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The Interactive Anthrozoo
Cuddlebot


“Scientists have connected the brains of a pair of animals and allowed them to share sensory information,” reports The Guardian today. This is a “major step towards what the researchers call the world's first 'organic computer.'”

The US team fitted two rats with devices called brain-to-brain interfaces that let the animals collaborate on simple tasks to earn rewards, such as a drink of water.

In one radical demonstration of the technology, the scientists used the internet to link the brains of two rats separated by thousands of miles, with one in the researchers' lab at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and the other in Natal, Brazil.


This is “[l]iterally an Internet of Animals,” tweeted Anne Galloway.

Among many projects, including Vanessa Harden's Mouse Assisted Interplay (2010) and its associated speculative Mousematch social network, I'm reminded of Anna Flagg's Cuddlebot project in which simulant pets are turned into multi-touch devices.




As you can see in the video embedded above, this “haptic creature” [pdf] is no mere gesture sensor. It can physically react. For instance, “when a gentle touch is sensed, the servo motor moves the fur calmly and slowly up and down, similar to a restful breathing. When the more playful touch is sensed, the servo moves the fur quickly and eagerly in smaller bursts of excitement.”

Cuddlebot


Two things interest me here.

1) Just like with the Botanicus Interacticus and, to bring it up from the archives, the Mud Tub, the Cuddlebot offers a sensual alternative to the machinic sleekness of the standard touchscreen. When fingers press down on those glass surfaces, skin and nerves seem to melt away. Wrists deaden, as if paralyzed with Botox. Human touch has evolved over millions of years, but all the fine tuning might just end up for naught. And who knows what else is being suppressed and eventually smoothed away.

Whatever we may be surrendering to the glass (and to the Kinetic void), perhaps turning our domestic bestiary into a multi-touch critter network — actual organic living creatures, albeit cybernetics, rather than completely inorganic toys — might mitigate the loss. This might come with its own cost, but surely it would be worth it if the benefit is we all become Tilda Swintons.



2) As with all technology stuff that I post here on Pruned, the technology itself is ultimately a secondary concern. My overriding interest is always their spatial effects: how they might form and inform spaces at all scales.

How might this envisioned form of cross-species relationship might physically manifest itself in the domestic sphere? Will this simply mean hoarding a litter of stray cats, augmented and networked, in your house or apartment? With a different species for each social network you signed up to, will our homes be biological hotspots as diverse as any zoo? All day and all night, the whole city will drone with an Amazonian din, convulsing like a colony of ants thickly carpeting the forest floor.

Where (and how) will the cloud nest otherwise?

You take your dog (or hyena) to the neighborhood park for a walk, and there it frolics with other beasts on the cybernetic meadow and through the ShrubPlugs. And pets are many-times cross-petted. Is everyone updating their Facebook timelines and flirting on Twitter?

You're on a stroll, but following you behind on the sidewalk and also hovering in the air, as though you were Snow White whistling a hypnotic melody, is the entire content of the zoo. You've got mail (and Tumblr updates, unread posts on Google Reader, new edits on Google Docs). You head into an Anthrozoo station, pick the cutest from the lot, and after a few rubs and caresses, it shivers its attached data packet in LOLmorse.

(“It has to be!”)
Airspace
With winter weather wreaking havoc in the airspace above Pruned HQ, Chicago, I thought I'd post a small portion of a VFR map that someone digitized and then overlaid on Google Maps. The map covers the continental United States plus Alaska and Hawaii, parts of Canada and Mexico, and a good chunk of the Caribbean.

VFR


Quoting the ever reliable Wikipedia, VFR is short for visual flight rules, which are a “set of regulations under which a pilot operates an aircraft in weather conditions generally clear enough to allow the pilot to see where the aircraft is going.”

As a brief aside, the super-density of the map reminds me of the “equations” inscribed at Waterfall Rocks in the Fox series, Terra Nova. A running mystery among the new arrivals to the Late Cretaceous, those sprawling rock glyphs, we fortunately learn just before the show's cancellation, were instructions on how to design two-way portals between the deep past and the far future. Given the near total indecipherability of the VFR map to my untrained eyes, its constellations of discs and polygons embedded in a fibrous mesh of vectors and cuneiforms could easily be mistaken by closet fans of the much maligned television show as instructions for trans-temporal travel.

