Thursday, December 23, 2010

Nipper Prints out his Wish List

“Nipper,” the RCA Victor dog, now visiting in Mindport's gallery window, was one of the most famous advertising icons of the early 20th century. Nipper (1884-1895), born in England, served as the model for a painting by Francis Barraud  titled His Late Master’s Voice (1898)

This image was based on an earlier photo of Nipper looking into and puzzling over the sounds coming from a phonograph.

We thank the American Museum of Radio and Electricity, right around the corner from Mindport, at 1312 Bay Street, for their gracious loan of this historic figure to grace our window. Be sure to drop by and visit them.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Looking Up

Winter in the Northwest is traditionally a time of clouds. Like bird watchers in the summer, we cloud watchers find our heyday during the season of storms and atmospheric ferment. In these days of economic disaster what better strategy for forgetting earthbound cares than to gaze toward the skies?

When I was in my Junior year of college, I was still undecided what I wanted to study. For a bit, I considered meteorology. After all, it's a field in which my father had been trained, and growing up under his tutelage I was kept informed of the collision of the fronts, the moist breath of the fog, the tower of the cumulus and the feathery loft of the cirrus. Nowadays my wife and I joke about the "upper level low-lying stratus deck." I never pursued meteorology academically, as it turned out.  I quickly discovered it was all math, a subject for which I'd never been enthusiastic. Math, after all, is only an artificial, secondary expression of the poetic forms expressed by the clouds. That's where the magic is for me.

So I became a cloud watcher and a cloud photographer. I know a little about the physics of weather and, from that perspective, why some clouds look the way they do. But I also believe cloud forms relate directly to emotion, that the flow and turbulence of the atmosphere parallel the flow and turbulence of water and furthermore, to patterns of mental process within our own psyche. After all, we are, in large part, fluid. Our physical motion is constrained by the same forces that move and constrain the atmospheric gasses and the motions of flowing water.  In the clouds we see dance. The experience of motion, modified by the forces of momentum, inertia and gravity lay the grounding structure in our consciousness for the later arrival of verbal language and thought. Consider also that from the earliest days of human existence, our survival must often have depended on an evolved intuitive ability to read the message written in the clouds.

In our culture, we speak derogatorily of someone whose "head is in the clouds." But angels sit on clouds, so why would we think less of someone whose head occupies the domain of the angels?

Kevin Jones

Thursday, November 11, 2010

"A Book About Noise"

I've just finished another book dealing with one of my pet gripes, noise: The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want: A Book About Noise, by Garret Keiser.  It approaches the subject from a perspective that has barely been touched upon by other books dealing with it, namely its social and economic implications. To me, Keiser's most important point is that there's a direct relationship between the amount of noise we encounter and economic inequality. He asserts that an egalitarian culture is a quiet culture, and vice-versa, an idea that I find intriguing because it leads my thinking on the subject of noise into a whole new realm.

Keiser points out a paradox, namely that anyone who objects to noise is often characterized as a crank, yet there's a premium associated with living in a quiet place. Which is to say, property values decline in the vicinity of airports, race car tracks, and freeways. Read the classified real estate ads and notice how often a home's  location in a "quiet neighborhood" is included as an important selling point. The implication of this paradox is that those who are most subject to noise are the most powerless. If you're poor, good luck at getting anyone to respond to your complaints about excess noise.

The word "noise" is itself open to interpretation. As Keiser notes, the general definition of noise is the sounds you don't want to hear. On Lummi Island, where I live, the sound of breezes stirring the leaves on a summer day is a sweet sound. On the other hand, the constant dull roar of a winter nor'easter becomes a maddening noise in quick order.  Being a water lover and a boat person, the sound of loud boats bothers me less than the continuous passage of propeller-driven aircraft overhead. The airplanes are an irritation, whereas the boats stir my nostalgia. They usually are not nearly as loud as the aircraft, either.

