Best Tool for the Job

In the 21 months since I posted ”Why I Prefer Using a Pencil” on 2H Pencil, technology has marched on. We’ve been through slightly more than one cycle of the phenomenon described by Moore’s Law, that integrated circuits double in performance every 18 months. Devices have gotten smarter and smaller and more connected. BIM, 3-D modeling, 3-D printing and the Cloud are the current darlings of architectural office technology.

In this time period, I’ve continued to think about my relationship to technology. Rather than classify myself as a “tech geek” or a “non-tech geek”, I am, simply, VERY selective about the technology I adopt and use regularly. I prefer a car with a stick shift, because I like to feel the workings of the engine. I prefer not to have a phone on my person at all times, because it feels intrusive and distracting. I prefer to have GPS available when I am on the road. I still prefer using a pencil when it comes to drafting.

For a while in my career, I was in sync with my professional peers with regard to architectural office technology. And when offices began to replace manual drafting with CAD, I learned the fundamentals along with everyone else. But by then, I was more involved in the management than the production side of projects; at that time, CAD was used strictly for production of construction documents. So I used a red pencil on printouts more than I sat at the Microstation.

I was not in the habit of using CAD when I started my own firm twenty years ago. Laura Kraft  Architect is intentionally a one-person firm, structured so that can follow my preferences as I see fit.   As a solo practitioner, I have no need for in-house team coordination/collaboration/sharing. Processes and findings are all stored in my head or on paper, or as digital files in Word, Excel, WordPress or ArchiOffice. In addition to these technologies I do use, I’ve got an iPad on which the mail, web and portfolio apps are the most useful for my architecture practice. However, I find that in the course of a day, I still prefer a notebook to a note-recording app.

I’ve got Vectorworks and Sketchup on my office computer, and can get around both programs. I use them on rare occasions when they can do something that the combination of a pencil, an enlarging & reducing copier, a scanner, a digital camera, and/or a quick chipboard model can’t do.

As mentioned in my first post, for the scale and one-off character of custom residential design, the focus of my practice, I believe manual drawing is a viable and appropriate tool. Hand drawn/drafted Pre-design and Schematic drawings are perfectly expressive, informative, loose and evocative for clients’ needs. Custom residential construction documents do not necessarily require the extreme precision available and inherent in CAD.

For me, some significant points against CAD are these: in my office, there is no IT department except for a portion of my own left-brain. When glitches occur, as they do according to Murphy’s Law, it’s incumbent on me to figure them out and fix them. Problems are eventually solved, but at often at too high a cost of time and aggravation. Add to this the necessary, frequent, and expensive upgrades to keep the system viable. Sometimes, advanced technology can take more than it gives.

However, when an un-filled need arises, I can enthusiastically embrace a high-tech approach, if it holds a workable solution. As an example, in the past 7-8 months, I have given free rein to a strong artistic impulse, which has expressed itself as digital art, created with Photoshop Elements, and then printed on a high quality printer. The process I have chosen to work with would seem to fly in the face of my hands-on proclivity.

This is a primary reason I currently make use of a digital process: the first image below is an oil painting I started over 30 years ago, reworked numerous times, and never finished. Re-working the gradients led to a loss of freshness and luminosity, which I desired. You can see that the multiple layers of paint have begun to slough off. I never gave up on wanting to resolve this image. There was something about the rotation of forms, the gradients, and the ambiguous relationship of foreground to background that intrigued me.

 painting _edited-1Hand painted with oils on canvas

Rotation test_edited-1Digitally created

The second image is a recently created digital version. With the computer, I was able to try many versions of the composition, adjusting the characteristics of the gradients, the colors, and the forms in a relatively short time interval. The Elements program allowed a range of explorations that were not within my grasp with the paintbrush. After 30+/- iterations, I came to a resolution that feels right to me. I don’t think that the manual process would have ever been the way to work out the problems in this painting.

I discovered an ironic reversal of the architectural “tech geek” ethos. In architecture, technology such as CAD, BIM, and 3-D modeling are embraced and preferred as predominant tools, whereas hand-drawing and manual processes are seen as oddities/novelties (though much appreciated by contractors, I find). However, in the art world, digital art is often stigmatized as less authentic than, and inferior to “hand-made” art.   As a category, it is commonly excluded from calls for work in competitions, awards, shows, etc.

