Saturday, December 08, 2007

Irregular Copy/Paste Behaviors

Whenever I hit "Ctrl-C" I get this feeling that something is now on the clipboard. Not just an impression, but as if I'm carrying it on my chest. As though my body has started to compensate in the physical for something that is virtual. It doesn't disappear until I hit "Ctrl-V".

Sometimes, when I'm about to hit "Ctrl-C", the weight becomes more apparent and I remember that there is something already on the clipboard that I haven't pasted yet. I'll paste it where intended and get back to copying.

Could we subvert this phenomena? What if pasting was non-linear, and whenever you hit "Ctrl-V" something from, perhaps, 5 copies ago appeared? Sometimes the last copy would appear as well, but most of the time it would be other copies.

Not that this would be useful in any everyday situation (though it could be) — it would be more of a catharsis.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Desire and Justification

Is it possible to do something for some reason other than simply wanting to do it?

It seems as though, for any action we may take, if we keep asking "why?", the answer necessarily reduces to "I wanted to." This includes actions we take with an ulterior motive — we follow through with the initial action because we have a desire for something else.

Are some wants better than others? Is it better to, for example, want things that allows future generations of humans to inhabit this planet? Unless we have some external rubric, we cannot say — this want is no more justified than its antithesis.

What's more, if we have a rubric, would we want to follow it? And if we didn't want to follow it, could we say there is something wrong with that? If we frame beliefs as actions (knowledge-actions), we must admit that we similarly have no better reason for believing things than wanting to believe them. That is, even if there is a "rubric" for what desires are "best" to have, we would not be able to justify belief in it.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Emergent Density Maps

Large spaces like libraries tend to have absurd amounts of very diffuse lighting. Most of this light is unnecessary. What would be nice is to attach to every light a micro controller that senses movement and light levels. In the most basic case, it would only turn the light on if there was movement and the light already available was below a certain threshold.

More advanced versions could learn about how much movement there was during different times of day, and how long people hung around in that space.

This seems like a fairly basic idea, so it has probably already been tested and rejected because it's too distracting or for some other reason.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Singing Arc Demonstration

The "Singing Tesla Coil", a notable example of a non-standard technique for auralizing a signal.

Towards a Model of Information Aesthetics in Information Visualization

Andrew Vande Moore's 2007 paper, Towards a Model of Information Aesthetics in Information Visualization, comes to some related (and to some degree, similar) conclusions about dimensions we might use to frame transcoding — in this case, visualization. One of his two primary dimensions is "direct vs. interpretive":

The focus on direct mapping is generally driven by standards learnt from visual cognition research, including Gestalt rules and perception psychology, and guidelines which determine which representations are most ideal depending on data type. [...] On the other hand, mappings which involve subjective decisions and stylistic influences are highly interpretive.

Resembling my "objective vs. subjective". The other is "intrinsic vs. extrinsic":

Visualization techniques with intrinsic data focus aim to facilitate insight into data by employing cognitively effective visual mapping. [...] In contrast, those with extrinsic data focus facilitate the communication of meaning that is related to or underlies the dataset. These extrinsically-focused techniques are aimed towards visualization which are able to be appreciated and interpreted, and to invoke personal reflection.

I've made a similar distinction in the past as "introduction vs. induction" or "prose vs. poetry". I never brought this up with respect to transcoding because I feel like it is a much more general attribute of communication.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Buddhism via Backroads

Thoughts from my little black book:

Well now aren't we scaring ourselves?
Aren't we trying to hard?
Look no further,
It's in our hands.
It always was.
There will be no search party for us.
No black ribbons tied on antennas.
No one's going to stop traffic for us.
When we're gone, we're gone,
You know it's simple as that.
So Many Dynamos
You are the only light there is
For yourself my friend.
Gogol Bordello

To some Christians, taking responsibility for anything is seen as a sort of foolish pride; that you are somehow not resting in God or trusting him. Doing their best to trust God, they go reflect on God's purpose for their life specifically and find themselves at a standstill — unable to initiate independently, and without divine direction.

One response, from the Christian perspective, is to accept your "purpose" as something much more general — something that applies to everyone, along the lines "love God, and your neighbor as yourself".

There's another perspective. It acknowledges the expanse of all that exists, and our minuscule representation within it. If you look at the stars, or the oceans, or mountains, you see how little consequence we have on the majority of reality. Most things are indifferent to us; they have their own path and logic that refuses to mirror our own.

We may melt glaciers, but the oceans will only rise. In some time a new equilibrium will come. We're like bubbles rising from boiling water, or subatomic particles emerging from the vacuum — temporary discontinuities. We have nothing to lose, and nothing to gain. Our very nature is that of impermanence, and the only response to this is an overwhelming peace.

No fear, no hope, just peace — and this discontinuity.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Alternative

Wikipedia lists possible reasons for writing a suicide note as:

  • To ease the pain of survivors by attempting to dissipate guilt
  • To increase the pain of survivors by attempting to create guilt
  • To set out the reason for suicide
  • To gain sympathy or attention
  • To give instructions as to disposition of remains

A particularly interesting suicide note comes from Christine Chubbuck, a news anchor who prepared a press release for her suicide before shooting herself on air.

In this vein, I would like to prepare a press release describing my decision to live. Not permanently of course, as I may change my mind at any moment, but for the moment it was written. The title would be something like "Local Student Commits Unsuicide".

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Trading Secrets

At two (or more) sites, a small booth containing a computer terminal is prepared. Participants are invited to enter the booth and share a secret. Once they leave the space, they see a secret projected onto the booth — but not theirs. It is a secret typed by a participant at the other location. But onlookers do not know this, and associate the label with the person who last entered the booth.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Climate Control

Bart Woodstrup, an MFA student at RPI, is currently showing "a series of climate-interactive electronic installations and eco-visualizations intended to address the personal detachment felt towards global climate change." (iEAR Presents)

A "manual" for the installation describes some of the transformations ("data interpretations"): "Power: plant height and rate of growth; Irradiance: sun/cloud/moon animation; Ambient Temperature: leaf color and brightness; Module Temperature: flower head hue and saturation; Timescale: 1:1,800 seconds".

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Rutt-Etra Video Synthesizer

The Rutt-Etra Video Synthesizer transcodes video into video, rendering each frame in 3d using scanlines where height is controlled by brightness.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

ixi Software

ixi Software presents a number of transcoding-based musical programs. For example, ixi Quarks offers various visual representations of musical events and sound sources.


The Tenori-On takes advantage of a Monome-like matrix of LED buttons to visualize musical compositions in real-time as they are being improvised. One of the cooler controls is the breakable loop bar, allowing you multiple loop lengths.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Florence to Rome

Knowing I would be leaving for Rome later in the day, I set my expectations low: il Duomo and one museum (of course, soaking up as much ambiance as possible).

For breakfast I stopped by a small market, which I later found was unnecessary: plenty of places in Florence have cheap breakfast. Though the upside of eating market food is you run into other vagabonds on the street trying to find a place to sit and eat. At the entrance to one of the bridges I met Tara and Mallory. They happened to be eating a similar breakfast and we also shared a similar pace when it came to our city-hopping rate. The main danger with the side of the road in Florence is due to the buses: when they turn the corner you are certain you will lose your legs and be crushed. Fortunately the turning radius is wider than they initially let on.

Walking to il Duomo I remember best the smell of leather from all the tourist hungry street vendors. At the Dome itself I remember best all the tourists with their cameras, taking the same picture. I got in line to walk the 450+ stairs to the top and thought about this second impression some more.

I think we need a philosophy of travel, in the same way we have a philosophy of science. There are some really pressing questions worth asking:

  • What does it mean to be a tourist?
  • Why do we disdain "touristy" place, and what makes them that way?
  • Why travel at all?
  • Is it worth taking a photo when it has been taking so many times before?
  • At the end of our travels, what are we left with?

I think these questions first came to me in Paris, seeing crowds around the Mona Lisa and playing "spot the tourist" with Pierre (perhaps I was under the influence of some existential philosopher's ghost). But waiting in the long line to il Duomo I had some more time to reflect. I'll pepper these entries with "answers" to these questions as I dream them up.

The path up the Dome is really confusing. There are plenty of circular staircases, but it stops intermittently for longer hallways and right angles. Then, halfway up, you circle the base of the dome itself and follow an even more confusing path with slanted walls, narrow hallways, and steep stairs. I liked how the brick layers had to adopt unusual diagonal patterns to create the actual dome.

