Is PhotoShop still relevant in the age of AI?

I tried out Cornell’s Microsoft Copilot Enterprise, which Cornell describes as “a way to experiment with generative AI,” and was, unsurprisingly, underwhelmed. In particular, the image-generating tool was inane and pretty much useless, and the Microsoft-provided explanatory material was simply embarrassing — it promoted such a dumbing down of critique and explanation that even Edward Tufte’s classic critique of Microsoft’s PowerPoint would need some sort of afterword.

It is in this context that I wonder about the continued relevance of Adobe’s PhotoShop, which — in the age of AI — seems to take on the character of an old-school graphic device, with a direct connection to the user’s intentions and control. So, if PhotoShop is dead, I say, “long live PhotoShop”!

Having just returned from a short trip to Spain, I began editing (with PhotoShop) some iPhone images that I took in several Madrid museums — in particular, the Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando:

Plaster cast of statue of Laocoön and His Sons, edited with PhotoShop to include iPhone (as if one of the figures, in anguish, is taking a selfie.

Plaster cast of Laocoön and His Sons in the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Madrid: iPhone photo taken and edited with PhotoShop (adding the iPhone used by one of the sons to take a selfie) by Jonathan Ochshorn.

Jacob Lucasz. Ochtervelt's Oyster Eaters; with the 17th-century lute replaced with a Gibson les Paul Standard electric guitar.

Jacob Lucasz. Ochtervelt, Oyster Eaters; ca. 1665 at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid: the 17th-century lute has been replaced, using PhotoShop, with a Gibson Les Paul Standard electric guitar by Jonathan Ochshorn.

Selfie taken in front of Picasso's 1923 Harlequin with a Mirror, with the "harlequin" taking a selfie at the same time, courtesy of PhotoShop.

Double selfie by Jonathan Ochshorn: a selfie taken in front of Picasso’s 1923 Harlequin with a Mirror, at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid, with the “harlequin” taking a selfie at the same time, courtesy of PhotoShop.

Book presentation at AAP Launchpad event

I presented my latest book, OMA’s Milstein Hall, at Cornell AAP’s joint book launch event, called Launchpad, on April 17, 2024, at 5:30 PM. Details here. Because I was in Madrid for the 2024 ASHRAE International Building Decarbonization Conference, my presentation consisted of a 7-minute music video. I was thinking of adding something like, “Be there. Will be wild!,” but will resist the temptation. Bad taste.

The video was released on YouTube at the same time as the book launch event. Why not subscribe to my YouTube channel to get notices of such things!

Finally: my new 2021–2024 IBC Allowable Area Calculator!

I had created a free online calculator to determine allowable heights, number of stories, and floor area, based on various criteria in the International Building Code (IBC). This calculator, however, was getting old and out of date, so I finally revised it, based on the 2021 and 2024 IBC (the latest iterations currently available). It’s free and (relatively) easy to use, so try it out, here.

Generic site plan showing various parameters for the calculation of the area increase factor (for frontage).

Cornell concert posters from the early 1970s

Who says architects can’t do archival research? An email conversation got me thinking about a Persuasions concert from 1973 that I saw at Cornell when I was an architecture student (they opened for Stevie Wonder). Being at Cornell’s Olin Library to return a book, I decided to check out the trove of concert posters in the “Rare and Manuscript Collections” held at the Carl A. Kroch Library, an underground addition to Olin Library designed by Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson and Abbott that opened in 1992. Once there, I was presented with two large folders containing a sample of Cornell’s collection, including posters for at least two of the concerts I attended—not only Stevie Wonder and the Persuasions, but also Joni Mitchell playing with Tom Scott and the L.A. Express. I should note that Stevie Wonder and the Persuasions played at Bailey Hall, so the acoustics were great; whereas Joni Mitchell played in Barton Hall, a large field house that’s great for lunchtime basketball or watching track events, but horrible for music.

I made a webpage containing photos that I took of samples from Cornell’s larger collection, from September 1972 (Elton John) to April 1975 (Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock).

Concert poster for Stevie Wonder and The Persuasions, playing at Cornell's Bailey Hall March 30, 1973.

