Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Zen Venn Garden

Venn diagrams are graphic representations of all logical relationships of a finite group of sets. What we see most often are two set combinations that show two sources, such as people interested in plants and people interested in venn diagrams. Where they overlap you have people who are interested in plants & venn diagrams.

This idea of overlap got me thinking about hybridization of plants that has been practiced by farmers and nurserymen since the dawn of agriculture to produce more desireable varieties for human consumption, whether edible or visual (see Michael Pollan's Botany of Desire). Why not celebrate this hybridization with a garden that starts with a finite set of plants each with a featured trait (ie. variegated, dwarf, purple-leaf, etc.) and then add additional plants where these traits overlap. So you end up with your very own Venn garden. In my Venn garden experiment I decided to take the planting bed layout very literally, because I think that Venn diagrams themselves have interesting shapes. Here are some diagram examples for different types of sets:

3 set

source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venn_diagram

4 set

source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venn_diagram

6 set

source: http://warpinghistory.blogspot.com/2010/04/finding-antipodes-mathematical.html

7 set

As you can see, they can become quite complex, and I decided to start off with examples of three and four sets. Some CAD drafting and Sketch-Up importing left me with these two raised planter diagrams:

Thinking about how one would view the garden, I decided that I it might be better to incrementally sink the overlapping beds so you could get an overview of all the plants when standing at the top. I also had to choose some plants to fill those beds with. When I really started thinking about the overlapping plant traits, it was harder to think in terms of larger plant sets than I thought it would be, so I decided just to detail out a 3-set Venn garden. Agaves came to mind because I'm fond of their sculptural qualities, and they're the types of plants obsessive collectors really get into producing or discovering unique versions of plants with unusual traits. Here is the final, annotated rendering:

The overall effect of gazing down at a grouping of plants and focusing on their qualities, I think has a very Zen Garden quality of meditation, hence the moniker Zen Venn Garden. I guess the next step is the Euler Garden.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

time-lapse audio

Last fall the office space I was working in had a metal roof and above that the canopy of a very large oak tree full of acorns. The plink and plunk of dropping acorns on the metal during that autumnal season became an ambient soundtrack to our day. I started to wonder, though, was there a percussive pattern to the dropping of the acorns that we were not aware of because it happened so slowly? And if so, how could you capture a time lapse version of that sound?

R. Luke DuBois' developed the phrase "Time Lapse Phonography" to describe his systematized compression of previously created musical pieces into time-lapse tone pieces. His version of Handel's Messiah was his first well known piece that he created using this technique.

But my sound question involves not a previous piece of music, but the daily sound we hear. The internet delivered a couple of examples of such aural compressions. The first of these is 24 hours of normal living compressed to 1 minute.

The second is a more selective splicing of vocal excerpts from the first 13 years of a girl's life compressed into two minutes.

My time frame is somewhere in the middle, but I'm not certain that a microphone would be the best tool to record this oak acorn drop pattern. Instead, I began to think of the nets placed to catch the natural drop of olives in some groves.

What if such a net was placed under the oak tree and acted as a sort of midi capture device. The pressure of the acorn hitting the net would trigger an input to be recorded, almost like a seismometer reads slight ground motion. Maybe a seismometer would even be the best tool for this process. Anyhow, after after maybe a week of recording you'd have your source material that would then need processing. Other "noise" would need to be filtered out from the data, such as movement from wind on the net, the pressure from a squirrel running on it. At the end of it you could play back the sound as a drum or maybe sample the sound of an acorn dropping on a metal roof and use that as the playback "voice" for the percussive piece. Then we have a partial soundtrack to this time-lapse video of an oak tree changing over a year.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Floating World Cup

In a surprise result, Qatar was awarded the chance to host the 2022 World Cup, beating out favorites Australia and the United States. What makes it a surprise to many is that the technical assessment of the country shows that they'll have to build most of the 12 stadiums needed to host the event, at an estimated cost of about $4 billion dollars. They've then pledged to dismantle the stadiums after the event and transport them to less affluent countries in the region to spread the love of the game. This got me thinking, why not make the stadiums portable to begin with, and since Qatar is right off the Gulf of Oman, how about constructing floating stadiums?