Now I’m in the position of, on one hand, extolling use of the pencil for my technical drawing (no longer a conventional method), and on the other hand, extolling use of the computer for creation of my art images (also a non-conventional option). This apparent contradiction is, in fact, consistent because these choices, and all of my technology choices, are based on evaluation of how the pros and cons of each tool adds up for me. I hold that technology is best when it serves unobtrusively as a means to an end. When I find a tool that improves my process, I embrace it. When I find a need that can best be met by some new form of technology, I use it. If a tool impedes my process, I reject it. If some new gadget or program fills a need that I don’t have, I pause and reflect; adoption of such things can create a need where there was none before, and then there is no going back. So in these instances, my tendency is to resist the seduction of “the next new thing,” in order to keep life, architecture and art as simple and uncluttered as they can be.

All Images courtesy of Laura Kraft.

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Print Making Venture

I’ve been enthusiastically making prints lately!  Please check them out at this link:

LK PRINTS

Umami 1

All Images courtesy of Laura Kraft.

Feel free to share any of these copyright-protected images, but please provide a link back to 2H Pencil.

I invite your comments.

Best iPad and Tablet Apps for Architects

In the 13 months since this iPad app review was originally posted, use of tablets has grown to be nearly ubiquitous. The number of apps directed at architects has exploded!  I’m an iPad user, so this review features apps I have tried on my iPad. 

Most apps are, or will soon be available on the Android platform as well.  In cases where the identical app is available for both iPad and Android, I have included a green link to the Android app in parentheses. If there’s not an identical app by the same provider, there is likely to be something similar out there. For more on Android apps, please refer to articles Top Android Apps for Architects and Designers and  10 Most Interesting Free Android Apps.

There seems to be an app for everything!  Not all are created equal. I found that many apps offer “free” versions, but they are often barely functional. In order to be truly worthwhile, many require “in-app purchases,” (I’ll call these IAPs). I have made a note of the actual cost of the software with the addition of these.

This post will really benefit from readers’ experiences and opinions.  Please share what you know in the Comments section! stylus

Architects’ tasks fall into predictable phases. First, I’ll look at apps that are useful for tasks in the Pre-Design and Schematic Design phases.

DRAWING / DESIGN

I compared freehand drawing apps by doing a timed 15-minute drawing of a toaster (why not?) with several highly rated apps, enabling me to compare features and results. I used my finger, not a stylus. I had not used any of these apps before this experiment; my learning curve is built into the 15-minute time limit. 3 apps stood out favorably.

Sketchbook Pro,” an Autodesk product ($3) (Android, $3) is versatile for drawing and graphics.  It has many tool and line weight choices, infinite color choices, layers, and numerous ways to save and share. The zoom feature enabled a degree of precision.  I would like to spend more time learning this app, which is not all that intuitive, but not difficult to learn.

sketchbook toasterPaper,” by Fifty Three, (free, but $10 with highly recommended in-app purchases: Mixer $2,  Color $2, Sketch $2, Write $2, and Outline $2), has 5 drawing tools with limited line weight control, and infinite colors. The lack of a zoom feature limits precision. It is very intuitive, and nicely emulates drawing and applying washes.  Good for loose sketches and diagrams when connectivity is of the essence.

paper sketch

Morpholio Trace” (free, and $1 each for IAPs, which include among others, Grids, Scale Grids, Architecture, Diagrams, Perspectival Grids, Figures: Female or Male, Axonometric Grids, Landscape, 3D Grids, and Interior Design).  Trace enables you to start from scratch or take a photo or drawing from your files and overlay it with layers of virtual tracing paper.  They have added an additional fine line weight, and a zoom feature. This app allows you to instantly upload your sketch to Facebook, Twitter, email, or the Morpholio cloud.