At the very top you step into the sunlight, which is the best part. Especially feeling the wind at the top on a hot dry day. I'm pretty sure it's the highest point in Florence, you can see everything (anything more than a block away). That was my simple lesson from the dome: when you're on top of something big, it can be hard to see the things nearby. I sat up there for maybe twenty minutes appreciating the view of the city.

After descending, because it was so hot and water wasn't cutting it, I had my first Gelato in Italy. It was a piccolo limone from this crazily lit place called "Festival del Gelato".

Walking around afterwards, browsing the windows of stores on main streets, I made some notes on what binds Western culture (as best I could tell from the cities I'd visited): food, materialism (more pronounced in America than Europe), and Harry Potter. The last book was released while I was in Lyon, and it seemed like everyone was advertising it.

Not meaning to, I found Luggia di Lanzi — a semi-enclosed square adjacent to a large piazza. It was filled with wonderful sculpture, and since it's Florence these weren't just any sculptures but most were second century AD. I get the impression that the city is overflowing with art.

I walked next to the "Firenze Mvsei", containing the Palatine gallery and modern art gallery (amongst others). Since I was in Florence just to be ironic I went to the Modern Art gallery first. There was a great exhibition with all these dresses and concept art for modern theater. The Palatine gallery had a ton of Florentine and related art, mostly paintings.

There were plaques with descriptions to introduce each of the rooms, and as the end of the 19th century approached they started a big discussion about the role of "reality" in art. I had an idea for a manifesto a few days earlier that dealt with this issue. It would say something about the futility of attempting to capture "reality" in art — whether with photography or film or anything. There is an illusion that photography captures reality better than painting, and that film captures reality better than photography (film with sound more so). In fact the "reality" we're trying to capture is a subjective experience, and not until we can record and induce those experiences directly will we be able to capture "reality". In the meantime, anything goes. Any sense pairings and content pairings. I'm not saying that any of this would be pleasant, just that's it's all equally "real" — which is to say, it's not "real" at all.

The other thing the Palatine gallery reminded me was how little I know about any city I've gone to, and how little I know about art especially. I think it's best for me to play critic and philosopher rather than historian.

From the museum I went back to the train station, where I picked up my backpack and got on the train to Rome. There was some sort of movie being filmed on the platform so I had to walk around the crew. No actors I knew, just an Asian girl that was strolling in and out of the shot, waiting for "action".

From the first moment off the train I could tell things moved quickly in Rome. At the end of the platform I met the endlessly kind Giovanni Giametta, a friend of my uncle's. We walked to his car and raced off to the hotel he'd booked for me through an old friend from Boy scouts. The hotel was once a cathedral and monastery that had only recently been renovated.

In Florence I had first hand experience of the fabled Italian driving, and was cautious when Giovanni first launched out of the parking lot, but once we got to the traffic everything instantly made sense. There is a "flow" to Italian driving that's hard to see from the sidewalk. There is a reason there aren't many lines painted on the Italian streets: the lanes are created and destroyed on the fly, everyone adapting to the situation at hand. It's like they've transcended the need for certain road regulations by acknowledging that any rule has limited use, and the road is far too complex to impose a single standard on (or maybe they're all just equally crazy). They tend to stay on the right and stop at major lights, but besides that most everything is fair game. Giovanni added, as I mentioned these things to him, that it would be nice if they had something like in America at four way stops for determining the order.

From the hotel we went to Giovanni's house (really a multi-building mini-villa near the main park in North Rome) to visit his wife and some family. On the road I was thinking about how fast Rome seemed, faster even than New York City. But sitting down for a few minutes outdoors at his place — this is when I realized Rome is slower as well. Or at least it can be.

Giovanni took me out to a very nice restaurant called "Scala", his "kitchen away from home". Everyone knows him there, and they managed to find us a table even though they were "full". This kind of social engineering always amazes me. We had some great appetizers, then an octopus pasta I really liked (but Giovanni thought was "eh"). I'm also not the best judge of food on as an empty-stomached traveller. We finished with a pasta Giovanni recommended, which was tasty as well but seemed very simple. Then again, the best always seems effortless (whether it's an Olympic athlete pulling off some maneuver or a chef preparing a dish).

We discussed a variety of topics over dinner, from the Italian character to the graffiti problem in Rome to a little stand on the corner of the street that's become famous for a single drink. After dinner he took me to the stand, where they serve "Lemon Coco". It's basically just southern Italian lemons squeezed and mixed with sugar water and coconut juice. Possibly one of the most refreshing drinks ever.

We went back to his house and I tried speaking half Spanish and half English with his wife while he sorted out something else. When he was done he took me on a whirlwind evening tour of Rome — the Colosseum, Roman Forum, the view from the Spanish embassy, the Vatican, etc. Around ten the traffic got worse and my full stomach was getting the best of me, so we called it an evening. I gladly crashed on the huge hotel bed, a very welcome alternative to the hostels I'd been staying at up to this point.

Adaptive Pubs and Markets

In Brussels I saw a market where every price was displayed on a small lcd beneath the product, which also calculated the price per liter or kilogram. I imagine these were manually updated whenever the products were switched. Imagine if, instead, they were continuously updated as people bought or didn't buy the product. If fewer people were buying them, it'd be cheaper to encourage a purchase. The same idea, inverted, could be applied to pubs: instead of happy hour the prices would just go down as more people bought drinks.

The standard scheme (more demand yields higher prices) would encourage people to buy things they normally wouldn't, and browse for things that others might not have noticed. The inverted scheme (in the pub) would encourage people to bring friends and congregate at specific times.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Information via Arbitrary Objects

Anything that conducts electricity can be used to send information. Different objects have their own resistance, frequency response and noise sources. When I was experimenting with sending nonsynched video (where it is sent without a synch, and then "tuned" upon reception) through spring reverb, I also sent the video through a cup of water. This should work from one side of a pool to another, so long as you account for the water's resistance. What would be more interesting is to transmit between two separate faucets in the same house (ultimately connected at some point), or through a tree trunk.

Video as a Panorama Source

There have been some exciting developments in deriving three dimensional geometry of a space from collections of photos (popularized recently by Microsoft researchers), and tools for stitching photos into panoramas are old news. But I'd like to see a tool that stiches video into a panorama in real time (but also producing a final still image). It should account for any panning, rotation or zooming of the camera.

One approach would be to continuously deform the image in various ways: shifting the x/y position, changing the size, perspective and skew deform on both axes, and rotation. Once the deformations are known, it becomes a search problem for the minimum difference between the deformed image and where it overlaps with the previous image. Alternatively, x/y/z position (z being zoom) and all three degrees of tilt could be used — which only takes 6 dimensions instead of 8.

Update (10/22/07): This was first done in 1993 by Steve Mann.

Symbolically Guided Science

Einstein's famous equivalence e=mc2 is a fairly simple symbol sequence. Given basic constraints such as unit agreement it could be discovered quickly using random search. The hard part is interpreting — the semantics. Assuming that some grand unified theory exists, one that's elegant, perhaps we can develop an automated search for it constrained by simple requiremenrs like unit agreement and some formal semantics describing observed behavior? The few theories that match observations but make unexpected predictions could be presented for further consideration by humans.

Audio Respatialization

With a few video cameras you can capture a full spherical panorama of a space. This gives you enough information to recreate any view from that position (i.e., any orientation from a fixed position). We can do similarly with four microphones for audio.

This only allows reorientation though, repositioning is harder. Techniques for determining the geometry of a space from a limited number of viewpoints using computer vision are still in the experimental stages. As far as I know, we don't have any analogous computer hearing algorithms for determining the structure of the "sound scape". (Anyone who's practiced Pauline Oliveros' Deep Listening will understand experientially our ability to derive sonic structure).

I imagine we could triangulate the position of every sound given the right number of microphones. It takes four microphones to make one spherical module. Each module will give us an angle for every sound (or rather, the sound at every angle, up to some resolution). With two modules we can then reconstruct the distance of any sound based on the two angles. That is, we would have a complete recording of a space from which we can derive the sound received by a virtual directional microphone at any location and any orientation.

The problems will be similar to those encountered by the visual correlate: boundaries, shadows (back faces) and reflections (crucial for enclosed spaces) will be poorly represented.

