Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Cybernetic Serendipity

(This is part 1 of 3 of my essay A Spectacular Simulacra. If you haven't been following along, see the abstract and index here.)

Art and Technology

In 1966, with immense help from Bell Labs, Billy Klüver and Robert Rauschenberg and many others – who went on to establish Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) – produced a multi-part performance at the 69th Regiment Armory, in New York City – which btw was also the location of the famous 1913 Armory Show which introduced the Americas to all that scandalously decadent European Modern Art – 9 Evenings: Theater & Engineering. It was the first big collision of Art and (mostly) electronic Technology. And it was utterly panned by such luminaries as Robert Smithson as well as more mainstream critics. But in 20-20 hindsight it was one of the most amazing things to come down the pike in establishing what we now know as Art and Technology, ever.

Two years later, in 1968, Cybernetic Serendipity, curated by Jasia Reichardt at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London, was the first large scale show of computer related artwork. It traveled to the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC and, in 1969, parts of the show became the founding exhibits at the newly opened Exploratorium in San Francisco (where I had the honor, ten years hence, of breaking a couple of them...). It included a broad range of visual art, computer demonstrations, and even a bit of music here and there. You can find a scanned pdf of the (partial) show catalog here: Cybernetic Serendipity.

An interesting short paper that looks at the contents, organization, and funding models of the show, from a near-half-century perspective is here:
MacGregor, B. (2002, October). Cybernetic serendipity revisited. In Proceedings of the 4th conference on Creativity & cognition (pp. 11-13). ACM.

Around this same time the American artist and critic Jack Burnham began to hypothesize Systems Art (he actually started with Cybernetic Art but quickly expanded his horizons):
 Burnham, J. (1968). Systems Esthetics. Artforum, 7(1), 30-35.
From the article:
The systems approach goes beyond a concern with staged environments and happenings; it deals in a revolutionary fashion with the larger problem of boundary concepts. In systems perspective there are no contrived confines such as the theater proscenium or picture frame. Conceptual focus rather than material limits define the system. Thus any situation, either in or outside the context of art, may be designed and judged as a system. Inasmuch as a system may contain people, ideas, messages, atmospheric conditions, power sources, and so on, a system is, to quote the systems biologist, Ludwig von Bertalanffy, a "complex of components in interaction," comprised of material, energy, and information in various degrees of organization. In evaluating systems the artist is a perspectivist considering goals, boundaries, structure, input, output, and related activity inside and outside the system. Where the object almost always has a fixed shape and boundaries, the consistency of a system may be altered in time and space, its behavior determined both by external conditions and its mechanisms of control.
Developing the above in 1970, he published this essay in a collection of papers titled On the Future of Art, edited by Arnold Toynbee under the auspices of the Guggenheim Museum:
Burnham, J. (1970). The Aesthetics of Intelligent Systems.
And later that year he curated the Software show at the Jewish Museum in NYC, which illustrated many of these ideas using a broad range of technological and conceptual art practices. You can find catalog excerpts here: Software. Unfortunately this show was a near-complete disaster on both technical and social grounds, and has more-or-less disappeared from view. It was supposed to travel to the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, but circumstances (a fire at the Smithsonian) intervened and saved everyone the embarrassment. Aside from its disastrous run, Software presented a view of the state-of-the-art-in-technology-and-concept that may never be repeated.

For more background on the Cyber-Arts of the 1960's I recommend:
Burnham, J. (1968). Beyond modern sculpture: the effects of science and technology on the sculpture of this century. G. Braziller.
The last chapter of which you can steal here: The Future of Responsive Systems in Art
Benthall, J. (1972). Science and technology in art today. Thames and Hudson.
Which still appears to be available used and reads as pretty much contemporary. The point to which I'm circuitously trying to get around to here...


So what is this cybernetics stuff they were all talking about anyway?
To quote from The Wiki:
[coined by Norbert Wiener in 1948] as "the scientific study of control and communication in the animal and the machine." Cybernetics from the Greek meaning to "steer" or "navigate." Contemporary cybernetics began as an interdisciplinary study connecting the fields of control systems, electrical network theory, mechanical engineering, logic modeling, evolutionary biology, neuroscience, anthropology, and psychology in the 1940s, often attributed to the Macy Conferences. During the second half of the 20th century cybernetics evolved in ways that distinguish first-order cybernetics (about observed systems) from second-order cybernetics (about observing systems). More recently there is talk about a third-order cybernetics (doing in ways that embraces first and second-order).
Here are a couple other good resources to get a handle on:

A general overview:
Paul Pangaro's "Getting Started" Guide to Cybernetics
And a really thorough but succinct description of the players and fields involved:
Ben-Ali, F. M. (2007). A History of Systemic and Cybernetic Thought From Homeostasis to the Teardrop.

Conceptual Information Theory

Then we throw Information Theory into the mix as well. Wiener, in his book Cybernetics, devotes a chapter to beating around the bush defining it, but Claude Shannon's paper from the same year nailed it down:
Shannon, C. E. (1948). A mathematical theory of communication.  The Bell System Technical Journal, Vol. 27
Artists, especially of the Conceptual variety, glommed-on to these ideas and did what they usually do, jump to conclusions... Here's an excerpt from a review of:
Moles, A. (1968). Information theory and esthetic perception. Trans. JE Cohen.
Let us consider perception by an individual human being as communication from the external world to that human, says Moles, now a professor of philosophy in Strasbourg. Let us consider in detail artistic communications, since it is particularly easy to isolate them. Then esthetic perception, as a special kind of communication, should be amenable to analysis by information theory, Moles concludes, since information theory is a mathematical theory of communication.
This reasoning is an example of what philosophers call the fallacy of equivocation: what Shannon and Wiener, inventors of information theory, meant by "communication" is not what Moles has in mind...
Using the above as corroboration, My Humble Opinion is that the most egregious excesses of Conceptual Art, where Art is reduced to Information, result from this sort of mis-reading of Shannon as having something to say about Meaning. For a little more detail have a look at the links on my page: Shannon's Information Increased