Keiser devotes a chapter to the subject of a Harley rally that he attended in the town of Sturgis, South Dakota. He said one thing that surprised him was the high level of politeness he observed amongst the riders present. One of them saw him standing by the street edge, actually stopped, and yelled over the roar of his vehicle, "Would you like to cross the street."

The beauty of the beast
Later in the book Keiser defines "silliness" as knowing perfectly well that something you're doing is wrong, or doesn't make sense, but you do it anyway. He uses the noise of the aforementioned motorcycle rally as an example. As I interpret his view, politeness of the crowd there can be understood as a compensatory act to distract from behavior that in most circles is unacceptable . Which is to say, you offend everyone within 100 yards with your racket, then act super polite. . . or raise money for charitable causes, as Harley clubs have been known to do, in order to defuse anyone's annoyance at your obvious transgression of normal standards of social consideration.

An example of this "silliness" from my own life similarly concerns the intrusive racket of loud motorcycles roaring up the hill next to my house. One day I observed a neighbor of mine mounting his "rig," and plugging earplugs into his ears before donning his cycle helmet. (This is an otherwise considerate, pleasant and public-spirited guy) I wanted to ask him, but didn't, "If you need ear plugs to handle the roar of the vehicle you're riding, why would you think your neighbors would enjoy it as you pass by? He knows that noise is annoying, can damage his hearing, or raise his (and your) blood pressure, and he knows it well enough to bother protecting himself, yet does not offer the same consideration to his neighbors. This, if I understand Keiser's view correctly, is "silliness," paralleling accusations mothers make of their kids when they do thoughtless things.

In case I've offended any motorcycle buffs, let me add that my driver's license carries a motorcycle endorsement, and I have nothing whatever against motorcycles in general or Harleys in particular, other than when their racket intrudes on my property and peace.

Absorbing Keiser's book took concentration on my part because he arrives at his conclusions by sometimes circuitous reasoning interjected at unexpected times with humorous asides. These would catch me off guard so that I needed to stop and think about whether that was a subtle dig or a straight statement. He's someone who obviously hates noise but is attempting to be fair and objective about it. (Personally, I don't even want to be fair, I want them to shut up!) But, it's a rewarding read, especially if you're a noise "crank." It opened my mind to aspects of the subject that heretofore have only lurked on the wings of my musings. If noise is an issue in your life, or you'd just enjoy a new perspective on it, give this book a try.

Kevin Jones

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Island Quilters

The latest work of The Island Quilters opens tonight in Mindport's gallery and runs until December 31th. These three women from Lummi Island have been meeting together to share ideas and humor since 2004. Their last show in Mindport's gallery, in 2006, was great success and we're most happy to have our space graced once again by the cheering colors of their newest efforts.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

What We're Reading Now

Sometimes books come along that, like a wise, sympathetic, and inspiring friend, let you know you are not alone in your beliefs, preferences, or habits.  Open the cover, read a few lines, and suddenly you’re part of a collective rather than being a loner.  Jennie Hinchcliff and Carolee Gilligan Wheeler’s book Good Mail Day: A Primer for Making Eye-Popping Postal Art has been the most recent of my “good friend” books.* 

More than a year ago, frustrated with the mass audience of facebook, I tried to renew letter-writing relationships with far flung friends and family.  It was slow going, and I began to wonder if a need to send and receive letters was just another strange quirk, like not liking the feel of wood decking on bare feet, or believing there is such a thing as “too sweet.”  However, just as I was waning in my commitment to the post, Good Mail Day appeared to cheer me on and reassure me that a small, dedicated, and sane (or at least not any weirder than anyone else) group of people still communicate through the mail.  

Good Mail Day has kept me writing to friends (new and old) and family, and it’s also inspired me to start making mail art.**  My husband says he’s noticed that I am cheerier and more focused since I decided to keep the computer screen dark at night and turn my attention to pen, paper, scissors, glue, and stamps.  So here's to the authors, my pen pals, and the USPS.   

