Presenting the Cosmos: Branding
THE WAVIST MANIFESTO
22 October 2010
Humans with functioning visual and auditory sensory-organ systems see and hear the physical world in a manner oscillating between rigidly defined and interminably interpretable. The most obvious example of light and sound’s analogous effect in the physical realm is the simple presence of auditory and visual information in our shared reality.
The laptop computer documenting this essay bears a teal plastic protective shell. A schoolmate recently approached me to comment on the attractive shade of blue and continued walking. This person and I could have gone on about whether teal was a blue, a green, or if the hue of plastic should even be considered teal, but the fact that we both agree in even coarse terms that my laptop is encased in a greenish-blue colored piece of molded plastic is a profound one. The two of us making the same observation independent of any prior discussion corroborates each other’s perception of the light reflecting from my laptop through the lenses of each of our eyes and onward to the brain. This is not merely a coincidence or illusion. Evidence of the physical world enables our visual system to make this observation.
In the latter half of the nineteenth century, mathematician/physicist James Clerk Maxwell illustrated with his electromagnetic wave equations that light and other forms of radiation propagate as a result of alternating fields of electricity and magnetism. Thanks to Maxwell’s equations and the contributions of his colleagues during a century-long period centered on the 1870’s, we presently understand different kinds of waves; gamma rays, x-rays, radio waves, microwaves, light and sound, each as waves cycling at different frequencies along a theoretically infinite continuum of wavelengths.
Had I learned radio engineering at one point instead of audio engineering, the subtitle of this entry may have been Channel is to Radio as Color is to Light. However, the frequency bands that are audible, between 20 hertz and 20 kilohertz, and those that are visible, between 400 and 700 terahertz, are particularly special to me… and most humans. Our species features two organ-systems remarkably tuned to these spectra and a central nervous system to process the wavefronts in dedicated regions of the brain.
I am fortunate to have enjoyed intact senses of hearing and vision through the present day. As a result, I have become a staunch audio-visual wavist. Light and sound astound me almost everyday, and I have undoubtedly developed a strong bias for these ranges of wavelengths. I take comfort in knowing, or at least believing, that I can rely on my senses of sight and sound to communicate the acoustical and visual world to me as it really is.
Neurologists and hearing or sight-impaired individuals may suggest restricting the auditory sense by wearing soundproof headphones in an anechoic chamber or a light-sealed room for the absence of visual information. These exercises are likely to tune my skin and nose to other evidence within the physical realm, in addition to revealing a deep internal reality that is no less real in the physical world than it is to my sensory-deprived mind. Nevertheless, this entry is concerned with the physical manifestations of light and sound regularly observed in nature and most individual’s daily experience.
The electromagnetic waves that propagate light and all other types of electromagnetic radiation (EMR) are comprised of particles moving in a direction perpendicular to the forward motion of the wave. These kinds of waves are easy to visualize— they resemble the same sinusoidal motion exhibited on the surface of oceans. Instead of the wavelength and amplitude determined by gravity and the surface tension of water, as with ocean waves, a fluctuating field of electricity and magnetism determine the wave properties of EMR.
The frequencies audible to the human ear travel differently, their component waveforms are non-electromagnetic and move in the same direction of sound propagation. Sound has a place apart from others on the frequency spectrum. These waves still propagate with mechanical wave characteristics, but with particles traveling in the direction of motion through a medium like gas, liquid, and even some solids. In the case of a metal tuning fork (fig. a), air molecules surrounding the ends of the fork are disturbed at a frequency equal to that of the two prongs. This creates a compression and rarefaction of the air— 440 times per second for the tone we perceive as A above Middle-C. Before publishing his electromagnetic theory, Maxwell calculated the speed of electromagnetic waves to be a constant velocity through a vacuum. Sound waves require a medium to transfer pressure changes in air molecules, preventing their travel through space, where particles are extremely scant.
Sound of course contrasts forms of EMR like light and radio, which we regularly receive across the vacuum of interstellar space. Sound waves use a medium to propagate which may account for the remarkable discrepancy in velocity between light and sound. Light travels a million times faster than sound and exists within a frequency band ranging less than one octave. The audible spectrum spans nearly 10 octaves and will barely propagate a quarter-mile in the time it takes light to travel from the Earth to the moon.
The human auditory system (HAS) is sensitive to a much wider range of sound frequencies than our vision system (HVS) is to light. Since it moves along at a millionth of the speed, we see the distant image of lightning long before hearing the crackling thud of electrified air. Those who witness such an event are familiar with the dazzling effect of perceiving such audio-visual phenomena.
