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    Contemplating the Essence of Collections


    2011 - 04.27

    Any time I lose an eBay auction I always wonder what the other guy’s maximum bid was.

    I have an old fan in my bedroom that I’ve owned since college and it’s been used… heavily.  It no longer oscillates and for a time, the rotation would rev up and slow down, like it was huffing and chuffing just to keep spinning.  Somehow it’s straightened itself out, but last week the front blade-guard fell off.  I could maybe repair it, but I already repaired it once a couple years back and honestly, I think this is maybe just a sign that it’s time for something new.

    Out in my garage, I’ve got an antique Westinghouse fan that I refurbished several years ago.  It’s a tank, and looks like it was built in the 1950s (that’s it on the left).  Accordingly it still runs excellent, but it is something of a safety hazard since you can stick your hand right through the grille.  So I dig stylish fans.  I’m not obsessive or a collector of them (yet?) but I appreciate the cool ones. (yuk yuk!)

    I get on eBay and sort through the junk piles until I find one that kind of excites me.  It’s made by this company called “Kuo Horng”, which turns up very few relevant search results if you google it.  One of the relevant results that does turn up, however, is a forum post on a fan collecting forum (ok, here we go!).  It’s a positively ridiculous thread, with some dude posting a mind-boggling amount of pictures of his VERY VERY VERY extensive fan collection.  Good grief!  When I realized how long the list went on, I literally burst out laughing.  Part of me thinks it’s really funny that someone would go to this length to collect all these fans.  Another part of me is like, damn… this is AWESOME!

    Enthusiasm is contagious and even without talking to these people, you can tell that they are all about this shit.  It’s cool just to check out their endless lists of obscure fans they collected with neat retro stylings.  Which brings me back to this fan I was interested in: it’s a Kuo Horng model KH-603 16″ oscillating desk fan (that’s it on the right).  I learned that the buttons used to select your speed are called “piano keys” when they are built in this style; just like… piano keys!  Neat!  I was a little put off by the price so I slept on it.  The next morning, I decided screw it, I love how this thing looks, I’m going to bid.  Usually I compulsively watch the end of eBay auctions, but for whatever reason, I snoozed on this one.  And I got outbid!  The nerve!  I was sort of surprised by my own reaction.  Turns out I really wanted that fan.  I clicked on the guy who won the auction and saw this:

    Pfft, it figures.  Every single auction he’s been involved in for the last several weeks concerns fans.  Outbid by a collector.  I guess that just means I have good taste.  Out of curiosity, I went digging around the web for more pictures of these fans and stumbled upon another set of pictures (by the same guy as above!) that showed the whole insane collection.  Just look at this, it’s absolute madness:

    And that’s only part of it.  Incidentally,  I think he’s got the fan I was bidding on–3rd one right of center.  And again, on one hand I have to laugh at the ridiculousness of this compulsive desire to collect every model, every color of … DESK FAN.  Then on the other hand, I look at my model railroading hobby and say, well, really, you’re not so different than this guy.  Admittedly, my collection of trains is not nearly a fraction as epic or outlandish as this gathering of fans, but given enough years, something tells me I will approach the same asymptote.

    But, just… damn!  LOOK at that.  I wonder how many of those have funny or perplexing stories about how he obtained them?  I wonder how he got into this hobby of fan-collecting in the first place?  I wonder if all his friends think he’s crazy or if he has like a core group of homies who come over every 2nd thursday of the month and they go back into this room and just cheeze the F out over this stuff**?  I wonder if he keeps this room a secret from people until they really get to know him?  It’s an obtuse behavior, sure, but really, I think lots of people have something similar to this that they “geek out” over.  More socially acceptable hobbies that approach or exceed this level of fanaticism would be pro sports, cars, MMOs, role playing, Otaku, quiltmaking, model trains, etc etc.  Just under the banner of “pro sports” alone, there’s probably thousands of flavors to choose from with an incomprehensible number of stats, names, and associated minutia to memorize.

    I find it fascinating that people get so deep into these seemingly random, tangential hobbies of collecting stuff like this.  And by ‘fascinating’, I mean ‘I secretly want to join their ranks.  maybe.’  I leave you with what we in the know call piano keys.  Feeling the lust?  Maybe you need a fan to cool you off. ;)

    *Addendum #1: If you dig the fans herein, make sure to check out my photo collage of the sweet vintage fan I ended up getting.

    **Addendum #2: My friend mister NineTenthsShavinPowda describes 100% perfectly what kind of conversation goes on in the secret fan collector lair: “Ha. I literally burst out loud picturing a bunch of fan-fans ‘cheezing’ out in this guys room. “OOHHHH damn niggaahh you got the 1977 Ultra Rare Prototype GE 13″ fan!” “Hell yeah bitches I esniped the fuck outta dat and then I modded it with the blades from the euro-only 1984 model to give it 12% more CFM, and added the silent basket from the 64 model to reduce the noise bro!” “SHIIIIITTTT!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

    *** Addendum #3: Dead links removed.

    Man, Snapple, thanks for ruining my bird fantasies. Wait, that came out wrong…


    2011 - 04.15

    As seen on the inside of a Snapple cap.

    Ever dream of being a bird?  Well you would hardly get to enjoy that glorious blue sky.  It’s kind of sad to think about!

    Well.  Maybe looking down would be the more enjoyable view anyway.  I’m just going to go with that.

    Progenitor of Jams, Beats, Vibes… the Birth of EMOTIONS, Dawg.


    2011 - 03.22

    This weekend I spent a lot of time working on a project I’m excited about: new speakers. These speakers are not for myself, they’ll be a birthday gift for my little brother, but still! Building loudspeakers is something I’m definitely passionate about, although this is the first time I’m mentioning it on the site. So let’s get into it!