The floating soccer pitch is not without precedent. There's one in Singapore called The Float at Marina Bay that appears to be a tourist destination as well as a place for sport.

But it's not really a stadium that you could easily transport. Many cruise lines do have some sports on their ships. Shuffleboard, volleyball, and swimming usually pop into mind, but a couple of cruise lines including Norwegian and Royal Carribean have some more elaborate plans for sport on their ships as seen in these renderings:

Still, the question is, will a regulation international football (soccer) pitch fit on a cruise ship or other such vessel? The international football association board sets the dimensions of a standard international field at 330-360 feet long and 210-240 feet wide. As of 2010, Royal Carribean's The Oasis of the Seas, is the largest cruise ship in the world. It is 1,181 feet in length, which is plenty long for several soccer pitches, but the width of the ship is only 154 feet. So, that won't work. How about an aircraft carrier? The flight deck on those seems like the perfect opportunity for introducing sport. Someone else agreed and came up with this Photoshop rendering of a golf course on a flight deck.

If we look at the dimensions of the US aircraft carrier CVN-77 it is 1,040 feet long and 252 feet across. Success! Our World Cup soccer field will fit, although with very little room for bleachers. But they would have room below deck for plenty of concessions and lodging. So, instead of being sore losers, maybe the US can let Qatar borrow a few of our carriers for the event. I'm certain we already have several over there protecting our oil interests anyhow.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Local Sweet Tooth

One of my favorite lunch places near work in Austin is Phoenicia Bakery and Deli on South Lamar. While I wait for my falafel or gyro to be ready, it's fun to browse through the wide selection of import groceries from around the globe. A lot of the food is Middle Eastern and Persian, but they carry Mexican and British imports as well. The soda cooler is a microcosm of this variety, and this means some exotic beverages you won't find at HEB. The other day I picked out a Materva Yerba Mate soda to go with my sandwich, and it was pretty tasty. The green-tea quality of yerba mate cuts through all the sugar. Looking at the label, Materva is bottled in Miami, but where does the recipe originate? One Wikipedia search later, and I find that it started being bottled in Cuba in the 1920's, but after the revolution the rights were bought by the Cawy Bottling Company in Miami, who still produce it today.

Materva is certainly not the only regional soft drink out there. When I lived in Los Angeles, I found this great place called Galco's Soda Pop Stop that specializes in small label sodas and beers from around the world. Galco's started diversifying their soda selection partially in protest against the high wholesale prices that Coca Cola, Pepsi, etc. were charging them. Now the huge variety you can find there is clearly driven now by the passion of the owner, John F. Nese, who I met and who is a font of knowledge about all things soda. It feels like a living museum when you visit there.

I did notice that BevMo started carrying some of the same sodas a number of years ago, but it's sad to me that you don't find them elsewhere in other stores. When people talk about the "lovavore" food movement it's usually just referring to locally produced healthy foods. But what about local junk food and sodas? Can't our sweet tooth can be local as well. This can also preserve the local cultural history of these products. For example, Big Red, popular in Central Texas, began production in Waco, TX in 1937. There's Fago Original Rock & Rye from Detroit,Red Ribbon Cherry Supreme from Natrona Bottling Company in Pennsylvania, etc. So much history! So much to drink! What's your favorite local junk food or drink?

Friday, January 08, 2010

The Geography of BBQ

BBQ is big business in Central Texas, and here it's not about the sauce, it's about the smoke. Most of the BBQ at serious joints (Smitty's, Kreuz, Salt Lick, etc.) that I've been to around Austin are smoked with Oak wood. And most of the meat that is smoked is beef. When my mom visited we went to the Salt Lick down in Driftwood, and even though she doesn't normally like beef brisket, she really liked theirs. So, this combination of Oak and beef is important. Beef are grass feeders, so you need not only the Oak, but lots of good grasses. That's a combination we have in spades in the Hill Country.