Here's another portion of the VFR map showing the cluttered air territoriality around Los Angeles:

VFR


Surely the entire map could be marketed, perhaps in partnership with MyTopo, not as supersized wall maps but as wall paper. Specifically, use them to redecorate nursery rooms, daycare playpens and kindergarten classrooms into simulant Cubes and CAVEs to kickstart the visual acuity and muscle memory of the very young for an urban future hermetically sealed not in office cubicles but in immersive control rooms of the coming Data Totality.

In these Neo-Baroque rooms of blurred physical and virtual spaces, running crayons on the walls will be preparatory training for transiting information packets through omni-surveilled terrains.

Control Room


Or these same rooms could be the training grounds for an acting career in a future Hollywood of nonstop Prometheus perversions, learning long before theater schools the fine art of gestural swording.

The Interactive Garden



It was only a matter of time before someone turned household plants into a multi-touch interactive device, because now we have the Botanicus Interacticus.

Based on the sophisticated Touché sensing technology Botanicus Interacticus creates a magical experience through the non-invasive instrumentation of living plants. Aurora like particles are emitted around different plants, triggered and transformed by gestures and proximity between the human and the living organism. A range of plants such as a bamboo, an orchid, a snake plant and a custom build artificial one were explored, where each plant presented its unique interactive, visual and auditive character.


I'm utterly amazed at the possibility that soon I could be tweeting with orchids, even write blog posts such as this with maybe spider plants, their shaggy bodies and multi-plantlets collectively emitting a massive aurora with which you could manipulate with endless gestural patterns. Depending on how many social web accounts you tend to, your indoor garden might approximate a jungle.

But why simply turn them into mere keyboards and remote controls? Why not also turn them into “display” devices, thus opening up even more radical means of interaction and visualization, with spatial effects?




Each morning, you take a stroll in your back garden or hike up the fire escape to your roof garden past your neighbor's vertical garden or just get up of bed in your oxygen garden pod hurtling windowless through deep urban space (for this parallel world Botanicus Interacticus has turned every city into a jungle) to watch the foliage physically deforming and chemiluminescing the day's cluttered signals. You no longer pore over streams of text and images. Instead, you read landscapes.

It should be no surprise that due to their graphic qualities, parterres become fashionable again as landscape ornaments.

As always, you head over to the fruiting hedges, and see that a clump of berries has formed during the night. You've got mail. The tumorous looking ones have attachments, while the rotten ones have been flagged as spam. To open and read, simply pick them off. Pocket those you want saved; squish to delete.

The technology for interaction through taste hasn't yet been perfected, or perhaps such behavioral literacy still isn't widespread. As for smelling, that technology has matured. So, you stop by the rose bushes and smell the weather forecast. When a hurricane is on the way, the air has a certain pungency to it.

Before heading back in, you snatch one or two apples from your Netflix/YouTube/Bittorent orchard. (The fruit as data storage and cloud.) Slice or bite to begin play.

In the garden, then, is the future of ubiquitous computing, where the computer will be made invisible, made to disappear into the garden itself.

New Meteorwrongs
Meteorwrongs


With the search for fragments of the meteor that streaked over Chelyabinsk continuing, I thought I'd point readers out to a project, titled Dark Flight: Meteorwrongs, by Ryan Thompson, whose Glacial Erratic Monuments project was previously featured here on Pruned.

Quoting the artist's brief statement in full:

Within one of the most well-known collections of meteorites in the world, at the Center for Meteorite Studies at Arizona State University, is a collection of rocks of mistaken identity. Once identified by professional and amateur meteorite hunters as meteorites, they were later proven to be of terrestrial origin. Dark Flight: Meteorwrongs is a series of photographs of 21 of these false positives. They range in size from just a few inches to more than one foot in diameter and they all have one thing in common—they are not meteorites. The collection stands as a testament to the evolution of the science of meteoritics and to the limits of human knowledge.


As Thomson also remarks elsewhere, “these meteorwrongs reflect the hopes and wishes of the individuals who found them.”

It seems interesting, then, to note here that while the sky happening, captured as it were on dash-cams and then multiplied exponentially on the social web, has been canonized into the annals of the New Aesthetics and the New Normal, the treasure hunters combing the fields of the oblast, dreaming of profit and some fleeting fame or simply manifesting an antediluvian pathology (“meteor fever”), remind us that the New Cultural Cycle, in this case, may ultimately just be a temporary veneer on an immutable bedrock of primordial desires.