 Envelopes/postcards (clockwise from upper left) by: Carolee W. of SF, Kevin J. of Lummi Island, Pamela G. of SF (center and lower right), Stephanie B. of NYC, and Bryan K. of Long Beach

*Other fairly recent books on the “good friend” list include The Introvert Advantage: How to Survive in an Extroverted World by Marti Olson Laney and Thomas Moore’s A Life at Work: The Joy of Discovering What You Were Born to Do.  

**Mail art is a decades-long tradition comprised of an interesting and egalitarian network of folks sending art through the mail. 

-T. Jones

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Organ Progress

Here's the organ set up on sawhorses in my shop at home, where I construct most of my exhibits for Mindport. The cover is off the keyboard console and in the process of being varnished. On the floor, just to the right of the organ is the blower box, which includes an air pressure regulator. This keeps the pressure to the pipes more or less constant no matter how many keys are pressed. On top of the box is an air filter (the round black thing) to keep dust and debris out of the organ's valves and pipes. That black hose going into the right side of the keyboard console is the main air hose, bringing air from the blower/regulator to the "wind chest" where all the key valves reside. The smaller hoses from the valves are now all connected to the pipes, which I've temporarily tuned up. A couple valves had to be revamped because they leaked, but everything seems to work OK  now, and I've even been hacking out a few tunes with my very inadequate keyboard skills.

Next job is to install set screws on the tuning slides at the top of the pipes so they can be locked in position once they're set to the correct pitch. At the moment, the slides are held in position with tape. Installing the set screws involves drilling holes in the slides, tapping them, and screwing in set screws with locking nuts. This job that will be done concurrently with applying oil finish to the pipes, which all will take a couple days. The final task is to design and construct a table to hold The pipes and the keyboard console. Then the organ will be ready for its public debut.

Kevin Jones

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Waste Stream

In Cairo, Egypt, an under-recognized group called the Zaballeen have been responsible over the last hundred years or more for the city's garbage collection. Not only do they collect from door to door, but they recycle 80 percent of the garbage they process, recapturing materials such a plastic, fiber, and metals to be sold within their own country and exported to Europe.

The lives of this remarkable group are explored in a documentary film by Mai Iskander, called Garbage Dreams. In watching it, I marveled at the creativity and ingenuity of these people, who live under marginal conditions in a slum area of Cairo. They've set up a safe recycling school for their youngsters and even sent a couple of them to study the recycling industry in Wales, where, as it happens, only 27 per cent of the refuse collected is actually recycled. The country is striving to raise the percentage another ten per cent in the future. If so, they'll still be far behind to 80 per cent claimed by the Zaballeen, who manage it with human labor and  extremely primitive equipment.

The down side of the Zaballeen's story is the fact that they're considered to be what might be known as in India as "untouchables." They tend to be shunned and their essential contribution to society has been locally ignored. Consequently, the powers-that-be in Cairo, anxious for the city to be viewed as "world class," have contracted with foreign-based companies to collect the city's refuse. No effort is apparently made by these companies to recycle. Instead, the trash is buried in a desert landfill.

The film set me thinking about the generally low status accorded to those who deal with our trash and our sewage, despite both functions being essential to our comfortable survival. I speculate that this is due to the fact that in a consumption-based culture, we can't afford to notice either where our plenty comes from, or where it goes when we're done with it. To blindly consume without fear of guilt or consequence, we must believe that it magically appears on our store shelves, then just as quickly evaporates into thin air once we've used it up or grown tired of it.

I urge you to see this film. It's reviewed on Netflix, but not currently available there. For readers local to this area, you can find it across the street from Mindport at Film-is-Truth.