Oak smoking at Smitty's Market in Lockhart, TX

This got me thinking about the geography of BBQ. Why are certain towns and states most associated with BBQ? You have St. Louis, Memphis, North Carolina, and Kansas City as big hubs of bbq meat in the US, and why is that? And why are certain meats or sauces associated with these places. Kansas City has its thick sauce and pork spare ribs. North Carolina has a clear vinegar sauce and pulled pork.

Looking up St. Louis on Wikipedia, "before the founding of the city, the area was prairie and open forest maintained by burning by Native Americans. Trees are mainly oak, maple, and hickory." This gets back to the hardwood and grassland combination that you find in Texas. Then you also have the influence of manmade elements such as the railroads that made St. Louis at one point the gateway to the American west. And farmers who grew corn crops found that one of the best ways to transport the caloric value of corn was to fatten up pigs and then ship them in railcars. So maybe that's one reason why pork ribs are big in St. Louis still to this day.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Leaf Blow(ers) Your Horn

Yesterday the mow, blow and go maintenance crew was outside my office in full force. The gas powered blowers are so loud, that I can't help but be annoyed. Why can't they just use rakes and brooms which have quiet, rhythmic, scratching noises that I find kind of relaxing? I know it's because they're too damn slow. But is there an opportunity in the blowers to develop something less annoying to me?

If you think about it, the gas blowers have a droning noise similar to the vuvuzela horn that's popular at soccer matches, and arguably also irritating. And during soccer matches at large stadiums I've thought how much more interesting the sound would be if each horn had it's own tone, ideally spread out among the horns so you have different notes in a triad scale with the root, the third and the fifth (for example C, E and G for the C Major scale).

Well, why not apply the same idea to the leaf blowers? Provide them with a tonal resonance and then give the option to buy attachements to change the tone of the blower so if you have a whole crew out you could have an a simple chord crew, like your earlier mentioned C crew (C-E-G) or your D minor crew (D-F-A).

A more interesting experimental music maintenance option might be to rig a single unit to switch tones as it revs up. It's never a constant stream of blowing, there's always that pulsing to slowly push the leaves and debris. Now, you could have the unit switch in a linear fashion and play a simple melody, like the rotating cylinder of a music box. Or, perhaps more avante garde, you could have the notes randomize, but maybe just for a limited number of notes all in the same scale (such as A minor 9th: A - C - E - G - B). Get a few of these leaf blowers going and you just might have some experimental fusion jazz going as you clean up the landscape.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Personalized Landscape

I saw a headline the other day about how a new wave of smaller GPS chips was coming out that was going to make all sorts of personal electronic devices "location aware". This got me thinking about how the actual locations might become aware of the electronics. That sounds a lot like privacy intrusion, so maybe we step back a little and have it more that you opt-in to be in a database (like a grocery store discount card), and when you're in a location and communication links to your cell phone then the location knows you are there. This might already be happening for all I know. I remember in the movie "Minority Report" Tom Cruise is running through this mall and the Gap electronic billboards start trying to sell him personalized items, and science fiction tends to be not too far ahead of reality in things like that.

Anyhow, what I think would be really interesting in terms of this concept in public space is how an environment might alter to accomodate your personal tastes. For example, the outdoor lighting at night might shift to your favorite color.... or maybe the dominant favorite color based on the group of people connected. So, if the space is green, and then it starts to shift to red you know something about the people around you. Or maybe the color isn't based on a favorite color, but is instead a mood indicator based on your Facebook status... such as "Aaron is feeling jubilant." So the night lighting works like a public mood ring.

What if actual elements in the landscape changed, such as the shifting of various plaza levels. Maybe for the person into parkour, you get a crazy terraced landscape, but for the wheelchair bound visitor the grades shift back to ADA compliance.