Cybernetic Art

On the other hand Cybernetic Art itself got a little better play, especially in the 1960's work of British artist Roy Ascott as described here:
Shanken, E., Clarke, I. B., & Henderson, L. D. (2002). Cybernetics and Art: Cultural Convergence in the 1960s. From Energy to Information.
Moving away from the notion of art as constituted in autonomous objects, Ascott redefined art as a cybernetic system comprised of a network of feedback loops. He conceived of art as but one member in a family of interconnected feedback loops in the cultural sphere, and he thought of culture as itself just one set of processes in a larger network of social relations. In this way, Ascott integrated cybernetics into aesthetics to theorize the relationship between art and society in terms of the interactive flow of information and behavior through a network of interconnected processes and systems.
But in the abstract of another paper, Shanken indicates that Cybernetic Art got entangled with Conceptual Art and the Technology component was dropped like a hot potato:
Shanken, E. A. (2002). Art in the information age: Technology and conceptual art. Leonardo, 35(4), 433-438.
Art historians have generally drawn sharp distinctions between conceptual art and art-and-technology. ... By interpreting conceptual art and art-and-technology as reflections and constituents of broad cultural transformations during the information age, the author concludes that the two tendencies share important similarities, and that this common ground offers useful insights into late-20th-century art.

So. Something went very wrong.

Strangely enough, at just about the same time as Systems Art lost its Technology, Cybernetics itself met a similar fate. In the early 1970's Artificial Intelligence research retrenched and rejected its cybernetic neural-net component – partially due to the Minksy, Pappert book Perceptrons – and turned towards Symbolic and Expert Systems work. It took another ten years for the tide to begin to turn back with Connectionism and Behavior Based Robotics.

And in the world of Electronic Music, which is hardly mentioned in Art books, much of the same dynamic was playing out. Work during the 1960's that incorporated feedback systems of various kinds – see my Coincident Feedback entry – was swept under by a wave of commercial synthesizers made for pop-music recapitulations – c.f. the David Dunn quote in my Born Rationalizing Culture California entry.

To try to get a handle on all this I've been making a list of what I find to be landmarks in the progress of Art, Music, and Cybernetics since WWII:

My Timeline

The first interesting thing is that one needs to go to three completely different floors of the library to find the relevant historiography. Even though the folks were often talking-to and working-with each other, there's very little cross over – books are about one or the other but never all – so it's very hard to see the similarities. And the second interesting thing is that, once you see them all lined up:

They all crashed at the same time in the early 1970's!

Going back to Jack, he published a paper in 1979 that provides a critical analysis of some of these major events. I think the title reflects his position:
Burnham, J. (1979). Art & Technology, the Panacea that Failed. The Myths of Information, ed. Kathleen Woodward, Coda Press
And as another little bit of evidence for this I noticed a significant lacuna in the listing of major shows in:
Paul, C. (2008). Digital art. Thames & Hudson.

Yup... it all (save two minor exceptions) drops out of existence between 1970 and 1996... Now we need to bear in mind that the author is only considering Digital art, and not all Art/Tech endeavors including most Audio or Sound art – which did carry a sputtering torch into the new century -- nor even (Analog) Video...but...but...

Just WTF happened here?

Stay Tuned!

(continue to Part 2: The Perfect Storm)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Modes of Inquiry

In recent discussions about the respective roles of Art and Science in our culture I keep running up against He-Said/She-Said sorts of arguments about how each camp works. The first problem is that many people don't seem to have a clue about how anyone else actually works, so you get blanket statements like, "As a scientist, how can you claim to be creative when all you do is work with data?" Following from that, the second problem is that the putative categories are presented as being somehow Black and White rather than subtly shaded. And a third problem is that there are more than two categories... To which point I post this diagram:
Tetrahedron of Reality
As a starting point I calve Engineering from Science (the oft mis-identified Technology) -- and Art -- and then add Philosophy as a separate discipline. Each of these nodal points is a particular mode of inquiry into the working of the world with its own processes, methods, and results. However, in practice, none of them are pure. As the impurest of the impure I put a little bricoleur bouncing around inside the space as needed or -- more likely -- at random.

I probably should include a node for Society, i.e., politics, economics, and social manipulation/persuasion, but A) I don't understand them; and, B) I can't draw a 5-space collapsed into two dimensions. Which is probably too bad because without Society you can't really do anything in the other modes modulo a trust fund. But so it goes.

In the spirit of twentieth-century management-think I also posit a set of cross-cutting dichotomies:
  • Process -- Rational or Empirical (using the Cartesian meaning of both);
  • Methods -- Logical or Fanciful (there must be a better opposite, no?);
  • Results -- Theoretical or Physical (i.e., in the mind or in the world);
  • Product -- Useful or Ephemeral (a practical thing or an entertaining idea?).
So one could have a Rational Process using Fanciful Methods with a Theoretical Result whose Product is Ephemeral, which might be a novel or most of post-modern philosophy. Or an Empirical Process using Logical Methods with a Physical Result whose Product is Useful, and get an iPhone. Maybe. Or change the Result to Theoretical and end up with the Large Hadron Collider...

Being grey areas, none of the modes has a lock on any particular set of cross-cuts, although some may be more likely candidates than others. I'm having a hard time imagining a Rational, Fanciful, Theoretical, Ephemeral Engineering project ... But that might be something for our bricoleur to try, eh?

Since the probability of anyone actually reading this is approximately 1::109 (one in one-billion), which is a factor of ten less likely than winning the lottery, I guess it doesn't matter. But if you made it this far, as an Empirical, Fanciful, Theoretical, & Ephemeral experiment, click one of the little Reactions buttons down there so I know you were here.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Born Rationalizing Culture California

Although it sounds like a genetic-predisposition/lifestyle-choice it is also an actual bibliographic reference:

Born, Georgina
Rationalizing Culture -- IRCAM, Boulez, and the Institutionalization of the Musical Avant Garde
1995, University of California Press

If you still don't believe me here is a scan of the binding, which is why I kept it on my bookshelf for so long while making only half-hearted attempts at reading it:

In the course of purging post-modernism from my collection I figured that I could at least force myself through the conclusion section. As a result I may keep it a bit longer, or else send it to Sudhu as mulch for his electronic ethno-musicology dissertation.