Kevin Jones

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Invasion of the Mindsnatchers

I'm reading a book that gives voice to many of my own misgivings about computers and the Internet: The Shallows- What the Internet is Doing to our Brains, by Nicholas Carr. Back in 1964, Marshall McLuhan warned us that "The Medium is the Message," which is to say that the media we use to express ourselves carry their own strong message, of which we may not be conscious. In other words, the means by which the communication is presented affects what we're able to be aware of and how we think. Carr argues that despite the access the Internet gives us to information, it may not be making us smarter, and it likely is having a deleterious affect on our ability to think clearly or deeply, and even to read.

Periodically my own preoccupation with the subject of computers, the Internet, and their effects on us inspires yet another rant on that subject. Carr's book confirms much of what I've noticed myself in my daily wandering on the web, namely how it fosters a condition that I term "infoblitz," a consequence of the flood of information, much of it that we don't even want, that assaults us any time we visit almost any website. As such web composition tools as Javascript become more sophisticated, so do the assaults. Have you encountered those ads that pop up right in the middle of the text you're reading and then follow you down the page until you either click on them or manually close them? It's no wonder that our ability to think coherently is suffering.

I notice now that practically every commercial website I visit carries the message, "Follow us on Facebook or Twitter." My reaction is, why would I want to follow you? If I need something you sell, then I'll visit your site and buy it. I've categorically rebelled against Facebook, Twitter, and even Flickr. There was a time when I was quite active on, which was (and presumably still is) a kind of photographic social networking site. Eventually it was taken over by teenagers from Brazil. At that point, I vacated to Flickr, which seemed to be the favored site of more serious photographers. But my interest has lagged. One reason for this is that the nature of the Internet medium dictates to a large degree what sort of pictures do well when posted on Flickr's pages. I find my eye being attracted to what know will be noticed, then neglecting everything else. This is how the "message of the medium" asserts itself.

Flickr is a more complex site than was Fotolog, with many more social options. Increasingly, I'm finding that I just can't be bothered to indulge in the social networking aspect of the site. there are too many options. Exercising them all can come to rule your life. I'd rather spend my time building exhibits for Mindport, reading, writing, or even watching movies. This has become my reaction to the Internet in general. My interest in "Doomer" sites, concerned with economic and societal collapse is waning, not because I don't believe we're in deep trouble, but because I question whether there's any point in being preoccupied with it. I have enough information on that subject, thank you all the same. Yes, I still glance at the headlines, but the advertising and an infinite number of other annoyances associated with computers and the web have become so overwhelming that the rewards have diminished to nearly zero.

One of the effects of the Internet medium that Carr discusses in his book is its tendency not only to truncate our reading, but to actually diminish our ability to concentrate on long passages. He cites research indicating that visits to any particular  page on the web run to less than a minute, and often only a few seconds. Data about this blog from Sitemeter bear that out. In fact, you probably haven't even read this far, so why do I even bother to carry on? Well, because I write these entries more to discover what I'm thinking, than for any other reason. If I were writing according to what the experts have determined is the best style for the Web, I wouldn't be writing at all.

Just now, a window pops up telling me that Mindport has one new message from an electronics supplier. It pops up right on top of where the cursor rests, interrupting my writing and my flow of thought . I can't get the window to close. Is it any wonder that I increasingly dream of the day when I can abandon computers altogether and live a normal life like I did twenty years ago? As it stands, I reverted to writing in my personal journal with pen on paper. For some time, I attempted my journal writing via computer, thinking how it would simplify life when I wanted to search for the date of some detail in the past. But I abandoned it, and not on principle, but because I found manual writing a more satisfactory way to keep a journal than was keyboarding. It's such a pleasure to be able to alternately mull and scribble with no message popping up telling me the battery is getting low, or that Microsoft wants to download its one-hundredth update to Windows XP, or that the word-processing program with which I'm writing wants me to upgrade to a new version that will probably require me to learn all over how to use it.

Kevin Jones

Friday, August 27, 2010

Can you hear me now?