Meteorwrongs


The staff at the aforementioned Center for Meteorite Studies “receives nearly 1000 inquiries from curious and hopeful rockhounds. The vast majority of the samples submitted for inspection turn out to be terrestrial rocks, affectionately known as 'meteorwrongs'. In fact, only two or three of the samples sent in every year turn out to be meteorites.” I'm unfortunately quoting from one of their newsletters published in 2010, the same year they suspended their free identification program. Fortunately, there are still places where you can send specimens for identification, such as the Robert A. Pritzker Center for Meteoritics and Polar Studies at The Field Museum in Chicago. There are also online collections of false positives to help you ID your curious finds yourself.

To finish on a positive note, here are some radar-generated images of Asteroid 2012 DA14, a true extraterrestrial object, which reached its record close approach to earth on the same day as the Chelyabinsk meteor event.

Asteroid 2012 DA14


Curiously, the low resolution of the images doesn't at all diminish the object's authenticity, as if, here compared with the meteorwrongs, distance has a counter effect on validity. Galaxies at the edges of the universe appearing as red smudges, exoplanets and exomoons dipping and spiking multiple lines of detection, infinitesimal particles skimming the border of knowability, and now a pixelated asteroid: they may be at the breaking point of human vision, but we still deem them to be genuine. Objects that we can hold, feel their grit and sharp edges, smell and taste: they're chucked off as fake. The greater the resolution, again at least in this case, the greater the fiction.

A Cemetery for Floating Cities
Mathilde Roussel
Sasha Cisar


A marvelous splicing courtesy of Tumblr, pairing together Mathilde Roussel's Lives of Grass and Sasha Cisar's An Urban Canopy from which a parallel world city could be concocted.

It's a floating city whose inhabitants, after centuries in their stratospheric exile, have developed a cultural taboo against burying the dead wholly intact down on the ground. It is not the body that pollutes, according to their aerial customs, but rather it is the elemental earth that despoils all that comes in contact with it. Could it have anything to do with the reason why they had forgone terrestrial existence in the first place?

Laid out on their bottom-half-body death masks, the deceased are now tethered outside-inside cavernous silos embedded into the superstructure. From viewing galleries spiraling around these bottomless wells (and no, public display of putrefaction is not taboo; the squeamish are also weeded out by the constant turbulence), they look like flocks of Archaeopteryxes fossilized in vaporous bedrock — arcing, spreadeagled, contorted, twisting, talons unfurled, like Trinity with legs akimbo. Literally a sky burial.

During times of epidemics, they murmur.

Mathilde Roussel


Inside these superimposed Towers of Silence as Air Shaft Aviaries, the bodies are slowly atomized into aerosols, which rain down into the earth, revitalizing it. It's cremation with gardening.

The (Soviet) Supersurface of Architectural Diaspora
Rapla, Estonia


A quick note to say that Pruned has a Tumblr twin, which has recently been ticking up in activity to complement a reanimated blog, though, to my surprise, it seems to be complementing it with priapic, mammary, death and feral imagery. Hope this isn't some ongoing psychosexual self-portrait with the ghillie suited Michael Bay and Irma Vep in sacra conversazione. Tumblr reveals all, makes manifest our subconscious — let's hope not!

If you're curious about the image and title of this post, see the tracings and trajectories imprinted on the supersurface of architectural diaspora.
Urban Moonlight
Andy Mattern


A meme self-organized itself in my bookmarks recently, clustering together internet detritus around the subject of city lights.

Included is a satellite image, published on NASA's Earth Observatory, of North America and its constellations of urban brightnesses at night. It's a classic image that most have probably seen before in many iterations, but this particular one received more than the usual attention because of the large, luminous smudge in North Dakota. Sprawled out over an area equal to, if not larger than, Chicago's but over one of the least-densely populated parts of the country, it's the “home to the Bakken shale formation, a site where gas and oil production are booming.” While some, including me, have mistakenly thought the lights were all due to gas flaring, only “a few are evidence of gas flaring.” In fact, most are “associated with drilling equipment and temporary housing near drilling sites.”