By pairing two spherical camera modules with the audio modules we could record, for example, a parade — which we could later walk through, seeing everything in 3d and hearing an accurate binaural representation from our current position and orientation.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Bern to Florence

This morning I woke up to the sound of Thisan having a loud conversation with Marvin. I had earplugs in, so I'm pretty sure everyone woke up to the same sound.

The whole day went by quickly, but the morning especially. I had breakfast, said goodbye to Toni and Becky, and went to the train station. It was an hour until the police office opened, so I reserved tickets for the train and sat in a tucked away corner for the remaining half hour. The police were really efficient and concerned but stoic, it was great. We finished in just enough time for me to run to the train.

The train first ran from Bern to Brig where I made a transfer. In my opinion, the scenery goes downhill once you get out of Switzerland (no pun intended). Brig to Milan was the next leg. Milan didn't make good impression on me from the train station. Milan to Florence was the last step. Upon arrival I rushed from the train station across the Arno river to a hostel I'd read about. Unfortunately, the hostel was full — this is the first time that's happened to me. But I'd rather have that happen every so often than keep track of where I'm going to be in two days, booking in advance.

It's worth mentioned how sketchy the entrance to the hostel was that I ended up staying at. At first, you just walk past it, not realizing there is a door or a number. Then, once you see it, you're certain it couldn't possibly be a hostel. In fact, the door only takes you to a narrow courtyard, offering a few more doors and hallways as possibilities. If you guess right, you have to ascend fifty long anonymous stairs up two flights before arriving in a large space with deteriorating frescoed walls.

The girl helping me with a bed said it's a church that's been renovated for use as a homeless shelter in Winter and hostel in Summer, which is perfect. So long as the homeless can find it. They didn't build anything permanent it seems, but everything is clean and well kept, and everyone who works there is friendly.

The only dorm mate I met was from Colorado. He had been biking and was traveling with a very small backpack. Later he explained this was because all his clothes had been stolen. Twice. There was someone else staying in the room but I never met them; they returned after I fell asleep and left before I awoke.

What was left of the night I just spent sitting on the bank of the river eating a sandwich and fruit I made from some supermarket supplies. It was a slightly cool evening — in retrospect, a non-representative beginning to my stay in Italy.

Friday, August 03, 2007


The internet access I bought the day before wasn't working anymore this morning. Which was disappointing — it was supposed to work for three days. The front desk called the company managing the wifi and we found out the credit card didn't go through. I think I may have mistyped some info, so note to self: if you're desperately in need of internet and have no money, as a last resort you can mistype your credit card "confirmation number" on the back of the card.

After I told Becky and Toni about Paul Klee, they decided they were interested in the seeing museum — so we planned to meet there at 1:00. In the meantime, I did my laundry and they visited the Einsteinhaus. I met two more Aussies in the laundry room. They're everywhere, and seem to travel in pairs.

The museum was pricey (I think 16 or 18 CHF) but worth it. We looked at everything in the permanent collection and temporary exhibition. I think Toni's favorites were the puppets. I love how Klee paired titles and images, and explored so many possibilities without worrying too much about the outcome. At least that's how his work feels to me. When we were done we got some food from the restaurant there and went to a stage where there was a puppeteer improvising with replicas of Klee's puppets. It was incredibly entertaining — kids and adults alike laughed at each "skit" featuring a different puppet or pair of puppets. A lot of it you didn't need to know German to understand, testifying both to the skill of the puppeteer and the composition of the audience.

Rain clouds were gathering outside, but they didn't look gloomy yet. We took the bus back to Central Bern and checked if the museum of theater was still open (Becky and Toni study theater). It wasn't — though there was a guy who told us "it's not open tomorrow either, but if you come at 9:00 am someone might be here to let you in anyway." In most big cities in America that would sound sketchy, but here it is a reasonable business practice for a museum that doesn't get much traffic.

As we walked back to the hostel the rain picked up. We were basically drenched by the time we got back. Or at least I was, Becky and Toni had rain jackets. It was warm, so I didn't mind.

We walked into the room somewhere around 6:00 pm. My laptop was no longer sitting where I left it charging. I looked around the room a bit, went upstairs to the internet area to see if someone borrowed it, and finally just sat down to fold my laundry from earlier. I was in disbelief, so I hadn't said anything yet. When I finished my laundry I went to the reception desk. No help, really. I knew I couldn't do anything but try and narrow the time down by asking people when they where around and last saw it. The worst part is that when you've been robbed, everyone looks like a thief. Even after playing cards the day before.

Becky, Toni and I went out for dinner, settling on a Chinese place. I had a Thai dish, which was strangely authentic for a Chinese place in Switzerland. I asked Becky and Toni more about their school and the people they study with. This lead to a conversation involving me contributing some thoughts from Sartre, and them giving examples of how people act in groups, and why leaders are necessary. It was a good existential yet practical conversation.

Back at the hostel we talked a bit more, some other people came and went, but it wasn't long before we crashed. Which is good, considering my attention was pretty well diverted.

Sunday, July 29, 2007


Monday is generally a bad to museum-hop in Europe: most galleries and museums are closed, and plenty of other places have reduced hours. Lasse, Tanja and I decided to visit one of the few open spots: the house Einstein stayed at while developing relativity theory (listed on one map only as "Einsteinhaus"). I could just imagine him staring at this one clock on the wall, imagining it slowing down as it sped by. The lady who gives out the tickets was great &mash; she admitted to not understanding his math and science, but loving his humanistic philosophy. I think she might have had a crush on him too.

I forget the context, but they had a great Schopenhauer quote I hadn't seen before: "We can do what we want, but can't will what we will." A wonderful one-liner for discussing determinism.

From Einstein's house we walked down the street and over a bridge to the botanical gardens, which had far too many plants trees and mosses to even begin exploring. In the distance there was some sort of Swiss folk band playing, with plenty of accordion and funny German melodies. We imagined they were wearing leiderhosen.

Lasse and Tanja were on their way back to Denmark, and had to leave that afternoon for Luzern, so I walked with them to the train station and said goodbye.

For lunch I grabbed the cheapest meal I could find, an 8CHF kebab that turned out to be pretty decent. To make up for the day before in Lyon I got some blackberries from the market. With the whole day ahead, I was still trying to think of something to do. The night before, at the hostel, someone told me that the rose gardens to the East weren't worth the hike, which meant there was probably a great view from the top they missed.

About halfway up I was about to agree with the guy from the hostel, but it turned out to be pretty decent. There's a Japanese restaurant at the top for some reason, and I smaller rose gardens near the exit of the path up the hill. I have a feeling the guy at the hostel just saw this small garden. If you go further you get to the main area, where at least 50 varieties of roses are arranged in concentric rectangles.

I smelled most of them — I had no idea how much variety there was in rose aromas. A lot of questions came to mind: do flowers smell like they look, just as lions growl and birds chirp, sounding like they act? And would it be how they look to us, or to the bees in ultraviolet? Maybe only we can smell flowers "correctly" and only bees can see them "correctly"?

I took notes on a few as well:

  • "Nella Martinetti" was my favorite, with a hint of citrus, berry, and reminders of the forest and beach simnultaneously
  • "Papa meilland" smells like lysol
  • "Charlie chaplin" has a hint of chai or earl grey
  • "Magicienne 78" was the most citrusy

On the way back from the rose garden I happened upon the bear pits, which are just depressing. Two Bernese bears wandering aimlessly about a concrete hole in the ground with a few trees and rocks is not my idea of a humane tourist attraction.

Walking back to the hostel it started seriously raining. Back in my room I met two Northern Irish guys playing cards, Jim (the talkative one) and his friend (whose name I can't remember, the quiet one). The rest of the evening was spent eating Toblerone, meeting dorm mates and playing cards. At the height of it we had everyone involved: myself, the two Northern Irish guys, two Londoners named Alasdair (Al) and Matt, two Australian girls, two English girls named Toni and Becky, a Swiss'Indian named Thisan, his omniglot Swiss friend Marvin, and two slightly punk girls I'm pretty sure were from another dorm. Some games we played:

  • Egyptian Ratscrew Taught to me by my sister Kiera and her boyfriend Baron, involves super fast pattern matching and deck slapping.
  • Jack-change-it A "get rid of your cards" game where you must match the suit or number of the card, complicated by special cards.
  • Murder in the Dark Not really a card game, but dealt using cards. Using who was killed as hints, everyone has to figure out who the two murderers are and send them to prison by a vote. Involves lots of counter accusations. I was dealt as murderer and managed to have my co-murderer Toni sent to jail, kill the doctor, and win the game. Best when you have an Irish guy as the storyteller &mdash. "Last night, a dark and sto-ormy night, t'ere was a mu-urder..."
  • Cheat Also called "BS", you put cards of a kind on the table face down, moving up or down from the last card, while telling everyone they are. If you lie and someone calls you on it, you take the deck. If you're telling the truth, they take it.
  • Spoons A fast game where you keep four cards in hand and pass the deck around the table card by card. First to collect four of a kind grabs a "spoon" (random object in the center of the table). There is always one less spoon than there are players, so there are no winners, just one loser.