    First of all, why is this cool? Well, a ton of reasons. Building speakers is an art of trade-offs. There is, and never will be such thing as ‘perfect’ speakers. Every system is a compromise in some sense, with strengths in some areas and weaknesses in others. For example, the two main strengths in the ones I’m making right now are a high efficiency rating of 91dB (pretty good! This means that given less power, these speakers play louder than most), and a very smooth frequency response. The smooth frequency response was my main goal; important because my brother is going to recording school. If he’s going to be using these to audition recordings and potentially do mastering, it’s critically important that they don’t add their own ‘color’ to the sound. Speakers with choppy response curves can still sound great, but they add their own personality to the tone, which does not copy over to any other stereo setup. So it would be a terrible idea to master a recording on a system with a response curve that has lots of peaks and valleys. The weaknesses would be that I maybe didn’t get as deep of a bass response as I would’ve wished, and the price went a little higher because I insisted on drivers with good responses. In order to try to keep the costs down but still use good components, I omitted a midrange and used only two drivers per channel. For the enclosure, I chose to use a port to get what bass I could. I’d prefer a sealed box, but again, these are the compromises that you get forced into making. It’s part of what keeps it interesting.

    There’s also the brand name aspect too. Just like having your favorite sports team or buying new shoes from your favorite brand, getting speakers from a particular maker is sort of exciting in and of itself. This time around I picked a tweeter from a Danish brand I’ve always wished I could afford, Scan Speak. Scan Speak is very highly regarded in the industry, and with that awesome pedigree comes an accompanying price tag. I’m guessing the recent economic downturn led them to eschew their typical snobiness and produce a series of drivers ‘for the people’ called their “discovery” series. Maybe it’s called that because it’s my opportunity to “discover” what it’s like to listen to Scan Speak (on the cheap)? This I look forward to.

    Something else very neat about speaker building is how long lasting it is. I built myself a pair in high school, and with one driver replacement (right midrange went bad) they’ve been serving me faithfully ever since. That’s well over a decade of listening. GOOD listening! I built another set for my buddy Luke, probably over a decade ago as well. Not long ago he told me he’s still lovin’ them and they continue to serve as his main listening system. That’s so rad! It brings me joy to think about this; the construction that I’m setting in motion in my garage today will last for decades. These are long term actions right now.

    And more than that–these things will be making MUSIC! There will be huge moments of rocking out, when you’re getting ready to go do something great and you put on some tracks to pump yourself up! There will be mellow times late in the night when you come home and put on some chill vibes before you wind down for bed. Sad songs for when you just need to wallow in despair for a while, or daily anthems to get you into the groove of doing what you need to get done. These things are mood machines. Life enhancers. Tone establishers. Music colors our lives, it shapes our feelings. All those emotions will be flowing forth from these paper cones and cloth domes. I love that idea. LOVE IT!

    In the morning, I cook myself an omelet with red onion, cheddar, and spinach. Filled up and ready for action, I head out to the garage. The sun is searingly bright and as I step out, I hear a crescendoing rumble in the sky. Before I can even step out onto the driveway, I say to myself aloud, “what the hell IS that?!” As I pass under the garage door I look up and see one of the biggest propeller planes I’ve ever seen flying very, very low overhead. It’s a 4-engine passenger plane, like one of those vintage prop-airliners from the 60s or something. Very unusual, and a pitch-perfect start to the day. It’s like a good omen. I watch it lumbering slowly across the sky in a wide arc as it turns toward the nearby municipal airport, slipping away behind the treeline.

    Making speakers is something I love doing so much that if I could choose one thing to do for the rest of my days, building speakers would be near the top of the list. While I was out in the garage, I thought back to Geoff Marcy and his story of picking what he wanted to do with his life. Things weren’t going good and he knew he had to make a decision to go in a new direction. He thought, well, what I really want to do is find planets even though it seems like a crazy idea. There’s really no money, glory, or fame in it, but I just want to do this because that’s what makes me happy. I could say the same thing about speakers.

    So here I am, out in the garage, doing one of the things I love best! It is literally an ideal spring day, with temperatures in the high 70s and a nice cool breeze. I’m out with my measuring tape, drawing lines and slicing wood panels with my circular saw. There’s brown aviator sunglasses on my nose, to protect against wood chips and the blinding Texas sun. A few mistakes here, a curse word there, and a course correction gets me back on track. By the day’s end I will begin to see the cabinets take shape, and there are very nice looking flush-mount circles cut with my new router for the drivers. This is a new skill I have learned today, seen in the lead picture at the top. A neat speaker cutting jig helped me get just the right cut. Using these new tools is gratifying.

    Mid afternoon I uncap my water bottle and take a huge swig of the cool refreshment inside. Stopping to assess my progress, it’s uncanny how quiet and peaceful things are between the rounds of power tools. Birds chirp somewhere in the trees and the streets are empty. No one else is here, no one super into this the way I am. It feels like this instant is a triumphant moment, but without anyone else around who ‘gets it’ enough to chime in and say “oh man, what’s happening right now is so sweeeet!!” The absence of conversation feels both ironically strange yet somehow appropriate in an inexplicable way. Here I am, by myself in the garage, making it happen, “blowing it up” so to speak. I guess this sums up what it’s like being into niche hobbies, hey?

    There’s a tiny bit of red sunburn on my neck and a mix of sawdust and sweat on my brow. I am in an odd mode of excitedly rushing to get to the next step yet leisurely configuring the power tools for my next operations. Occasionally a dog-walker goes by, curiously eyeing the piles of wood, my setup of sawhorses, and various power tools strewn about. Sporadic flocks of kids fill up the air with sound as they pass down the block. Now and then I hear the distant roar of a power saw from someone else’s garage. It’s a great day to get some work done. Maybe once an hour I stop and look around, conscious that I’m doing something I love, which I only get to do once every few years. Building loudspeakers is expensive. And time intensive. A whole lot of planning goes into picking the drivers, crossover points, cabinet design; this is sort of a sacred moment, The Moment Of Genesis when ideas begin to take physical form.

