Small Streams

Volvelle Possibilities
August 14, 2014, 4:08 am
Filed under: art, awareness, maps, math, media, toys, Uncategorized

Volvelle Possibilities

Just a little doodle to set me thinking. Even limiting myself to concentric circles for the most part, I kept coming up with possibilities for using Volvelles. I started with the idea of surveying what could be done with a circle and a pivot. Information can be obscured, indicated, or illuminated with a Volvelle. The second circle below could be a changing face. I’m not sure how you illustrate or derive a function with such a thing. But, like I say, “just a little doodle.” Transparent colored circles could illustrate combinations and layered traces could illustrate circuits. The final Volvelle on the bottom right plays with the idea of a spiral around a pivot, that is a turntable. Is the needle on the top or the bottom? Is there a needle guide? Maybe musicians could use them to demonstrate a musical passage. Just run an amplifying stylus through the grooves and you have yourselves a tune. 

Wax On
November 23, 2013, 3:17 am
Filed under: art, awareness, business, cities, community, media, observer | Tags: , ,

Last week, I wrote about a tech workshop at Rough Trade East. But don’t go looking up “rough trade” on Craigslist, look it up in the New York Times which has a story on the new branch of Rough Trade in NYC. The old medium of vinyl is growing, perhaps not on a scale that economists recognize (e•con•o•mist, a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing — Oscar Wilde), but enough that more and more people have access to the joy of records.

“As more and more business moves online and also to the malls,” [Martin Mills of Beggars Group, an independent record company] wrote in an email, “there is an increasing countervailing human demand for community, for localness, for tangible beauty, for specialist knowledge, for range, for retail experiences that are not price-dependent but make you feel good.”

Chocolate Ecstasy Tour
November 10, 2013, 4:30 am
Filed under: art, awareness, food, observer, Tourism, walking | Tags: ,

Yesterday Liz, Piper, and I took a chocolate tour of London courtesy of the American School of London. The tour was an amazing brief for the senses. Our guide was well versed in chocolate knowledge. After convening for a cup of cocoa we visited four chocolate shops. Believe me, four is plenty. My senses were overstimulated by the end.

We visited Roald Dahl’s favorite chocolate shop, the oldest chocolate shop in London, a cool artisanal shop, and a shop known for its mixtures of chocolate with nuts and spices.

Two of the shops were in arcades. Which makes me think, “What’s the difference between a mall and an arcade?” To find out, I suggest going to Pittsburgh’s Fifth Avenue Place and imagine you’re standing in Jenkin’s Arcade. If you don’t cry then and there, your heart is made of stone.

All of the chocolate shops were in the Mayfair and Soho parts of London. I’ll attach some pictures. Not pictured is the fantastic moment when I first glimpsed the white terra cotta grand avenue of Regent Street through the highly articulated channel of Soho.





Coroplast Scale
December 4, 2011, 12:40 pm
Filed under: awareness, education, eutechnics | Tags:

I’m almost where I want to be conceptually with this scale. The only materials necessary are the plastic rivets and the coroplast. The coroplast, as you can see, has been recycled. It took me a while to figure out that making slots in the platform would work. The two bottom rivets are actually unnecessary.

I will measure the next iteration more carefully to insure its sensitivity (decrease its tolerance?). I’m also going to see if I can make a coroplast bowl, and how to make a better bearing than just a plain old rivet.

20111204-122755.jpgThe other thing I want to look at is a $2 handheld Chinese scale, which is somewhat similar to my postage scale.


January 2, 2011, 10:08 am
Filed under: awareness, cities, ecology, railbelt, technology, thinking, Tourism, walking | Tags:

This story in the NYTimes caught my fancy. It’s about urban adventurers, sewers, media, the wilderness, and the unconscious. Two or three men and a media entourage take a trip through the sewers and tunnels below New York.

Futurama and others have already explored NYC’s underground as metaphor, but these earnest explorers — one of them a climber of Mt. Everest — show the satisfactions of life in the urban wild.

When you’re not worried about getting caught or dying, . . . it’s really nice being underground.

Wilderness is, indeed, our refuge, though I would hope for one less smeared in feces. I also think of the brook corralled into a sewer and think that maybe it will see daylight again, someday.

I must also mention that writer Alan Feuer’s scene setting, commentary, and picaresque detail (cough drops and whisky for breakfast, anyone?) turns the travelog inside out in a delightful manner.

A Spill
November 8, 2010, 7:05 pm
Filed under: awareness, food, observer | Tags: ,

November 8, 2010, 6:42 am
Filed under: awareness, photography, railbelt

A vine covered streetlight still on during mid-day.

