32 Pigeons

i just realized i should not have thrown away my many failed casts

Earlier today I mentioned to Martha (the one who’s doing the plates) that things aren’t looking good for me because I’m having too many rejects. (“I don’t know. Maybe I’m trying to do something that’s really hard.”) And what did she say? She’s having lots of rejects too. “This is ceramics,” she quipped.

But throwing isn’t like this. I’ve never had so many rejects when I throw and I can even reclaim the clay if a piece turns out to be a reject, so long as it hasn’t been fired. But for my thesis MRP I find the number of failed casts simply staggering. I was mentioning to Danielle (I think) yesterday that I was starting to worry about running out of slip, even though I have been using the studio’s giant bucket of reclaimed slip instead of my own. At this rate I will very soon use up all the slip in there.

So a couple of hours ago a thought suddenly came upon me: What if I translated those damaged casts back into print? I even did a mental rundown of what I would do to the failed cast I was holding.

But obviously, I didn’t think too much about it, because right afterwards I just threw that failed cast into the trash can.

Then while I was on my way home I suddenly realized I should not have thrown away any of those casts because they can be repurposed as an installation. And—imagine my surprise—that would even be a very “32 Pigeons” installation.

Martha thought I was in Sculpture and Installation. I guess there’s a reason. Or maybe it was Martha’s guess that was what got my idea going.

random fantastical thought

A random fantastical thought literally just came upon me a few minutes ago: When I was in the studio earlier today I briefly contemplated making some slipcast bowls, so what if I went further and merged my thesis MRP with Empty Bowls?

I really don’t know how feasible that would be: This seems to be a lot of work for a “small scale experiment”, and there will probably be a ton of problems doing this for thesis MRP. But this will actually be a very “32 Pigeons” thing to do (that is, “any work we do must be in response to a real art call”), which is actually kind of cool—but odd, since 32 Pigeons has not been active for almost a year already.

Maybe the simple slipcast bowls will be the real “small scale experiment” (and if that works out I will attempt “blocking and casing” and then carving into the mould), and if that works out I’ll propose merging my thesis MRP with Empty Bowls.


How should we add alternative text for diagrams?

I’ve mentioned this before to people but never wrote it down: How should we even begin to handle graphs and diagrams? What is the “alt text” for a graph, a schematic, floor plan, infographic, or UML diagram?

Just consider this diagram:

(A UML diagram used for the discussion)

How should we even describe this as an “alt text”? (Let’s ignore text browser users for the moment.) Describing the picture certainly wouldn’t work; what matters are not the visual elements themselves, but their relationships to each other.

Even worse: Imagine this being exported into PDF (or SVG, or EPS), then embedded into InDesign. Suppose the InDesign file is going to ultimately end up as an accessible PDF. But the text in the diagram is going to be a jumbled mess. So what accessibility are we talking about? Are we deluding ourselves?

This has serious implications: Imagine, for example, a piece of online instructional material full of such diagrams. Under the AODA organizations are supposed to be able to supply this in an “accessible format.” What does it even mean for this to be accessible?



Bits of black plastic after keeping the installation turned on Wednesday night.

Old media requires lubrication

“Old media requires lubrication.”

This was one of the answers to the fake questionnaire I was given at Night Kitchen during last year’s Nuit Blanche. Back then the answer didn’t really make much sense to me, and in fact I thought the answer was bizarre. But of course, I hadn’t been involved in any “old media” creation that would have required lubrication.

Imagine how I felt when I had left the installation turned on for the night and then discovered bits of the sprocket wheel on the wooden frame. I was so glad the wheel had not been destroyed.

So I guess I can now sympathize with that answer to that fake question: Old media does require lubrication. It probably requires daily lubrication, even. But does that mean our installation, with such a strong electronics component, is still “old media”? So “new media” is virtual only? I don’t know if I can side with this conclusion, yet.

The non-obviousness that something is an installation

When people saw our Blind Reading installation, they often ask, “How does it work?”

The fact that the piece is an art installation and not a design artefact must not be obvious. Even the speeches alluded to results of design research (when there is, as far as I can tell, only one product design presentation in the whole exhibition). Even the official blog of the exhibition sounds as if they got it wrong and thought our art piece was a design artefact.

But at least the installation held up for the evening. (The realization that, other than the incorrect wiring, the root cause of our problem was mechanical in nature helped immensely.) People did ask, we tried to explain, and I hope we got our points across. I still fear Wednesday: I have never been on this side of the table at an artist’s talk before, and I have not gone to enough artist’s talks, but my consolation is that I will probably not be the one doing most of the talking.

Got in!

There were people inside working on their artwork, and I was able to get in. Hopefully this will not take more than 8 hours…

Time running out and still not sure what went wrong

One thing that we might have done wrong is to have connected a 3V stepper to the Adafruit motor shield and using a 5V supply. But on further investigation this might not be as simple as that.

According to the data sheet, the 57BYGH420 is a unipolar stepper. However, a page Google found suggests that 6-wire steppers can be connected either as a unipolar or bipolar motor. (It also tells me that our motor is a NEMA 23.) Indeed, according to Stepper Motor Connection Options on piclist.com this is indeed the case, and to be precise 6-wires can be connected either as unipolars or a “bipolar-series.”

What’s interesting is that what Angela did to the two centre taps was in fact correct (whereas Adafruit’s documentation is not): To configure a 6-wire stepper as a bipolar, the two centre taps should “not [be] connected to anything.” That is probably why when I tried connecting the centre taps to GND (as per Adafruit’s instructions), the motor stalled.

It is also worth noting that the page says that if we connect a 6-wire as a bipolar, we get twice the resistance than as rated and 4 times the inductance, and require 70.7% the current and 141.4% the voltage. Which would mean the 57BYGH420 as a bipolar would be actually a 4.23V motor at 1.414A. So it in fact needs a supply that can deliver approximately 5.43V. Our 5V supply is low, but not by so much. A 6V, but not a 9V, will probably do better.

The frustration of knowing something is not working

So apparently last night my Mac didn’t die; it’s just that the blinds were moving so slowly that the AJAX frontend thought the installation was not running.

But right now something really isn’t right: The last status message the web backend received was from 4:32pm. That was when I headed out to Active Surplus to buy some pulleys (which I never got to try installing because my professor was using the room when I came back. Sigh).

So, judging from that timestamp, I most likely had just forgotten to restart the python script. Or maybe the Mac really overheated this time, since the ssh process seems nowhere to be found either…

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