There's also the image of New York in complete darkness save for the Milky Way in all its possible brilliance in the night sky. Several other cities are also rendered as their parallel world selves aglow with galactic light. Though Chicago isn't among them, images of the city's grid at night — the greatest built landscape in the world, in my opinion, second only to the Public Land Survey System and Central Park, and maybe Greater Los Angeles and Florida, but it's up there — pop in now and then in my Tumblr dashboard, most recently this amazing photo by Jim Richardson, part of a series that also includes this more panoramic view of the city irradiating some passing clouds. In other words, the Milky Way may be blotted out, but you can still go to the top of Sears Tower and watch the Andromeda Galaxy spread out over the prairie, half-swirling around the gravity well of the supercloverleaf in the West Loop, flinging motorists into and out of the city.

Andy Mattern


Before I come around to the photos decorating this post, I want to point out the photos taken from the International Space Station by its current commander, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield (@Cmdr_Hadfield), who I recently started following on Twitter. Many of his orbital snaps got snagged by the meme, among them are of Kolkotta (“at night, definitely not the 'Black Hole of Calcutta' of legend”); Lisbon (“at night - black water, intricate spiderweb of surrounding towns”); Pyongyang; and Tehran with its “bright blue oval” bracelet.

Though he hasn't tweeted a photo of it yet, the residents of Hadfield's hometown of Sarnia in Ontario, lit up their city last Friday night, sprucing themselves up in a coordinated effort for their remote portrait, as it were. Light pollution has never been so tinge with romanticism and nostalgia: earthbound creatures sending out beacons out to spacefarers plying through “orbital darkness,” reminding them of home.

As opposite to the photo-poetics of Hadfield and Sarnia as one can possibly get, BBC News reported last week the “rise in the number of incidents in which handheld lasers are being used to distract airline pilots flying over London.” The statistics are quite astonishing: “in 2010 there were 145 reported incidents. In 2012 the number rose to 252.” Enraging astronomers, turning urban wildlife into insomniacs and aggravating the nature deficit syndrome of other city dwellers are one thing, but this part of the photonic smog spectrum causing airplane crashes is horrifyingly another.

Andy Mattern


To add to this meme, then, are these images of moonlight towers in Austin, Texas, photographed by Andy Mattern “at their most visible moment just after they turn on at dusk.” Quoting the project statement:

In 1895, the City of Austin acquired a novel street-lighting system from Detroit consisting of thirty-one 165-foot tower lights. Their cool glow and looming height earned them the popular moniker “Moonlight Towers.” In the 1930s, however, the towers were all but obsolete due to the advent of newer, brighter street lamps that were closer to the ground. Over the years for a variety of reasons including public safety and urban growth, more than half of the original towers have been removed.


Indeed, to also quote our go-to reference:

The structures were popular in the late 19th century in cities across the United States and Europe; they were most common in the 1880s-1890s. In some places they were used when standard street-lighting systems — using smaller, shorter, and more numerous lamps — were impractically expensive. Other times they were used in addition to existing gas street lighting. The towers were designed to illuminate areas often of several blocks at once. Arc lamps were the most common method of illumination, known for their exceptionally bright and harsh light.


Of the cities that once used to operate such a street-lighting system, Austin is “the only city in the world known to still” do so.

Andy Mattern


Since this is winter, the chronic period of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), I am reminded of, firstly, the Austrian town of Rattenberg and its unrealized plans to install heliostats that would have redirected sunlight to “a dozen 'hotspots' — areas not much bigger than a front yard scattered through the town, where people can gather and soak up rays.” Even more awesome, these Sunlight Towers also would have shone light “onto building facades to show daylight slowly turning to dusk.” In other words, buildings in the mountain's shadows are turned into public cinemas playing artificial weather spectacles everyday. (Except on cloudy days.)

Secondly, I'm reminded of Perpetual (Topical) SUNSHINE, a public installation by fabric | ch. A screen composed of 300 infrared light bulbs, this Tropical Tower allows winter sun bathers to soak in “an abstract and never-ending, planetary form of day and of summer, across longitudes and time zones.” You might be “out of sync both temporally and climactically” from the rest of the city, but perhaps this asynchronous urban space will light blast your mental health back into some semblance of normality.

Andy Mattern


Picking up the possible psychiatric benefits of these light towers, Moonlight Towers could be reinstalled in sun-deprived northern cities, turning downtown plazas, city parks, and the everyday sidewalks and alleyways into solar sanitariums for the depressives, the moody and the bipolars. Usually dead spaces in the winter, they'll teem with people in search of light therapy. In other words, Prozac Plazas. Not a deterrence against thieves and rapists but against fatal mood swings.

