Treble Charger - Red

Rolling back through old albums in my archive… Treble Charger’s album NC17 was released in 1994. (Check out those glasses!)


Love Song / Not A Love Song

​A diptych of love/not love songs across almost two decades…


Airbourne - “Runnin’ Wild”

This is important. You should watch it.


The Black Eyed Peas - “Weekend” ft. Esthero

I miss this version of BEP…​ Also.

Purity Ring - “Fineshrine”

​I know I’m pretty late to the party with these guys…

Winning the NCARB AREs (or any exam, really)

Version 0.9.1

​This is a strategy for how to study—specifically for the NCARB Architecture Registration Exams (AREs), but the ideas could be adapted to pretty much any type of studying/exam preparation.

I’ll be updating this page periodically if necessary. So what you’re reading now is version 0.9.1. Enjoy!


The key to quickly winning at NCARB AREs is, I think, to always remember that your goal is to pass the exam (NOT to know everything), and studying efficiently basically means being aware of what you know and what you don’t. People who just start blindly reading the Kaplan/Ballast study guides either don’t have or have lost this awareness, and thus waste a lot of time.

So, you have to track it. I used Evernote to track my studying (it does checkboxes fast and easily), but you could use a spreadsheet or Word document, etc. I maintained an ongoing list as I was studying of questions or topics I knew I needed to study more. If something was checked off, I knew I had at least some basic understanding. If unchecked, it represented a gap in my knowledge to be filled. (Example entry from Building Systems: “[ ] review plumbing terms: stack, arrestor, trap, vent, valve, cleanout” or “[ ] sensible heat vs latent heat?” )

This is the concept of “known-unknowns” and “unknown-unknowns” that Rumsfeld got panned for. It’s actually a crucial distinction. So your job in studying is to (a) discover the unknown-unknowns, (b) track the then known-unknowns, and then (c) turn them into known-knowns using efficient, targeted studying efforts.

It’s really hard to say exactly what you will need to study, because there are thousands of questions in the NCARB pool and they can come out of nowhere. Better, I think, to have an overall strategy for filling your brain, since everyone’s personal benchmark coming into the exams will be a bit different. For example, I had a great academic track record, 3+ years work experience, plus I was LEED AP and I’d done an intensive Passive House course—all before writing most of the exams. This experience wasn’t always directly applicable, but it definitely gave me a head start in some areas.

The good thing about this technique is that it acknowledges a key motivator: You probably know more than you think!

I think it’s true that you’ll just need to study what you’ll need to study—which is different than what I needed to study. Use the practice exams as your barometer. You should feel pretty confident going into the exam with practice scores around 70+% (or 65+% maybe) by the end.


I passed all 7 divisions on the first try. I tried to record my cumulative study time, listed here in the order I took the exams:

  • BDCS: lots, too much, wrote this one first (probably 40+)
  • SPD: unknown (not much, fairly straightforward exam, if I recall)
  • CDS: 18 hrs
  • SS: 24 hrs (+ Thaddeus course)
  • SD: 12 hrs
  • BS: 9 hrs (+ Mibelli course)
  • PPP: 20 hrs

I suggest studying in the 3-5 weeks before the exam. Too long before is a nice idea, but it’s hard to stay motivated, and you’ll forget stuff anyway. Three weeks is good time pressure, but not much time to study, so 4-5 weeks is ideal. Some might say this is cramming, but I say there are better things in life than studying for exams.

I don’t know if order of the exams matters too much. I’d suggest doing a few of the supposedly easier ones (SD, SPD) first to build some momentum and get a feel for the Prometric “experience.” SS, BDCS, and BS are generally thought to be the most difficult. I wouldn’t leave all hard ones until the end, however. CDS and PPP are meant to be more practice-based, I think, so pushing them to the end (after you’ve potentially logged more work experience) makes some sense.


Before you go any further, I highly recommend you read Paul N Edwards’ guide, “How to Read a Book”:

I didn’t use his exact strategy. Instead, I used a slightly modified version, applicable to any piece of study material—especially anything 100+ pages long.

  1. I usually copied out the Contents to understand the book’s structure, and then I’d skim through to find important parts, taking note of content I felt comfortable with and keeping a list of questions I had or things I definitely needed to read.
  2. Go back and read the necessary parts in more detail

This doesn’t mean you’re just browsing the book. Sometimes you’ll feel like you need to read a whole chapter, so if that happens, do it!


These are the best way to uncover your “unknown-unknowns.” You should try to do all practice exams available to you (Ballast, Kaplan, etc). I usually started with the NCARB exam guide, to get a sense of the overall content and begin generating my study list. I would list any question/topic I didn’t know the answer to (while doing the practice exams) and then at the end, I’d add any practice question I got wrong. Correct answers are usually “known-knowns” and you should be wary of spending any more time on them.