The first interesting thing is that IRCAM was founded in 1977 and funded by the French government. The second thing is that is was meant to be an Art/Science research facility. The third thing is that it was a rather stratified environment: Composers, who supposedly knew -- but often didn't recognize -- the stuff they wanted to do were always superior to Tutors, who actually knew how to do the stuff. And the fourth thing is that it looks like this Institutionalization took the wind out of the sails of the Avant Garde that it was supposed to bolster.

That last point may be reaching -- in order to support my own thesis that everything went to hell in the '70's -- but there it is.

To add more support I quote from David Dunn's A History of Electronic Music Pioneers, which was published in the catalog for the 1992 Eigenwelt der Apparate-welt show of electronic artists. He valorizes the '60's composers whom we all know and love for being in a sweet spot of technical and aesthetic development, then asserts that it was all co-opted:

What began in this century as a utopian and vaguely Romantic passion, namely that technology offered an opportunity to expand human perception and provide new avenues for the discovery of reality, subsequently evolved through the 1960's into an intoxication with this humanistic agenda as a social critique and counter-cultural movement. The irony is that many of the artist's who were most concerned with technology as a counter-cultural social critique built tools that ultimately became the resources for an industrial movement that in large part eradicated their ideological concerns. Most of these artists and their work have fallen into the anonymous cracks of a consumer culture that now regards their experimentation merely as inherited technical R & D. While the mass distribution of the electronic means of musical production appears to be an egalitarian success, as a worst case scenario it may also signify the suffocation of the modernist dream at the hands of industrial profiteering.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Gene - Meme - Beam
a parable

A random network of chemicals, when pumped with enough volcanic vent effluent, forms an energy storage system. Voila, the Krebs Cycle!

Little bags from around those chemicals and some more complicated molecules take charge of passing the information along to the next generation. What's in your Genes?

Some of the little bags aggregate into foraging things and develop ways of cooperating with other aggregates in order to hunt and gather more efficiently. We get Language.

Using language to pass along the best solutions to various feeding problems we humans take over the planet. Cities beget Memes.

Larger and larger cities need more and more energy. The Industrial Revolution comes out of the closet. Resources are devoured.

People use the extra energy to store their memes in clouds so they can be accessed from anywhere. It's all Beams!

The electrical grid fails and with the server-farm diesel-generators' last gasp all the clouds disappear.

-- pffffttt --

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Final Trip Report

As I mentioned in a previous report, in late October I visited a number of Holy Shrines in the Bay Area. Here's the second half of my itinerary.

Start with pre-Halloween festivities at Orchard Supply Hardware with Ken, where one can still purchase many lengths of 2-52 nuts and bolts, in contrast to my local Ace Hardware where I'm lucky to find anything smaller than a miniscule selection of 4-40's...

Later that week I BARTed to SFMoMA for some more culture. Besides a lovely Weston Pepper print they had an installation by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer -- whose pieces I'd just seen at Bitforms in NYC:
Voice Array
Voice Array
Last Breath
Last Breath
Ed Osborn's Night-Sea Music -- which I'd seen in a SF gallery some years ago before he was famous...hah hah...and didn't know was on display here:

And the last day of Jim Campbell's Exploded Views, which I just happened to be viewing when he arrived to do an artist's talk:

a march down Market Street to The Zuni Cafe I managed to scam onto the prow-window-seat for dinner with Ken and Brian. I was too busy eating everything on the appetizer menu, including oysters of course, to take any photos. But I'll always have the memories, won't I?

Then down to Santa Cruz for a tour of the Art, Music, and DARC -- Digital Arts Research Center -- facilities with Sudhu, who is collecting keys and access codes at an alarming rate (he is also angling to get my old job running the electronic music studios). It took about 45 minutes to finally find the tiny buildings I remembered, hidden away in the forest.

On the way out I stopped at Waddell Creek, one of my favorite beaches just north of Santa Cruz, and touched the Pacific. There I found this small rivulet draining into the sea. I was too lazy to go back to the truck for the real camera so all I have is this schmutzy cell phone image:

Scale Free Image

Three days in the sun at Jasper Ridge with Brooke and Deanna were capped by a Horse Vaulting Halloween party in Saratoga. Here's Natasha as Doctor Who getting some air on a barrel:

I got all setup to get some good photos of the main event but unfortunately she was always just getting into position as she passed my frame, so I didn't get a good picture on a real horse. However the place was chock-a-block with cute young devil-eared things so I managed to snap one of her team mates instead:

Then the excrutiating drive home via Eisenhower's lovely Interstate system. I hit Mojave at sunset just in time to see the full moon rise over the Eastern desert and found this in my Barstow motel room. I think it's a dog, but it could be a bunny:

Night two was spent in Flagstaff's Hotel Monte Vista:
 which features two bars. I selected the wrong one for my first martini(s) and then felt it necessary to sample the "correct" one. So the next day's drive to Santa Fe was a bit more challenging than it really needed to be...

But all in all it was an amazingly scenic and reasonably painless trip.
We now return you to our regular programming.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

additional information, misc

Reading the book Hans Haacke: Unfinished Business that I found at Moes I stumbled on his c. 1983 piece MetroMobiltan which externalizes the relationships between the Metropolitan Museum and it's corporate funding tits by examining the influence that Mobil Oil had on the show, Treasures of Ancient Nigeria. It also extends the thesis that the then Met director, Thomas Hoving, innovated the whole concept of corporate blockbuster funding. Looking a bit deeper (actually quite a bit, as this particular type of information is not so easy to find online) I found that my memory was correct that, 1) The 1972 (1976 in the US) Treasures of Tutankhamen was the first popular blockbuster; and, 2) It was funded -- in the National Gallery at least -- by Exxon, c.f.:

That last little tidbit is the hard part to find as all the gee-whiz online information about these hugely popular shows conveniently ignores who paid for them.

Anyway.... My point is that the early '70's date exactly lines up with the end of the big Art-Tech shows which were, 1) Funded by large corporations -- Pepsi, Phillips, Bell Labs, AMC, etc; and, 2) Contained new work that was research oriented -- rather than greatest hits from the past. So, what happened was that our corporate masters realized that they could get much more bang/buck out of old dead artists than they could from work that better aligned with their scientific and engineering pursuits. And PFFFTT went the collaboratory milieu.

Fortunately, I Am a Sensitive Artist, so I don't actually have to support this hypothesis with actual data...