Low-Hanging Fruit
June 13, 2010, 8:18 am
Filed under: awareness, community, ecology, food, gardening, networking, walking | Tags:

I haven’t written anything here in four months and have felt bad about not dedicating myself to long form writing, that is, anything longer than a sentence. Why feel bad, though? Why not just write?

One thing I’d like to write about is free food, not freegan food, like you find in a dumpster, but all the nuts and berries you can find all over.

Anyway, I’m going to start documenting this with a Twitter tag: #lhfpgh.

Gotta go. so much for long form.

Technology did not exist before you were born
January 17, 2010, 9:30 am
Filed under: awareness, media, mind, technology | Tags: ,

I just tagged an article in the P-G by Jeffrey Rogoff about computers. I’m still amazed by the humans versus computers model that people — even computer scientists like Rogoff — use. We keep being amazed by the machine when we should be amazed by the people who built and programmed the machine.

Rogoff starts by saying the teens will be transformed economically by artificial intelligence. Then spends the meat of the article talking about how Deep Blue beat Gary Kasparov in chess (This makes me think that Kasparov could have easily beat Deep Blue with a hammer or a garden hose, which made me think of
an XKCD comic
.) Computers have no doubt made great advances and the computer beats man gambit is a good way of making that point. It does so at the expense of reinforcing the idea of a computer, indeed all technology, as alien devices, proceeding from their own whims.

What we call technology has changed. In the words of personal computer pioneer Alan Kay, “Technology is anything that didn’t exist before you were born.”

Let me state the obvious, indeed so obvious I wouldn’t want to say it if people like Rogoff wouldn’t keep reiterating the “Computers versus Humans” argument: computers are built and programmed by humans. In fact, Deep Blue wouldn’t have returned to beat Kasparov had not some chess experts tweaked the code based on Kasparov’s moves.

I think you could make the case that a computer playing chess is more human than a horse and buggy.

I don’t think I’ve always believed that computers were just extensions of people, that our paths are coevolutionary. After a lot of reading –Stewart Brand, Kevin Kelly, Donna Harroway, and Douglas Hofstadter — and a little thought, though, I believe our separation from the machines, any machine, indeed any technology, is a not very useful construct.

Some might say that’s what the computers want us to think. We have a whole body of literature that shows how easily computers will start stealing our lunch and shooting us in the kneecaps. I particularly like The Simpson’s “Treehouse of Horrors” episode with Pierce Brosnan as the ultrahouse. Our ability to imagine malevolent technologies is a problem with our nature. We can use fire or not, how we use it determines how constructive it is. We can mine as much coal, eat as much sugar, or watch as much television as we want, each of these may bring us to our death — or at least to a vegetative state — that can’t ascribe contrary intent. We don’t say “Sugar versus Humans.”

The temptation to look into the abyss has the abyss looking back in the form of a silicon chip. If you really want to see how we can kill ourselves with our computers go see Manufactured Landscapes.

Because I’m taking an an online computer science course , I’m increasingly seeing how computers can be a sort of communion with others — Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace, Alan Turing, Grace Hopper . . .– punch a few words or numbers in and you get an answer. What if you could magically evoke the names and works of all the people who discovered the logic, soldered the wires, translated the machine language, or engineered the touch screen. It’s kind of like sticking your finger in an ancient glyph, you know that something’s at the other end.

In Front of Your Nose
December 6, 2009, 11:13 am
Filed under: awareness, meta, politics

I just finished reading George Orwell’s collected essays, journalism, and letters. Four volumes, five months, a great number of subjects, surprising really, when I recall what turned up in Orwell’s life that illuminated mine.

It’s hard at times to locate his point of view. He was at times objective, but not Olympian. He was at times inflamed, especially on the issue of unfettered speech. But he always took more pains than nearly any writer I know of to understand another’s point of view.

To some extent Orwell has been unneccessarily beatified, and he is probably more quoted than read (in fact, I have tried and failed twice to re-read 1984). But the more I’ve read Orwell, the greater the payoff has been.

Andrew Sullivan has the following Orwell quote stuck on his masthead: “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”

Here’s the rest of the paragraph. . .

One thing that helps towards it is to keep a diary, or at any rate, to keep some record of one’s opinions about important events. Otherwise, when some particularly absurd belief is exploded by events, one may simply forget that one ever held it. Political predictions are usually wrong, but even when one makes a correct one, to discover why one is right can be very illuminating.

Inspiring, don’t you think?