IMG_0552 DOCUMENTING EXISTING CONDITIONS

MagicPlan, (free, needs IAPs to be of any use. The options are: 1 Plan (PDF, JPG, DXF, HTML) $3, Unlimited (PDF, JPG, HTML, DXF) $20, 10 Plans (PDF, JPG, DXF, HTML) $20, and 40 Plan (JPG/PDF/DXF/HTML) $60, (Android, pricing structure the same).  This app uses photos from which it creates measured floor plans in PDF, JPG or DXF format.

screen568x568My Measures Pro,”($8) (Android, $5), is useful for documentation, either during the design process or during construction.  One can photograph from within the app or open an existing photo, and add dimensions, angle readings, and notes to it. The resulting image can be sent to the cloud or through email.

my measures “Total for iPad,” (free) which is designed for real estate appraisers, is simple and versatile enough to get me to a measured floor plan in a reasonable amount of time.  In “Total,” project folders can contain drawings, photos (taken within the app, or brought in from elsewhere), voice recordings, and written notes. There is a detailed form for project information that might be useful. The compiled documentation can be emailed as a PDF.

Toast Room

The interface is easy to learn and use. Dimensions and room areas toggle on and off. Notes can easily be added, as can furniture, windows, doors, (pianos!) and other common plan elements. In my first use of the app, this drawing, in keeping with the toaster theme, took about 14 minutes, including my learning curve.

 “Snapseed“ (free) (Android, free), corrects, crops, and adjusts your photos.

360 Panorama ($2) (Android $1), stitches together photos to make a complete panorama.

 See article on Site Survey, Analysis & Visualization for Architects.

 referencE  

One day soon, I think Architectural Graphic Standards will be an app.  For now, some of its components are separately available from various sources.

Design Dimensions,” (apparently free) (Android, free), is an Android-only app.

“Steel Shapes” ($5) (Android $3), is similar to the big ol’ Steel Manual, which we called the Steel Bible back in the day.

Architect’s Formulator” ($10), is a growing storehouse of formulas related to electrical, carpentry, plumbing, concrete, excavation, steel design, parking areas, swimming pool design, as well as basic formulas for wind load and wind overturning force.

Big Calculator,  (free).

Pocket Light Meter,” ($1). 

Noise Sniffer,” (free).

Pitch Gauge, (free) (Android, free).

Clinometer HD” (free) (Android, $1).

Colorsnap,” (free) (Android, free), for matching in situ colors to actual Sherwin Williams’ paint colors.  Other paint companies offer similar apps.

stylus copyNext are additional apps that architects can use during the Design Development and Construction Documents phases.

 Drafting

Autodesk AutoCAD 360, (free with IAP necessary upgrades to Pro $50/year, and Pro Plus with 4x the storage capacity, $100/year) (Android, same pricing structure).  This is a highly rated drafting program. Allows you to share, view, and comment on 2D and 3D DWG, DWF™, Autodesk® Navisworks®, and Autodesk® Revit® software files from your mobile device.

 I have not rated the following drafting apps: “GraphPadPro R3,” ($20), “CadTouch,” ($20) (Android, free limited trial version), “PadCAD,” ($15) (Android, $15), “iDesign,” ($8).  Comments,  pro and con, from users?

BIM

Most CAD systems have available proprietary BIM apps.  Some apps work across several CAD platforms. ITunes currently shows no less than 85 apps for BIM. Have you used one that you think is really good?

 “Formit,” by Autodesk (free) (Android, free), allows you to create and alter BIM models on mobile devices.

 See article on BIM Apps for Architects for Architects

 3D MODEL CREATION AND VIEWING

Again, have you used a 3D app that you think is really good? These following ones are highly rated.

Verto Studio,” ($14).

Sketchup Viewer,” (free).

iRhino 3D Viewer, ($4).

TurboViewer,” (free, with IAPs TurboViewer X $7 and  TurboViewer Pro $20) (Android, $20).

See article on Mobile CAD Viewers and Collaboration.

specifications

It’s not an app, but the Arcat website is a great starting place for specs.

stylus copyMy last addition to the architect’s app toolbox is those that are particularly useful during the Construction Administration phase.

project management

Autodesk “BIM 360 Field Mobile,” (free). Create ad update issues, reference project documents, and run QA/QC checklists on the job site, offline or online.

Autodesk “Bluestreak Mobile,” (free). Track architecture, engineering, and construction project activities and collaborate.

PunchList,” ($10).

See article on 50+ Best Apps for Punchlist.

 OFFICE FUNCTIONS

Dragon Dictation,” (free), for miraculous voice to text dictation.

 Dropbox,” (free) (Android, free), for document sharing.

See article on 10 best iPad apps for office productivity.

