August 24, 2009

Friends without friendship
Americans are friendly because they just can't help it; they like to be neighbourly and want to be liked. However, a wise traveller realises that a few happy moments with an American do not translate into a permanent commitment of any kind. Indeed, permanent commitments are what Americans fear the most. This is a nation whose fundamental social relationship is the casual acquaintance.

From the Xenophobes Guide to the Americans and the reason I think Facebook has become such a success

July 29, 2009

"At the heart of Western philosophy lie a series of interrelated assumptions, embedded in a metaphor, which greatly constrain our ability to comprehend major transformations in the modern world. The culprit is the pervasive ideology of what may be called 'depth ontology' whereby we tend to assume that everything that is important for our sense of being lies in some deep interior and must be long-lasting or solid, as against the dangers of things we regard as ephemeral, shallow or lacking in content. These become highly problematic metaphors when we encounter a cosmology which may not share these assumptions, and rests upon a very different sense of ontology. The importance of these metaphors lies not only in the narrow and sometimes parochial pursuit of philosophy, but in the tendency of these ideas to be infused in more general, often moral, judgments on the world at large."

From Style and Ontology by David Miller in Consumption and Identity edited by Jonathan Friedman. This quote is a little more philosophical than I like to get on the blog, but I find it comforting. I like to think deeply about things, like design, that others may consider shallow and this idea validates my goals.

March 31, 2009

You cannot imagine how badly I want to interview this woman.

March 15, 2009


Over Christmas break I had the privileged of interviewing a wonderful woman named Doris for our project on money. She is 84 years old and lives in Minnesota. Have you ever seen such beautiful silver hair! Doris was 5 years old during the Great Depression and lived on a large farm in Northern Minnesota. The following are clips from the first part of our interview where she discusses some of her experiences living and working on the farm and the transition in her early 20s to working as a flight attendant for Northwest airlines. It has taken me forever to edit the videos, but I finally got some of them done. (Note: There is more reaction than usual in interviews because there are actually three people off camera including me, Doris's daughter-in-law and my mother)

Doris 1 from Julka Almquist on Vimeo.

Doris 2 from Julka Almquist on Vimeo.

Doris 3 from Julka Almquist on Vimeo.

Doris 4.1 from Julka Almquist on Vimeo.
(I am working on repairing this video -should be back in sync soon...)

On the day of the interview there was a pretty bad snowstorm in Minneapolis, and Doris shoveled her own driveway. Can you believe it? She is one of my heroes.

March 1, 2009

Participant Observation

Yesterday, I did participant observation for a collaborative project on Venice Beach vendors. Here is our Saturday cookie stand. It was a very intense and humbling day and I am still processing everything. One good thing is that we sold all the cookies!

On a personal note one of the most important findings relates to our project on money. This is the first time I have ever had such a direct relationship with earning money. I have had plenty of jobs where I work and get a paycheck for my labor or thoughts. As a vendor, I paid for all the ingredients and made the cookies from scratch (and I worked really really hard). The money that I earned is mine, and I will use it to reinvest back into more ingredients (or other things to sell) in order to keep working as a vendor. Somehow this money feels different to me. It feels precious. I have it in a special envelope and don't want to spend it on anything else. Having such a direct relationship with money really changes the way I think about it.

February 27, 2009


Part of what I find so intriguing about finance and economics is that is seems so foreign to me. Almost like no amount of research I could ever do would allow it to make sense. And of course that isn't true. At its core, the basic principles are common sense. Even I could understand them. But the years of experts and incomprehensible language and a scaffolding of complexity dulled our common sense. Or at least they dulled mine. I spouted suggestions that I heard repeated on radio shows. "Student loan debt is good debt." "A home is a great investment." Are these things true? Maybe? Sure? Probably? I don't know. I could make an argument for or against either although each argument would be pretty short.

So as the economy crumbles, I find myself digging through the rubble looking for my common sense and trying to apply it more reasonably to my own economic decisions. Listening to a story on NPR this morning, jointly produced by NPR and This American Life, felt like finding kindred spirits, other diggers.

Taxpayer Beware: Bank Bailout Will Hurt

And it struck a chord as to the types of thing designers can contribute to a discussion about complex issues like economics and finance.