You won't be able to see the stars at night, but at least you're not going to kill yourself.

Gut Farm



I was very intrigued by a crowdfunded, citizen-scientist project to “characterize the microbial diversity of the Global Gut.” Those that have donated will receive a sampling kit and instructions on how to collect stool samples. Once sent back to the lab, the samples are then genetically sequenced to create a portrait not only of your own gut flora but also, if you chose the pricier options, your entire family and furry pets, ultimately mapping a heretofore underexplored ecological system, a microscopic yet planetary-crossing garden of bacteria, viruses, eukaryotes and fungi.

Phase I has already been funded and is closed to volunteers, but you can still join in the fun in Phase II. I'd be curious to hear what the diversity of this microbiome has to inform us about geography and food systems (or vice versa).

Meanwhile, this reminds me of an interesting research from 2006, in which scientists at Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology “put bacteria to work, powering a tiny rotary motor etched out of semiconductor material,” as The New York Times described their work. Nearly akin to shire horses harnessed to a horse mill, “[t]he bacteria glide along a circular channel attached to a 20-micron-diameter rotor, turning it at a rate of roughly 2 r.p.m.”

According to one of the scientists, the goal “in the long distance is to make a medical machine, something like Proteus,” referring to the miniature submarine in the 1966 film Fantastic Voyage. In the middle distance, perhaps they could coat a volunteer's intestinal tracts with bacteria-driven nano-motors. His gut flora having been cultivated to extraordinary verdancy, thus churning his mechanic hortus conclusus into full throttle, he'll be able to power an iPad.

How about programming it into a stool battery factory. On some nights, he takes a shit in the garden to power his outdoor light fixtures. The entire urban waste infrastructure will have to be rethought.

In Phase X of the Global Gut project, participants will be mailed an assembly kit. They only need to swallow it. Once ingested, they'll be part of an international mass cyborgification of a human organ, later forming part of a cloud network. It's the gut server farm.

The Super-Shelterbelt City
Tarim Desert Highway


Yesterday's post about the global importation of aerosol reminded me of the Tarim Desert Highway, which crosses the great expanse of the Taklimakan (or Taklamakan) Desert in western China, the region I referred to as a Hell Mouth. I've blogged about it several times over the years, first briefly appearing as a pruning, which I later expanded into a full post, before using it as a starting point for some speculative terraforming scenarios.

The thing that so absolutely fascinates me about the highway, second only to its shelterbelt, is its maintenance crew—a total of 110 couples, according to The Telegraph's math—who are “housed in huts every four kilometers along the road. Life in the desert was judged too lonely for single men, so only couples could apply for the job.” Their duties include turning on the irrigation pumps in the morning to water the plants and…that's about it. The rest of the day is spent “pretty much doing nothing.”

Perhaps it's me augmenting their lives spent in spartan cubicles in the middle of utter wilderness with the romantic image of life as a lighthouse keeper that explains the interest: solitary figures living in the open dune sea, guiding caravansaries through fog banks of atomized earth; park rangers in their lookout towers, peering out for wildsands that might snuff out their midget forests; caretaker pilots of deep space mining ships, ensuring critical resources are safely navigated through interstellar deserts, with Mother or Father as their only companion. These desert ashrams may be fully connected to the rest of civilization via television and mobile devices, but there's always that undertone of the monastic.

Tarim Desert Highway


Perhaps China, faced with a future of persistent drought, accelerating desertification, and an afforestation program in total failure (the combination of which may mean more intense and more frequent sandstorms that smother the most economically dynamic cities in the world, degrading their already poor urban air quality into a public health hazard), will expand the Tarim shelterbelt to cover the entire Taklimakan Desert (and the Gobi Desert, too), grafting a checkerboard of midget forests that not only will protect a strategic oil route but also suppress the creation of sandstorms or at the very least weaken them and shorten their reach.

This Super-Shelterbelt would be a megalopolis of sorts, the largest city in the world in terms of area, gridded out into four-square-kilometer parcels. In a corner of each plot will be a blue house with a red roof, of course, where the comparably small populace will live in pairs. One wonders what social structures will emerge out of this gigantic urban air conditioner land grabbed from the hinterlands. What manner of urbanism will something so utterly centerless, diffused, but altogether bound by fealty to distant megacity overlords, generate?