    There may be no money, glory, or fame in it, but I have a lot of love for the speaker building art. I don’t think I could ever make a living off of it, even if I decided I was willing to risk it all to try. But I hope to build many more sets over the years, to share my love of high-fidelity sound, and help give to other people the experiences that their own DJing can give to themselves, with crisp detail in the playback.

    When I’m feelin’ down, these are some things that bring me back up


    2011 - 03.16

    When I started this blog I told myself I would use this space to talk about things that inspire me and highlight the best in human character. I want it to be more about building things up, and talking about what is possible, rather than tearing things down or endless snark, cynicism, pessimism, paranoia, etc. The headlines lately have been dominated by disheartening news, particularly in my home state of Wisconsin, but there have been some awesome things going on, which I want to spend time thinking about.a

    There’s been some great press on the Ice Cube Neutrino Observatory lately, including an excellent article in IEEE spectrum.  I had previously blogged about Ice Cube, and it continues to remain in my thoughts, how awesome this thing is. Every time I read dismaying political news or feel despair at the missteps of our society, I remind myself that we’ve got dudes at the south pole tracking cosmic rays, and I feel a little bit better about our species. It’s reassuring–maybe the large majority of people are too caught up in the hustle of daily-life to bother with such existential “big-questions” but there is a tiny group of people working to answer these questions for our behalf. Those people are called heroes.

    Something else which is very, very cool is the STEREO spacecraft. Thanks to these guys, for the first time ever, we have a full 360 degree view of our sun. Sitting in same orbital position as earth, one satellite sped up and one slowed down, so that eventually (read:now!) they are positioned on opposite sides of our star. If I extrapolate correctly from the image above, it looks like from now and until around 2018, we can actually see the whole sun–enabling scientists to track sunspots, and the massive bursts of radiation that periodically spew forth. Although the odds of these radiation bursts and magnetic storms just so happening to align with Earth’s position are low, when it does happen, it directly affects all of our lives, in the form of blackouts, GPS interference, and slowdowns in many global industries affected by this radiation.  The rotating image at right is the first 360 degree composite they made of the sun.  There will be a lot more of these to come!

    The STEREO satellites, to me, represent some small measure of mastery over our cosmic front yard. It’s good to have a window to know what’s happening outside. And it excites me to think that we’re doing it. Not only do we have the technology to do it (the most obvious barrier), but we also have the political willpower to spend them dollas to get up there and DO it (this is the real obstacle to most awesome science). That, my friends, is what you call rad.

    I’ll sandwich in an honorable mention slash eulogy here for the NASA Glory satellite, which recently crashed into the Pacific. It’s a sad thing to think about, but worth mentioning, because hopefully they will try again. Long story short it was intended to monitor a whole slew of climate-related metrics to get us closer in touch with what the Earth is doing. Obviously very important work. This is actually the second satellite of this nature which failed to achieve orbit, so conspiracy theorists unite! (that’s the extent of my negativity here today)

    Another neat thing I read about recently is the All-Sky Fireball Network. In addition to having a maximum ass-kicking name, the project monitors the sky with a nationwide network of smart cameras, with the aim of tracking any meteors burning up in the atmosphere. William Cooke, head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office states coolly, “nothing will burn up in those skies without me knowing about it!” Sweet!!

    Tracking these meteorites also gives them a vector for both where they should land and where they came from. Thus, if any of the meteorites leave remains that can be retrieved upon impact, the guys can study them, knowing a bit about their origin. Doublesweet. In effect it’s like getting free samples from outer space, without the need to launch costly rockets. Their data will also enable spacecraft designers to learn more about the nature of hole-punching threats that meteors would pose to future vehicles. Triplesweet.

    Learning about something like that is exciting, but I also get the feeling like, geez, this is so great, why didn’t we start doing this like 30 years ago? Again, the technology is nothing new, it’s simply summoning the will to pay for it that holds us back. Every time something like this gets funded, our priorities inch a little closer toward making sense in my mind. It’s reassuring to think about!

    Finding the Meaning: GTA Edition


    2011 - 02.26

    This is a long one, but hear me out: it ends in a great story–even if you hate video games.

    I’m a big fan of the video game blog Kotaku. Every day it’s a steady stream of news to check out, and they often have articles which are just musings upon what the editors liked about ‘the experience’ of playing a particular game. Often even more interesting is what you find in the comments on these articles; random people chiming in about their individual experiences, which is sometimes like a kaleidescope of perspectives and appreciations for different subtleties, and the stories that accompany them. I find it fascinating, reading about the reasons why people enjoy things, or that transcendent moment that ‘did it’ for them.

    One of my favorites was an article published shortly before the release of the fourth Grand Theft Auto entitled “GTA: Rememberances of Cars Jacked” which related lasting memories of experiences in the game and asked commenters what their favorite stories were. At the beginning of the article, Owen Good writes that one of the distinguishing hallmarks of the series is its ability to impart these moments of greatness “that rates the kind of visceral, first-time-ever memories that people usually have of events in the real world.”

    My friend Luke once described to me playing GTA: Vice City at a friend’s house. They were playing through the game near the beginning and had just obtained their first uzi submachine gun. Luke had stolen a motorcycle and was riding along the strip in Miami Beach, that famous stretch with all the vintage art deco hotels. Against the backdrop of neon signs, bikini-clad pedestrians, and 50’s-looking cars, he discovered he could shoot the uzi straight forward, something you can’t do in a car. He described finding the set of wooden ramps that lead to a set of daring motorcycle jumps across the rooftops, and taking that first wild jump where the camera suddenly swaps to a dramatic angle and the time goes slow motion. Through some convoluted series of police chases and blasting random cars with his new grip, he wound up back on the strip, looking out at the ocean–when right then the song “Shoot It Up” came on the radio.