Docscan HD,” (free) produces clear, straightened-out, cropped black and white PDF, .JPEG, or ZIP images of paper documents that can be annotated, shared and/or saved.  Will send multi-page scans.

Instapaper,” ($1 with IAPs for $1 per-month subscription) (Android, same pricing structure) (Android, $3), can be used to search the web and save articles offline in an attractive text format for future reference.

File App Pro,” ($5), is a file manager and viewer.  A variety of documents can be organized according to size, date, or name, and then opened, viewed, edited, moved and/or shared. This solves the mystery of “Where’s my stuff?” on my iPad, and makes it a far better tool as far as I’m concerned.

Office2 HD” ($8) emulates limited versions of Microsoft Office programs.  With it, I can store, open, view, edit, and share documents, including Excel spread sheets, Word documents, and Power Point presentations. They can be emailed, shared in the cloud and printed. They can cross over to the desktop.

Please Note:

1.    App prices shown are valid for today’s date, December 24, 2013, and will probably change.

2.     App developers revise, update and expand their wares, so please consider this information current as of the date of this posting.

 All images by Laura Kraft and app developers’ websites.

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I invite your comments.

Untrue Colors

I’ve been going through the slides from my family’s past to figure out what to do with them and how to do it. My Dad was a diligent photographer, shooting quantities of slides, stills, and movies.  When I was a child, he had a darkroom for black and white processing.  I spent many hours in there with him and later, on my own. I remember well: “When the little red light by the entrance is on, don’t go in!” In the process of reviewing the slides, I am enjoying the opportunity to see the world through my Dad’s eyes– what interested him, what he focused on, what he thought was significant.

slidesWe’ve got a lot of slides.

My task is to cull the images that I think will be of significance to current and future generations, and to discard the others. Each slide will be considered in these terms.  The “keepers” will be digitized and stored on a dedicated portable drive, and then opened on my graphic design software, where I can quickly rotate, crop, and adjust the color, contrast, and/or brightness of each. I’ll figure out a way to present a streamlined version of the best images for my family members.  It’s a big job; I expect it to take a couple of years.

The batch I have been working with tonight are of a trip my parents took to Turkey in 1973. The 40-year-old slides have undergone some physical changes over time (haven’t we all!), and their color is uniformly distorted. I can correct the color when there are people in the shot.  However, in this batch of slides, most of the images are of scenery, buildings, and ruins. I’ve got no reference point about the “real” color except the software’s auto correct semblance of the actual colors, which is only a computer code-driven guess.

In their unretouched form, the color distortion makes the scenes surreal and compelling, perhaps even more so than what is “correct” or “true.”  It adds additional other worldliness to a world that is already “other” to me.

20The slide’s age turned the mosque this luminous purple.

maxfield-parrish-daybreak-78398The colors and the atmosphere in the mosque image are not so different from those above in “Daybreak,” by painter/illustrator Maxfield Parrish in 1922.

4Unretouched, exceptionally vibrant and emphatically colored shot, taken from a position seated on the floor.

3Cool car, interesting loose urban density, some expected colors, and some weird colors.

1cUnretouched image inside mosque.

1dColor adjusted to what might be “real.”

 1bColor correction by software to remove red cast of original.

1aManipulated, and starting to look like a textile.3aThis unretouched image of a ruin in an arid landscape is, in fact, upside down.

7Unretouched image of ruins, looking like a parched otherworldly landscape at sunset. the color palette reminds me of Pre-Raphaelite paintings like this one (I’ve only seen the reproduction, not the actual thing), in which color is used to evoke physical and emotional feelings:640px-John_Everett_Millais_-_Chill_OctoberJohn Everett Millais, Chill October, 1870

PICT0006Unretouched composition, with the base of a gold finial touching the frame at the top. Dad sometimes framed his shots with the tops of people’s heads or tops of buildings cut off, but in this case, it makes a great composition.  The negative space of the blue sky is lovely to me.

All Images courtesy of Alan Kraft, with interventions by me.

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I invite your comments.

Asymmetry

450px-Chartres_1

Chartres Cathedral

Asymmetry is literally a lack of symmetry. It is usually defined in negative terms such as “objects that are not identical on both sides of a central line,” or those having a “failure of parts to correspond to one another in shape, size, or arrangement.“  It has been described as distorted, disquieting, out of place, hyperactive, tiresome, and threatening.

