The Telegarden

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Telegarden.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 1995, artist Ken Goldberg fitted a $40,000 robot arm with a webcam and mounted it in a trough so that “virtual gardeners” from anywhere in the world could plant seeds and water them. After every hundred hits they were given the option to plant more seeds.

Organizers found that the users tended to discuss nature, technology, and interpersonal connections, with virtually no abusive language. They would ask one another to water their plants during vacations and would sometimes plant seeds “strategically” in order to be near one another. The community shared their sorrow at the death of one gardener, and a couple got engaged. One member wrote, “I am recovering from neck surgery and can not do anything. The place has been a life saver for me.” Altogether the project ran for nine years in Berkeley, California, and Linz, Austria.

“The public resonance of this installation was quite remarkable,” writes Oliver Grau in Virtual Art. “Up to this point in time, Goldberg had likened the culture of the Web as typical of that of hunter-gatherers. However, the telegarden was a symbolic model for a postnomadic society that anonymously and collectively tended plants on a minuscule piece of the earth. The members of this troup, who never actually came face to face, communicated with each other or were even aware of how many other virtual gardeners were logged in, were using the most modern medium of the time for this. Goldberg’s work was a collective intercontinental cultural production.”

Small Town

Shanghai’s Urban Planning Exhibition Center contains a 1:500 scale model of the city, showing all existing and approved buildings according to the city’s master plan for 2020.

The model measures about 5,200 square feet, or 480 square meters, but even at that size it covers only the central part of the city, within the Inner Ring Road, an area about 9 miles by 5 miles. The full city is about 58 miles by 55 miles, with three more expressway rings beyond the inner ring.

Because the exhibition center is itself located within the central district, the model contains a miniature replica of its own building. Ideally that replica would contain its own, doubly tiny scale model of the city, but I guess there’s no way to check.

(Thanks, Jim.)

The Wooden Horse

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British inventor Richard Lovell Edgeworth (1744-1817) could be stunningly imaginative:

I was riding one day in a country, that was enclosed by walls of an uncommon height; and upon its being asserted, that it would be impossible for a person to leap such walls, I offered for a wager to produce a wooden horse, that should carry me safely over the highest wall in the country. It struck me, that, if a machine were made with eight legs, four only of which should stand upon the ground at one time; if the remaining four were raised up into the body of the machine, and if this body were divided into two parts, sliding, or rather rolling on cylinders, one of the parts, and the legs belonging to it, might in two efforts be projected over the wall by a person in the machine; and the legs belonging to this part might be let down to the ground, and then the other half of the machine might have its legs drawn up, and be projected over the wall, and so on alternately. This idea by degrees developed itself in my mind, so as to make me perceive, that as one half of the machine was always a road for the other half, and that such a machine never rolled upon the ground, a carriage might be made, which should carry a road for itself. It is already certain, that a carriage moving on an iron rail-way may be drawn with a fourth part of the force requisite to draw it on a common road.

This seems to anticipate the caterpillar track, and the tank, in the 1760s. He worked on this idea for 40 years, making more than 100 working models and even patenting the principle. Finally he let the patent expire, as it just wasn’t possible with the technology that was available to him. But “I am still satisfied that it is feasible. The experience, which I have acquired by this industry, has overpaid me for the trifling disappointments I have met with; and I have gained far more in amusement, than I have lost by unsuccessful labor.”

(From his memoirs.)

Interference

https://www.arch2o.com/good-vibrations-ferruccio-laviani/
Image: arch2o

This is not a distorted photo — Italian designer Ferruccio Laviani devised this cabinet deliberately to create that effect.

The “Good Vibrations” storage unit, created for furniture brand Fratelli Boffi, was carved from oak by a CNC machine.

Below: In 2012, designers Estudio Guto Requena modeled three iconic Brazilian chair designs in 3D software and then fused those files with audio recorded in three São Paulo neighborhoods. The deformed designs were then sent to Belgium to be 3D-printed. They’re called “Nóize Chairs.”

(Via arch2o and Dezeen.)

The Congreve Clock

Sir William Congreve designed this novel clock in 1808. In place of a pendulum, it regulates time using a zigzag track in which a ball oscillates continuously — when the ball reaches either end of the track it trips the escapement, advancing the hands of the clock and reversing the tilt of the tray.

Unfortunately the horizontal tray tends to collect dust, which slows the ball and reduces the clock’s reliability.

Slip Coaches

In 1858 British railways found a unique way to save time: Rather than stopping at an intermediate station, an express train would simply uncouple a car full of passengers, which would roll into the station under its own momentum, slowed by a guard using brakes. At the station the passengers could disembark, or their coach might be connected to a train that served a branch line. Eventually a local train would deliver the coach to a station where it might be connected again to the express.

This practice continued until 1960 — the last “slip” is documented above.

(Via MetaFilter.)

Podcast Episode 206: The Sky and the Sea

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

Swiss physicist Auguste Piccard opened two new worlds in the 20th century. He was the first person to fly 10 miles above the earth and the first to travel 2 miles beneath the sea, using inventions that opened the doors to these new frontiers. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow Piccard on his historic journeys into the sky and the sea.

We’ll also admire some beekeeping serendipity and puzzle over a sudden need for locksmiths.

See full show notes …

One-Man Band

In the early days of silent movies, large theaters would engage orchestras to play the accompanying music. But starting around 1910, small venues that lacked the money or the space could use a machine instead. In Film Music, music editor Roy M. Pendergast writes, “In addition to music, these machines were capable of providing a battery of sound effects, and they ranged in size from what was essentially a player piano with small percussion setup to elaborate instruments nearly equaling a twenty-piece pit orchestra.” He quotes Samuel A. Peeples in Films in Review:

The crowning achievement of the American Photo Player Company was their Fotoplayer Style 50, only one of which is presently known to survive in operating condition. Among the most splendid automatic musical instruments ever built, it was 21 feet long, 5 feet wide, and 5 feet 2 inches tall. It was capable of recreating the volume of a 20-piece pit orchestra, plus a full-scale theatre pipe-organ, with an incredible range of effects, such as the lowing of cattle, the drumming of hoofs in assorted gaits, several varieties of klaxons, street traffic noises, crackling flames, breaking wood and brush, rifle, pistol and machine gun shots, even the sound of a French 75MM cannon!

Pendergast adds, “One wonders about the quality of genius it must have taken to operate one of these devices.”

Express

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Panegyric to a train, from the Hurutshe people of South Africa:

Iron thing coming from Pompi, from the round-house
Where Englishmen smashed their hands on it,
It has no front it has no back.
Rhino Tshukudu going that way.
Rhino Tshukudu no, coming this way.
I’m no greenhorn, I’m a strong, skillful man.
Animal coming from Pompi, from Moretele.
It comes spinning out a spider’s web under a cloud of gnats
Moved by the pulling of a teat, animal coming from Kgobola-diatla
Comes out of the big hole in the mountain, mother of the great woman,
Coming on iron cords.
I met this woman of the tracks curving her way along the river bank and over the river.
I thought I’d snatch her
So I said
“Out of the way, son of Mokwatsi, who stands there at the teat.”
The stream of little red and white birds gathered up all of its track
Clean as a whistle.
Tshutshu over the dry plains
Rhino Tshukudu out of the high country
Animal from the south, steaming along
It comes from Pompi, the round-house, from Kgobola-diatla.

(Jerome Rothenberg, Technicians of the Sacred, 1968; Ruth Finnegan, Oral Literature in Africa, 2012.)