In Other News

Something has changed about the Lazzaroni Amaretti Cookie wrappers. They no longer fly. The paper doesn't form the ash chimney as shown in the video. It appears that it is not just me as I've found a number of complaints online dating from 2008. But no explanation. I would have at least expected the box to have a warning and liability disclaimer about lighting anything on fire.

The only constant is change. For the worse.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Trip So Far

I'm in the midst of a road trip from Santa Fe to the Bay Area -- and presumably back. I took the scenic route through southern Colorado, Utah, and Nevada. The leaves were turning:

view from Kiva Coffee on Utah Highway 12
and there were only a few Romney-Ryan signs to be seen in the clutter of local election trivia. I have not seen a single Obama-Biden sign, even here in Berkeley though. It could be that we just don't care anymore?

Following the grueling ups and downs of NV Highway 50, I over-nighted at Circus Circus in Reno. I can definitively say that I have now seen the present and it is omnipotent:

underground dividing line between Circus Cicus and Eldorado casinos
The downtown casinos seem to be connected via mazes of underground passages full of flashing lights and bleeping sounds, all watched over by security cameras of amazing grace (one camera got facial shots of everyone who entered a particular restroom complex). In a cultural full-court-press, I was served all-you-can-eat-average-sushi by an tiny older Japanese woman, sporting a "Godzilla" name tag, working in a place called Kokopelli's Sushi at the back of Dos Geckos Cantina somewhere underneath Circus Circus. I also couldn't figure out how to give them any of my money because there are no longer coin operated slot machines. I think you need to plug your credit card directly into all the devices so as to make the draining of your accounts more efficient.

Thankfully, I got out of town the next morning and through the Sierras to the b.Area without further incident. The Berkeley Art Museum has a show of graffiti-street art stuff which I found to be mostly uninteresting. The mechanized spray-boys sprinkled around the space were kinda fun -- variously sized figures with mechanical arms holding spray cans, pretending to tag whatever they could. However...upstairs:

Barry McGee's head

The same motor-crank mechanism is used to bang this guy's head against the wall with a satisfying clunk-clunk-clunk. And on the top floor is a review of recent acquisitions which are well signed and in many cases actually thoughtful and interesting. I'm off to the real Maudlin Art Museum in da-city later today -- there may be more art reportage later. I also found one of the Hans Haacke books I wanted at Moes, so all is not yet lost.

Then I went to the old Berkeley Bowl:

an acre of fruits and vegetables at Berkeley Bowl

And nearly broke into tears...

All this plus oysters at Cafe Rouge, Sushi at Uzen, a Sazerac at Cesar, and the Zuni yet to come.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Double Order of Nostalgia

While rummaging through the "Schippling Archives" I found an envelope full of copies of one of my favorite comic strips: Odd Bodkins by Dan O'Neill. I looked him up and he seems to be still kicking AND a fellow blog-site user. I encourage you to peruse the aforementioned link...

There are two Odd things about my history with this comic strip:
  1. I first saw the strip in the mid-1960's in the Riverside Press Enterprise, one of the most editorially conservative publications you could find in those roaring days of John Birch. It was the weirdest thing I'd ever seen.
  2. Twenty years later I would (and still) own a Norton Commando motorcycle. To my shame I've never given him a Magic Cookie.

I do however live with a rather large Space Bunny...

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Turbulence -- Day of Reckoning

So it's all over but the documenting. My Axle installation has been deconstructed:


Even if it didn't make manifest all the hoped for effects, kids loved it. Adults had more reserved reactions, like, "So that's where packing pellets go to die". And there are some lessons learned.

First, as I should have known from my Exploratorium days, those darned kids will destroy everything:
Road Warrior
On the plus side, I got to use the Holy Trinity of Bricollage: duct tape, bailing wire, and Goop.

Second, the pellets slowly destruct and get into everything:
Stuff Everywhere

So if it was to be a more permanent installation there needs to be an easy way to clean it out.

Third, the critical angle of the pellets I used is just about 30°. This is just about what I used for the backing ramp, except that the truck got parked at various angles every day. And there was an intentional, but not entirely functional, lip right at the end of the ramp which (I think) provided too much resistance:
The Lip Problem

Due to the variable angles sometimes things flowed too freely and other times not quite at all. Unfortunately the last two days, at Harry's Roadhouse and the Children's Museum, were down-slope days so there was not much pellet action after things got settled. Ah well...

Fourth, the pellets didn't really circulate through the length of the truck. They mostly blew up and then fell back down near the window and fans. I should have put a deflector at the top of the window to encourage full-flow behavior.

Fifth, the whole Moody Interactive Thing didn't really come off. It took too much observation and was probably too subtle to observe. I erred on the side of making sure something would happen no matter what so as to avoid getting the, "Stupid Shit's Broken As Usual" response. This was probably a good choice overall...

Play it Again Sam?

Maybe. I could see putting this into the corner of a room with a glass wall in front. Given a stable setting the angle management and flow behavior could be improved. I would also paint the space black and use white pellets -- I considered this for Axle but didn't want to de-gallerize their space, maybe I'm too timid? The whole pastel thing, while raising the New Mexico State Question, "Red or Green?", was a little too, well, pastel for my taste.

I've got the fans if someone's got the room...

Monday, October 1, 2012

Conceptual Framing

Recently I've been to two shows here in Santa Fe where the signs are better than the work itself. ...I am of course overstating things -- there are pieces in each show that, with a push, could stand on their own...

The first show, More Real? Art in the Age of Truthiness at SITE Santa Fe, has room after room of stuff that needs explaining. Now, all Modern and Contemporary art (and maybe all art in general) needs a little background to appreciate it appropriately -- just look to Duchamp. However the stuff that sticks with me has a visceral component that is amplified by the explanation, not the other way around. My feeling about the SITE show is that they should have kept the signs and dispensed with the work.

This lack of grounding is the fundamental problem of Conceptual Art, and probably the reason that almost every artist described in the book Conceptual Art (Ursula Meyer, 1972) -- which has been an interesting re-read after all this time -- has returned to making objects again.