There was also plenty of discussion earlier in the evening about politics and discrimination. Thisan is incredibly emotional and argumentative, which was compounded by his poor understanding of English, resulting in lots of cursing in German and some in Tamil. Realizing he didn't want to argue, just accuse, I listened for about an hour to his problems with America — domestic and international, with plenty of additions from other dorm mates. When he finished I told him that not all of America agrees with the government's decisions, most Americans aren't racist and some are actively trying to undo lasting effects of discrimination (whether this is a good idea is another discussion), and that you shouldn't say anything about America if you haven't been there and the first place you want to visit is Las Vegas. Though I didn't say the last part quite like that.

Thisan seemed to have made enemies of most of the people by the end of the night, if not for arguing with them just for being loud, but he gave me his number and said to call if I was ever back in Switzerland.

In the end, the Londoners drank quite a bit, Thisan started losing his voice, and a good time was had by all. It never did stop raining though.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Halftone Stencilling

Many graffiti stencils are based on images that have just been processed at a threshold for lightness. You might say they're "plotter" style stencils. I imagine another approach somewhere between "dot matrix" and "halftone": if you have a tool for making holes of one size, you can create darker areas by concentrating the holes. Borrowing from traditional color printing techniques, if you create three stencils for red, green and blue, you can produce a "full color" image. It would be good to automate the hole placement, or even choose aesthetically pleasing dithering algorithms.

This idea comes from a stencil I saw in Rome last night that used the kind of line art we have for the portraits on American currency. We might as well experiment with other approaches to stencil creation and construction as well.


I woke up expecting to buy some berries from the market and hop on a train to Bern via Geneva, but I met a Danish couple named Lasse and Tanja in the subway. I'd seen them at the hostel, and it turned out they were going to Bern as well so we decided to go together.

Most of our initial conversation was standard fareç where we've been, where we're going, what we've been studying, and language. I learned to pronounce some Danish vowels, which took a lot of concentration. There was even a short episode of frantically trying to find food in Geneva before our next train left.

You can tell you're in Switzerland when everything outside gets beautiful.. Villages on hills overlooking lakes, mountains looming on the horizon, fluffy clouds in the sky, etc. Bern is more of that, but a lot more beuildings and a river instead of a lake.

There's a lot of construction going on in central Bern right now, so we had to double check our path to the hostel, but we made it all the way down a long hill and booked three spots in a 20 bed room. Evening was just beginning, so we walked from the hostel to the south side of the river (it sort of envelopes the city, bending around the east side), and over to the "main" street.

The prices, all in CHF — Swiss francs — were initially disorienting (by the way, if a hundredth of a euro is a eurocent, is a hundredth of a franc a frankencent? are two of them frankincense?). But instead of being really expensive, we slowly realized everything was just fairly expensive. We settled on drinks at Starbucks and sandwiches at a nice bar/cafe down the street. Lasse and Tanja are the only people my age I've met who admit to feeling childish for not liking coffee. I felt the same way, and then my sister Kiera instroduced me to breves and lattes with fair amounts of sugar, cinnamon, and everything else. Now I don't mind esperesso-based drinks, but I still don't like coffee. Anyway — I had some tea.

The conversation quickly turned more serious, and we started talking about stereotypes and cultural difficulties. I found out a bunch about the practically socialist system in Denmark that does everything it can to distribute wealth evenly and not provide any motivation for high acheivers. I told them about what feels to me like the cultural homogenity and isolation of the United States. It was great.

We walked almost directly back to the hostel and went to bed — rest after lots of travel and intense conversation.

Monday, July 23, 2007


I woke up this morning with some ideas but, as usual, little set in stone. Breakfast and the view from the hostel kept my attention for a bit, and eventually I walked down the hill and over the Saône to Place Bellecour, billed as "Europe's largest completely clear public square". Basically this means that Lyon has the biggest public square filled only with sand. I kept walking, over the Rhône to what looks like a recently built riverbank area. There were two bowls for skaters, lots of stairs, shallow running water alongside the river, etc. Just North of the bridge I crossed was one of Lyon's two farmers markets. I'm thinking I'll get lunch there tomorrow, bananas are about two euros a kilo.

Today I got lunch near the main metro entrance on the East side of the Rhône. There were three kebab shops next to each other, all with the same prices, so I just picked the one with a guy that looked happy. I didn't know you could have "kebabs" without the "shish", but it's a lot like a gyro.

From the kebab shop I took the metro to the other market, which was a bit smaller and starting to close. The Lumière museum was just across the street, which is what I really wanted to see. The Lumière brothers were the guys who basically invented cinematography in the form we know now. The museum was dedicated to their ideas and accomplishments, and had plenty of replicas, models and artifacts. Plus it was located in their super cool Art Nouveau home. I'm not really a cinematographer, but it felt like a pilgrimage anyway considering the leap they made in time-based media and experimental art.

From the Lumière Museum I went to the big park in the Northern part of Lyon, which has a huge lake with little islands you can get to via underground passageways. I heard some singing coming from the edge of the park and happened upon a African lady in very African clothes who gave me tracts in French. I could see the Musée d'Art Contemporain from here, which I'd heard about earlier, so I headed in that direction. The first floor had an exhibit called "Freak Show", with lots of strange objects commissioned from a number of artists: 10 feet tall rain boots, a brush with hair coming out instead of bristles, an acoustic guitar with a square body, a chair that looked like it was just about to tip over, etc. My favorite was the two cubes in the corner that were attached to opposite walls but suspended in mid air next to each other, presumably magnetically attracted. I wasn't sure it was worth five euros, but the second floor, an Erwin Wurm exhibition, redeemed it for me. His video work isn't so great (unless it's in the context of an installation, like the fat house), and pieces like "Thinking About Philosophers" are more fun to think about than view; his photography, "one minute sculptures" and "interactive sculptures" were my favorite. Of the "interactive sculptures", one instructs you to sit on the ground with your legs forward and think about Spinoza. Another asks you to hold a Pepsi can between your chest and chin. I like that his work is really simple and silly but still asks "bigger questions" about the boundaries of different media.

From the museum I took the bus, subway, and tram to the top of the main mountain in the older part of Lyon. It was starting to rain hard so I just got a quick look of the cathedral and the amazing view before rushing back down the hill and up on the other tram to the hostel.

At the hostel I waited for the rain to let up so I could get dinner. As I was walking out, a girl stopped me because she noticed my RPI shirt. We both happened to know the same person at RPI, so we talked for a bit and she showed me a great place that did a sandwich, drink and dessert for five euros. I also got a crepe from a guy making them on the street, which I'd wanted to do for a while.

Back at the hostel we sat around a table with some of her friends, but she was mostly ignoring the other conversations and just talking to me. She was coming from a small town, and going to community college because she wanted to stay with her family. No one believed that she'd be able to travel Europe for a month — much less by herself. It was a little rough at first, but now she's scared to go back. She feels like she's changed so much, and if she goes back people will put her in an old box.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


There isn't much to say about the high-speed train from Brussels to Paris other than "it's really fast". That and I met two business and agriculture students from Uzbekistan named Nuri and Share (I'm probably transliterating their names wrong).

Paris is another place like New York City or London that hosts a variety of different cultures and languages and makes me wonder: what makes a city a city? If the definition of a city has anything to do with the characteristics of the people who live there, these melting pot places make me think there will come a day when communication and travel will be so ubiquitous we stop thinking about "cities" and group people and space in other terms.

The cheapest hostel I could find that was still close to a metro stop was a block and a half from the Louvre. In a strange mirroring of fates, I met two more Aussies named Josh and Alex, and a Southern Californian named Austin who had just been in Southeast Asia.