    It’s one of those moments where you’ve just pulled off the craziest stunt, you can hardly believe you somehow came out unscathed, a bombardment of unexpected insanity ensues requiring deft maneuvers to escape, and then right in the thick of it all, that perfect song comes on and BAM, you’re not just sitting on the couch at a friend’s house–you’re transported. You’re in Miami. You smell the salt of seawater in the air, feel the breeze on your face, listening to the sounds of some song you haven’t heard since forever ago and it takes you back to some strangely-foreign, strangely-familiar place in your childhood. In that moment it really IS the 80s. You are THERE.

    Some of the more awesome comments from Kotaku:

    “Over the years and through three GTA games, we’d have a playsession once a week where (my friend and I would) each play a ‘turn’ wreaking havoc and trying to survive. When one of us would die in the game, we’d hand the controller over. His very first time playing GTAIII was especially memorable: after having seen me play it, he really wanted to steal an ambulance. So when he got the controller, he immediately popped a pedestrian and waited for the ambulance to arrive. When it did, he killed the EMTs and stole the ambulance, roaring in triumph and raising his fist in the air. I about fell off the bed laughing when, six seconds later, he drove the ambulance off a cliff and into the water (and died).”

    “I loved (the radio) so much, I actually bothered to rip the audio from the game discs of GTA3 and Vice City and converted it to play in my real-life car. Uncut, with (fake) commercials and all.” (I actually did the same thing for K-JAH/GTA3 and Radio Esperanto/VC)

    “The day I beat Vice City I watched all the Back to the Future movies and sewed all the Homestarrunner patches to a pair of tattered jeans I had. I was flying high and I couldn’t believe that after all the times I’d tried before, I’d finally done it. I was with my first gamer boyfriend (I know!) so for once in my life, playing a game and beating it was an event, something special. I couldn’t wait to tell him that night… then he dumped me. Ah, but I still remember the final firefight in the mansion like it was yesterday… I drove around on a bike in the gray t-shirt from the mall hitting as many pedestrians as possible in a huge victory lap around the city.”

    “My first GTA was Vice City for the PC, I didn’t have a PS2 then. I would spend hours cruising just listening to the radio station, I loved Fever. But I knew I was hooked on GTA when I was bummed out for the whole weekend that I had to take out Lance. Then, the first car I jumped in, they are playing “I Just Died In Your Arms” on the radio. It hit me so hard. Almost, almost teared up.”

    “In real life, I was driving down a street that had a cul de sac. It was winter, so the road was snow-covered and slippery. I sped up my car, and did a hand-brake turn at the end, effectively doing a 180. My passenger said “whoa, where did you learn that?” I coolly said “GTA”.”

    Vice City overlaid on a photo of the Avalon Hotel, Miami Beach
    Which brings me to this: Where things really start to take on a new dimension are the tales where video games and reality begin to overlap. Not for the illusion of invincibility or the reckless audacity it may accompany, but for the feeling of magic, of excitement, and the rediscovery of the sense of wonder, exploration, and experimentation that it brings.

    The summer after Grand Theft Auto III came out, I was living in the upstairs apartment of a house in Madison Wisconsin with my friend Rob. We had a slack-off office summer job together and lived one short block from State Street, the buzzing magnet for youth and juvenile shenanigans. The street is closed to traffic, cluttered with skateboarders, bikers, and a mix of student pedestrians from the university at one end and working professionals from the capital square at the other. Strung out in a ring around this area, our map was dotted with pubs to crash, late-night pizza joints to raid, an abundance of odd concrete begging for a freestyle, and endless question marks.

    One of the coolest aspects of the GTA series is how it constantly prods you to explore. To jump out of the car and see where that narrow crack between the buildings leads. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a little spot tucked away from view, a winding walkway ending in a fire escape climb, atop of which sits a “hidden package.” A small white box tied up with twine that is a badge of discovery. A bite-size reward, a tour of duty emblem that adds one more number to your score of how far down into obscurity your voyages have taken you and how boldly you sought out the tiny spots waiting to be stumbled upon.

    We used to take that idea into real life and go “hidden package hunting” on many a late nite bender. Hidden package hunting wasn’t so much about finding something as it was about looking. We’d take the weirdest shortcuts through people’s back yards, slipping through holes in the fences and squeezing between closely parked cars. If you were to chart our path through the city on a map, it would have been a squiggly line with only the loosest adherence to streets, blocks, or sidewalks. There was one night we went up to the top of a multi-story car park and jumped a medium-sized gap to land inside the neighboring, separate car park, working our way back down and walking past the bored attendant who gave us a funny look on the way out.

    As the summer wore on we got more ambitious and mischievous. One night involved the creative repositioning of those blinky, wooden construction markers into a narrow, twisting corridor along some minor sidestreet. Anyone who had to navigate their way through there the next day surely suffered the wrath of our annoying prank. I’m not saying it was considerate, or even a good idea. But I AM saying that it was definitely awesome.

    Another night we found this cool little area recessed below street level, filled with furniture and an expansive shallow pool. Having passed right by it many times we both kind of looked at each other and asked, “how did we not know this was here??” One way or another, some of that furniture ended up sitting inside the shallow pool, tables and chairs neatly arranged for leisurely eating cafe food and chatting. We sat in the pool-chairs and giggled over a brief conversation or two, long enough to enjoy the fruits of our little escapade before slipping away into the night to continue our hidden package hunt. Probably the culmination of these adventures was sneaking into the newly built convention center on the lakefront to see if we could make it to the top of the fountain on the roof. We did.

    We made hand holds with our feet and knees to hoist each other up and after a series of surprisingly easy clamberings, we dipped our toes in the fountain’s water of triumph, surrounded on one side by city lights and the other by lakewater. It was a sublime moment of victory. We OWNED that city. We laughed and gawked at the expansive view, maybe waxed philosophical a bit, and sat down with our legs hanging off the edge of the fountain to savor the moment. It was a glorious instant in time.

    The spell of which was broken by an inquisitive police cruiser pausing far off at the end of the long pedestrian bridge which had led us here. We froze. “Do you think he can see us?” “Nah. It’s pitch black up here.” “But our legs…?” We both looked at each other. Sure it was completely dark up here, but our feet had been hanging off the edge for some time, and the base of the fountain was brightly lit. Shit!