An exemplar is the giant-trailer-skeleton-in-the-dim-room piece (Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, Phantom Truck, 2007). You have to work at figuring out what it is if you have the patience to let your eyes adjust to the gloom. Or you can read the sign to find that it is a model of the hypothesized Iraqi mobile chemical weapons factories that were never found. Bada-Bing! No trucks were necessary to the making of this realization!

Nor did we get a mention of Baudrillard's Simulacra in the lengthy windup.

The second show, Dust in the Machine at the Center for Contemporary Art, follows conceptual suit but at least has some intrinsically interesting pieces. Such old hat as nicely done architectural photographs and simple video projections play well. But the attempts to make a statement -- a tar-pot-trailer-devoid-of-that-new-tar-smell parked in the middle of the space (?!) -- need those lengthy signs, which are missing, to get.

Maybe it's just the use of trailers indoors that frustrates me? I dunno...

Anyway. Since Santa Fe is all about the Light I need to come up with a proposal for CCA to actually use those Munoz-Waxman Gallery windows. Every show I've seen there goes out of its way to prevent that wonderful illumination from permeating the space.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

There might be an App for That

Another modest proposal for someone to implement:

Everyone I know has a preferred communication medium. I rather like email, even though I understand that it is considered rather declasse these days. One of my friends will only use TXT. Another is a master of the telephone, to the point that he has memorized everyone's numbers. Then there's FacePlant, Twitter, and FSM-knows what else.

So my killer-app suggestion is a program which converts your favorite medium to theirs and back.  I could send an email, friend A gets a TXT, and should she see fit to reply, I get an email back. For the phone one needs speech synthesis and recognition. Skype might need some canned video. Etc. Etal.

The App can even be extended for folks who refuse to use any electronic medium. My email could be handwritten and delivered with my calling card by a butler who would take the reply and email it back to me.

There are some impedance matching issues. For instance, the ideal phone call is an immediate back-and-forth coming to the point fairly quickly, and you can't really do that with TXT. But I'm sure someone smarter than me can work out all these details.

Surely there's an HTML5 guru out there who can run with this?

Friday, September 14, 2012

It Lives!!

Loaded it up and delivered it to its rightful owner/operators:


See it near the water tower at the Railyard on Sunday Sept 16, 2012.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Experiencing the Install

Got the truck outfitted:
click for more

Still need to find a level place to stand in order to see if it really works.
More Anon.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Turbulent Hans Haacke

Last Saturday I went to the New York New Museum's Ghosts in the Machine show and found that Hans Haacke has already done it all. In 1965. On show were two of his pieces using wind blowers to move objects around in much more mesmerizing ways than my packing pellets.

The first, Blue Sail is a big, well not to put too fine a point on it, blue sail of light fabric tethered and weighted at the corners. A household variety oscillating fan underneath makes it billow and flow in apparently random ways. The second, Kugel in Schragen Luftstrahl, is a small helium weather balloon bobbing around in the mid-air Bernoulli effect of a hairdryer blower. When the guard wasn't looking I waved my hand over the blower outlet and got it to bobble even more. Way nicer, and quieter, than the volley-ball-in-traffic-cone version we had at the Explo, which, while doing all this putzing around, I didn't think of either.

Fortunately no one knows about Haacke and his hot air, aside from the hundreds of tourists that go to NYC Museums, so I may be safe.
Right next to Haacke's balloon was a piece by Gunther Uecker called New York Dancer IV -- also from bloody 1965. A human sized shroud of canvas pierced through all over with various sizes of iron nails. It just hung around until 4pm when I was lucky enough to stumble into the room in time for it's daily demo. A stunningly gorgeous young woman came darting into the space, uncovered a red switch-box in the corner, meticulously donned cotton curatorial gloves, and with a fairly bored expression pushed the button to make the thing slowly spin. As it got up to speed the fabric billowed out and the nails flailed around in pleasant wavy ways. Then some bit would get bound up in the mechanism causing the whole thing to slam crashing around, at which point our Muse let off the gas for a bit to slow it down. And...Repeat.

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Grasping for a conversational gambit afterwards, I asked her if it had been the artist's intention to have those transitions from simple waving to complex crashing. She said he had actually demonstrated it being operated as such, although she described it as, "Really stomping on the switch..." So it's not entirely clear if complex behavioral transitions were a consciously desired result or just serendipity.

The rest of the show was a mixed bag of mechanical objects and mechanical drawings, all owing their raison to Duchamp's Bachelors -- if one is to believe the curatorial introduction in the catalog. Much of it was fascinating historically and some was still engaging. However, while there was a bit of work from the post-1970's, it stopped short of the Software show debacle and Burnham's subsequent Panacea that Failed analysis of the whole ArtTech scene. This may, by its absence, provide another leg for my hypothesis -- that all we got out of the era was MTV -- to stand upon.

Anyway....I get the Axle truck in about an hour to start the actual installation...

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Turbulent Software

The control system and software work about as well as they are going to. I get the truck on Sept 12 to see just how good that is:
System Block Diagram

 We hope to go live before the Sept 16 After Dark party in Santa Fe's Railyard. I will also have two "studies" in the ISEA Residencies show at the UNM Architecture Gallery. The opening is Sept 22 (I think). Schedule to follow.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Local Color XII -- activities for yoots

A somewhat unfortunate juxtaposition of links in the Nerd Mexican online edition today:
The council was also busy waffling on fluoride-water and pedestrian under-over-passes after having definitively not spent all the economic development money they previously allocated because they couldn't decide what to do...

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Local Color XI -- fire in the hole

Case # 0212011152 -- Vehicle Fire

On today's date, Thursday July 19, 2012 at 3:50 am Santa Fe County Sheriff's Deputies responded to a call of a vehicle fire. Upon Deputies arrival, a green in color 1997 Jeep Cherokee was found to be completely burned. Witnesses at the scene advise the driver of the vehicle wanted to show others that he could drive the vehicle through a bonfire at which time the vehicle caught fire. The driver of the vehicle was not located at the scene and this case is currently under investigation.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Under Control

My Turbulent Electronics Seem to Work!