Drop by our gallery window and view AnMorgan Curry's latest work, this time on the subject of the cell phone revolution. Have you ever noticed how cell phones perfectly resemble the ideal skipping stone?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Photography as Meditation

What IS meditation, anyway? It's a term bandied about, applied to many areas of endeavor, but, aside from specific forms, such as Transcendental Meditation (TM) it's a term that has a way of floating around and lighting on seemingly unrelated things like a wilting helium balloon.

I've practiced a couple formally-taught types of meditation myself. Such formal practices don't pin down all the mental processes to which the term might be applied. Upon contemplating the idea, I think a good blanket way of defining meditation is simply that it's a process of mindfully paying attention. By mindful, I mean learning to consciously note where your mind is going. The Buddhists speak of "monkey mind," which refers to the way that the mind has a way of drifting off in all directions, hardly controllable at all. Some forms of meditation involve noticing when the mind has drifted off, then pulling it back to focus on one thing, which can be an internally-repeated sound (mantra), on body sensations, or on something in the visual field, such as a candle flame. 

For many years I've enjoyed the practice of photography. I refer to it here both as practice, in the sense of simply doing it, but also in the sense of meditative practice, which is doing photography while paying conscious attention to where it takes me and where I take it.

There was a time when I considered the possibility of a career as a professional photographer. From present perspective, I feel very fortunate not to have taken that path, because it's left me free to photograph whatever I want or not to photograph at all if I'm not moved to do so. It's been interesting to notice where photography has taken me over the nearly sixty years that I've been shooting photos.

Having just written that phrase "shooting photos" brings me to an area of photographic awareness that only came to consciousness for me within the last two years. Somewhere on the web I encountered an essay about photography in which the writer pointed out that we use many terms of aggression when we describe the process of recording photos. We take, shoot, capture, grab, catch, snap, or steal, photos, to name a few examples. Ads in photo magazines often picture photographers using cameras with long, phallic-looking telephoto lenses, or they represent photographic subject matter with images that emphasize the giant staring-eye quality of a camera lens.

The essay set me to thinking about my own relationship to photography. Never having been forced by professional necessity to photograph anything in particular, or to photograph at all, I realized that most of the time photos actually capture me. I'll be walking along and the subject of a photo kinda clicks into view, which sends me reaching for my camera. At times I'll actively stalk photos, but even in that case, it involves walking around with camera in hand and no specific ideas, waiting to be grabbed by something.

Part of what makes photography a meditative pursuit for me is that it encourages me to pay attention to what grabs me.

Approaching the meditative aspect of photography from another direction, I believe it's useful to discuss what I view as the most important aspects of shooting arresting images. Or maybe it would be better to say, the most important qualities of mind and vision to cultivate in order to be arrested by scenes that capture attention.

Years ago I took a couple quarters of photography courses at the University of Colorado. My teacher, Charles Roitz used to talk about photos with a quality of "otherness." It took me years before I began to understand what that meant.

In practicing meditative photography I gradually learned two important and mutually allied skills, which extend to many other areas of life beside photography. One is learning to see the whole frame at once, and the second is learning to stop naming things.

Conventionally, when we "shoot" photos, the tendency is to take a picture of something, some named object: "Here's a picture of my car, my mother, my house, the rose in the garden," etc. We frame things, i.e. pick a named thing, put a frame around it, and call it a rose. The truth is, a photo is a pattern of color, light, and dark on a piece of paper. In a picture of a rose, there's a rose, then there's all the things around the rose, including the things that are outside the frame. If you stop naming the rose, see it as a blob of color and pattern, and let it fit into all the color and pattern around it, the subject of the image may become something other and quite possibly more interesting than what you expect. You might not even be able to name it because it's a feeling quality or something completely inexpressible, except as its own expression.