    Shoes and socks hastily went back on, and we made the jumps down onto the hard concrete in a frantic escape dash. There was only one way out: straight toward the police cruiser over the pedestrian bridge. Unless… the doors to a glass-enclosed stairway down to a lower level were unlocked. As luck would have it, they were. Mad laughter ensued and we took the stairs at full speed, crashing through the door at the bottom which opened up to the city street. Clean getaway. Zero stars.

    You just blew my mind: Imaginary Colors


    2011 - 02.15

    Move over imaginary numbers, there’s a new impossible-to-visualize concept in town: Imaginary Colors!

    Stick with me here: Cone cells are the photoreceptor cells in your retinas that allow you to see colors. Human beings have three sizes of cone cells, logically named S (small), M (medium), and L (large). Each of these three is best at a particular range of wavelengths of light, and the combinations of how much each particular cone gets ‘stimulated’ by a light wave will determine the color you see. The color yellow, for example, is perceived when the L cones are stimulated slightly more than the M cones and not much activity happens at the S cones. Yellow!

    So all colors are a combination of different cone responses. Here’s where things get wild: there are theoretical combinations of cone responses which cannot be generated by any physical light source! That means there’s colors that your eyes could see, but that no light could make!

    Dude.

    I found out about this when I was working on a Photoshop tutorial and started reading about Lab color. Lab color is an alternate colorspace (ie not RGB like a monitor or CMYK like a printing press) designed to mimic the behavior of the human eye. But there are a lot of colors which are possible to create in Lab color which cannot be reproduced by your RGB monitor. Or by ANYTHING!

    all the white=imaginary colors! So are you salivating yet, over these new colors that you’ve never seen before? Wanna know how to see them? Yes you do! It’s easy. And a little disappointing, because all you can get is a limited, fleeting glimpse. Says Wikipedia:

    “If a saturated green is viewed until the green receptors are fatigued and then a saturated red is viewed, a perception of red more intense than pure spectral red can be experienced. This is due to the fatigue of the green receptors and the resulting lack of their ability to desaturate the perceptual response to the output of the red receptors.”

    I think I remember having that effect at a 5th grade Science fair after staring too long at a giant posterboard colored bright neon lime. As a final note, one last anecdote from Wikipedia:

    “At Walt Disney World, Kodak engineered Epcot’s pavement to be a certain hue of pink so that the grass would look greener through the reverse of this effect.”

    Crazy!!

    Maybe someday when computers have the ability to interface directly with our retinas, we’ll be able to “see” other colors… Maybe like an augmented reality style HUD or something.  Or maybe just the most awesomest music visualizer ever.  Hello, Institute of Shockingly Incredible Research That Sadly Has No Practical Value?  I’d like to sign up for your Imaginary Colors program! ;)

    The Spiritual Uplift of Infinity


    2011 - 01.30

    Part one: Immensity

    One of the most endlessly fascinating human concepts is the idea of infinity. It’s a concept that is referenced often, but seldom do we get the occasion to sit and deeply contemplate the idea. There are so many ways in which infinity is a breathtaking thought. Let’s delve into it!

    The marvel which immediately comes to mind is the size of it. I think of a hundred as a big number. If I have 100 blueberry muffins, I’ve got more breakfast food than I could possibly eat. The refrigerator is going to be full, and even then, some of these things are probably winding up in the garbage. As much as I hate to see anything go to waste, and as much as I love eating a fluffy blueberry muffin, I simply cannot eat 100 of them. So 100 is a lot.

    Stepping up one order of magnitude, if I had 1000 muffins, now I would have to start giving them away. There would be boxes everywhere. Definitely not enough space in the fridge and freezer combined, and now I think I never want to eat another muffin again. Even the ones with the sweet crunchy tops. Iew. If I had 10,000, now we’re dealing with a disaster. The landlord is incensed with the gargantuan piles spilling out all the doors, and there’s probably not much room to walk through the house. At 100,000 muffins, I would probably get killed. Squeezed to death by the immense force needed to cram so many into one house. Even when you compress all the air out of that fluffy goodness, we’re looking at some dangerous volumes.

    But to a lot of people 100,000 is still not that big of a number. What about a million? That number gets tossed around like nothing. A million bucks for a mansion. A million oranges in a large plantation. 310 million people living in the United States. It’s a big country. But there’s almost 7 BILLION people living on planet Earth. 310 million US residents is not a lot of people compared to the 7 billion world population. We’re only 1/22nd of the total amount.

    A billion, now that’s a really big number. The sun and the earth both formed about 4.5 billion years ago. The universe itself is estimated to be 13.75 billion years old, with a visible size of 46 billion light years. So big, you can no longer grasp how large that is. There’s easily over 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe. That’s more galaxies than even the widest, boldest mind can imagine. But there are bigger numbers still. And yet, the sizes of all these things are insignificant next to the size of infinity. A hundred billion is exactly the same distance from infinity as the number one. That’s the wonder of infinity!

    Just for fun, let’s keep going. The number of bits available for storage on my 1.5TB hard drive, 12 trillion. The US national debt is currently 13.75 trillion. A hundred dollars for every year in the age of the universe! The number of neural connections in the human brain is over 10^14. There’s over 70 sextillion stars in the observable universe. That’s 70×10^21. 10^80 elemental particles present in the observable universe. Google, now a household word, is an alternate spelling of googol, which is the number 10^100. Written out, that’s:

    Ten followed by a hundred zeros. But there’s even bigger numbers still! A googolplex is 10^10^100. In a scene from Cosmos, Carl Sagan humorously shows how it’s not possible to write out a googolplex because it’s simply too big–it wouldn’t fit inside our universe! Those 10^80 particles are simply insufficient for the task, even if one particle was used to represent one zero. And still, there are even larger numbers than the googolplex. Even dramatically larger numbers. But still, the idea persists that even the largest number conceivable is precisely the same distance from infinity as the number one.

