Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Summer Writing Workshop at Mindport!

We are excited to announce a new addition to our summertime educational offerings: a week-long writing intensive with New York-based journalist and writer Whitney Wimbish.

This workshop is a chance for six women, ages 17 to 22, to practice the kind of work done in creative writing MFA programs in an encouraging and safe environment. Each student will write and polish a work of original prose and help their fellow writers to do the same. The class will include writing-workshop-style critiques in which students give and receive feedback – a component of virtually all creative writing academic programs across the country.

The class will be held at Mindport July 7 – July 11, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. each day. Writers will present their projects at a public reading on Saturday, July 12, which will be followed by a reception.

To apply, please pick up an application at the front desk at Mindport, or email Whitney at whitneyck@gmail.com. The cost of the class is $60; financial assistance is available.  Applications are due May 16th.  

Friday, April 4, 2014


One of Mindport’s least-noticed exhibits, but one with perhaps the strongest metaphoric message is the one pictured to the left, “Interdependence.”

It’s never surprised me that this exhibit doesn’t get much attention. For one thing its interactive aspects are subtle, and for another its metaphoric significance refers to a phenomenon which, in this country predominantly occurs below the level of awareness, namely interdependence. Simply put, this is the dependence of everything under the sun on everything else. This obliviousness might be expected in a culture that apparently reveres (its opposite) independence, and whose technology is based on a form of scientific study in which every object or phenomenon is typically studied independently of the context in which it occurs. It’s ironic to note, however, that truly independent non-conformists have a hard time in this country unless they invent new technology and make pots of money. Unfortunately such people end up with a lot of power and apparently little insight regarding the true effects of their innovations.

“Interdependence,” the exhibit, consists of a group of tiny magnets suspended on wires in such a way that they repel their neighbors, holding a separation from one-another of a little over an inch. A spotlight in the top of the pyramidal case casts shadows of the magnets on a sheet of ground glass, and a window in the bottom of the exhibits makes it possible to observe the magnets’ shadow movements when a visitor blows air against them by squeezing a rubber bulb. Even if the air strikes only one or two of the suspended magnets, their motion propagates through the whole group, setting them into an oscillatory jiggle that persists for several seconds.

A second feature of this exhibit, which a few people discover, is a means to move all the magnets at once by means of an external magnetic field. There’s a large coil of wire hidden in the base of the pyramid. A current flow can be directed through this coil by applying a finger to a small black sensor on the front of the Exhibit’s case. This causes the magnets to draw together just slightly, an effect that can be amplified by noting the natural frequency of their oscillation, then timing sensor touches to match it.

There’s a third feature that is sometimes difficult to bring into effect because it involves jogging the magnets with the exhibit’s rubber bulb until one of them hovers over a “Hall Effect” magnetic sensor near the back of the flock of magnets. If the switch marked “Feedback” is turned on, then it’s sometime possible to get the magnets to move continuously, triggered by the motion of one magnet over the Hall Effect sensor. The magnetic field of that magnet turns the sensor on and off, which flashes a red LED on the case, and simultaneously triggers the large coil whose fluctuating field in turn moves the magnets in a continuous rhythm.

The point of this exhibit is just what its name indicates, to demonstrate the principle of interdependence. This is to say, if you disturb one element of any system it disturbs all the rest. The implication is that everything around us effects everything else, and the effects are not always predictable.

A “system” can be almost any grouping of living things or dynamically related non-living things, such as machinery or electronic devices. Computers are a case in point. Anyone who has done troubleshooting on a car, a computer, or other mechanical system, if s/he’s at all successful, understands interdependence on that level. One malfunctioning component can undermine or affect the workings of the whole, often in unexpected ways.

Our most important blind spot regarding interdependence revolves around the ecology of the biological systems that support life on this planet, and around the social ecology of our human society. For example, past misguided wisdom has lead us to believe that when pests attack our crops, then spraying poison on the pest in question is an effective way of rectifying the problem. For a while, it works. Eventually, however, we discover that the pesticide is not only killing the pest in question, but is also wiping out organisms that live in the soil that may be beneficial to the crops we’re growing. It also might be wiping out the birds that prey on the problem pest and other pests that are, unbeknownst to us, controlled by the same birds. Sometimes the elimination of one organism that’s perceived to be a pest can lead to an infestation of other organisms kept in check by the one we’ve wiped out. All these organisms live in an interdependent web of associations, or an ecology.