Thunder from a bolt of lightning reaches us when the increasing and decreasing air pressure makes its way from the initial shock wave in the air and contacts our ear at the pinna, concave dish-shaped pieces of skin protruding from either side of our head. The pinna and ear canal function together as wave gathering tissues to funnel sound toward the middle ear. Labeled in the simplified HAS diagram (fig. b), as the wavefronts contact the tympanic membrane, known as the eardrum, they transmit sound to the inner ear.
The eardrum vibrates 440 times per second in the case of the aforementioned tuning fork. Those vibrations resonate inside the bones of the middle ear and transduce resonant information destined for the cochlea. The cochlea (in cross-section; fig c) is a coiled, conically shaped organ enclosing thousands of densely arranged nerve endings. Inside the cochlea, the acoustic properties of the wavefront are converted into electrical impulses sent from the auditory nerve to the brain.
The line between sensory perception and sensory processing in the human auditory system becomes grey at the cochlea. The nerve fibers inside the cochlea are located along a sensitive strand of tissue called the basilar membrane, and arouse the nervous system in the presence of specific wavelengths.
Contemporary psychologist and audiologist Albert Bregman classifies human auditory perception as a two-part system receiving sensory input and deriving a useful representation of reality from it. In his Perceptual Organization of Sound, Bregman refers to the HAS phenomena of timbre constancy, suggesting that the brain analyzes “auditory streams” by applying its own experiential, environmental, and contextual information to recognize the same timbre in varying circumstances. A common example of this happens when we identify a familiar song or voice in a number of different acoustical contexts, like isolating on your friend’s voice in a noisy crowded place. Wavefronts received and our individual response to them derives a perception of reality from the wavefronts.
The phenomena of color constancy in human vision exhibits a similar effect when processing the wavelengths entering the eye. Color constancy enables color perception to remain relatively stable in changing lighting conditions. The white reference for color temperature in a visual scene allows the HVS to maintain a constant perception of the scene’s colors in varying contexts, as when clothing appears the same color in both incandescent and fluorescent light.
Light and sound waves behave similarly in nature, and humans possess an organic means for receiving and interpreting their properties. Color is to light as pitch is to sound. Their spectral ranges can be divided into intervals expressing audible and visible harmonies in nature. In western music, the intervals are called notes and they are arranged into an equally tempered scale of twelve tones; A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#. These tones correspond to wavelength, known as pitch in the music realm… color in the illuminated realm. Instead of twelve notes repeating along a ten octave audible range (20 Hz - 20,000 kHz), color is loosely grouped into a less than one octave spectrum (400 - 700 THz) of seven continuous hues divided into red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet.
Artists purposefully create, manipulate and arrange the intervals of audible and/or visible frequency spectra in astounding feats of temporal, spatial, harmonic and aesthetic complexity. Musicians, acousticians, painters, lighting designers, and a list of others working with the phenomena of light and sound, create profound harmonies to demonstrate the fascinating nature of visible and audible waves. On a piano, the 88 keys ascend from lowest pitch on the left to highest on the right repeating a twelve-tone cycle including the seven natural notes, and five sharp/flat tones. Chord structure and complex wave patterns created by combining different tones is analogous to color theory. Instead of a visual artist combining wavelengths (hues) of visible blue (~700 THz) and yellow (~500 THz) to create green (~600 THz), pianists for example, simultaneously play A, C# and E to create an A-Major chord. As is the case with combining visible light, the context in which these tones are observed, and what or who is conveying the medium, will affect the perception of the combined wavefront, or visual stream.
Rods and cones (fig d) suffusing the surface of the human retina are the means by which wavefronts of light energy are converted to neuronal signals. Similarly, the neural fibers in the basilar membrane of the cochlea are where audible signals electrically excite the brain. The human eye also directs wavefronts toward its receptor organ, the retina, in a manner analogous to the pinna and ear canal directing information toward the cochlea. The HVS achieves this using the cornea, iris and lens (fig e). Taking the analogy further, fluid inside the eyeball called vitreous, maintains outward pressure and diffuses light entering the pupil, performs transduction similar to the bones of the middle ear. Wavefronts complete their journey by exciting the conically shaped receptor cells in either the cochlea or retina, where auditory or optic nerves carry sensory input to the brain for analysis.
The human auditory and visual systems enable our species to experience a shared consciousness bound in our overlapping perceptions of the physical world. The greatest similarity found between the human vision system and the human auditory system is in the human. Our sensory organs and brains are the destination for innumerable wavefronts propagating and reflecting everywhere around us. Although the properties of their wavefronts differ dramatically, we have evolved two similarly well-suited organ systems for perceiving sound and light.