    Pt.2: Park it wherever you like

    I’d like to talk a little bit about another fascinating property of infinity that gives me a lot of optimism and joy. When we think about infinity, my mind at least goes straight to the large: the vastness of the cosmos and the unending progression of time. But for all the giant spaces infinity implies, there are implicit minuscule ones as well. When we count from 1 to 2, we think of that as a finite interval. It’s easy to see, if I have one apple and you give me a second one, now I have two, a finite number of apples. I definitely don’t have infinite apples. (Although I wish I did.)

    But for every number you can name between one and two, I can give you a number that’s halfway between your number and one. You say 1.5, I say 1.25. You say 1.1, I say 1.05. You say okay wiseguy, how about 1.000001? I reply 1.0000005. We can start using scientific notation and continue this volley–until forever. And just like that, we’ve slid down the chasm into infinity, INSIDE the space between one and two. Infinity can exist inside of finite boundaries, because of the idea that in addition to being endlessly large, infinity is also endlessly small.

    This idea has tremendous philosophical ramifications. When we lay outside under the stars at night and gaze out upon the universe, the sheer scale of ourselves, compared to it, can really seem bewildering. Stupefying. Daunting. Maybe even a bit disheartening. We realize how utterly tiny we are. And how the vast spaces beyond our planet will never know our names, our histories, or the fruits of our lives work. The collective plight of our entire species will likely be a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a blink in the scale of our own galaxy alone, nevermind the cosmos. We glimpse the scope of the large infinity and all the treasure we hold special suddenly seems not just petty, but outright laughable. When our train of thought goes so far down that track, infinity seems to be a source of despair, pointlessness.

    It is in this moment we need to remind ourselves that the grandiose richness of detail, subtlety, and surprise that large infinities encompass is also fully present within the infinities of the small. And these infinities of the small reside within our familiar finite spaces. Holding two apples, one in each hand, you can hold the entire cosmos between your fingertips. That same infinity up in the sky at night is right here, literally in our hands, available to be reshaped, to be studied, played with, laughed about, and to reshape us with its own, bottomless insight. This idea of infinity, so breathtaking in immensity, is right here with us, a trove of eternal possibilities for inquisition.

    It’s a mathematical proof for the idea of interconnectedness. Thich Nhat Hanh, the famous Buddhist, eloquently muses upon the idea of oneness using a single tree within the larger world:

    A tree is very beautiful. A tree to me is as beautiful as a cathedral. Even more beautiful.
    I look into the tree and I saw the whole cosmos in it.
    I saw the sunshine in the tree. Can you see the sunshine in the tree?

    Yeah, because without the sunshine, no tree can grow.
    I see a cloud in the tree. Can you see? Without a cloud there can be no rain, no tree.

    I see the Earth in the tree–I see everything in the tree.
    So the tree is where everything in the cosmos… come into.
    And the cosmos reveals itself to me through a tree.

    Therefore a tree, to me, is a cathedral.

    It inspires me so very deeply to think that infinity can be bounded within a finite space. It inspires me to think that the potential for limitlessness is anywhere you look. The comprehensive vast ‘everything’ is right here. All around us, within our hands, and inside of us. Exactly like Thich Nhat’s tree, we can look into ourselves, we can look between our hands, we can look…wherever we want, and see the whole cosmos.

    Finding the Meaning: Fine Paisley Like Mandelbrot Edition


    2011 - 01.27

    So I set out to write a post about the first poem I put on the blog and I ended up instead writing a long post about GTA. (coming soon!) Not sure how that happened… wait, actually I know exactly how that happened: I was talking about how I enjoy discussions of what meaning people derive from a work of art because it often give you new insight into why you, yourself enjoy it; and then I got sidetracked by talking about the awesome article/comments on Kotaku, which made me recall why I love GTA. I intended to write about poetry, and instead wrote about video games. Two disparate artistic mediums! And yes, contrary to Mr. Roger Ebert’s now-famous quote that video games can never be art, I do think they can be very artistic. Besides, Roger Ebert talking about video games is about as relevant as Bob Vila critiquing figure skating. Which is to say: Completely. Meaningless.

    But I digress. This is the second first posting in the beginning of my “Finding the Meaning” series which will analyze the deeper layers, the significances of…. whatever topic is in question! This installment: a poem.

    The piece I put up here called “Fine Paisley Like Mandelbrot” is a witches-brew cauldron, bubbling with the things that have been on my mind lately. It’s principle thrust is to simply chew up these influences and spit them back out. The common denominator in the disparate topics we’re about to flesh out is the sheer amount of detail. The richness. A Mandelbrot set, which you can zoom and magnify infinitely, would be an archetypal exemplar of such richness. In this piece I was trying to vocalize my effort (especially with the content on this website) to step up my game, and bring as high of a level of detail as I can to the artforms I practice. There is a thrilling element to such explosions of detail, and I set out to attempt capturing this.

    One of the chief influences on my brain right now (which should be obvious by this blog) has been space. The vastness of it. The crazy, stupefying, ineffable, head-exploding vastness of it. I was sitting at the kitchen table looking at a full two-page spread of a picture of NGC 3370, aka “the Silverado Galaxy” and thinking, “Wow. This galaxy is so big. And to think that most of it’s stars are blurred together here; I can’t even distinguish the vast majority of them because they’re too small or dim. Imagine if you could zoom in on just this one tiny part of that image, what would be there? Hundreds of thousands of stars maybe. Imagine if you could zoom in on a small cluster of them, a local constellation… what planets would they harbor, what minerals, organic compounds, and maybe… what life would be there? This tiny, itty bitty pixel from that image of the whole galaxy is like a miniature universe unto itself. You could spend a thousand lifetimes cataloging and analyzing just the stuff that is there, even if there were no life (which I bet there is). The detail. The detail! And yet–what is this small cluster of stars, compared to this galaxy? One Pixel. And what is this galaxy compared to its supercluster? What is this supercluster compared to The Universe? What are we, compared to that One Pixel?