Because my "studio" is a bit cramped -- i.e., cluttered with tools and detritus -- I've had to fly the fan box in the rafters and try to find a clear-enough area to put the sensors to test them:

fans at the top, sensors at bottom (see arrows if you can)

Here's the control board (the driver transistors are underneath the silvery heat sink which actually seems to work, and the little black rectangle just to their right is the PIC microcontroller):

On the left are the fan connections, each with an individual fuse and indicator LED. On the right are the sensor connections -- see more below. At bottom right is my failed attempt at a remote ON/OFF cutout relay. It works fine, however any bouncing around -- say driving over a bump -- makes it bounce around-ON, so I think I'm going to have to replace it with a regular switch. Which means we'll have to crawl under the ramp in the truck to turn the thing on and off. But only for a couple weeks...

I tested the sensors and each one seems to be correct. On top is a "PIR" motion detector which should see people milling around 30 feet out. Below are three IR distance sensors (Sharp GP2Y0A00K0F) which are supposed to work to 5 meters (15 feet), but will be reliable within 10 feet at least, so if anyone has the temerity to actually aproach the truck, we'll know about it:

Sensor Block

The fact that the PIR sensor works is amazing considering how much trouble it is to get a "Motion Detector" to work the way I want... The problem being that all of the easily battery powered Passive InfraRed (PIR) sensors that I had upon my hands didn't work very well in the sunny-windy outdoors (I'm looking at _you_ Parallax). This led me to futzing with various Porch Light Motion Sensors, where some did a reasonable job of not false-triggering outside [...remember your (or at least my) damn proch lights going on and off all night when it's windy? That's the problem, along with the bright lights of Santa Fe in general...]. Some of the porch sensors could be hacked to run on 24v DC -- which meant more power supply complications -- and some can't (easily). Then, the one I though I got to work croaked on me as soon as I assembled it with all the other bits'n'pieces. So it was off to the hardware store again (speaking of which, if you haven't read Neil Stephenson's description of Hardware Store Foraging, it's a must at this point.)

I swallowed my pride and bought a Heath/Zenith "Wireless Command" module (#SL-6030-BZ-A) for $28 smackaroos which runs on two AA batteries (power problem solved!), but only communicates by radio. After testing it outdoors and finding it to be very reliable I opened it up to find that I could connect across the built-in LED indicator and get a good 0-3v signal out. So with a bit of drilling and grinding it's mounted up top there.

Which leaves us with Power. I got a 100AH Sun Extender 12v battery for your basic off-grid use and added a 55A PowerMax three stage charger to top it up:

Power Central

I ran this whole kabodle for 5 hours yesterday at about 40% of peak load -- each fan sucks about  2.5A, so all eight use 20A -- by sequencing fans on and off in a multi-pattern. The transistors did not overheat and the battery did not die. In fact it didn't even make it to half-charge, so I think there'll be enough juice to go around.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Here's a cute little article about the first photograph ever posted on the WWW:

Crossdressing, Compression and Colliders
Yup, that's CERN's own Les Horribles girl band from 1992. There's also a photo of them performing at a Nobel Prize celebration party that year and other ephemera. Unfortunately, none of the original band members were actual scientists, but they played them on TV.

This picture put the GIF mechanics in place that now enables us to see, not only Goatse, but everyone's best/worst/most-boring day at work. 24/7:

Forklift Fail

Monday, June 25, 2012

Bleeding Heart Liberal

The NYTimes just published an opinion piece by former President Jimmy Carter which unequivocally damns the entire country and our leaders' approach to global human rights. The main point:
While the country has made mistakes in the past, the widespread abuse of human rights over the last decade has been a dramatic change from the past. With leadership from the United States, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948 as “the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” This was a bold and clear commitment that power would no longer serve as a cover to oppress or injure people, and it established equal rights of all people to life, liberty, security of person, equal protection of the law and freedom from torture, arbitrary detention or forced exile
The declaration has been invoked by human rights activists and the international community to replace most of the world’s dictatorships with democracies and to promote the rule of law in domestic and global affairs. It is disturbing that, instead of strengthening these principles, our government’s counterterrorism policies are now clearly violating at least 10 of the declaration’s 30 articles, including the prohibition against “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
See the whole article at the NYTimes. Or, if you've used up your viewing credits, I have an illegal pdf here.

It's pretty depressing how we got from Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and Carter to where we are now...

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Moody Robots

In one of the founding posts for this blog (Media Art Was the Booby Prize) I described a hierarchy of system behaviors with which to classify and direct my bricollage, see: Taxonomy. Since then I've been around and around on the difference between Responsive and Interactive, and think I may have a hammer to apply to it...

Responsive, not to put too fine a distinction, responds to inputs. My doorbell example is a bit flippant (it's what you've come to expect, yah?), but we might also think of amoeba who shy away from noxious chemicals and most-all Kinect-based Video Art that I've seen.

Interactive changes it's response over time. Interactive systems have internal state that is influenced by external events, and, with luck, those external events are in-turn influenced by the system's responses.

Adaptive is further up the tree. It remembers changes it has made. Ideally changes which somehow improve response. But that's a little beyond me in this current iteration.

A simple way to make an Interactive system is to make it moody. In the case of We Are Experiencing Some Turbulence this could be a child's sliding scale of:
  1. Asleep,
  2. Bored,
  3. Interested,
  4. Playful,
  5. Excited,
  6. Tantrum,
  7. Shutdown.
Which is interesting because the expressed states form a loop from shutdown back to asleep. So it could be implemented with a simple wrap around counter that is incremented and decremented based on how intense it's inputs are and how long they last. And, with no input, it can slowly loop through all it's behaviors so it's not just sitting around waiting to be stimulated.

Because things always go better with illustrations, here's one:

The Mood is a function of the Input over Time, and the Output is a function of the Input and the Mood. Inputs may have paradoxical effects when combined with extreme Moods, e.g., high intensity Input during a Tantrum could force a Shutdown of the Output, or low intensity Input in a Bored state might briefly appear to be Excited

Now to get to work...

Monday, June 18, 2012

Angels on Ariels

My VFD friend Terry is part of an Eldorado based motorcycle gang which sponsored a classic bike show on Father's Day, yesterday. He convinced me that I should clean up one of my poor neglected bikes and put it on show. Maybe even sell it.