Defense Aerosol Research Projects Agency



Last year, NASA and university scientists released a study revealing that half of the airborne particles, or aerosols, in the skies above Canada and the United States come from foreign sources. (“That's a huge number — half.”) Indeed, analysis of satellite data showed that “64 million tons of dust, pollutants, and other particles cross the oceans and mix into the air over North America each year. That’s nearly as much as the estimated 69 million tons of aerosols produced domestically by natural processes, transportation, and industrial sources.”

While particulate pollution from Asia usually gets the most attention, most of the imported particles, or 88 percent (56 million tons) of the total, is naturally produced dust, which, like man-made pollution, can have a direct impact on human health, weather and climate. As you can see in the upper left screen corner of the animation embedded above, “strong source points” of these fine grains are located in central China near the Taklimakan Desert, that large gaping wound bleeding out a vermillion sea. The Hell Mouth of a grotesque earth body.

Taklimakan Desert


It's universally accepted that high-speed surface winds kick up the fine desert particles into the air, fountaining pulverized earth all the way through the mega-cities of East Asia. If Beijing's recent airpocalypse was bad, imagine if it had been springtime, the high season of sandstorms.

But there's another culprit: China's Defense Aerosol Research Project Agency (DaRPA). Zoom in on those so-called “source points” on Google Earth, and you'll find the playgrounds of aberrant geologists, gonzo climatologists, avant-gardeners and desert shamans.

Quoting a Wikipedia article yet to be written:

The Defense Aerosol Research Projects Agency is a blue-sky thinking agency charged with developing new aerosol technologies for use by the military. Current research include [1] weather weaponization, such as granular blitzkrieg; [2] homeland soil transport through air corridors for island building in claimed extraterritorial waters; [3] nano-drones for domestic and foreign intelligence gathering; [4] dust cloud urban pacification for city-wide protests, a project codenamed Curfew; and what the international media and their beat reporters have dubbed the [5] Great Blurwall of China.


If you're wondering why the progress of the Green Wall of China has been painfully slow, if not a downright failure, one reason is the stalling attempts of DaRPA researchers, as an afforested desert would certainly ruin their experiments.

But it must be said that not all the work by DaRPA are quite so malevolent. You might recall the discovery that one of the “world's most desolate places,” the Bodele Depression in north central Africa, is keeping “one of the most lush,” the Amazon, stay lush.

Bodele Depression


Quoting an actual article:

About half of the 40 million tons of dust that are swept across the Atlantic from the Sahara to the Amazon each year come from the Bodele Depression, a small valley that accounts for only 0.2 percent of the entire Sahara and is only 0.5 percent the size of the Amazon itself. The discovery of this surprisingly large single source of mineral dust raises many fascinating questions about how far-flung parts of the Earth system are connected, including how large the dust reservoir in the Bodele depression is, how long it has been emitting such a huge amount of dust, and how long will it continue to fertilize the Amazon.


You can go a long way in answering such questions after realizing that this foreign soil exchange, this planetary umbilical whirligig, is [6] a Land Art installation by DaRPA. An aerosol garden of earth-fountains evoking the extinct, aggregated landscapes of Gondwana, thus an art that disregards not only political boundaries but also the barriers of Deep Time.

Howling, suffocating, blinding, Marvelous, it's a Spiral Jetty for the troposphere, which just happens to be a new form of [7] mineral trade that bypasses conventional resource extraction and established global fertilizer supply chains. Counter-desertification strategies in the works. Foreign Phosphorus Aid.

Bodele Depression


The US — misinterpreting this monumental piece of performance art as a manifestation of China's African Century and BRICSmanship, the objective of which is a further entrenchment into the geopolitical spheres of Africa and South America — start their own DaRPA within the original DARPA.

Gardens as Crypto-Water-Computers Redux
Water Computer


The above image appeared in an article published by Scientific American in 1964. It's actually a photograph, believe or not, of a block of plastic “chemically etched” with “fluid control devices,” which are basically an arrangement of channels. Streams of fluids are pumped through these micro-canals, and applying the principles of fluid dynamics, one could manipulate their meandering course through this network.

Water Computer


In one fluid-control technique described by author Stanley W. Angrist, a high-energy stream of fluid, called the power stream, is first injected into a fluid control device. If left to itself, the power stream clings to one wall of the channel in which it is flowing, and as a result exits through an outlet on that side. The stream can be diverted to a second outlet on the other side by injecting a stream from a side channel.