If I had not been fortunate to spend my life observing these overlapping audio-visual phenomena, I may have developed a similar bias for wavelengths corresponding to those of scent, touch, or taste. Nonetheless, I see the compelling nature of light and sound lying beyond their respective streams of sensory input. The remarkable physical and aesthetic analogies made between the two seemingly discrepant senses are worthy of careful consideration. Waves of light and sound provide us with the illumination needed for finding consistency in our physical world. Moreover, they assist our species in understanding the colors and notes of an objective structure that extends beyond our personal reality.
fig a: Diagram of sound wave propagation
b: Diagram of sound transduction in human ear
c: Cross section of human cochlea
d: Cross section rod and cone cell
e: Cross section of human eye
Bondi, Hermann, Relativity and Common Sense, Dover (1962)
Bregman, Albert S., Auditory Scene Analysis: The Perceptual Organization of Sound, MIT Press (1990)
Helmholz, Herman von, On The Sensations of Tone, (1875)
Hirschberg, Joseph G., Physics for the Arts, J.G. Hirschberg (1987)
Sacks, Oliver, “The Mind’s Eye”, The New Yorker (28 July 2003)
PRESENTING THE COSMOS
SOLAR POWER PLANT
It’s a solar-powered charger, It’s a house plant. It’s a Solar Power Plant.
The Solar Power Plant is a prototype device charger that situates high-efficiency photovoltaic film into an aesthetically pleasing living space decoration.
The photovoltaic (PV) sensor film, made by PowerFIlm, measures 2.5 inches long by 1 inch wide and are wired in parallel pairs that provide 4.2 volts, 40 mA to a battery pack of NiMH rechargeable AA batteries. (Three) PV pairs service the battery pack, which can regain a full charge in less than two days of adequate sunshine and ambient light. These power figures reflect ideal, direct sunlight but are not significantly different under indirect or ambient lighting conditions. Each PV sensor is bonded to a synthetic fiber leaf of the faux plant. Each leaf has been oriented toward a different location along the sun’s ecliptic to allow the sensors maximum exposure to available light. The synthetic plant fiber provides a visually appealing and nonflammable surface on which to securely mount the PV sensors.
When a handheld device like a MP3 player is electrically connected to the rechargeable battery pack, the Solar Power Plant is capable of charging the device in approximately the same time as an adapter connected to a standard wall outlet. Results of preliminary “window tests” with the Solar Power Plant are promising. The prototype has performed effectively and consistently. However, questions about the long-term durability and safety of the components linger.
In addition to an iPod, the Solar Power Plant is designed to charge any device ready to accept 5-12 volts at less than 1 Amp.
The Solar Power Plant shows potential for commercial development within an accessible price range. Manufacturing costs of PowerFilm and NiMH rechargeable batteries will make it difficult to produce the Solar Power Plant for less than $30. If each of these products are increasingly mass-produced, then this figure may be reduced significantly. However, establishing a handsome profit margin for this product will continue to be a perilous task as long as costs stay constant.
The Solar Power Plant is most certainly a viable source of alternative energy and a complement to any living space. The future success of passive energy sources utilizing solar power is predetermined, and the ways in which the technology will be applied continue to evolve. The Solar Power Plant represents a next step in this progression.
PERLIN NOISE ART GENERATOR
I have long been dazzled by illustrations and graphical renderings of Perlin Noise and other representations of random phenomena. With the assistance of my Perlin Noise Art Generator sketches, made in Processing, everybody now has the ability to create their own beautiful random art. From the path photons take to escape the nuclear furnace of stars to the migratory patterns of animals, many (if not most) forms of behavior exhibit randomness. Illustrations of this concept include the formation of crystallites and the performance of global trade markets. (1)
This Processing sketch is composed of thousands of particles. Each particle derives it’s sense of randomness, commonly referred to as Brownian Motion, from the noise function native to the Processing programming language. Once a sketch has begun, the set of particles (each location and velocity randomly assigned) changes color in unison when either of the mouse buttons are pressed. The changing color allows a user to track the motion of particles in space and time… color changes indicate markers that may be interpreted as patterns (or trends) within the randomness. Where an artist sees beautiful color patterns an economist may see ominous fluctuations. In fact, the greatest outcome of this sketch may be its tendency to inspire contrasting thoughts in different users.
For those wishing to keep their random masterpiece, the saveFrame function may be employed by pressing any key on the keyboard. This function allows users to save a .tif file in the Processing sketch folder with a simple keystroke and without leaving the play window.
A word on Perlin: Ken Perlin developed Perlin Noise in the 1980’s while working at Mathematical Applications Group, Inc. Perlin Noise has become widely used in computer generated images (CGI), most notably to add realistic properties to particle systems in visual effects like fire, smoke and clouds. In 1997, Perlin was recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for this contribution to the technology of filmmaking. (2)
Please share your random masterpieces with me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Happy mouse pressing!