Similarly, in ordinary life we often trip ourselves up by naming something, stuffing it into a box, mentally speaking, then not noticing how it fits the big picture of all the things going on around it. To give an example, which happens to be uppermost in my mind in these times of economic disaster, a tendency in our culture has been to focus on the "bottom line" to the exclusion of all else. We've generally come to judge transactions by whether or not they make a profit for someone, with no consideration as to the effect the transaction has on the people involved or anyone else in proximity. It's a destructive and limiting way of living.

Hence, I assert that photography, practiced mindfully, can teach us many important lessons about ourselves and life, perhaps one of the most important being to become more sensitive to where our own feelings and interests carry us, rather than allowing ourselves to be seduced by ideas of what may currently be "cool" or acceptable.

Suggested reading: The Tao of Photography: Seeing Beyond Seeing  by Philippe L. Gross and S.I. Shapiro
For more photos see my Flickr site

Kevin Jones

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Information Overload

There's a useful editorial by Mark Morford on the SFGate website this morning, discussing a subject I've thought a great deal about lately, namely information overload. Morford comes at the subject from a particular direction, upon which he pins the acronym "FOMO," or Fear of Missing Out. By coincidence, John Michael Greer, on his Archdruid Report  website (July 28, 2010 entry) touched on the same subject with a discussion about what information IS. He quotes Gregory Bateson thus: information is "a difference that makes a difference."

In contemplating the subject of information myself, I came up with the following definition: "Information is guidance." The hidden implication of that definition is that floods of information are useless unless they inform something, i.e. you gotta have an idea about where you're going in order for information to be of any use to you. If you're prone to randomly surfing the web, eyes glazed, sliding down breaking waves of raw data, chances are you'll find something that catches your eye here and there, and you'll while away hours tripping through a maze of links leading to who-knows-where. Before you know it, it's dinnertime, you're exhausted by the flood, and, after dinner can hardly muster the energy to watch a movie, much less to spend a couple hours reading a book.

Twitter and Facebook are probably the worst tweakers of Morford's FOMO syndrome. Has anyone organized Facebooker's Anonymous yet? From all I read, it seems like a ripe time for it. Nearly every business site I visit sports a logo somewhere: "Follow us on Facebook." "Follow us on Twitter." Thanks, but why should I want to? What will I be missing if I don't bother?

For a short time Mindport appeared on Facebook. We shut down our Facebook page after a few weeks because nobody wanted to keep thinking up trivial new nothings to post on it. As it stands, our blog postings demand a couple hours of thought and energy from one of us every week or two. I figure, if you're going to post something, it might as well be something that you put enough energy into to make it worth your reader's time.

Once I'd defined information as guidance, it clarified my relationship to the Web and alleviated the problem of information overload. You can surf the web out of boredom, looking for diversion. It can provide that for hours at a time, but what are you left with when you're done? Mostly fatigue. On the other hand, if you go at it with the idea in mind that information is guidance, then ask yourself the obvious question is, "guidance for what?" Or if you ask, "where do I want to be guided?" it lends focus to one's relationship with the Internet.  In other words, in order not to become a victim of info-blitz, it's helpful to approach the Web with filters in place, with intention in mind. For me, the process of determining a direction is best accomplished off-line, by paying mindful attention to my own internal workings. That leads to approaching the web in a similar spirit, with a focus on my own center rather than indulging in a diffuse tumble, eyes glazed, over undifferentiated waves of data.

Kevin Jones

Friday, July 16, 2010

A Plea for Silence

It's been almost two weeks since the Fourth of July holiday, yet loud explosions still rent the silence every evening, echoing across the mile of water between my home on Lummi Island and the Lummi Indian Reservation to the northeast of us. During the day, especially on weekends, motorcycles, some seeming not to be fitted with mufflers at all, roar up and down the hill in front of my house. Other times,  I'm treated to a constant background symphony of chain saws, weed eaters, lawn mowers, aircraft, and passing cars broadcasting booming bass notes from their open windows, sometimes audible from a half-mile away.

