From gun to nerve

In Of frogs and men: the origins of psychophysiological time experiments, 1850–1865, Henning Schmidgen retraces the history of Helmholtz’s experiments on the propagation of stimuli within nerves. The first apparatus designed by Helmholtz repurposes a mechanism of the physicist Claude Pouillet in the field of ballistic, to measure the velocity of a bullet at different points of its trajectory.

Don’t write down father

Eleanor Rosch and Carolyn B. Mervis, Family Resemblances: Studies in the Internal Structure of Categories, 1975.

Situationist Pinball

This device allows for the automatic generation of a Gaussian curve (position of the balls at the bottom. The artistic problems of the dérive occur at the same level as the relatively unpredictable path of each ball.

Illustration and caption from Asger Jorn, “The Situationists and Automation”, Internationale Situationniste #1 (June 1958).

SICV in Barcelona

Tras poner en marcha mi Instituto Escandinavo de Vandalismo Comparado, muchos se preguntan por qué le puse un nombre tan peculiar, sin llegar a tener del todo claro si tomárselo en serio o no.

“Giving the Finger (Back) to the Digital: The Art and Politics of Archival Practice”. Presentation at the MACBA symposium La condició de contorn. Sobre l’arxiu i els seus límits (17.02.2018).  

Mere storage appears somewhat dysfunctional

“As we know, everyone is now talking about the virtual, i.e., computerized museum, and that must be the reason why a media historian has been invited to Barcelona.” Friedrich Kittler on the museum of art and digital archiving. (more…)

Face synch

Duchenne was based at the Salpêtrière hospital in Paris, where he researched muscular electrophysiology—the perceived electrical dysfunction underlying neurological conditions, ranging from strokes and epilepsy through to the more questionable areas of hysteria and insanity. […] The afflictions of the inmates of the Salpêtrière made them perfect candidates for Duchenne’s research and documentation: muscular paralysis and facial anaesthetics made them extremely malleable. The  flow of sustained electrical currents allowed Duchenne to overcome the limits of photography’s then long shutter speeds to have his sitters ‘hold’ a pose for an extended period. (more…)

“Live CV”

In this demo video, a programmer works interactively with open CV. As the code is altered, a window displaying the results of the computation is continuously updated. The demonstration ends as the programmer connects a camera and then places object (playing cards) on a table, manually isolates the pixels of the card, then uses the captured sample to locate and outline the same card in subsequent frames of the live video.

Database populism

Although early users of database technology were predominantly large institutions, the database was also a key technology in the populist vision of personal computing generated by microcomputer fans, researchers, hobbyists, and entrepreneurs in the 1970s and 1980s. Informed by science fiction sensitive to the authoritarian use of database technology, these personal computing advocates hoped that experience with small database systems might sharpen popular critique of mass-scale information processing efforts. As database design receded from the desktop in the 1990s, however, the populist promises were largely forgotten and the database became an exclusively institutional technology once again.
A social history of database technology situates the web’s massive databases among more than a century of mass-scale information processing systems. Evidence of popular anxiety recurs throughout this history and indicates that non-specialists often struggle to apprehend the limits of database technology and may alternately over- and under-estimate the extent of mass data collection and the types of analytic outcomes that are possible. Meanwhile, the cautious optimism of the microcomputer era points to a latent database populism that may yet be revived should users grow sufficiently frustrated by the lack of transparency among large, data-driven institutions.

From Punched Cards to “Big Data”: A Social History of Database Populism, Kevin Driscoll, 2012

A system for detecting an accessible bug

We have described each of the operations on the retinal image in terms of what common factors in a large variety of stimuli cause response and what common factors have no effect. What, then, does a particular fiber in the optic nerve measure? We have considered it to be how much there is in a stimulus of that quality which excites the fiber maximally, naming that quality.

The operations thus have much more the flavor of perception than of sensation if that distinction has any meaning now. That is to say that the language in which they are best described is the language of complex abstractions from the visual image. We have been tempted,for example, to call the convexity detectors “bug perceivers.” Such a fiber [operation 2] responds best when a dark object, smaller than a receptive field, enters that field, stops, and moves about intermittently thereafter. The response is not affected if the lighting changes or if the background (say a picture of grass and flowers) is moving, and is not there if only the background, moving or still, is in the field. Could one better describe a system for detecting an accessible bug?

What the Frog’s Eye Tells the Frog’s Brain? Lettvin et al, 1940.

You are green

“As I recovered at home, colour started slowly creeping back into my life, whispering around corners. This was a very perplexing time, for often I only felt I was seeing a colour but was unable to identify it. I would stare endlessly at trees and lamp-posts, desperate to match the colour I believed was there with the strange sensory experience I was having. Bright primary colours were the first I could identify with any conviction. Red led the way, followed by blues and yellows – but cloudy and faded. I struggled enormously with greens, greys and any pale or muted colours. This was not the vibrant rainbow world I was used to.
I still had some channels of information transmitting the colours around me to my brain, but I was receiving only part of the message. My lifelong emotional associations with colours were still intact, even if my sight was not. I tried to use language to help myself recover. “You are green,” I would tell the grass. I believed the more I stimulated my brain by observing the world around me and reminding myself what colour was, the more the damaged circuitry in my brain would reconnect and bring my normal vision back online. I found the more I did this, the more it worked.”

Read the story of Vanessa Potter recovering sight.