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Friday, April 14, 2006

Binary Boulevard

I wonder if anybody realized I was just counting to four.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Quantum Physics at the fair

Oh dear, where can the matter be
When it's converted to energy
Oh dear, where can the matter be
Johnny's so long at the fair

Ok, that really has very little to do with what I'm about to say. Einstein didn't like the implications of Quantum theory.

I'm always pleased when I figure out how something that generally has little to do with my macroscopic life like when...say, quantum physics...can be used for fun and profit. A number of years back, I was watching a carnival midway game to see if there was an easy way to win the big stuffed dog for my girlfriend. The game in question was that one where they have a whole bunch of cups densely packed on a tabletop. Most of the cups get you nothing, about 20% get you another ball, and even fewer (maybe 5%) win you the big prize. For a few bucks they give you a bunch of softballs, which people throw one at a time onto the plateau of cups. The barkers quickly remove any balls on the table (especially the ones that didn't win anything).

Having had too much quantum physics on my brain at the time, my brain combined it with noticing this detail (the quick removal of balls) and provided an epiphany of how to increase my odds of winning. I quickly studied the posted rules to make sure I wouldn't be disqualified, but I had found the loophole. For about five bucks I got twentyish balls. They're each at least as big as my hand, so with the help of a friend we held all the balls in our arms and threw them all onto the table simultaneously!

Here's how it relates to quantum physics. Each of the cups is an analog to a quantum state that cannot be simultaneously shared with any other particle (i.e. a ball). When a person lands a ball on the table and it is not a winner, the barker quickly removes it because leaving it there will incrementally lower the chance of losing on the next ball. They want you to lose as much as possible. I figured I needed a swarm of simultaneous particles on the finite table to increase my chances of winning by filling the losing states before the barker had a chance to empty them. It doesn't guarantee a win, but it increases the odds.

The outcome was pretty ironic. After the first swarm of balls, I only won a bunch more balls, which I simultaneously threw onto the table again. This was repeated a few more times, with a dwindling supply of balls each time. Eventually I was down to one ball. I shrugged and tossed it onto the table...and won the big dog with a single ball.

The stuffed dog was named for his origin at the local carnival. Meet Barfy, the quantum physics carnival dog.

Burton MacKenzie

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Today I put up my first Installation art. My view of what installation art should be leans in the direction of a guy putting eggplants on a row of posts across from a supermarket or The Golden Turkey. I'm less enthusiastic but basically in agreement with the definitions presented here and here. I prefer installation art to showcase the harmlessly inane in an ubiquitous juxtoposition to cultural convention; It's really a message for those outside the symbol table of the piece conveying the message.

After an evening of indoor go-cart racing, some friends and I retired to a heated garage to play ping pong. Before we could play, we had to build a ping pong table. While waiting to build the table, I got the urge to build something small first, like eating an appetizer before a larger meal. I grabbed some scrap wood and eyeball estimated my way to sawing and nailing it into a little wooden box with a lid.
Wooden Box
During one of the non-ping-pong-playing moments, I nailed together some of the scraps of wood from the aforementioned box into a crappy little frame for a quick run at some installation art. At about 4am I returned home, attached the intended picture to the frame, then laquered the whole thing (as minimal protection from the elements). This afternoon my son and I went down to the local 7-11, got a Slurpee, and nailed up the frame on a local telephone pole. The material went from doubly-scrapped wood to installation art in less than 24 hours! It is labeled "People".

Installation Art: People

What does this have to do with Marshall McLuhan, you might ask? Well, I've spent years pondering "The medium is the message". I waver between feeling I simply do not grok it to thinking it uncovered something really important. (of course, those two feelings are not mutually exclusive :-) My latest spin on it is that McLuhan used the definite article where he should have used the indefinite. The medium is a message. The message is a message, and the medium is a message. In terms of communication theory (actually, I mean the mathematical version), this is merely another modulation, another level of encoding, getting a higher symbol rate with the same physical bandwidth. Of course, for the modulation to work, both the artist and the observer must share a common "symbol table", sharing enough common understanding and experience to represent one idea in the context of another. (For instance, I might say "This tastes like bananas". If you hadn't already tasted a banana, you don't have the necessary common context to grok the taste of the food in question.)

'But Burton', you might think, 'that sounds exactly contrary to what you said earlier': It's really a message for those outside the symbol table in the piece that conveys the message. If that is so, then the message isn't translatable by your intended audience! What good is that? I'll get to that shortly.

The obvious superficial message of "People" (as labeled on the installation) is that the depicted person, presented as a sideshow abberation for the wide-eyed wonder of local gawkers, is still a person under all that hair. They love and weep like any other person. They are somebody's child. They are people. Don't forget that.

The medium for this message is a little postcard picture stuck into a small scrap-wood frame from that looks to have been built by a 9 year old on a morning before school as he never got around to making that shop project that was assigned a week ago and now due in 30 minutes. It's a tribute to amateurish haphazard construction.

My ideal reaction to this would be somebody, after stopping to examine it and having no frame of reference for poorly crafted 'art' nailed to a telephone pole in their neighborhood, simply pondering 'Why?'. The person who does this is the target audience. Asking 'Why?' is perhaps the most important question that we, as people, can ask. 'Why?' is the question that has propelled our species forward in knowledge. I think the concept of 'Why?' has been with our species a long long time.

Back on to the topic of the medium being a message, in this case the message inherent in the medium (the 'Why?') is the primer (see "Locating the Primer") for the decoding of the symbol table needed to understand the rest of it: an impetus for people to reach out and try to understand the unknown. To the subset of the audience who finds their way there, the medium has been anticryptographic within its limited context.

The title of this work ("People") is really a transliteration between the contexts of the message of the message, and the (primer and) message in the medium, and the message the artist is attempting to convey on top of the the first two. Hairy people are still people, some people do things others don't understand, and some people hammer shoddy art to telephone poles for other people to think about.

The transliteration, itself, also conveys a fourth message:

It's secretly ironic. :-D

Burton MacKenzie