With my backpack off my shoulders, I went for a walk. Past Le Louvre, over Le Seine, to Le Cafe a few blocks away. I don't remember the name of the Cafe, I think it said "Flores" on one of its menus. There are so many cafes in Paris, I stopped at this one because I was tired of walking and it was on a nice busy corner. I saw something called a "Caesar salad" that was most certainly not Caesar (there was steak in it, but more essentially, there were no anchovies in the dressing and a poached egg sat in the center). That said, it was excellent. Though I'm no connoisseur, I had a Bordeaux with it that was one of the best wines I've ever had. Though that may have just been my tongue, which last tasted food in Delft.

I got to bed early, which is good because the next day was tremendous. I woke up at 7:45 to go to the Louvre with the three other guys from my dorm, and the line was less than 20 minutes. Of course we went to the Mona Lisa first, when only 20 people were surrounding it. We saw a lot of other amazing art, but the Mona Lisa stuck with me. Or rather, the crowd around it stuck with me. I think it's really interesting how art is "ordained" by aficionados and the general public. There were plenty of other really impressive pieces in the museum, but everyone gathered around the few famous ones: the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, Victory of Samothrace, etc. When the other guys left I went back to see the Mona Lisa again. There were maybe 80 people around it, so I waited and found my way to front and center. It was mad and wonderful. An art mosh pit.

I walked to the Notre Dame cathedral and grabbed a panini on the way there. There's a great garden just to the east of the Cathedral, where I took a nap for a while before heading back to the dorm.

I was planning on just writing for the rest of the day, but back at the hostel I met Pierre. He just got a job as a teacher in Paris and was looking for an apartment. He was just about to go to the Museum d'Orsay to meet some friends and see the exhibit "Cezanne to Picasso", so I went with him. We went the other way first and stopped at a cafe. "What beer do the French drink?" I asked. "The real French drink Belgian beer. But don't let them know." he said, with a very thick French accent. So we had a Belgian beer, "Leff". We talked about language and culture differences and played the game "spot the tourist". Outside the museum the game got easier: the tourists were the ones who stopped to look at the street artist's work. The museum was wonderful; I like Gauguin and Cezanne, but also a group vaguely related group called "Nabis" I didn't know about. After the exhibition Pierre and his friends went for drinks and I stayed to wander the museum some more. My favorites were the three or four rooms dedicated to Art Nouveau furniture and art, and the entire top floor just for Impressionists and Post-Impressionists.

At this point the sun would set in the next half hour, so I walked to the Eiffel tower, which seemed about a mile away. The lines were ridiculous of course, so I just walked around appreciating the strange structure.

Pierre had recommended I see Montmarte, which I knew from the movie "Amelie", with the scene where she follows the arrows up the mountain. I rushed over on subway and practically ran to the top. I reminded myself "it's not the hand", and ran back to the subway to catch it before they stopped running at midnight. Montmarte is a really sketchy area at night when you're further down the mountain side, but it's wonderful at the top.

The next day was dedicated mainly for traveling from Paris to Lyon. And having a fresh baked croissant in Paris. I was hoping to reserve a high speed train, but they were all taken. So I left Paris at 4:00 in the afternoon and arrived in Lyon 9:00. I knew where the hostel was, so I just had to follow the map. This wasn't so easy, the streets have to underlying structure and, as in Amsterdam and Delft, the rain was following me. After walking half a kilometer south and a a hundred meters uphill, I found the hostel and soaked in the view from the hostel's balcony. I met some people, a mechanical engineer from New Zealand and a teacher from Philadelphia, and we talked about where we'd been and where we were going. A good ending to a long day.


I meant to go from Delft to Paris in the afternoon, but got stuck about halfway. I got to Brussels easily, identified the next train to Paris, and went to get some lunch before boarding. I thought I still had a couple minutes left when I went to get some Belgian chocolate for "dessert", but I didn't. I missed the train for chocolate. The next one was in an hour. I missed it too, but for a different reason: as I tried to board I found out it was a high speed train and needed reservations. Options:

  • Stay in Brussels for the night
  • Go to and stay in Brugges
  • Take the long way from Brussels to Lille then to Paris
  • Go to and stay in Lille

I took option 1, since it was already four or five in the afternoon. I'm glad I stayed, Brussels is one of the best surprises yet.

I followed a group of backpackers getting off the train — they were going generally in the direction of the hostel and looked like they knew what they were doing. Everything turned out well; I got a bed and went to a nearby grocery store for some food. I meant to go to this restaurant a dorm mate recommended (an architecture student from Berkeley), but the grocery store is actually a funny story. Once you enter you can't leave unless you walk by one of the checkout lines, so my desire to get food elsewhere was subdued by my desire to not get caught up in a confusion of French and Dutch when they noticed I was leaving with a water bottle that I bought somewhere else. Of course, it drew confusion anyway. Brussels is a wonderful Bermuda triangle for expectations. Oh, and it's worth noting one of the things I bought was the Belgian equivalent of Pocky sticks.

Some memorable incidents from Brussels:

  • At the end of the day there is a ton of cardboard out on all the streets, presumably boxes from the stores. A recylcing truck comes around to collect it, and this truck makes some of the loudest metallic screeching sounds I've ever heard. Imagine an elephant blowing a cornet.
  • There are a number of narrow entrances to the "Grand Place", the center of Brussels. Sitting by any one of them you can hear that every tourist has the same reaction: "Ah, que bueno!", "C'est magnifique!", "Wow!", etc.
  • A bit before sunset a Chinese student came up to me and asked for me to fill out a survey about the city. I did, and was struck by how strange some of the questions were, while others seemed to have obvious responses. I think a variation on this would make a wonderful performance art piece: handing out surveys with no intent of collecting opinions but simply of forcing people to reflect on strange and difficult questions.

I finally did my laundry that evening. This is worth noting because it's when I ran into Cherry and Trent. They're an Australian couple who spent the last nine months in Southeast Asia and are just now starting a few months in Europe. We talked about travel a bit and had some Belgian beer.

Apparently a very specific type of bacteria that grows only in Brussels in used in some Belgian beer. It's collected from a river that used to run down the center of the city but has since been paved over since it stank terribly due to sewage problems. I simultaneously do and don't hope this is true.

The dryer wasn't working, which we later learned was due to our incompetence, but this required us to sit around for a very long time. Eventually a Mexican guy named Ricardo joined us, and the conversation turned to a sort of "travel activism", and how we could unite people in need with people who want to help, but with a focus on international relationships rather than just local ones. Ricardo does business and Trent has experience and ideas. I just fueled the fire. We exchanged emails, and we'll see what happens.

The Netherlands

On the train from Hoek van Holland to Amsterdam I got my first impressions of the Netherlands: narrow roads, green fields, rabbits, horses, sheep, cows, chicken, and lots of graffiti. As I started hearing more Dutch, I had the strangest feeling I was hearing British English. Some Dutch has really similar vowels and prosody to British English, but once you listen to the words you realize it's foreign. This is especially strange considering in London I kept thinking I was hearing a foreign language whenever someone spoke with a thick British accent.

Eventually we got off at Amsterdam Centraal. Amsterdam is a very strange city. It's beautiful in that it has a lot of older architecture and narrow alleyways, but it has a strange spirit. And I don't think it's the smoke coming from the "coffeeshops". As I found out later, there's a thriving underground art and music scene there, but the only signs you see on the surface are bits of interesting design here and there and some wonderful graffiti. Most of what is immediately visible caters very heavily to tourists.

In the late afternoon I found a bed at a Christian Hostel ironically located in the middle of the red light district. The first time I walked past all the scantily clad women with blacklit auras it seemed outrageous. Later I realized it's a lot like going to the beach in California. Kind of.

It's interesting to see what happens when a city decides to legalize prostitution and ignore all the marijuana. Most of the city is like most every other city. The red light district is weird, but that's fairly confined. There are a lot of people in the US fighting for different "liberties", and especially the legalization of marijuana. If the main side effects are just more hippies and laid back people, that's great. Everyone working on the "war on drugs" could focus on real drugs, and some sketchy groups of people would dissolve as their trade is usurped by standardized products.