Concert poster for Stevie Wonder and The Persuasions, playing at Cornell’s Bailey Hall March 30, 1973 (Ticket prices: $3.00–$4.00).

Adding insult to injury: Cornell deletes Rand Hall egress information

I’ve written about the many egregious fire safety violations in Rand Hall’s Mui Ho Fine Arts Library at Cornell, e.g., an article describing my “Appeal regarding building code violations in Cornell’s Fine Arts Library.”

So it’s entirely fitting that the college’s Spring 2024 events postcard would feature an image of the Rand roof deck with all egress information Photoshopped away!

Puzzle of the Heart (new version/remix)

In preparation for my upcoming “Greatest Hits Vol 4” album, I remixed my 2021 song, “Puzzle of the Heart,” by adding drums, bass, organ, and a touch of back-up vocals — starting at the second verse of the song.

This entailed straightening up the free-form, and somewhat uneven, tempo of the live performance, not only for the new Logic Pro X audio, but also for the new Final Cut Pro video. Having  made those subtle modifications, I was able to re-use most elements of the 2021 live video for this 2024 version (with the new 2024 soundtrack).

I Wish I Were a Bee (new version)

I wrote the chorus to this song when I was in high school, but only got around to writing the verses and bridge about 50 years later, i.e., just before first recording it live in January 2020. This is a new recording with a bit more orchestration and back-up vocals.

For those interested, the Sartre references are based on a cursory reading of Being and Nothingness (no, not the book; just the Wikipedia entry):
“From Sartre’s phenomenological point of view, nothingness is an experienced reality and cannot be a merely subjective mistake. The absence of a friend and absence of money hint at a being of nothingness. It is part of reality. In the first chapter, Sartre develops a theory of nothingness which is central to the whole book, especially to his account for bad faith and freedom. For him, nothingness is not just a mental concept that sums up negative judgements such as ‘Pierre is not here’ and ‘I have no money.’ Though ‘it is evident that non-being always appears within the limits of a human expectation.’ the concrete nothingness differs from mere abstract inexistence, such as the square circle. A concrete nothingness, e.g. not being able to see, is part of a totality: the life of the blind man in this world. This totality is modified by the nothingness which is part of it.”
The idea that “man is not the sum of what he has already, but rather the sum of what he does not yet have, of what he could have” is from Sartre’s “Temporalité,” in Situations (1947, 1949).
And the Kanye reference in the bridge is based on Mr. West’s similar claim that “everything I’m not, made me everything I am.”
I Wish I Were a Bee
Words and music by Jonathan Ochshorn 
© J. Ochshorn 2020
I wish I were a bee
I wish I were a bee
No one would ever ask me
What I wanted to be
Verse 1
I hate all questions that presume some cultural identity
Defining who you are in terms of arbitrary norms
Some people get so obsessed with such a dubious ontology
That they become what they dress up as in their uniforms [Chorus]
Verse 2
My friend Jean-Paul’s apartment is somewhere on the second floor
I think perhaps apartment “B,” so down the hall I wander
I’m about to ring the bell but doubt sets in as I approach the door
Is it “2-B or not 2-B” — that’s the question that I ponder [Chorus]
[Instrumental Chorus]
Kanye says everything you’re not makes you everything you are
Jean-Paul agrees that it isn’t the sum of what you have thus far
But rather the sum of what you don’t have or could have that really should prevail
Even if, in principle, all human actions are doomed to fail
Verse 3
I meet Jean-Paul at a café to talk about reality
His friend Pierre is still not there so we order bread and honey
He says that a concrete nothingness is part of a totality
As he leaves me staring at the bill while I run out of money [Chorus]
Links to all my music and videos:

Blank Space

Celebrating Time‘s 2023 “Person of the Year,” here is my cover of Taylor Swift’s mega-hit from 2014, Blank Space. The song was re-released as “Taylor’s Version” in 2023.