It’s in the area of social systems that we most exhibit our obliviousness regarding the principle of interdependency. Having worked with various sorts of electronic technology most of my life, this is the area where, on a macro scale, I’m most conscious of that particular blind spot. It’s true that it can be nearly impossible to fully anticipate the social consequences of introducing a new technology, but the blind spot is demonstrated by the fact that there’s often very little serious discussion about it when such technology comes along. More often than not, promoters fill our ears with glowing promises regarding how the technology in question will cure all the world’s ills. Later it turns out that it brings a unique new set of ills with it, which cry for yet more technological solutions.

A new technology shakes up everything, just as a puff of air against one magnet in the Interdependence exhibit sets all the rest a-jiggling. Under some circumstances, when repairs on the Interdependence exhibit are being accomplished, the magnets can be stirred so much that they go nuts and start sticking to one-another willy-nilly. In the same way, new technologies can radically derange our whole social system. Consider how computers and automation have affected the job market and everything else in our lives, including enabling government and private corporations to spy on us to and extent and in ways we never dreamed possible.

While it can be difficult to fully anticipate how changes to systems will affect them, denying or not understanding the principle of interdependence vastly undermines our ability to cope with change. When new technologies come along, a rush to profit from them usually trumps any discussion about whether the technology might have undesirable side-effects, hence we’re woefully unprepared to deal with them in any rational manner when they occur. Ironically, one good place to look for thoughtful ideas about how new technologies might effect our future lives is in the field of science fiction writing.

When smaller-scale systems are considered, many people are only marginally conscious of interdependency effects. Where I’ve noticed this phenomenon most obviously is right here at Mindport. We’ve been in existence for nearly 19 years, and quite a number of employees have come and gone. Over that time those of us who have endured over long periods have become increasingly aware of how the problems of individual employees or the introduction of a new employee radically effects the culture of the whole group. After all this time, we’ve come to expect it. We can’t necessarily anticipate what effect the arrival or departure of a group member will have, but at least we’re prepared that there will be emotional consequences, often positive, but sometimes confusing, accruing from such changes of personnel. These fluctuation of emotional tides have taught all of us who work at Mindport a great deal about our own interdependence with our fellow workers and with our visitors as well.

Kevin Jones

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Riding the Rails

Railroad, Kenya, Africa, 1964
Even though coal trains and oil trains are currently giving trains a bad name, particularly for the young, my own emotional associations with them still attract my photographic eye. Trains, despite current and past sins, are still deeply embedded in American consciousness. During the era when I was growing up, the late 40s and the whole of the 50s, and before, trains were the way people got places. They ran fast, they ran on time, and one could count on comfort when taking a trip on one. Of course at some point in the 50s air travel and speed came to the fore, and the cachet of the passenger train began to fade. Freight started to take precedence over people, the trains became less reliable, less on time, and much slower.

Regardless of their fade into obscurity, some of us, at least those of us of more mature years, still harbor romantic memories of trains. In my case, even the rails without the trains attract my eye. . . something about the precision of shining, sometimes gracefully-curving steel, juxtaposed against dry grass sidings, converging into infinite distance, reminding us, even when surrounded by isolated and silent rural countryside, that civilization exists somewhere; but here, we’re alone.

Caboose, Bellingham, 2005
Our current exhibit in Mindport’s gallery features railroad photographs by Kevin Jones, and several examples of rare S-gauge model trains that have been collected by Mindport’s Exhibit Manager, Bill Lee. Please note that these trains are not currently operating.

Kevin Jones

Friday, January 31, 2014

Exhibit News

Our newest exhibit builder, Thor Myhre, has been busy in the shop working on a couple different exhibits. He originally set out to add another route to the Aerotrack, which uses air to blow ping-pong balls through transparent plastic tubing. (This excellent exhibit was originally developed by Jeremy Robinson, and has gone through a number of incarnations over its 16  year history at Mindport.)

Thor, in the process of working on Aerotrack, became intrigued with the basic theme of pneumatically driven ping-pong balls, and has embarked in a whole new direction. I won't spoil the anticipation by disclosing too much, but this exhibit involves using pressurized air to set balls dancing to adjustable rhythms. As you can see from the picture, it's grown into an octopus of tubing and dancing balls, which combo I've jokingly dubbed "ping-pong polka." A simpler version of this exhibit should be available for your delectation within the next few months as an experiment that will be added to and modified from time to time, according to our observations of its public interaction. Stay tuned for further news on this one.