    I wish I could get in there, squeeze down to pixel size and study what lays in the obscure backwaters of the Silverado galaxy, but that will not be possible for a hundred human lifetimes yet. Maybe (much?) longer. There is so much to see, to know, to explore in the universe. It overwhelms me.

    So in the spirit of such detail, let’s tear this poem apart, piece by piece!:

    sunburst flares
    -one of the sections in the Cosmos: A Field Guide deals with the Sun, and discusses solar flares. Solar flares are an interesting topic because they directly affect our lives on Earth, unlike the distant stars of astrology. Solar flares can cause power outages, magnetic storms, interference with navigational instruments, etc

    magnified, deconvoluted
    -magnified; the infinite zoom-ability of the Mandelbrot
    -deconvolution is the process of taking something and extracting its component ingredients, which are not visible by simple examination of the whole. For example white light is composed of red, blue, and green light. A science textbook will tell us this fact, and we can verify it by watching the refracted patterns on the wall from a suncatcher’s prism in the morning. But to a six year old, who has never seen a suncatcher, and hasn’t progressed to the science book’s chapter on light waves, all of this knowledge would be hidden. White light’s origin a mystery. A less obvious deconvolution would be the ingredients to a recipe. Only the chef knows his secret ingredient in the incredible pasta alfredo.

    upon spectra wavelength
    -the different colors of white light, are the different wavelengths. Red is 700nm. Blue is 460nm. Green is 540nm. (approximate numbers)

    chopped, split, spliced
    -here there is a parallel drawn with audio. When making songs, it is fun to chop samples apart, split them, and recombine into odd patterns. Soon I’ll be doing an album review of “Arboreal” by The Flashbulb, a fine specimen of chopping, splitting, splicing. The genres of Glitch and breakcore use these techniques extensively.

    reconstitued, & noise filtered
    -reconstitute like orange juice from concentrate. Noise filtered like you’d do to a photo you took at high ISO, to sacrifice a bit of sharpness for the sake of a smooth image, to remove the distracting noise (a technical glitch) and focus your viewer upon the artistic aspect of your snappings.

    grasped with warm
    nearly-sweating anxious palms
    of blossoming love’s first
    intertwinement

    -If there is a thing such as magic in our world, I would say it revolves around the times in our lives when we are falling in love. When we’re making these tiny, joyful discoveries of who a person is, and finding how our sets of puzzle pieces interlock. Of course there’s an avalanche of this at the beginning of a new relationship, but even when love reaches a sort of plateau, there is perpetual opportunity for surprises and new planes of interaction to be opened up. These sacred instants, when love is increasing, are some of the brightest moments in our existences. Love itself is such a wondrous emotion. Literally, wondrous; filled with wonder. That excitement, the fervor of intertwinement, discovery. Something so fresh and new entering your world.

    divine vector pattern explosions
    vector art is something I wish I knew more about. Skilled artists in this medium tend to use a stunning amount of complexity in their works. This explosion of detail is commonly made by using repeating elements (patterns) which have been varied in their scale, orientation, color, opacity, etc so that looking at the whole, it seems like there is an impossible level of density that must have taken forever to craft, when it is in fact the work of speedy workmanship in the task of applying many minor variances.

    miniscule star filter artifactings
    -the star filter is so awesome. It instantly takes things up a notch. I almost feel like a sucker for falling for its allure so easily, but what can I say, it just works. You could call it an “artifact” in the sense that its presence is caused by areas of oversaturation in a photo.

    revolve non-linear focus-pulls
    -focus pulling simply means moving the focus plane in a video. So something far away gets blurry and something close up that used to be blurred now appears sharp. There is an art to acquiring ‘the touch’ to do it with finesse. Shooting film, there is often one person who is devoted solely to this task, or it can be done precisely with automation.

    densely populated in unpredictable
    -the quest for density! With surprising small discoveries therein.

    differential units
    -in calculus, differentiation is the process of finding a rate of change. A differential is the term “dx” if you’re finding the rate of change of x-position, or “dt” if you’re making calculations in relation to the progression of time. A differential unit would be one single point along the progression of a function, which is infinitesimally small. For every point you can pick around the point t=1, I can give you something halfway between your point and t=1. Infinite sequences can be found inside these tiny spaces…

    along our revolution’s arc
    -a reference to the orbit of the Earth around the Sun, the passing of time.

    the bokeh of horse-hair strings
    -bokeh is blurriness caused by a lens being out of focus, a tool that makes photos look pretty.
    -stringed instruments are often played with bows that are made from the tails of horses.

    with richness of three cent detuning
    -a “cent” is a logarithmic unit of measure for musical intervals. In the western 12 tone system of music there are 100 cents between each pitch. C to C# for example is divided by 100 cents. When creating music, it is pleasing to the human ear to have minor imperfections in the pitch. Two violins that could play perfectly in tune with each other (zero cent variation) would not sound as good as two violins which are maybe five cents off. Our ears are used to these minor imperfections, we crave them. It is the human element which separates flawed beauty from a cold, impersonal preciseness. Believe it or not, perfection sounds bland.

    sprayed in gradients & layered thick
    -gradients can either mean visually: a soft transition from one color to another or mathematically: the gradient of a scalar field (ie a 2D plot of data, like time versus temperature) is a vector field (a map of arrows pointing in the direction of flow, like an illustration of many arrows showing currents in a river) which points in the direction of the greatest rate of change (largest derivative)

    cloned in petri dishes then
    -I was thinking about something a friend said, during a conversation about the recent NASA discovery of an organism that uses arsenic in place of phosphorus for building its DNA chains. He’s going to school for biotech, and he said (paraphrased), “What they did is really nothing special. They forced evolution by feeding these bacteria arsenic over and over. I mean, I force evolution all the time in the lab. You have a bunch of samples and you keep trying for a specific outcome; when you get something that looks promising, you isolate that specimen and forget about the rest, and you keep iterating until you’ve got what you wanted.” That idea he was talking about, that you can create whole new strains or pathways using evolution is an idea that applies to artistic mediums as well. You create a song that’s different from your usual work, and you like it, so you keep forging down that path, with a certain direction in mind, eventually arriving as a different composer than you initially were.