The next morning a few things were vying for my attention: it had been a week so it was time to do my laundry, I wanted to see my friend Koen Mostert a little South of Amsterdam in Delft, and then there is the Van Gogh museum in Southern Amsterdam. And of course, I was still considering the possibility of staying another day or leaving immediately for some other city. While mulling over my options in the hostel hallway I ran into three girls who noticed my laptop and were trying to transfer photos from their cameras to iPods. We all ended up going to the Van Gogh museum together and I caught the train to Delft in the late afternoon. They were going North and I South, but we'll both be in Rome at the end of this month so I'm sure we'll meet again.

I met people on the train to Delft, as always:

  • A mother, originally from Finland, who does customer service for Adobe in the Netherlands. We talked about the variations in different countries and languages. She says I'll like Copenahgen, and that I have to see Helsinki some day.
  • An older guy from Haarlem who works for the telephone company in Amsterdam. Again, langauge is an easy target: I asked about the differences between Southern and Northern Dutch — and he smiled and told me how Northern Dutch sounds "ugly".

In Delft, Koen met me with a wonderful sign with pen and cardboard, reading only "Kyle" but in a great serif face he did by hand. We walked around Delft a bit before it started raining too hard to walk anymore. Pretty much immediately we started talking typography and generative art — it's nice to talk with someone you've never met face to face and still "know" them. Over breakfast the next day he told me about some of the posters hanging in his kitchen (he shares the house with a bunch of other people from his school). One advertised a "silent disco", which sounded amazing.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

London to the Netherlands

After spending so much time at the Science Museum, I decided I'd visit the Natural History Museum the next day, before leaving for the Netherlands. Before I left, Basia took me over to see her mother. We only talked for a few minutes, but decided that when I came back through London we would all go to a pub and chat.

A busker playing Queen at Ealing Commons

Nearby the Natural History Museum is a restaurant called Daquise. I heard from Basia that my grandparents went there when they were in London, so I had some barszcz for lunch and soaked up all the Polish conversation.

The Natural History Museum had a huge line outside, but it moved quickly. Plus you don't really notice because the building itself is so impressive it keeps your interest. The Museum had tonnes of everything you can imagine. From birds to plants to dinosaurs. I was most amazed by this piece taken from a medieval trough that showed the work/rest days like tree rings. And of course there's the earthquake room, which is such a low magnitude I didn't notice the floor was moving until I looked at the walls. I guess California does that to you.

I still had some time until my train left for the ferry to the Netherlands, so I went to the British Museum — known best for its many "acquired" treasures. There were a few pieces I wanted to see, but it was closing so I could only get into the central area where I promptly began experimenting with the acoustics. Certain spots in that space have some of the longest natural delay I've ever heard.

Clapping at the British Museum

My train left from the Liverpool Street station, so I went over there and got dinner from Marks and Spencer. Marks and Spencer absolutely amazes me. It's really just a small grocery store, but every single product is "Marks and Spencer brand". Every product has the same design for their packaging — and it all looks very hip. I think their hummus is really good, too, but everything tastes good when you're hungry.

The only problem with buying food in the Liverpool Street station is that there are absolutely no rubbish bins in the entire station. The central area is two stories and bigger than a football field, and there isn't a single trash can. I looked for at least half an hour. If you find, let me know where. I'll give you a gold star and my empty yogurt cup.

From London the train went to Harwich (though no one knows where "har-witch" is, only "hair-itch"). There was a beautiful sunset followed by some staff leading a few passengers through a surreal empty train station onto a bus, which then drove into the ferry. It all seemed really sketchy, but then we took the elevator up and there were plenty of carpeted hallways and whatnot. The room was probably the nicest I'll stay in for a while. I got my first hints of a necessary bilingualism when the started announcing things in Dutch, and then English.

Inside my cabin, Harwich to Hoek Van Holland

We lost an hour crossing the timezones, and arrived at Hoek van Holland (Hook of Holland) at 7:30 in the morning. We had breakfast before disembarking, and I had a great meal with some sinaasappelsap. Somehow orange juice tastes better when it has such a ridiculous name.

There's plenty more to say about the Netherlands, but I'll save it for the next post — I'm still catching up on translating my short scribbles from the last few days into full sentences.

Saturday, July 14, 2007


Getting off the plane, I felt like I was just in another American airport. That perception was fixed as I turned a corner into a narrow hallway and tried to pass a chap driving a cart on the right. He smiled knowingly and pointed to my left.

The next thing that lets you know you're in London is the CCTV cameras. You begin to understand why both punk and 1984 were born in London.

London's Circle Line Train

I sat next to a business professor on the plane. He was taking his students through London to get an idea of how things work over here. I followed them through immigration and found my own way to the train station. After accidentally getting on the wrong train to London and getting that figured out, I figured out the oyster cards, the underground, and caught a train towards Notting Hill. I was looking for Wake up! London, a hostel I saw in the Europe on a Shoestring guide, but it seemed to be under renovation. My next choice, Leinster Inn, was only a few blocks away.

Leinster Inn was borderline sketchy but pretty great. It looked like a lot of people were staying longer than a few days, and the rooms smelled like something foreign, but it worked out alright. I think there were 10 people on 5 bunk beds in my room.


I grabbed a late lunch, took a nap, and dropped my backpack before returning to central London to walk West down the Thames; starting at the London Eye and walking towards Parliament.

I returned to Leinster Inn for some rest, and met two people. One before I went to sleep: Carlos, an architecture student from Barcelona who came to work on his English; and one as I was falling asleep: Giem, who dropped his jacket on me. It turned out the next day Giem was pretty nice, even if I couldn't understand most of what he said because of his accent. I also met Malcolm, an Australian finishing a few months of travel; he told me how wonderful Porto was.

Leinster Inn at Midnight

The next day I decided I'd visit some galleries. To prep, I got breakfast at Natural Cafe, which is one of the kindest and tastiest organic cafes I've been to. The manager saw me looking at the menu outside and gave me a free drink coupon; I got a free mocha and he told me to keep the receipt for next time.

I went first to Trafalgar square and the National Gallery. It's strange how any large open space surrounded by buildings and containing sculpture will draw a crowd. The National Gallery was exquisite. I was most drawn to the Dutch painters they had in the permanent collection, but it's hard to forget Van Gogh and Rembrandt. The Degas were great, but not my favorites from him.

Next I took the underground to near St. Pauls, which I walked by, and over the Millennium bridge to Tate Modern. It was closing early for some reason, so I missed maybe a sixth of it, but eighty percent of what I did see was incredible. My favorites were Giamcometti and Rothko. Giacometti I've never seen in person before, and it's very different when you stand closely to one of his elongated figures and can only focus on the head, while the rest becomes abstract. Rothko was wonderful because there was a centralized dimly lit room dedicated to his large scale work (the "pause" paintings, as I remember them, the stillness/meditative ones with two large holes or stripes).

I walked West from Tate Modern and mingled with the various groups of tourists and listened to conversations: some highschool students, some Americans, a group of friends. Eventually I got to an area called "morelondon", quite the hip and stylized after-work hangout it seemed. There's a Marks and Spencers there, the first I saw — I'm amazed by the idea of a store where every product has the same branding. I got some mixed berries, hummus, and pita bread (or "pitta" over here) and walked over to "The Scoop" (an open air free music venue) where I had a tasty dinner and listened to some popish music.


I walked by the London Eye the day before because I new there was an installation nearby, "Wind to Light", but I should have walked East instead of West. I went back and walked the other direction, eventually finding it and being very inspired. It's interesting how a lot of the installation has fallen apart; I'd be curious to see what it would look like if it actively made use of that process. It also made me think more about how it is a sort of "physical transcoding", with no software in between, and what exactly software is. Software requires abstraction of some form, but to what extent before it is necessarily software?

That evening I finally managed to contact Basia's daughter, Klara, and found my way to their home (all the way to the Ealing Broadway station). I had a wonderful sleep and awoke to Klara's breakfast the next day. After breakfast I worked out the train and ferry from London to Amsterdam for the next day, and took off to the Science Center. I stayed longer than I expected, admiring their history of the steam engine, before grabbing some food from a street vendor and eating on the steps of the fountain outside Buckingham palace.

Another time-honoured English tradition, I returned to Basia's to watch "Big Brother" with Klara and two of her friends. Stefan came downstairs and we ended up talking philosophy until Basia got home from the opera, at which point we, of course, went outside and talked opera. Except I mostly listened: as Basia's friend pointed out, the US does not have an Opera tradition.