We've had problems with the bicycle pumps that drive the air engine exhibit failing frequently, due to enthusiastic attention, mostly from young visitors. In fact we've gone through any number of these pumps, which cost over $100 each, so we're anxious to address this vulnerability. Bill Lee, our exhibit manager, has done extensive research on beefing them up, and may have a satisfactory solution in place soon. We have a couple other creative ideas for additions to the air engine. These will find their way onto the stage as we find time to implement them. As is always true with the creative work of exhibit building, ideas have a way of mutating as development proceeds, so that the idea we start with often ends up manifesting entirely differently than anticipated.  Hence my reluctance to inhibit exhibit builders by being too specific about their work in early stages of conception. It's much more interesting to leave the development process open ended until it settles on its own direction.

Kevin Jones

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

MoreOn Tools or Are We Dirt on the Carpet?

Surfacing a copper block
Every Monday several friends and I meet for lunch. Toward the end of our session today we got to talking about tools after one of us described the hell he's been going through in order to set up an on-line store for the small business he runs. Another of us, a machinist by trade, and I responded with a dialog about the trustworthiness of tools, real physical ones.. Both these discussions followed on the heels of another about electronic publishing, electronic books, and the fact that the next big thing is the sale of used electronic books. Talk about corporations usurping every opportunity for the "little guy" to earn a living!

The underlying theme of this conversation is the fact that the physical world is being vacuumed up by software and spewed forth in the non-physcial realm of cyber-space, controlled not by us, but by large corporations. Amazon, word has it, can swoop down and repossess books that you've purchased, and you have no say about it. Furthermore, they know everything about what you're reading, hence have a bird's eye view of what you're thinking. Our computers, which supposedly are our own property, really belong to "the man." Every day there's a new "update" to some program or another. Sometimes, when an update installs itself, features of programs change or disappear. Companies increasingly attempt to seduce us into running our software ("applications") or storing data "in the cloud," i.e. on their turf, instead of our own computer, which is presumably our turf. . . but isn't. I liken the relationship we have with, say, Microsoft to the relationship of our eyes to our brain. If you consider the brain to be Microsoft, and the eyes to be "personal" computers, those organs are essentially part of the brain, just as "our" computers are more part of Microsoft (and other providers of software) that they are property belonging to us. By extension, it's obvious that Microsoft and other such corporations own and structure a large part of our lives. What do we think about that?

We often refer to our computers and other electronic devices as tools. They may be tools, but whose tools are they? Microsoft's or ours? As our machinist cohort pointed out, by contrast physical tools are our friends. They actually belong to us and if we possess the requisite skills they'll do our bidding, help us fabricate what we need to fabricate, and they won't crash in the middle of an operation and cause whatever we're working on to evaporate into thin air.

In whose service does your computer really operate? Indeed, it does a few things you think you want to do, but it does them according to how the writer of software code structures them. Frequently the operating system does not do its job well, and furthermore it attracts intruders who can steal your money, credit card numbers and even your identity. Look closely and it becomes apparent that your computer is really a tool of companies like Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, or Verizon, along with a few criminals, and its most important purpose is to Hoover* up your money, your job, not to speak of depriving you of an ability to use your hands and mechanical skills, if you still have any.

My friend who's attempting to set up his on-line store described a group of on-line applications that are supposed to work together to allow prospective customers to browse his stock, create orders, and collect money. He's spent months at this, and is plagued by complete frustration. None of these tools seem to work together flawlessly, and frequently they don't work at all. No window pops up and informs him why they don't work, but they just don't. It's like purchasing an electric drill and discovering that the batteries don't fit, and that the bits rattle in the chuck because they were designed for a different drill, and the trigger hurts your finger so much that you can't hold it down long enough to finish drilling a hole. (Maybe the battery powered electric drill is a bad example to use. I've had a few issues with them, namely that there are three lying around my shop that no longer work because the rechargeable batteries have died and getting them replaced costs more than a new drill. What waste!)

You can enjoy drawing your own conclusions from this piece. Suffice to say, this system, under which we now limp, is making dull tools of us all. Time to wake up and take back our lives from the corporate Hoovers.

*You knew that the Hoover was a vacuum cleaner? Or is that awareness a generational thing?

Kevin Jones

Friday, December 6, 2013

Making Mail at Mindport

Lovely design work by Sean Echelbarger of Echelbarger Design

For awhile now, I've wondered if visitors would enjoy writing a note or letter during their visit to Mindport if all the materials were provided.  Carol and Thor - veterans of community art events - reassured me that tables with art supplies tend to attract people in most venues, so we decided to give it a try.