Why should I care? It's because I don't have earlids. The racket comes through whether I want to hear it or not. In an era obsessed with "property rights," I seem not to be permitted to enjoy the natural sounds emitted by the creatures on my property, the sounds of waves washing over the beach below my house, or even a conversation in my back yard, without interference from other people's noise.

When I was a kid my mother used to comment that so-and-so was making so much noise she couldn't hear herself think. Some might argue that this is just a figure of speech. . . but is it really? Maybe there's something to the idea that our thought processes cannot go on properly when interrupted by a constant cacophony of racket. Studies have proven that noise has a deleterious effect on our immune systems, on blood pressure, and generally increases our stress level. And this is true whether we're conscious of the noise or not. Our bodies react negatively to noise even when we're asleep.

Gordon Hempton, a well-known professional sound recordist who makes his home on the Olympic Peninsula, has written a book, in company with co-author John Grossman, on the subject of noise, or rather silence, which I heartily recommend to your attention: One Square Inch of Silence: One Man's Quest to Preserve Quiet. Hempton advocates preserving silence at a special spot within the Olympic National Park, the implication being that it will effectively control sound over a large surrounding area. The book is mostly an account of Hempton's pilgrimage in a VW van to Washington D.C. to meet with various government officials in order to convince them that the preservation of silence in at least one place in the United States is a worthwhile goal.

For me, the most interesting part of Hempton's book is the record of his progress across the U.S., with camping stops at a number of places I've visited myself, the most notable being the Red Rock country of Southeastern Utah. When I first visited there forty years ago, it was a quiet place indeed, probably one of the quietest places I'd ever visited. Nowadays the silence there is shattered by off-road vehicles, tourist fly-overs, and high altitude passages of jet aircraft. Hempton's comments about the impact of excess noise on these places is highly vindicating to me. Sometimes the campaign against noise has seemed like a lonely one, and it's good to know that there are others who fight this battle as well.

Hempton does a far more thorough job of making the case for silence in his book than I'm able to in this short blog entry. But I do encourage you to pay more attention to the sounds around you and the sort of impact they make on your consciousness. It's been my experience that anyone who objects to noise tends to be branded as a crank. The ability to endure noise without complaint seems to be a badge of manliness for some, to the point that I've become reluctant to object to rackets any longer, since it frequently has little or no effect, and usually creates more tension than it alleviates. My solution is to retreat behind a high-quality pair of noise-canceling headphones and listen to the nature recordings of Gordon Hempton and other sound recordists, many of whom can be discovered by searching for "Nature Sounds" on such sources as

Outside of Gordon Hempton, one source of such sounds I especially recommend is Listening Earth - the website of Andrew Skeoch, sound recordist and Sara Koschak, photographer. They specialize in the sounds of the Australian bush, and other recordings made on their world travels. I recommend them because they document their work beautifully with both text and Koschak's fine photography. Also, they maintain a blog, complete with sound samples, which allows you to vicariously accompany them on their travels.

Check on my book list for references to "sound" for more suggested reading on the subject.

Kevin Jones

Friday, July 9, 2010

Big Problem

                                                     AnMorgan Curry

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Contemplating the Exploratorium

I've been reading K.C. Cole's, Something Incredibly Wonderful Happens: Frank Oppenheimer and the World He Made Up. Oppenheimer was the founder of the Exploratorium, a San Francisco institution devoted to the exhibition of art and science.  The book makes for absorbing reading, both because I admire the Exploratorium and because I met Frank Oppenheimer a couple times, mostly through having been friends with his son, Michael for over 40 years. (Michael contributed our "LightWriter" exhibit.)

In my introduction to Mindport on the home page of our website, I mention the Exploratorium as having been one inspiration for Mindport. In reading Cole's book, I was intrigued to discover that some of Frank's stated intentions when he started the Exploratorium were startlingly similar to many of the ideas that we discussed when Joe Edwards, Robin Burnett (both since moved on to greener pastures), and I were forming the nascent Mindport in 1995. On one hand, I regret that I never had much conversation with Frank, but on the other, maybe it's well that I didn't, because he was a powerful personality and his influence might have derailed me from my own direction.