List in hand, then you study. Kaplan is pretty good, Ballast is decent, Google/Wikipedia is great for general knowledge items. I also used the Kaplan Flashcards iPhone app. It’s quite expensive, but it’s nice to have something to review during your commute or when waiting around…

Your study list at first could be quite long. If your first practice exam score was low-ish (say <60%), use the study guides/books to generate more topics you need to study and study them. The practice exam score doesn't matter so much, but 70-80% is a good place to be I think, and I've heard of people passing with practice-exam scores in the 50's (myself included).

After that, time to do another practice exam. Add topics to your list, then study, then do another practice exam. Repeat until you run out of time.


(I heard they’re changing the vignette software, so this advice might be out of date soon.)


  • You MUST download the practice software from NCARB and practice using the drawing tools. They suck, but you just have to get over it and pretend it’s an architectural video game (NOT AutoCAD).
  • Use the Norman Dorf “Solutions” book as your vignette Bible. Do whatever is required to get a copy of this.
  • Alternate vignettes can be loaded into the software in DWG format. You can find many of them on ARE Forum, but they aren’t well sorted: (lots of study content there, too)
  • The vignettes are mostly tests in being organized and following rules. Practicing will help you come up with a protocol for each vignette, which usually involves parsing the instructions and making notes on your sketch paper in an intelligible form, and then swiftly executing the actual vignette. Dorf has a protocol for each exam. You’ll probably adapt it a bit to your own way of working.


I did both the Thaddeus Structures course and the Mibelli Building Systems course. If they’re offered in your area, I highly recommend them. It meant spending ~$300 on each course, but you can think of it as highly compressed, targeted study time. It’s the only way I was able to write and pass Building Systems with just an additional 9 hours of studying.


I used a pretty basic exam technique:

  • 1st pass: read quickly and answer the questions as you go. The system lets you mark any question for review later, so mark anything you don’t know or are guessing at.
  • 2nd pass: review marked questions and answer. You might have come across answers or clues in other questions during the first pass. Now you should have all questions answered, and likely some still marked.
  • 3rd pass: Re-read all questions from the beginning and check answers

Before each exam, I’d also do the math and know how many minutes/question I’d have (usually <2 minutes/question). This helps for pacing. The system's "mark for review" function is OK, but I also made a list of the question numbers on my sketch paper (during the initial 10-minute computer introduction) so I could manually mark questions for review, or check off ones I knew were correct or had checked to the best of my knowledge. There's no way to mark a question "Definitely correct; Do not spend any more time on it" on the computer, so the list on paper can be handy.

Hope that helps! Good luck!


HAIM - “Falling,” “Don’t Save Me,” and “Forever”

I couldn’t decide ​which of these songs was the best, so you get all three! This “female ‘80s pop redux” reminds me of later Fleetwood Mac and, of course, Wilson Phillips. (HAIM is three sisters.)


Patrick Wolf - “The City” (Richard X Remix)

The original is OK, but this is SO much better. I thought I was listening to an ‘80s dance original….


Rating: 1.5 stars

Finding Nemo

I did not like this movie. It’s not bad, but since I was expecting a happy-go-lucky animated feature and had just paid $20 to own it on iTunes, I wasn’t prepared for a mass slaughter (mom and fish babies) and a child abduction in the first 15 minutes. Then (then!) we spend the balance of the film exploring the worst of what the ocean has to offer: sharks, abandoned mine fields, wreckages, deep black trenches, stinging jellyfish, terrible Anglerfish, giant whales, fishing boats, etc. Nature is cruel, and the ocean is frankly terrifying.

Upsides: It’s visually stunning, and Ellen DeGeneres as the forgetful but loveable Dory (above in blue/yellow) is the real star here. She speaks whale.


Rating: 4.5 stars

Mysterious Skin

​This was a super intense film. Fairly disturbing subject matter, but extremely well executed. I was doing the literal “edge of my seat” thing for probably the last 20-30 minutes.


Toro y Moi - “So Many Details”

The car. The girl​. The house. The airplane.

New album is out! Go get it!


Hudson Mohawke - “FUSE”

​Big, beautiful beats. Two for two so far on “stuff I like from Glasgow.”

Top 12 Songs of 2012

Since I’m woefully behind the times of a music industry that moves at lightning pace, here’s my top 12 tracks of 2012, simply ranked by number of listens in I’ve included the release date of each so you can see how behind I am (only one song actually released in 2012):

12. Chromatics - “Kill For Love” (2012)

From the album of the same name. Posted here before, commenting that, “Feels a little bit like Erasure, or Depeche Mode, or the only Jesus and Mary Chain song that I know.”

11. Flo Rida - “Wild Ones (featuring Sia)” (2011)

I have a soft spot for the occasional epic club track. This one works just right.