The background image, visible in the thumbnail above, if of the Palau de la Música Catalana (Catalan Concert Hall) in Barcelona, which was built at the beginning of the 20th century. In my cover version of the song, I do all the vocals and background vocals, piano, electric guitar, organ, bass, and drums (other than the guitar, the rest are actually “software” instruments played on my MIDI keyboard). I recorded the song using Logic Pro and made the video using Final Cut Pro.

Only true Swifties will understand the portion of the video where I’m in bed with my guitar. Hint: see this early Taylor Swift video.

Count Me Out

I’ve finally written a new song, called “Count Me Out”!

Thanks to brother Kurt for advice on the arrangement and mix; and to daughter Jennie for additional background vocals. I made the video using Final Cut Pro, with my iPhone either mounted on my bicycle seat (for the moving view of 6-mile Creek taken from Giles Street in Ithaca, NY) or on a tripod in front of my portable green screen. The dancer and the bit of smoke at the end of the video were found with an internet search for free downloadable green-screen-enabled clips; they are credited at the end of the video. The drummer is me in front of a black background from a 2011 video I had made for an earlier song; because I was wearing a black cap, the cap disappeared into the black chroma key void, so I added in an image of a hat worn by Neil Peart, the late drummer/singer for Rush, also found on the internet.

I play all instruments and sing the vocals and background vocals (with added background vocals provided by daughter Jennie). Except for the electric guitars, all other “software” instruments, including drums, bass, piano, strings, and synth, are played on my MIDI keyboard. I mixed the song using Logic Pro X.

Count Me Out
Words and music © Jonathan Ochshorn 2023

1. Count me out I don’t need those pointless invitations
Tell your friends I can’t be bothered with their vapid conversations
Whatever I told you just print it out and shred it
It don’t prove a thing I’ll deny I ever said it
Tell it to your lawyers they’ll bill you on your credit or debit card
Life is hard
Count me out

2. Ah cause you don’t need me hanging out with you
There must be lots of people that you know with nothing else to do
What about Dmitry just wake him from his trance
I know if you call him he’ll jump at the chance
And if you determine that your circumstance is unfair
I don’t care
Count me out, count me out, count me out

[Bridge] Me, I had enough for one night
In fact, I had enough for one life
I don’t want to discuss it no more
I don’t need this strife

Instrumental half-verse 3

Second-half verse 3. Do us both a favor let me off the hook
Maybe I’ll just hang out and curl up with a book
Order up some take-out so I don’t have to cook here tonight
Wrong or right
Count me out

4. Ah baby cause you know I never had the patience for this stuff
I’ve wasted too much time already can’t you see I’ve really had enough
Text me when it’s over call me when it’s through
Tell me that you missed my caustic point of view
Look it’s nothing personal I’m waiting for you here my friend
But till then
Count me out, count me out, count me out, count me out

Free open-access books on architecture

All three of my books are now available in free, open-access, digital versions — as well as low-cost paperback editions.

Read on the web, download free ePubs or PDFs, or buy a low-cost paperback:

The path to open-access wasn’t particularly easy. In the case of Structural Elements, I started with Elsevier (publisher of the first hardcover edition), then found a less onerous publisher (Common Ground) for a paperback second edition, and then took control myself for the third edition by self-publishing an inexpensive paperback ($19.95) and creating a free web version and PDF.

For OMA’s Milstein Hall, I had some preliminary conversations with the publisher, Routledge, but they seemed reluctant to publish a book critical of OMA without some sort of “reassurance” from OMA, which—naturally—wasn’t forthcoming. So I self-published the book ($19.95), also providing a free web version as well as free ePub and PDF versions.

My book, Building Bad, was initially published by Lund Humphries in 2021. I had some professional development funds in my Cornell account, partly from my status as professor emeritus at Cornell, and partly from my work as Speaker of the Cornell University Faculty Senate, and asked Lund Humphries if they would consider allowing me to create an open-access (free) version, with a subvention from these available funds. Apparently, they had no experience with such things, but eventually decided to place their hardcover edition “out of print,” disable their eBook edition as well, and revert all publishing rights back to me, for a modest sum of money. This allowed me to create a free web version as well as a free ePub, a free PDF, and a low-cost paperback version (only $14.95).