    composite imaged
    -composite imaging is something I do at my job, using different methods of examining something and combining the results. Like overlaying an optical image over an X-ray image, that’s a composite image. Or two photographs which have been blended together, as in HDR, or creative masking to provide an overall better exposure.

    twenty-first generation
    eleventh remix

    -welcome to 2011

    sum totaled obscurities for
    -I love me some obscurities. Hooray for B-sides. A book of minor Beatles trivia sits on my kitchen table, a lesser known masterpiece by Van Gogh hangs on my wall in a giant frame (original shown below), and pixellated backwaters of the Silverado galaxy are what I spend my free time thinking about.

    distillation refinement
    -the process of converting “that was close” into “that was IT”

    over wide timescales
    -it takes a lot of time to assemble a menagerie of gems. A lot of failed attempts and almost-but-not-quites, a lot of practice and persistence to fill a gallery. Having this site, writing this poem, vocalizing these concepts, and painting pictures I know are going to be lame are all part of building toward a whole that will someday outshine the constituent pieces.

    eclectic nostalgia
    eased in and hit with a firm lock
    into multithreaded collusions

    -lines inspired by the song I was listening to at the time I wrote this, “Once Weekly” by The Flashbulb

    99 ways to analyze &
    99 angles to percieve

    -a reference to this poem

    we have moved beyond the saturation knob
    into the thousand-dial selective colour

    -refers to an upcoming photoshop tutorial on the benefits of selective color

    blowing the tones into a billion
    points of nuance sprinkled within
    fine paisley like mandelbrot

    -paisley has always been a favorite pattern of mine. True that it can look hideous when applied in poor taste, but when done right, it is magnificent. The elaborate shapes it forms would take forever to sketch. If I handed you my paisley tie and said “here, draw this tie, exactly” it would take all afternoon, easy. Like vector art, it’s a complex pattern made by copying, pasting, and variating. Shortly after I posted this poem, I redid the navigation bar of the site with a color-shifted image of a paisley tie I have. In the future, I intend to modify it further with extra details.

    WHEW! There you have it!

    Finding the Meaning


    2011 - 01.25

    So there’s going to be a new series of posts on here called “Finding the Meaning”.  This whole idea originally got started when I was talking with my wonderful girlfriend about a poem on here.  In my spare time I’ve been reading a small chapbook of poems by the author Heather Sellers, and although it does have some nice little gems in it, I am constantly frustrated by the inaccessible nature of her writing.  Sure, maybe I’m just too dense, too much of a dolt to “get it” but then, I write poetry myself, and I’d like to think I’m at least somewhat “hip” and/or “with it” enough to grasp the meanings of some cryptic poetry–at a certain point, unless you want to explain the art (at least a little bit), it’s just meaningless to the majority of your audience.  And that sorta sucks!

    My girl and I were chatting about the poem “Fine Paisley Like Mandelbrot” and I sort of realized that I had fallen into the same trap–too much ambiguity.

    Also, another thing that had been on my mind was the recollection of an awesome article on the video games blog Kotaku, where people were discussing their favorite memories and “experiences” playing Grand Theft Auto.  I really got into that discussion, to the point where I read through hundreds of comments.  And it got me thinking: I enjoy listening to people discuss the reasons why they like things.

    So in that spirit I smash the proverbial champagne bottle over the hull of this new ship, christened, “Finding the Meaning”

    Putting things in perspective: Neat!


    2011 - 01.24

    So I was flipping through the “Cosmos: A Field Guide” book tonight and decided to stop on the comets page while I ate my dinner.  I read over the text and checked out the photos, saving the captions for last.  There’s a large (read: 17″x14″) full page image of a comet that is quite a nice shot, which I admired it for a while as I finished up my sandwich.  I read over the captions for the other 5 comets pictured, which had orbital periods ranging from 5.5 years (Comet Tempel, the target of the Deep Impact Spacecraft) up to 76 years (Halley’s Comet).  Cool.  Then moved over to read the caption for the full page image.  It’s name (awesomely) is Comet “Neat”! Hah!  Here is the photo:

    Then I read the caption.  Orbital period for this comet?  THIRTY-SEVEN-THOUSAND YEARS.  I had to double check the number–did that really say 37,000 years?… oh.  I guess that’s right.

    That’s wild.   The last time this thing plunged into the inner solar system, mankind had just migrated to Australia and Europe for the first time.  And we were at the Cro-Magnon stage in our evolution.  The next time this comet will return to our inner solar system?  Humans will have long ago evolved into something new.  Thirty Seven Thousand is such a bafflingly large timescale.

    How many historical figures can you name from over a thousand years ago?   Three thousand?  Five?  Fifteen?  In 37,000 years, us, and everyone we ever met will be completely forgotten about, and the particles which made up our bodies will long ago have decayed and been recycled into Earth, possibly even having been incorporated into several new organisms by then.  If there are some descendants of today’s homo sapiens that have survived, they wont’ call it the year 39,xxx AD–today’s popular mythologies will all have died out long ago.  Just like today’s date is not measured in years related to Zeus, Odin, or Ra, the ancient Egyptian sun god.  I wonder what gods the Cro-Magnons worshiped?

    Check out NASA’s site with this cool interactive ‘orbit diagram’ that shows the positions all the planets and the comet as it traveled through space.  If you line up the solar system on it’s axis and hit play to watch the comet slide by, you’ll notice that it doesn’t even pass through the orbits of any planet.  In it’s moment closest to the sun it picks up a lot of speed for a brief moment too.  We should’ve gone all ‘deep-impact’ and launched a satellite to travel to the comet… it could have landed and rode along for the ride out to the oort cloud.  What a journey?!

    Wave goodbye kids!