(1) Brownian Motion on Wiki, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brownian_motion
(2) Perlin Noise on Wiki, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perlin_noise
TUITION ON THE RISE:
The Greater Cost of Education in America
from 6 November 2009
As the first decade of the 21st century draws to a conclusion, the landscape of the near future comes into view with trends from recent history shedding light on an American society evolving before its own eyes. Yesterday, the nation was inundated by a financial crisis that left thousands unemployed and bankrupt. Today, America focuses on reforming a healthcare system leaving millions uninsured. Tomorrow, the country stands to confront an issue that may prove to be equally as impactful as those from the recent past. The cost of a college education continues to rise at an alarming rate and is certain to affect the future of America’s educational system and professional-labor force.
In 1975, the average yearly college tuition cost approximately $3,600. This figure ballooned to around $34,000 by 2009 (including fees, room and board, adjusted for inflation).1 Average tuition at four-year public institutions in the U.S. climbed 6.5 percent this year. Private schools, with an average published annual tuition slightly above $25,000, increased their tuition by an average of 4.4 percent for the 2009-2010 school year. This follows a twenty-year period in which the average college tuition doubled.2 Factors contributing to the tuition hikes include the expense of refining campus telecommunications infrastructure, increased maintenance costs, and decreased endowments in recent years. However, tuition and fees continue to grow faster than personal incomes, scholarship and grant awards. This exacerbates a perilous situation for individuals and families seeking a way to pay for college.
The U.S. Department of Education published in their annual report that applications to four-year institutions continued to increase in 2009, albeit at a slower rate. A deep pool of applicants all but guarantees students relying on financial aid to be selected against over time, leading toward a polarized, formally educated versus informally educated, young generation of Americans. As this trend continues, the educational dichotomy is likely to bleed through to the American social landscape, where informal and formal educations will be recognized as separate but equal methods of preparation for the 21st century professional-labor force.
Although federal student loan assistance increased this decade, non-federal loans have significantly curbed.3 A decrease in non-federal loans creates an additional socio-economic barrier for the ever-mounting number of applicants seeking a traditional higher education. A possible consequence of the prohibitive costs for the conventional, four-year formal course of study may be that young adults will pursue alternative learning opportunities like vocational training, armed forces service, two-year degrees, and certificate programs. More interestingly, because of the potential to reshape the American professional-labor force, is the prospect of curious young minds educating themselves in their home for the mere cost of a personal computer, broadband connection, and downloadable software. This scenario is more plausible with the increasing affordability and availability of distance learning programs and personal notebooks, or Netbooks.
Webinars, electronic textbooks and encyclopedias, university podcasts, webcasts, and a rapidly expanding list of online reference materials are providing individuals access to a lexicon of information that is limited only by the initiative of users. Of course, many universities already integrate an online component to supplement the in-class experience (i.e. Blackboard and eLibrary), but a promising model for a completely web-based formal learning environment appears to be emerging by the semester.
University of Phoenix, and other private universities offer an interactive Online Campus that enables students to work with each other, interact with an instructor, and advance toward a degree in over 100 subject fields. Since introduced in 1989, the Online Campus has almost singularly propelled its host institution toward the highest enrollment among degree-granting institutions in North America. With a total enrollment exceeding 165,000 students, University of Phoenix serves as a harbinger for what is to become the classroom of the near future. There are over 170 online degree-granting institutions offering degrees in more than 1,000 areas of study.4
The rising cost of college tuition in the United States may prove to be the driving force dramatically redefining the conventional method of earning higher education, and may reshape the academic setting in American society. Increasing varieties of online learning resources are becoming available to young adults. These tools are likely to equip the next generation with skills relevant to the professional-labor force of their time. Web-based learning has provided a substantial, relatively affordable alternative for the growing number of young Americans who continue to be priced-out of an on-campus higher education experience. The resulting class of “informally” educated young Americans are likely to be prepared for computer-based employment opportunities and careers in high-tech, electronic media, and telecommunications sectors. These consequences may not be the threat to America’s prosperity that those resulting from the financial and healthcare crises are. Nevertheless, continued rising tuition warrants serious attention before many more lose the option to attend an academic institute of their choice.
(1) US News & World Report: Best Colleges 2009, 2009
(2) The College Board: Economic Challenges Lead to Lower Non-tuition Revenues, 2009
(3) USA Today: Rising Costs Make Climb to Higher Education
(4) U.S. Department of Education: National Center for Education Statistics, 2006