I selected the 1952 Ariel, Demeter, as being the most unlikely thing to be duplicated at the show, and I was right. Despite all the years in the mouse-ridden shed she cleaned up nice. In the process I found cracks in the front fender stay and kickstand which goaded me to put on the new fender I've had hidden away for 10 years and fix the kickstand. Which was actually kinda fun, I forgot what putzing around with the bikes was like. Maybe I'll get the BST out again after all...

So here she is at the show all tarted up:

Right next to a 1951 Vincent:

I bought the Ariel because it was made the same year as me and I couldn't afford (nor find) a 52 Vincent.

A guy kept cruising by and quoting a song lyric: "Angles on Ariels in leather and chrome..." and I kept smiling as if I recognized the reference. I did, however, remember Richard Thompson's "1952 Vincent Black Lightning", which encapsulates the minimalist romance:
  1. Girl meets Motorcycle;
  2. Boy gets Girl;
  3. Boy dies;
  4. Girl gets Motorcycle.
in the line:
Says James "In my opinion, there's nothing in this world
Beats a 52 Vincent and a red headed girl.
When I got home I used the power of Google to find the Ariel quote, and lo it is from the deathbed scene of same song;
I see angels on Ariels in leather and chrome,
Swooping down from heaven to carry me home.
Which always brought a tear to my eye. But this time running down my cheeks as well, I suppose because I have a handshake deal to sell my Ariel, executed as we were loading her back on my truck.

Anyway, it was a great show. Who knew there were so many nice non-Harley motorcycles in New Mexico? And nice Harleys as well, but in a minority. And I've always loved those Indians:

Friday, June 15, 2012

Found It

Seed Pods

Yesterday I wandered into the fire station after an abortive call and there, behind the ambulance, were a few of these guys waiting for a breeze:

So I guess they are early summer denizens -- seed pods from a local grass -- rather than fall fellers.

They are nature's perfectly adapted model for my packing pellets, running around on roads and parking lots looking for a place to stay. If only I could collect enough of them... They also apparently get stuck in dog's ears causing untold misery.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Turbulent First -- build-out

I had the truck for a couple days and got everything installed. It all seems to work.
You can see the report here:
Rear Window (thanks Hitch)
Now I just have to finish it...

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Apropos: de Nada

...just one of those things that keeps me awake at night...
thanks to
for unknowingly donating the original art

Monday, May 21, 2012

Local Color X -- moving daze

Case#: 0212007466
Battery on a household member,
Criminal Damage to Property of a household member

On 5/18/12 both suspects were involved in an argument about their cat, moving and their plants.  Suspect #2 got angry and broke a multi colored cane.  Both suspects packed up some of their belongings to move to the new residence.  Both suspects got into another verbal altercation on the road in which suspect #1 punched suspect #2 on the right side of his face.  Suspect #2 stopped the vehicle, got out and began walking.  Suspect #2 called 911.  Both suspects were placed under arrest, transported and booked into the Santa Fe County Adult Detention Center.  Estimated value of the cane is $20.00.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Thinking in the Box

I built a scal(ish) model of the Axle Truck and installed five of the fans I'm going to use.
It really blows:
(click for video)

Friday, May 18, 2012

Confusion Theory

On Wednesday I went to the SFI public lecture by James Gleick (ne Chaos and now The Information). Most amazingly, he dispensed with the PowerPlonk and actually did a lecture from notes. (The night before, I attended our regular VFD medical training. I got there early because the guy who is supposed to set up all the media crap whined about me hogging the station's notebook computer to do real work and demanded that I deliver it to the training site early. There was this very strong-handshake kind of older gentleman standing around wearing a shirt from one of our sister-districts so I introduced myself just to be friendly. He said something like, "I guess there will be a PowerPoint presentation and all that." And I said, "It's pretty much required these days isn't it?" Turns out he was our presenter -- a retired Army flight surgeon -- and, yes he had a PP of gory field-surgery photos ready to go). Less amazingly he (Gleick) spent the first 15 of his 30 minutes talking around Shannon Information Theory without actually coming out and admitting that Shannon Information is NOT what every layman in the world thinks it is: It has nothing to do with Meaning (see my attempted simplification here). He finally made a few passes at separating Information from Meaning but I felt that the border was rather porous through the remainder of his talk.

While trying to formulate a post-question, it occurred to me that they (Information and Meaning) are orthogonal measures in much the same way as Entropy and Complexity are in the classic Crutchfield, Young (1989) paper:
Since Information is just how many bits you have to play with and is measured as entropy, lets call the X-axis Information Entropy (which it actually is in the context of this paper). Then lets call the Y-axis -- hmm, not exactly Meaning...I haven't heard a name for this quantity bandied about, so something similar -- Data. By Data I "mean" self-correlation and/or perhaps mutual information among otherwise random bits of Information-- or maybe, Facts. If you have a noisy Information stream you might be able to extract some actual Data from it, e.g., get a series of temperatures from a bunch of ice core compositions. And to beat the analogy a little harder, you don't get much Data from the entropy extremes. If it's low, the Information is a constant, and if it's high, it's completely random.

But our Data doesn't really mean anything until it gets combined with other facts extracted from other streams and related back to the real world. So Meaning is yet a third axis to consider. That axis is Semiotics, which is exactly the study of how symbols take on meaning.

Unfortunately my question window closed long before I could articulate this.

But in the course of re-thinking it, another thing occurred to me. The lecture was titled "How We Come to Be Deluged by Tweets". Twitter is a perfect example of increasing Information Entropy on the web. So, in "fact", using Shannon Information to describe the contents of the internet may not be so far off base.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Brain Replacement

It's a simple procedure. They make an incision behind your ear, insert an ultrasonic debrader, and suction out the dysfunctional grey-matter. Then they replace it with Jello(TM). I chose Lime with added Marshmallows. The marshmallows increase the cost, but provide a festive flair.

I feel so much better now.

(Actually it was a basal cell skin thingie that I've been schlepping around for eight or so years. The first two doctors I showed it to gave no indication of any concern. The second two said I oughta do something about it. Finally, the fifth did a quick slice, dice, sizzle, and zip. And all I got was 20 more stitches and a swollen jaw.)

Anyway, it's all gone.

But, since my sleep regime involves tossing and turning from side to side until I finally get a couple hours of exhausted sleep after dawn, I haven't had much rest since the op. Which of course leads me to think about things. That I shouldn't think about.

