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University events and lectures preview/review

A preview and review of U events and lectures (Dec. 1-15)

Compiled by Adam Overland

Children at the Robot Show 165
The U's Robot Show is free and open to the public and is suitable for all ages.

December 8, 2009

University events and lectures preview/review is a new, periodic column (about every two-weeks) highlighting events and lectures recently past and soon-to-come on the UMTC campus. Faculty and staff are invited to contribute. Submissions should be no longer than 250 words and are subject to review by the Brief editor.

Design @ Noon: Dec. 2, noon: The message conveyed by the University’s College of Design Dean Tom Fisher is, at first listen, alarming. He prophesizes, if not the downfall, then at least the deterioration of civilization. From the collapse of the housing market and a shaky economy to energy infrastructure and climate change, according to Fisher it all comes back to the issue of poor design. But while Fisher may decry the current state of society, he evangelizes a better way—and design will play a leading role.

Fisher spoke to about 40 attentive listeners in Rapson Hall during a Dec. 2 "Design @ Noon" lecture, one in a series of noontime Wednesday lectures sponsored by the college’s School of Architecture. Attention grabbers such as "Were humanity to consume at the rate of North America we'd need 5.5 planets to survive," draw the listener in fast and leave us hoping he has a solution.

Referencing Bernie Madoff, Fisher says Earth itself is essentially a planetary Ponzi scheme, and that "we are on an unsustainable path of inequality." Much like Madoff's scheme, Fisher says the problem today is that "it's just so big, no one can see it. Fisher says that essentially, we're running out of a base of population large enough to support the top of the pyramid. "Population is a fracture critical system waiting for rupture."

Fisher wants students of design to learn to expect failure in their designs—and plan for it. It's a completely different way of looking at design, but it's not new—it's rediscovering what was once known, says Fisher. Pre-World War II, he says, we had resilient, varied design in the United States. But much of that variation has been stricken in the name of efficiency.

If you're curious, learn more about Tom Fisher at "Design for the other 100 percent" and "Fracture Critical."

Mixed media, an evening with Lewis Lapham: Dec. 4., 7:30 p.m: Lewis Lapham, editor emeritus of Harper's Magazine and founder of Lapham's Quarterly, spoke on the topic of "Mixed Media" and the tribulations of the printed word in cyberspace in Wiley Hall to a crowd of more than 100. The event was sponsored by The Friends of the University of Minnesota Libraries. Lapham was introduced by U librarian and McKnight Presidential Professor Wendy Pradt Lougee. Lapham's talk centered on the place of literature and books, particularly those of higher knowledge (past, present, and yet to be written) such as Shakespeare, etc., and their place in the cyberspace society.

Lapham, who has been compared with H.L. Mencken and Mark Twain, was funny and insightful, commenting that (paraphrasing) the blogosphere is full of 50,000 voices of self-love, while the power of the human voice in a book is unmistakable. But the Internet is young and perhaps has yet to find its place, Lapham says. After all, it took 150 years after the invention of the printing press to get Shakespeare. Much of what is on the Internet today is that which is marketable, like "how to improve your bat swing" or "how to make a bunch of money next week." The many modes of media that is the Internet lack a common expressive language, and that is an emergency, says Lapham.

He referenced a Maureen Dowd article on Google's founder and the history of books, leaving the audience with some food for thought and research to do. Lapham was recently featured in the NY Times.

"Sex, Politics, and Transnational (Jewish) Comedy: The Films of Ernst Lubitsch."
Rick McCormick will discuss some key films in the career of Ernst Lubitsch, the German-Jewish director. Professor McCormick is a scholar of German film and culture whose work has focused on the intersection of art, culture, and politics, with a special emphasis on gender, sexuality, and ethnic/national identity. Dec. 9, noon-1 p.m. 235 Nolte Center for Continuing Education. Cost: Free and open to the public.

Duane Nykamp: seminar on networks
This presentation is part of the open interdisciplinary group "Networks: Understanding complex structures in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences," which brings together researchers and students who are interested in networks and the methods for exploring them. Dec. 11, 125 Nolte Center.

Robot Show

Get your robot on at the annual robot show. An automated strumming guitar, a gumball amusement park, and robotic dancing frogs will be among the more than 200 student-designed robots on display at the University of Minnesota Robot Show. The walk-through show is the largest collection of robots assembled in one place in the Twin Cities. The event is free and open to the public and is suitable for all ages. Dec. 14, 2:40 p.m.-4:30 p.m., McNamara Alumni Center.