This blog post is a consideration of asymmetry in positive terms.

1.  Asymmetrical objects cause our eyes to actively scan, and our minds to actively evaluate the unequal parts of the form, seeking balance.  I feel this active engagement as stimulation, engagement, and fascination. Sometimes, a dynamic balance is achieved in an object; sometimes it is not.

2.  In addition to being a source of formal interest, asymmetry can deliver vital information. There are examples of extreme asymmetry in living things, such as this type of flounder, which has both eyes on the right side of its body. Other species of flounder are known to have both eyes on the left side of their bodies.  This is functional for them because they live at the bottom of the sea with enormous pressures causing them to lie flat.
Kuvalähde: Wilhelm vonWright: Pohjolan kalat.
CrabGross asymmetry such as that of the fiddler crab above can tell a story about a creature’s role, functioning, or habitat.  It raises the question, “What are the functional reasons for this particular form?”

3. There are degrees of symmetry. The human face is generally symmetrical, with 2 eyes, 2 nostrils, 2 cheeks, and 2 eyebrows. Yet on closer inspection of almost every face, inequality of the parts is obvious. Asymmetry is the source of interest, beauty, ugliness, and expression.

b849cc4f3f3cbfd185a6d84c47da75c6_6

Marilyn Monroe’s iconic and memorable face (top center) is admired. By mirroring just the left side (lower left), and comparing that to a mirroring of only the right side (lower right), we can see that it is far from symmetrical in structure and detail. Her facial imbalance gives her vulnerability and compelling beauty. She even darkened her beauty mark to enhance the irregular composition.

4. For human-made things, composition is a result of choices. What is the meaning or message in the choice to “go crooked?” In the early 1900s, Kazimir Malevich, a Russian Suprematist artist, created elemental, abstract art, which was shocking and radical in its time.

 malevich.black-red-square
malevich.petersburg
Here are some famous examples of architecture in which, as described in the four points above, asymmetry :
1. stimulates active engagement opening the possibility of stimulation and fascination.
2. raises questions about the functional reasons for its particular form.
3. is the source of interest, beauty, ugliness, and expression.
4. raises questions about the meaning or message in the choice to “go crooked”

800px-Thomas_Crane_Public_Library,_Quincy,_Massachusetts_(Front_view)

Thomas Crane Public Library by H.H. Richardson, 1882.

asymmetry-architecture-beauty

Auditorio de Tenerife by Santiago Calatrava, 2003

fallingwater

Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright, 1939

lotheringen_12

Coetzee House by Emilio Eftychis, 2005(?)

Niterói_Contemporary_Art_Museum

Niteroi Contemporary Art Museum by Oscar Niemeyer, 1996.

Miyakonojo 2

Miyakonojo Civic Center in Miyakonojo, by Kiyonori Kikutake, 1966, Metabolist Architecture

Chartres Cathedral image courtesy of Wikipedia.

First photo of a flounder courtesy of TBD; second image of a fiddler crab courtesy of Google Images; third image of Marilyn Monroe courtesy of upscale; images of Malevich paintings courtesy of Web Museum.

First architectural example courtesy of Wikipedia, second courtesy of  Wikipedia; third courtesy of fallingwater.org; fourth courtesy of designboom; fifth courtesy of Wikepedia; sixth courtesy of Panaramio.

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I invite your comments.

Plan Now

walkerI just returned from a visit with my 84-year-old mother who was in the hospital because she fell and hit her head. Though she suffered only a nasty black eye and a shock to her system, it was clear to all of us that the danger of her falling had become critical. With my sister, I undertook the task of relocating her to an assisted living apartment. For over a year, Mom had been adamantly against this move, but after her fall, she agreed to it.

No one likes to admit that they are getting older, and that they can’t do things the same way they used to. Many of my parents’ generation continue, with increasing effort, to keep up their lifestyle and routines that have served them well for many years, until there is a crisis. This can come in the form of a fall, a fender-bender, or a diagnosis of self or partner, and suddenly, things need to change. Most often, new arrangements, and all of their attendant upheaval, occur at a moment of maximum stress, when one’s abilities to adjust and cope are already under strain.