On a blustery Saturday a few weeks ago, docents Sarah and Fiona and I dragged a folding table and a suitcase full of postal supplies down to the exhibit floor, and the Mindport Mail Station was off and running.

For three hours, a steady stream of visitors - couples on dates, dads and kids, a whole family on a road trip from Canada to the States, even a mom and nursing infant- made their own stationery and postcards, wrote notes and letters, and figured out how to type on a mechanical typewriter.  "Jab it with your finger - kind of like you jab your brother," was heard at one point.

A number of letters and postcards were sent, and I think we all had a good time.  I certainly did.  What could be more satisfying for a snail mail enthusiast and USPS cheerleader than seeing people discuss and make mail!

The Mail Station is a bit too involved to have out on the floor ALL the time, but if you see this sign in the window, we're open and ready for business.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Introducing Thor Myhre

Zen Beacon by Thor Myhre
We're extremely excited to have sculptor Thor Myhre join Mindport's staff as Exhibit Designer & Maintenance Technician.  Thor brings with him technical expertise and ingenuity, a wide-ranging imagination, and a commitment to both his own art and to encouraging others to pursue their creative leanings -all of which make him a perfect match for Mindport.  Stop by now to see Thor's contributions to the Faces show, or in the coming months to try out some interesting additions he's making to the beloved and venerable Aerotrack.  In the meantime, here are Thor's interesting answers to some of my nosy questions. 

Where were you raised?  
I grew up on a farm in Montana, near a town so small Montanans haven't heard of it.

Did you always make things?  What were your earliest projects?  Did you take any art classes growing up?  
I made a lot of my own toys and birdhouses, but I always chose shop class over art class until I went to college.

What changed for you in college? 

I thought I wanted to be an architect or an engineer, but I realized that often those are desk jobs.  It dawned on me that artists both design and build objects.

What sorts of materials interest you?
I tend to collect and use older metal objects, things that were made when concern about the efficiency of mass producing an item didn't trump form and aesthetics as often as it does now.  Durability appeals to me, as does farm ingenuity - modifying what you have to build what you need.  When you live an hour's drive from good parts stores, you end up getting pretty creative, and I remember often returning from the dump with more than we dropped off.

How do you feel about rust?
I like rust.  I find it much more interesting and intricate than paint.  Rust is actually a way metal protects itself.

How many found objects do you have right now?
I have about a 20 ton collection squirreled away in various places - lots of old, curvy, rusty things.  I feel like we're saturated with rectilinear shapes in cities, so I collect a lot of objects from periods when designs featured more curves.  It's hard to see good things going to the dump, but I'm running out of room.

Was the need to divert things from the waste stream (and your yard!) part of the inspiration behind founding RARE (Recycled Art & Resource Expo)?
Yes.  But I also feel like some of the green movement tries to motivate by guilt, and I want to inspire people by showing the fun and creative side of conservation.  Bellingham has an unusual number of reuse events, and I figured if we worked together to create a large collaborative event, it would attract out of area visitors, money, and press.

What's one of the workshops you teach?
My class titled Junk has Soul: Sculpting with the Found Object offers a huge variety of interesting bits and different ways to connect them.  In part, it's about recognizing that with hours of human contact and use, a lot of tools and other parts are imbued with their own character, memory, or soul.   In general, I hope to ignite or feed a creative spark in students that they might access at other moments in their lives. 

What are you working on right now?  Where can people go locally to see some of your work?   
Right now I'm working on a public sculpture for downtown Anacortes and a gate for a community garden that’s a collaboration with members of a high school welding club.  Appliance Depot has a 10' tall figure made from stove burner grates under their sign on Marine drive.  I made a bike rack from stainless steel plumbing fittings at Chuckanut Brewery, and the Beach Store Cafe on Lummi Island has a rack made from farm and fishing implements.  This spring I installed a large one ton piece titled Satori in Fairhaven in an alley between 15th and 16th streets, just south of Taylor street.

That was fun.  Thanks, Thor!

For more about Thor or his work, visit his website,
check out this cool YouTube video,
or become a fan of his Facebook page
....and keep an eye out for Thor's work at Mindport.  

Satori by Thor Myhre
Chuckanut Bike Rack by Thor Myhre
Burner Man by Thor Myhre

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