I wasn't sure about how I felt about London when I first arrived, it's a bit like New York City's younger brother, but how can you not love people who use phrases like "with the faeries" (not all there) and have headlines like "Yanks take Mickey out of Becks and Posh"?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

San Diego to Atlanta via Charlotte

This is the first day of six weeks I'll be meandering through England, The Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Denmark and Iceland.

I'd like to say I'm writing from somewhere new and interesting, but I'm just on layover in Atlanta. Not to say Atlanta isn't full of characters, but it's a lot like the other two airports I've spent the last two days in. This "two days" business is partially due to rain delays in Charlotte, and partially due to the distance from San Diego to London. But mostly because the jumbo jet from Charlotte to London was broken — something we had to wait an hour sitting on the plane to find out.

Charlotte Aiport Lounge (before delays)

Besides the lost sleep, long lines and semi-competent staff I don't really mind cancellations or delays. It gives you a chance to meet people. While we waited for the news that we'd hav to get off the plane, I talked with an old Sri Lankan woman about place names, food, music, religion and tribulation. Once you get off the plane, the spirit changes a bit. We may have just as well been actors recreating Exodous: in search of something other than Egypt but not sure when we'll find it. Sustained by a common goal producing this strange mob/brotherhood, though we each had a different story:

  • The short but feisty tie-dye wearing English woman with "rodents at home", who wouldn't be able to teach her Tuesday kickboxing class
  • The freckled son and mom who left LAX at 4am
  • The very Scottish man who would miss his job interview
  • The savvy, sarcastic, balding and bespectacled businessman with plenty of horror stories ("A friend once was trying to get from Singapore to Johannesburg, but got stuck in India. They told him it'd be three days, and he ended up on some convoluted route through Athens involving a bus.")
  • The understanding guy who finished the last of his cash in Vegas and couldn't afford a place for the night

After waiting in various lines and talking with no less than four US Airways representatives, I arranged today's flight and picked up my bag. I was ready to sleep in the airport, but my overprotective mom insisted on arranging a room for me at "Sleep Inn", a few miles away. You know you're in North Carolina when you take "Billy Graham Road" to get to the hotel.

Charlotte Aiport Lounge (before delays)

Fortunately Delta is easer to work with than US Airways and I got here pretty easily. The major highlights were sitting next to Mrs. South Carolina and overhearing conversations:

Woman 1: God, I hate this airport.
Woman 2: Yeah, I'm never coming back.
1: I've got to, I just bought a house here.
2: Well I've had enough, I'm going to Florida.
1: Oh, I just moved from Florida... too many hurricanes.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Some Thoughts on Property

There's something strange about saying a portion of space and the land within "belong" to an individual. This extends to the idea of countries: how is it possible for a space to "belong" to a group of people?

Practically, we talk about "ownership" and "property" when something won't be taken away from someone. Yet the only thing we own necessarily are our thoughts. Our life can be taken away and our actions can be misassociated, but without our thoughts there is no "us" to own them.

Yet we still talk about certain objects and spaces as "property". Some of these others attempt to take, but fail either due to the owner fighting for ownership, or due to a misguided or misdirected attempt. Other things no one attempts to take, because they don't want them or have made an agreement not to. These are all very different types of property, and we should treat them differently (unlike some anarchistic philosophy that uses the term "property" very generally):

  • property by necessity (thoughts)
  • property by struggle (countries, civil liberties)
  • property by contract (private land, objects)

I'm not sure what to call "property due to misunderstanding", but it must exist. Maybe something like the Christian or Muslim hope in afterlife — plenty of misguided attempts have been made to destroy it (through martyrs, etc.), while the only true loss of that hope is when believers convert from an afterlife-affirming religion to an afterlife-denying belief system.

Speaking of civil liberties as a property by struggle may be a bit extreme, but I think it's accurate so long as you're not making any other assumptions about the nature of humanity and its purpose.

What about thieves? The existence of thieves is dependent on the existence of property. In a world without property, one person may still take another person's bike, but it would no longer be stealing.

Ratatouille: Flavor Visualization

Animators for the upcoming moving Ratatouille have developed some subjective visualizations of flavors such as cheese and strawberry.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Audio Graffiti

The standard speed for cassette tapes is 178 inch per second. This is slow enough that it could be drawn by hand. What if the magnetic surface was still and the read/write head moved instead? We could mix ferric oxide powder (the ferromagnetic material used in cassette tapes) with some sort of paint, spread it on walls, and use modified walkmen to record and read messages from it. I'd like to see this as a performance tool, too, for recording and retreiving "physically stored" samples in real time — "scratching" them, even.

This could also be considered an extension of Audio Bombing.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Practical Prayer Experiment

I used to go to this church that still has me on their mailing list. So I get emails a few times every week that read like this:

Would you please keep * in prayer? She is in the hospital suffering from dehydration. She is due to move into an assisted living situation next week and the family would appreciate your prayers both for her healing & for a smooth transition to her new home. Thanks.

If you wanted to demonstrate the efficacy of prayer, maybe you could look at all these emails and tally which ones turned out as expected, and which ones didn't. But you'd need a control; you'd have to throw out some percentage of the requests at random instead of sending out emails about them, and I doubt the church would consent to that.

Though you could make an approximation of whether the experiment would be worth it by asking people for prayer requests independently (it'd have to be double-blind).

Wednesday, July 04, 2007


Jan de Weille transcodes the computer screen as audio with her application soundmaps. It offers various modes, two more objective, three subjective, and one unidentified:

  1. Kritsj bitmap data is transcoded directly as audio
  2. Kratsj bitmap data is transcoded from frequency to time domain, and then directly as audio
  3. "MIDI Instrumentalisation using harps and banjos in dodecatonic scale. (6 instruments)", an indirect transcoding
  4. "Classic 1 A blues chord progression is imposed to pianos and a bass. (6 instruments)"
  5. Classic 2 heptatonic waltz.
  6. "Almost nix Does not do too much."

Leonel Cunha has done some excellent explorations into this medium, presenting the visuals and audio simultaneously.

Phosphor-based delay

Reading about Williams tubes, I noticed a comment about phosphor-based displays:

When a dot is drawn on a cathode ray tube, the visible spot lasts for a time (called "persistence") that depends on the type of phosphor used in the tube.

I've experimented a bit using audio reverb for video signals, but what about using CRT for audio delay? Here's one way you could do it on a black and white TV:

  1. Break the connections to the deflection coils on a CRT.
  2. Send an audio signal for intensity modulation (the volume would have to be turned down to avoid destroying the phosphor, and the signal might have to be pitch shifted down and processed in non-realtime depending on the phosphor's frequency response).
  3. Use some sort of photodiode to "grab" the light and get a signal again (the response of the photodiode will influence whether you can do realtime processing or not, as well).

A good reference for trying this out would be the various wobblevision/wave vessel hack guides available online.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Sound Economy

Stanley Ruiz has constructed a sonification of the Philippines' GDP. The information is interpreted by Stanley and mentally transcoded into (or imagined as) hand gestures, which are then transcoded into midi notes within Max/MSP. These notes are treated as control signals for audio and video output.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Wind as Light

Direct transcoding via an array of custom electromechanical devices with the wind to light project.

Steps to Telepathy

George Dvorsky makes a connection between Chuck Jorgenson's recent work on sub-vocal speech recognition and previous work on cochlear implants: they share input and output forms, but have inverse mapping directions.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Tim Knowles

Influenced by Roman Singer's extended definition of sculpture (e.g.: invoking time in pieces like "Helicopter with a Blue Spray Can"), Time Knowles unifies his work with ideas about chance and process. They are also involve transcoding physical movement visually: using drawing devices to transcribe the acceleration of a car, the movement of a tree branch, or the wind's effect on a balloon.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Weird Converter

"How many Shaquille O'Neals in a giraffe's neck?" Approximately 1.24. Weird Converter transcodes nonstandard measurement units.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Scrambler Drawings

Rosemarie Fiore's Scrambler Drawings transcode position over time is into a permanent visual form. Gas generators and buckets of paint are connected to the chairs of a carnival ride, turning the machine into a giant plotter.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Scratching Video and Audio

Hand gestures transcoded as time by Cut Chemist, expanding turntablism into simultaneous video and audio manipulation.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Wiimote DJ/VJing

Daito Manabe and Satoshi Horii have written a patch for transcoding wiimote gestures into visual and audio control signals simultaneously.

