Monday, April 5 2004
I've been cultivating an idea for some sort of sculpture that can display various data dynamically, a sort of multi-variable networked clock. The details of how those data are displayed can be left as a future aesthetic exercise. For the time being, I'm trying to figure out a good way to get data from, say, the Internet, to such a device. I could easily run wires from an ISA board plugged into a computer to such a device, but that's not a very flexible solution. I'd prefer this device not have a full-scale computer embedded inside it. I have plenty of spare computers for this purpose, but I don't want to waste so much electricity for the modest computational power required. I just want a simple device that can receive data somehow and then display it. It doesn't require a fast connection, since the data to be displayed will be spare. It could even connect to a host over a simplex (half-duplex) connection, receiving data but not sending any of its own. One idea would be to broadcast the data encoded as tones on an FM frequency and then interpret the tones using a small FM radio and a handful of commodity logic chips. I'm eager for a project involving the soldering of chips with big pins that punch all the way through circuit boards. Surface-mount electronics are too small for the human scale.
Another idea would be to install an X10 controller in one of my computers and transmit control data to the sculpture via radio-frequency waves sent over the household wiring. I was particularly intrigued by a controller device called the Lynx 10, which actually has bidirectional data capabilities.
This evening Gretchen and I attended a Passover seder at the residence of another of our new friends, this one living up Johnson Hill Road (the next hill-climbing road off Hurley Mountain Road to the south from Dug Hill Road). Johnson Hill Road turns into Lapla Road less than a mile from Hurley Mountain Road, and we continued up the beautiful Stony Creek Valley all the way to the intersection with Ashokan Road near the reservoir. We'd heard that the man of the house we were going to is a metal sculpture artist and that some of his creations were in the yard. But we honestly weren't prepared for how beautiful this place was. For starters, there were several trees out in front that were made entirely out of metal. The house itself made stunning use of sheet metal as an outside skin, done for its own unique look and not in imitation of more traditional sidings. The house was dominated by a three-story Japanese-style tower featuring lavish decorations, skylights, and a whimsically-conical roof. For this reason, I've decided to call our new friends the Funkyhouses.
As seders go, this was unexpectedly pleasant. One reason for this was the haggadah, or seder text, that we used. It had been written in the Reconstructionist Jewish tradition. Reconstructionism is a movement whose goal has been to emphasize Judaism as a culture more than as a religion. In practice, this means considerably less talk about God and much more singing in Hebrew (and, on occasion, in Aramaic). As Gretchen describes it, Reconstructionism is the opposite of Reformed Judaism, which makes Judaism into a sort of religious American cheese, a Jesus-free form of Presbyterianism.
When it came time to sing, it certainly helped that several people at the table knew the songs. One of these people was Ms. Funkyhouse's mother, an Isræli with a beautiful singing voice. She tended to sing on a genuinely Middle Eastern scale, complete with the weird quarter notes that sound so exotic and alluring to the Western ear. It's hard for a Westerner accustomed to Western music to sing this way, and I noticed that Gretchen wasn't hitting precisely the same notes. Nonetheless, there was a beautiful harmony to their two voices, and I even asked at one point if they'd been singing in harmony. They looked at me like I was crazy.
Another thing that made this seder so pleasant was how quickly it all went. We were flying through the haggadah much faster than expected. The main reason for this was the presence of several impatient children who kept asking when we'd be getting to eat the matzot. One of the goals of a seder is the discussion of notions of slavery, oppression, and freedom, but it's hard to get into stuff like that when the kids are starving to death. These kids measured pretty hyper on the ritalinometer, but Gretchen wasn't as annoyed by them as she expected to be. I thought this might have had something to do with the fact that the kids kept misbehaving in a diversity of ways, a refreshing alternative to the children who do the same irritating thing over and over. Also, I thought they were much brighter and funnier than average. I'll bet my old housemate John was like them when he was a kid.
Freshly-formed ground ice in a high valley below the Stick Trail today.
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