Small Streams

The Gift of Science
December 6, 2013, 3:30 am
Filed under: business, education, math, mind, technology | Tags: , ,


I saw this lava lamp display at the V&A’s Museum of Science. Honest to Pete, I think there should be a whole room devoted to a lava lamp display. Who doesn’t love lava lamps? That and oil and glycerin on a projector, the psychedelic “wet show.” Maybe some polka dots and mirrors like the Mattress Factory‘s Yayoi Kusama installation.

The trick would be to create a room that excited the senses but didn’t make you physically ill.

If there’s any problem I have with lava lamps, it’s that science gift shops devote so much shelf space to them. Many science museums’ gift shops concentrate on the “ooh, shiny” distractions rather than objects that indulge people’s (not just children’s) love of the methods of science. I have to admit that people who run museum gift shops know more about what sells and what sells the experience.

If you’re just out for a happy trip, you don’t want to be scolded into homework at the end. No one likes to take a trip and bring home a memento that reminds them that they are not expanding their minds enough. So I really can’t advocate for a gift pack of Euclid’s Elements — though there are some great geometry puzzles that would make great gifts. The Science Museum does have a great book section and a lomography section and Technology Will Save Us shelves. When I was there last, they had someone demonstrating paper gliders.

I don’t expect science museums to check their impulse to cater to their audience any time soon. I just hope they can do more to indulge people’s desire to think about things. I will now stop ranting and leave you with the instructions for making your own lava lamp.

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.

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.

Not Minding It
January 3, 2010, 10:55 pm
Filed under: mind

I don’t know where I saw this today, perhaps from a story in the NY Times about Afghanistan. In any case, it’s a wonderful palliative for the strain and struggle, if not a theodicy

Here’s the quote from :

[Lawrence has just extinguished a match between his thumb and forefinger. William Potter surreptitiously attempts the same]
William Potter: Ooh! It damn well ‘urts!
T.E. Lawrence: Certainly it hurts.
Officer: What’s the trick then?
T.E. Lawrence: The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts.

World’s Deepest Rubbish Bin
October 30, 2009, 7:31 am
Filed under: awareness, ecology, education, eutechnics, mind, research, technology | Tags: , ,

Volkswagen started as the people’s car company. During the ’60s they embodied an ethos of do-it-yourself auto-maintenance and tongue-in- cheek subversiveness. A generation later I believe they’re at it again. Their fun theory initiative is part Candid Camera, part Big. Yes, it’s about branding, but it’s about the joy of using things and making things and not accepting the status quo.

Here’s a fun way to throw away the trash.

Coming to the Surface
September 20, 2009, 10:04 am
Filed under: health, mind, thinking | Tags: ,

Is it the path to enlightenment or the work of a psychotic? Jung’s Red Book has arrived on the scene. I’m usually bored by Jung, but I like Jungian things. Anyway, I’m quite interested by this.

Some people feel that nobody should read the book, and some feel that everybody should read it. The truth is, nobody really knows. Most of what has been said about the book — what it is, what it means — is the product of guesswork, because from the time it was begun in 1914 in a smallish town in Switzerland, it seems that only about two dozen people have managed to read or even have much of a look at it.