With 20-20 hindsight, we can see that the time to have made some accommodations would have been BEFORE the crisis. My sister and I wish we had been able to convince Mom to accept her need for increased assistance many months ago. It would have been so much easier for her to adjust to new patterns and routines when in good health, and the improved arrangements might even have prevented the crisis.

Foresight about the realities of aging-in-place, that is, making accommodations to one’s home for accessibility and safety, requires facing the possibility of loss of abilities that have been taken for granted. It requires clear-eyed practicality and application of “the golden rule” to one’s self.

Appropriate architectural accommodations in homes for aging-in-place, also known as universal design, includes integration of the following:

  • Smooth, ground-level entrances without stairs
  • Surfaces that are stable, firm, and slip resistant
  • Wide interior doors, hallways, and alcoves with 60″ × 60″ turning space at doors and dead-ends
  • Removal of throw rugs and clutter
  • Bright and appropriate lighting, particularly task lighting
  • Accessible switches throughout home, including at both ends of the stairs
  • Additional railings
  • Grab bars in bathrooms
  • A hand-held, flexible shower head
  • Functional clearances for approach and use of elements and components
  • Lever handles for opening doors rather than twisting knobs
  • Components that do not require tight grasping, pinching or twisting of the wrist
  • Clear lines of sight to reduce dependence on sound

For a new home, these accommodations can be smoothly integrated at the outset of the design. For retrofit of an existing home, it can involve some ingenuity to achieve these goals. Increasingly, many of my clients, often “baby boomers” in middle age, are asking for the benefits of universal design. They tell me they want to stay in their homes “for the duration.” They want their homes to be accessible for friends and parents who may use wheelchairs or walkers. They understand that big changes can occur at any time of life.

There is no time like the present to plan for the future.

Related article: Universal Design: What Is It and Why You Should Care. Image courtesy of James Estrin,The New York Times.

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Spirals

spring rollSpring is beginning to happen. This tulip, unfurling from the ground in front of my house, got me thinking about spirals.

Many living things, both plants and animals, share this form in their growth patterns. Haeckel_Ammonitida

This plate from Art Forms of Nature  by German biologist Ernst Haeckel shows examples of ancient Ammonitida shells. I marvel at their complexity and perfection.

No less amazing is M74, the Perfect Spiral Galaxy, a spectacular example of a “grand design spiral galaxy.”

m74_baixauli_900

Fibonacci numbers describe these spiral phenomena mathematically.

Fibonacci_spiral_34.svg

There are many works of architecture based on the spiral, from whole buildings to details, to spiral staircases.

There is a special spiral staircase in Baker Hall, at my alma mater, Carnegie-Mellon University (CMU), built with nothing but layered thin Terra-cotta tiles, as a variation of timbrel vault type of construction.

2012_11_12_images_10_guastavini

It supports itself without a steel armature, posts or beams.  The sinuous gentle curve is gorgeous. The a herringbone tile pattern along the curved underside is one of three layers of tile adhered together with fast-setting mortar.  The resulting laminated shell is almost as strong as reinforced concrete.

It was built by the company of a Spanish master builder, Rafael Guastavino, who excelled at designing and building timbrel arches, vaults, and spiral stairs. Guastavino structures, unlike Roman arches and vaults, don’t require heavy wooden supports (centering) during their construction. “The Guastavino craftsmen could start at the four walls of a room and build toward the center. The masons could stand on a ladder or a platform, but they didn’t have to build a wooden frame to support their structure while it was being built—it almost seems miraculous…We have a difficult time today calculating the geometries of (this) structure. I have students here at MIT doing doctoral research, trying to understand how these structures stand up. We can’t build this staircase today.””

The above quote is from MIT structures Professor John Ochsendorf in “Vaulting Ambition,” by Craig Lambert, in Humanities Magazine, a great article that explores the Guastavino’s history, work and influence.

There is an upcoming exhibit in the National Building Museum, called Palaces for the People: Guastavino and America’s Great Public Spaces, which will be on view from March 16, 2013 to January 20, 2014. I hope to get a chance to see it.

The first photo is mine; the second photo is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons; the third photo is courtesy of NASA; the fourth photo is courtesy of Wikipedia; and the fifth photo is courtesy of Michael Freeman.

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I invite your comments.