If you think of those two outlets as representing “on” and “off” (or “0” and “1”) and the side channels as flip-flop switches, then it's easy to see how a fluid control device “corresponds to a triode that turns a flow of electrons on or off. It is essentially like an element in a digital computer.” One can even design it “to act as a logic gate expressing the concept 'and' or 'or,'” thus, if you build and connect enough of them, you could have an “all-fluid digital computer” that can model the most complex algorithms. There are even certain set-ups that display “a property that amounts to memory, and it can be put to use for that purpose.”

To repeat: a property that amounts to memory!

Water Computer


No doubt I've oversimplified or misunderstood the concept and potential of these fluid control devices, so I suggest reading the article in full and the Wikipedia entry on fluidics. There's also an article archived on Modern Mechanix, one published in 1960 and claiming that these devices “could rival electronics within 10 years.” In fact, returning to the Scientific American article, Angrist spells out their “distinct advantages over electronic devices. They are simple in construction, have virtually no moving parts, can be powered by almost any source of energy to pump the fluid, are immune to damage by heat or ionizing radiation (which electronic equipment is not) and would be comparatively inexpensive if mass-produced.”

In any case, owing to a vague resemblance of the opening image to the serpentine lines of an irregular garden, such as the garden at Petit Trianon on the super-formalized grounds of Versailles — and to the enduring popularity of an earlier post in which I sketched out an alternate version of garden history — one can't help but propose reconfiguring Petit Trianon into a water computer.

It'd be a kind of experimental subfield of historic preservation, in which Le Rouge's plan for Marie Antoinette's pleasure ground is purposely misunderstood as the schematics for a fluidic motherboard.

Petit Trianon


You could also reconstruct the whole of Versailles, afterwards augmenting it with several Versailleses, and in the process gobbling up other gardens of the Ancien Régime that have since disappeared, though their plans still exist in the basements of national libraries, ready to be misread as circuitry.

That is, into miles of fluidic circuitry etched into the earth; modules bulging out artificial hills, outlook mounts and facsimiles of Mt. Parnassus; valved artificial lakes as input devices; water parterres as logic gates; grottos as maintenance access to the bowels of this great tectonic machine; with esoteric Freemason symbols as instructional manuals; and a decorative program of Diana Efesinas as display consoles.

Fontana di Diana Efesina


Moving from one Diana Efesina to another, which could be quite an epic perambulation, and taking notes of the hydro-matrix barcodes being printed by these water-emitting diodes, one will eventually gather all the data needed to model…what exactly?

How about the motions of planets and stars?

Salomon de Caus


Adjust the pumps on this fountain and the pumps on that fountain and a thousand other interconnected water features, and soon enough you will have calculated the day when Jupiter reaches its next perihelion or the earth-crashing orbit of a previously unknown asteroid. The garden will open up the universe and all its wonders to humanity, but will also announce the date of their Second Exile.

Forests as Paleoastronomical Observatories
Gamma-Ray Burst


Scientists have theorized that a gamma-ray burst may be responsible for “an unusual level of a radioactive type of carbon known as carbon-14” found in ancient cedar trees in Japan.

“These enormous emissions of energy,” explains BBC News, “occur when black holes, neutron stars or white dwarfs collide - the galactic mergers take just seconds, but they send out a vast wave of radiation.” If the source is within our galactic neighborhood, it might trigger an extinction event, or even something far worse. If much farther afield, say, in another galaxy, most of the radiation is absorbed by the atmosphere, where it triggers an increased production of radioactive elements, which rain down on waiting trees.

Botanical daguerreotypes chemically etched with the remnants of dead celestial spheres; an organic archive of cosmic megaspectaculars. In a sense, then, forests don't constrict your vision, rather they add perspectives, telegraph your gaze into deep space-time.

I can't resist the temptation here of imagining ancient Druidic sects of silviculturists, spread out all over the world, tending to patches of dark woods, steamy jungles and rain forests, astronomical observatories each manned by a hermetic crypto-astronomer recording supernovas, solar flares, the death pangs of black holes, and intergalactic jets of many dark brightnesses. And centuries later, Jodie Foster in the guise of Indiana Jones go out looking for their remnants, an orchid hunter in search of the rarest of rarest astral efflorescences.

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