Last night I had the opportunity to mention my bureaucracy hypothesis to my county commissioner -- who was kind enough to visit the fire department to ask if there was anything she could do to help during this election season. She laughed somewhat darkly. During the night it occurred to me that there is a competing driver: Automation. Bureaucratic hoops are added to replace jobs that are automated out of existence, thus maintaining a balance. The fact that the original jobs were "productive" whereas the bureau-jobs are Information Culture make-work seems to be of little interest to the pundits-at-large.

However, trouble is brewing. Bureau-jobs can be easily automated. In the near future I expect various "paper-work-reduction" schemes will close the loop such that the paperless cycle of application and approval will occur without human intervention. I think of this as the dark side of SkyNet.

On a more positive note. One of the Information Culture jobs that is currently being automated is Legal Discovery. This is the process of shuffling through all the "information" generated by the Legal-Industrial Complex looking for tidbits that might be relevant to a paying case. I'd guess that this occupies about 80% of non-partner lawyers in the US, who will soon be on the automated-out-of-a-job streets with the rest of the Occupiers.

This is the best reason I can think of for maintaining Stand Your Ground and Open Carry statutes.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Turbulent Plans

I'm shuffling along with the Axle Contemporary installation...I built a 4x4' box to test out the fans and found that the one that tried to chop off my pinkie is in fact the bomb: 250 cfm at 40 watts!!! I need to get a few more -- along with the 12v 100Ah power supply I think might run them all. When I get them installed in the test box I'll post another little video clip.

To get some measurements for materials I've drawn up the basic plans for the truck. Here's the side view:
There is a 3x6' window in the back of the truck (on the right). I'll put a box of fans along the bottom of the window extending the width of the truck. Packing peanuts will be feed into the fan box from a ramp, currently estimated to be at about a 25deg slope, and the remainder of the truck will be covered with a screen to keep the peanuts, air, and fans in their appropriate places. Air flow will be as indicated by the cyan colored arrows. We Hope.

Here is a plan view, where the cab is at the top of the drawing with a pass-through door opening for maintenance access (speaking of which, in addition to having to cobble together two 4x8 sheets of ramp I need to make sure I can get in under there to fix stuff):
I'm planning to use 8 fans along the bottom of the window. The six under the window itself will blow straight up and the two on either end will be angled in to try to keep everything in motion. I can sequence the operation of all the fans in various ways to maybe make it interesting -- and responsive to proximity sensors.

I should look something like this from the back:

Now I have to internet-order more stuff. It's amazing how hard it is to find art supplies Santa Fe.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Local Color IX -- open carry division

In keeping with the classic police state policy of "If you are not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about", the City of Santa Fe has contracted with a third party company to deploy two Speed Enforcement vehicles at random locations every day -- sorta mobile Mexican Sleeping Policemen. The fact that the local paper publishes their location every morning seems like it would reduce the effect of the random placement, but they are often near elementary schools in order to catch late-to-or-from-work parents.

These vehicles are not very popular. They bring to mind the time my Mother got a camera-ticket for running a red light...three months after she died...because the registration on her old car had not been transferred correctly.

So. A couple weeks ago some guy in a nightshirt drove up to one on Bishop's Lodge Road at 1AM and let it have a few rounds right between the eyes. He was not a very good shot because the video camera survived the assault:

But he was pretty good at concealing his identity since he is still at large. See the news article here.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Creating Turbulence

I've started experiments for the Axle Contemporary installation. I got a buncha sorta inexpensive surplus blower fans that just don't poot enough to really matter in the long run. But I managed to retrofit some of them into a long-ago-abandoned project to make packing pellets fly around in a frame. Here's a little video clip:

It's nice to see that there are some self-organized avalanches along the sides, so hopefully I can get more of that happening with more-bigger wind.

While unearthing the abandoned-frame-project I realized that I've been thinking about this for a while now. In 2006 I tried to capture peanuts blowing in the wind -- I'm sure you've seen them playing with each other in an empty parking lot -- for Erika Wanenmacher's class, but the day of the demo there was no wind and the fittings on the outside air didn't match the available hose. So Nada Dicé. Erika did mention that lovely bag-blowing scene in American Beauty though:

Which brings us to Jen's suggestion of using leaves, or even better, seed pods. A couple years ago I saw these really well adapted spidery pods from a local grass -- very delicate miniature tumble-weeds -- running around on the road up on the Mesa. I'll try to find a photo (silly me threw out the two that I had been keeping). But it would be difficult to collect and preserve enough before September.

So virtual seed pods I guess it is...

I have also upgraded my fan compliment with two 5" muffins that put out 250 cfm (at 40 watts). Nearly cut off a pinkie when one sucked my finger in as I was bench testing it. Video forthcoming...

Monday, April 2, 2012

Cultural Reverse Engineering

In what I assume is a very successful attempt at proving that I have too much time on my hands I drew myself into solving a non-puzzle that appeared on the back cover of the April 2, 2012 New Yorker magazine:
In the setup our hipster guide has said "I could use a latte", and Siri, rather than answering, "You are not late for any appointments", correctly offers up four nearby venues. I noticed that there were distances to each of the locations and figured that I could triangulate where in San Francisco's Mission district our protagonist was standing. So I went off to Google Mopes and plotted out the locations.

The first interesting thing was that the hippest of the hipster locations was called out on a fairly large scale map but that one had to zoom in two more clicks to see the names of the other three -- I wonder how that is decided? Anyway, I've been to the hippest, albeit over three years ago. It was chock full of folks plugged-in to notebook computers, which I would presume, not yet being re-cycled to the recherché status of portable typewriters, are rather declasse now. All one heard was the hiss of the espresso machines and the clicking of keyboards in a background of earbud leakage.

The second interesting thing is that the distances don't match any ground truth:

The blue pins are our target locations. The black circles are the radii given by Siri. They do not intersect. So I took the liberty of somewhat arbitrarily adding 100% or subtracting 50% from the given distances. That's the dotted black circles. That gave me the option of standing in the crosshatched zone, near 20th and Valencia. Which does NOT look like the background in the ad. Unless things have changed rather drastically...

This leaves only one real question: Why doesn't our iPorn-4S using hipster already know that he's within a stone's throw of his optimal environment?