Romanticizing Necessity

Supposedly both Nietzsche and Seraphim Rose wrote by candlelight (and Nietzsche with a retinal infection). Yet other philosophers have written in daylight, and still others have not needed to write at all.

We're encouraged when we hear stories about overcoming adversity, but romanticizing those journeys can lead to an unnecessary desire for their means(and a lack of appreciation for their ends). Not everyone needs candlelight to understand themselves.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Visualizing Music

Anita Lillie's project Visualizing Music transcodes audio signals into a 12-pitch chromatic scale. Volume/intensity are mapped to brightness and color to timbral properties (similar sounds are colored similarly).

Sunday, May 27, 2007


Throughout history it's been necessary for time to be standardized into units and moments. As we continue developing approaches to personalized information presentation and representation-independent communication, we can start making up our own units. What habits of mind would change if one person worked on a 30 "hour" day, and another on a 10 "hour" day, corresponding to units that were intuitively meaningful to those individuals?

Would we be more effective at time management if we divided time into more meaningful units? Whoever decided that the optimal length for a lecture is quantized in units of hours?

Edit: As generally happens, I'm simultaneously out of my league and describing central questions to entire disciplines. See "The culture of time and space" by Stephen Kern for an introduction to the history of timekeeping.

Saturday, May 26, 2007


The emerging field of bio-art begs the question: what other science/art "mashups" are possible? What would astronomy look like if taken over by artists? Can we track space junk and use it as a projection medium in the manner of Ken Perlin's holodust? Can we launch satellite arrays, using each satellite as a pixel that turns "on" when it orients itself to reflect the sun towards Earth? Pauline Oliveros has already improvised with moon, can we improvise with Sun by bouncing sound off its corona? What more distant interactions and displays are possible?

William Larson

In the 70s and 80s artist William Larson took advantage of the duality of the fax machine — transmitting images as sound — by transmitting both images and sound in the first electronically mediated collages.

The Pantelegraph

Precursor to the fax machine, the pantelegraph was developed by Giovanni Caselli in the 1860s. A needle attached to the end of a pendulum "scanned" a sheet of paper, with the ink and paper producing different amounts of resistance, sent over telegram to another location with a closely synchronized pendulum.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Sound Modulated Light

Sound Modulated Light by Edwin van der Heide transcodes sound (relative air pressure over time) as light (relative brightness over time). A "light receiver" is provided to visitors, allowing them to listen to the light.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Playlist Creation as a TSP

A playlist (or mixtape) can be considered an ordering over a set of songs. Defining this ordering can be a fairly difficult process, and if we frame it as TSP solving, it's clear why.

Every song has a number of features (tempo, key, genre, theme, etc.), and the difference between songs is some distance metric over these feature vectors. Each song is a node, and there is an edge between every node the length of the difference. As with a traditional TSP, the solution is the shortest path that visits every node.

This alone is a difficult problem, but it's compounded by the possibility of a context dependent metric, or even a total time constraint less than the sum of all the song lengths (with the ability to ignore expensive songs).

Monday, May 14, 2007

Visible Speech

The IPA presents a visual, written representation of spoken sounds. The orthography is derived mostly from standard alphabets. Alexander Melville Bell (father of Alexander Graham Bell) developed Visible Speech towards a similar end, but he attempts to preserve physiological characteristics of the sound in the orthography.

Sonic Visualiser

Sonic Visualiser transcodes audio visually. Meant for "studying a musical recording", it presents a number of "layers" of the audio — a spectral representation, signal representation, note onsets, note values, etc.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

4 Performer/Instrument Interaction Models

Joel Chabade has some thoughts on performer/instrument interaction models in the latest SEAMUS newsletter. His classification system goes:

  1. Simple: there is a "simple, predictable response" to input (he critiques these models in a NIME 2002 paper)
  2. Fly-by-wire: the performer has an abstracted, high-level control of the system
  3. Interactive: the instrument acts autonomously, responding to the performer
  4. Interacting with life: the performer shares control of the sound with the system, as a sailor shares control of the boat with the waves

The difference between the third and fourth models seems a little unclear, but besides that there are useful distinctions here. "Simple" vaguely corresponds to what I'll call as transcoding, where you interpret one type of data directly as another (gestures as sound parameters). "Fly-by-wire" is a few-to-many transcoding. "Interactive" and "Interacting with life" can be modeled by including a noise source in the transcoding or by adding memory.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Genetic Design

One of the similarities between television programs and websites is their desire to attract individuals and keep them interested for as long as possible. However, there are a number of variables influencing people's interest. If we normalized for content driven interest, we can determine an optimal visual presentation using genetic algorithms (with visit length as the fitness function).

The main problem would be that people expect a website or television program to be a fairly continuous experience (with some exceptions, like MySpace, where each page is a different "space"). If every link felt like it took you to a new website, there'd be a severe decline in usability. One potential solution to this would be to have multiple populations, and have only minor variations for each user while there may be huge variations between users.

There's also very different considerations for different types of websites and programming (online stores vs. online news vs. game websites, television shopping vs. news programs vs. game shows...).

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Stealing from the Poor

Imagine two people, A and B. B sells various products. A buys one and gives it back to B. B resells it to another individual. It seems like A should be able to do this, it's just a donation.

Scenario two: B sells A a product, but never gives it to A. B has stolen from A.

Scenario three, a combination: B sells A a product, and never gives it to A. Instead B gives it to another person, C. Now let's say C just gives it back to B. It seems like C is just as responsible for the theft as B is.

I just bought some pretzels from a vending machine. It also dropped two bags of sour cream and onion potato chips, which I don't care for, that were dangling nearby (already paid for). I gave one bag to some people working nearby, but the other I put on a shelf with some similar chips, behind a chain window protecting some food products for the night. There are cameras that watch this spot for theft, but what about this kind of theft?

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Dream Language

Reconsidering the idea of language as an emergent phenomenon, as elaborated upon by AI researchers and new media artists, I realized something about dreams.

Words are no good for describing dreams because language has evolved in the context of a persistent world — a world that can be shared and reflected upon without the observational act interrupting anything (at least on a macroscopic scale). Dream situations don't have any of these characteristics.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Collaborative Semantic Bookmarking

When it comes to the semantic web, the general concern amongst researchers is feasability. If implemented, it would afford countless opportunities — but the path is the problem. How would we go about developing ontologies for the semantic web? And who would spend the time writing semantically accurate markup? Search doesn't seem so terrible right now, so there's no incentive.

What if, instead of waiting for an incentive on the producer's end, the users had an incentive to implement the semantic web? I propose this idea as an initial step: a collaborative bookmarking system, a la, allowing for semantic tagging rather than keyword tagging.

A first incarnation of semantic tagging might simply allow you to assign binary relationships in the form subject-verb-object, where subject is always the page in question. As a naive example, consider "Brain Diseases I Wish I Had". users have used the tags "article", "video", "science" and "psychology" (amongst other things). Semantic tags would say that it is in the form of an article, addresses science and psychology, and contains video.

Users would contribute this information because it would allow them to search their own bookmarks easily and find new links contributed by other users more efficiently. Using current web technologies like Ajax to reccomend words for relational tags (like "contains") would help hone the network. Clustering algorithms already implemented on sites like Flickr could help answer questions about the architecture of the web and increase the accuracy of search results despite multiple naming conventions. Simple analysis would allow automated summaries of a site's contents.

Over time, more detailed semantic information could be added (like recognizing psychology as a type of science), or even imported from Wikipedia or other open categorization systems and expanded upon.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Dance Connections

Some things I've learned recently from Dance Movies and Tere O'Connor's Frozen Mommy:

  • A title can be a linguistic stepping stone from which a non-linguistic art journeys away from.
  • Art develops over time — including the time for the audience to resolve their impressions.
  • If music needs silence, dance needs stillness.
  • If music is what we hear as music, dance is simply movement we see as dance.
  • Sample-based music was preceded by sample-based dances.
There seems to be a connection between noise art and non-representative dance as well.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Real Artificial Improvisers

Most artificial improvisational agents are restrained by their creator's naive definition of improvisation. If improvisation is understood as a choice amongst possibilities rather than simply the act of creating, it's obvious why: the choice of most agents is not their own, but their creator's. The agents simply carry out the creation. A true improvisational agent would be able to develop its own preferences. The closest thing I've seen to this yet is the Bacterial Orchestra.