10. Beach House “Walk In The Park” (2010)

Had to look this up to remember the song. It’s not great. Just ended up on some Genius playlists on heavy rotation…

9. The Temper Trap - “Sweet Disposition” (2009)

From the (500) Days of Summer soundtrack of course. I guess I’m still hooked on this one. Did not like the rest of this single’s album, however.

8. M83 - “Midnight City” (2011)

I heard this described as “synthcore.” Well constructed, and saxophone solo to boot. Yes, please.

7. Warpaint - “Undertow” (2010)

A 2010 Fluxblog Survey find. Really shines at 2:45 onward.

6. M83 - “Claudia Lewis” (2011)

Maybe it’s considered cliché now, but the standout tracks on Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming are just great songs.

5. Jay Electronica - “Exhibit C” (2009)

Mean, mean track. Love this. Only hip-hop song to make this little list.

4. Passion Pit - “Swimming In The Flood” (2009)

Not even a single, but easily my favourite Passion Pit track.

3. Crystal Castles - “Not In Love (featuring Robert Smith)” (2010)

Early start to my current interest in this sort of “industrial synthpop” genre.

2. Robyn - “Dancing On My Own” (2010)

An enduring classic? Probably.

1. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti - “Round and Round​” (2010)

Gotta like that chorus hook. Also discovered on the 2010 Fluxblog Survey. Feel embarrassed that this is my most listened track, but sometimes the truth hurts!

Look forward to my 2013 list for top hits from 2011 and 2012!


Chvrches - “The Mother We Share”

I’ve had this on repeat for about two days straight, interspersed with whatever I can scrounge of CHVRCHES’ other work or things I’m dredging from related styles. But this track is my fav. It feels perfectly modern yet nostalgic all the same (“recalling the very best of the genre,” said one Youtube commenter).

“Lies” is the other hit “officially” released:

Information is sparse, but an album is expected in early-mid 2013. For now, there are a few remixes on Soundcloud and a smattering of Youtube clips that I’ve compiled into a playlist. Of those, I’d highly recommend this beautiful Prince cover, “I Would Die 4 V.”

Update: This 23-minute live radio session on BBC Radio Scotland is also quite good.


Def Leppard - “Animal”

I just want you to know​ that somebody in this video is playing his synth drums in bare feet.


Simple Plan - “Jet Lag”

​Often, I’m intrigued enough by an unknown song that I take the effort to whip out my phone and Shazam the track… only to find that it’s a band I dislike – probably more because of principles or prejudices than because I have any familiarity with the band, of course.

So, Simple Plan, you’ve bested me this time, with your melancholic pop hooks and “emotive” lyrics, slotting casually into my Guilty Pleasures playlist.

However, a few comments on this funny “ha ha” video:

  • There are FOUR versions of the song/video, featuring different female voice leads: Natasha Bedingfield (above), French-Canadian singer Marie-Mai, Chinese pop singer Kelly-Cha, and KOTAK vocalist Tantri. I like the Kelly-Cha version is best, with the “late-night radio announcer” bookends and the subtle AsiaPop overproduction. (Did you notice that extra bit of reverb?) I’ve hunted down all three other versions for you below.
  • The song is about these two special lovers being apart and how it’s tearing them up, BUT bro is clearly working at least FOUR international ladies simultaneously.
  • Shout outs to WestJet, but then why is there an Air Canada jet flying away at the end? You couldn’t wait, like, 10 minutes to catch a WestJet plane?
  • Did you know Simple Plan was from Québec? I didn’t.
  • Lead singer Pierre Bouvier (I know his name now. What’s happening to me?) carries a guitar case throughout the video, but doesn’t seem to play guitar in the band. What’s actually in that guitar case?
  • Here, watch this behind-the-scenes clip. Ha.


Maylee Todd - “Baby’s Got It”

​Wonderful video. Can’t wait for the album.


Rating: 3 stars

The Naked City

The Naked City Poster

I was probably drawn to this title either by the promise of nudity, or perhaps by reference to the famous psychogeographic diagram by Guy Debord (the diagram was apparently inspired by the film). The story is, fairly simply, about the investigation of the murder of a young model in New York. There are a few good twists, but it’s rather linear by today’s standards.

The film was recognized with Academy Awards for cinematography and film editing, which is apparent during the vignettes of the Big Apple (it was filmed on location). The stylistically documentarian moments, complemented by a somewhat dark and mysterious narrator make it a little more than a typical run-of-the-mill whodunnit.

Worth watching if you have a hankering for something in black and white. Catch a taste here:


The Constantines - “Nighttime/Anytime (It’s Alright)”

​Pretty boring video, but I love this song.


City and Colour - “Fragile Bird”

I​ usually only post things I really love. I can’t decide on this one, but wanted to log it somewhere for posterity. Great hook in the chorus, though! (Kinda NSFW, but you know, depends where you work…)