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.”

It’s Show(box) Time!
November 14, 2013, 6:54 am
Filed under: art, media, painting, technology, Uncategorized

I went to the Victoria and Albert Museum with a friend of my sister Susie’s. We mostly saw the 19th C. paintings and drawings: Constable, Turner, Rosetti, Burne Jones, etc. I saw a Constable drawing of an elm tree that had me doing a double take. Given my lack of familiarity with the genre of landscape, all I can say is that Constable’s elm tree makes Bob Ross’s pine tree look sad.

Constable landscape

Constable landscape

What caught my attention, of course, was the big wooden box in one of the galleries, Thomas Gainsborough’s Showbox.

Gainsborough's Showbox

Gainsborough’s Showbox

According to the V&A…

In the 1780s Thomas Gainsborough (1727–88) painted a series of landscapes in oils on glass, which were viewed in a specially constructed ‘showbox’, described in this way:

“The machine consists of a number of glass planes, which are moveable…chiefly landscapes. They are lighted … at the back, and are viewed through a magnifying lens, by which means the effect produced is truly captivating.’
Gainsborough’s ‘showbox’ contained a painted glass transparency, set before a silk diffusing screen that was originally lit by three candles. The image is viewed through the adjustable lens at the front. The box opens at the top and back and also contains slots for storing the transparencies.

I guess this is not the first example of the magic lantern, but it does show that people’s imaginations were tilted that way since the 18th century. I’ll have to follow this post up with one about the V&A Museum of Childhood, which is just chock-full of viewer goodness. Until then, here’s a Gainsborough on glass:

2013-11-14 11.07.32

Binary Adding Machine
August 7, 2011, 9:20 am
Filed under: education, eutechnics, maps, math, media, mind, technology, thinking | Tags: , ,

Matthias Wandel, an engineer who works in wood, created a binary adding machine, a wonderful thing, a thing that makes you think. I’ve seen a similar adder created with K’nex, but it wasn’t as aesthetically pleasing.

The K’nex binary adding machine uses hinged rods that work like logic gates. Xiaoji Chen created much better looking gates with wooden slats and rivets. She’s modeled the adder in Processing.

Sunday Opinions
November 7, 2010, 4:50 pm
Filed under: media, politics | Tags: ,

Tom Friedman, once again, makes his case for a tax on oil:

Finally, we need to dry up the funding for terrorist groups, and the mosques, schools and charities that support them. And that means working to end our addiction to oil. It is disgusting to listen to Republican politicians lecturing President Obama about how he has to stay the course in Afghanistan while they don’t have an ounce of courage to vote to increase the gasoline tax or renewable energy standards that would reduce the money we’re sending to the people our soldiers are fighting.

Frank Rich conceives of a plan for the Republicans to cut taxes and not grow the deficit:

[Obama] could start by offering them what they want, the full Bush tax cuts, in exchange for a single caveat: G.O.P. leaders would be required to stand before a big Glenn Beck-style chalkboard — on C-Span, or, for that matter, Fox News — and list, with dollar amounts, exactly which budget cuts would pay for them.

Maureen Dowd on George W. Bush’s upcoming book:

Rummy and Cheney knew how to play W.; when they offered to resign, he was so impressed with their loyalty, he let them stay. Besides, W. writes, “there was no obvious replacement for Don.” How about … anybody?

Nicholas Kristof points out that we’re looking more like a banana republic. Send for the rum drinks:

The richest 1 percent of Americans now take home almost 24 percent of income, up from almost 9 percent in 1976. As Timothy Noah of Slate noted in an excellent series on inequality, the United States now arguably has a more unequal distribution of wealth than traditional banana republics like Nicaragua, Venezuela and Guyana.

C.E.O.’s of the largest American companies earned an average of 42 times as much as the average worker in 1980, but 531 times as much in 2001. Perhaps the most astounding statistic is this: From 1980 to 2005, more than four-fifths of the total increase in American incomes went to the richest 1 percent.

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.

Cardboard Animation
October 18, 2009, 10:32 am
Filed under: awareness, media, railbelt, Uncategorized, video | Tags: ,

via BoingBoing: This example of cardboard animation is awesome. You have a marginal narrative. Small enough not to get in the way. What you get are city scapes. Google take note: Cartoons against background increases capacity to navigate. Put another way, if you empathize with (or in this case, feel disgust for) something you can place yourself somewhere.

That’s what the Aspen Project/Google Earth approach lacks. It’s third person versus second person. The only book I remember reading in second person was Bright Lights, Big City, which had something about a ferret in The New Yorker, and the phrases “Peruvian marching powder” and “all messed up and no place to go”. Perhaps it said something about society. I digress. The important thing is to watch the video. Then maybe go out and make one yourself.

Don’t underestimate the power of paper in film. Bob Dylan used it to great effect in Subterranean Homesick Blues, an iconic video that was made before videos were made.