera’s close associates had an important role in one of the first attempts on Trotsky’s life (in which he and his wife were only spared because they quickly dove underneath their bed). My impression was that it was not altogether beyond the pale that Rivera himself may have been more involved than many today remember….

    In other words, although their artistic pursuits may have been worthy of high praise, history often forgets the true personalities of those we find deserving at a later date.


    Tom Rotnem

  2. jnewell2012 says:

    And if you want a really great novel that involves all of that–and (of course) more–read Barbara Kingsolver”s The Lacuna.

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