Michael Oppenheimer and I met in mid-60s, the two of us then employed as technicians at the University of Colorado, Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP). He and I have done a great deal of talking about our childhood experiences, museums and education. He has worked for the Exploratorium and for a number of exploration-style museums in various parts of the country. Our mutual experience in this area over the years has provided endless material for discussion, and has no doubt had its influence on Mindport.

Ultimately, reading Cole's book led me to a re-examination of Mindport, born of very similar intentions to those which led to the Exploratorium. It interested me that the two organizations have evolved into radically different sorts of places, and I found myself once again curiously contemplating what Mindport has become, how we got here, where we might go in the future. . . and why.

One important factor that brought about the divergence of Mindport's evolution from that of the Exploratorium is the matter of scale. The Exploratorium's floor space is something on the order of 100,000 square feet, as compared to about 2500 here at Mindport. Our budget is correspondingly smaller, and our staff of eight is a mere fraction of the number or people (over 300) involved in the operation of the Exploratorium. Now and then, someone advocates the expansion of Mindport. My response is that I have no desire for Mindport to become bigger, that a staff of eight is about the largest size that can maintain truly personal relationships amongst themselves. This "small is beautiful" philosophy is crucially responsible for the congenial flavor of Mindport's public persona.

I haven't visited the Exploratorium for many years, but Cole's book confirms my impression that it's become increasingly focused on demonstrating particular scientific principles and exploring the science behind human aesthetic sense. It certainly seemed that way the last time I visited, which was about ten years ago. At Mindport, we've de-emphasized science instruction, per se, mostly because we find exploring WHY art affects us less interesting personally than the emotions and ideas good art actually succeeds in communicating. Personally, I don't care to analyse the mechanics excessively because it defuses the magic of the expression.

The Exploratorium is a huge and busy hall, situated in the hanger-like Palace of Fine Arts. While we both share in common that we characterize ourselves specifically as a place for all ages, at Mindport we take much different attitudes toward young visitors. Frank Oppenheimer believed children should be allowed absolutely free reign. If they broke things, his attitude was that it was the staff's job to fix them and make them stronger. Whether the Exploratorium still fosters the degree of "wildness" that it once did is unknown to me. However, at Mindport we discovered very early on that youthful energy is best kept contained in our own setting. In contrast to the Exploratorium, we are a tiny place, with a relatively minuscule budget, and the damage caused by "wild" behavior stretches our ability to keep up with repairs. Hence, out of necessity, we've come to regard Mindport as a quiet retreat, radically different than the sort of large-scale, high-profile operation personified by the Exploratorium. After long experience with children, sensory-overload, and hyperactivity, we're convinced that children need structure and to be taught a degree of restraint, both for their own happiness and that of those with whom they associate. We also emphasize specifically the importance of respecting other people's creative work. The Exploratorium under Oppenheimer apparently focused more on the content of the exhibits rather than their identity as pieces of creative work by individual artists, which is probably appropriate for an organization so much larger than ours.

The Exploratorium does admirable work, and it does it for a huge number of people. Having at one time felt overshadowed by such an example, especially since it initially served as an inspiration, I've been moved to examine the factors that influenced our evolution toward such different ends. To me, the ways in which the evolution of both living things and human institutions respond to environmental factors is fascinating to examine, especially since such factors are often discounted or not noticed at all.

As for the future, we're considering taking a more active role in education, much as the Exploratorium has all along. But our educational focus will necessarily be different, oriented toward a contemplative and holistic view of reality, rather than paying attention mostly to scientific disciplines. We're still discussing what specific form this program will take. Check the blog later on for further updates on this subject.
Kevin Jones

Friday, June 11, 2010

Old Mail

A postcard written by M.L. and mailed to Mr. Richard Metzger, postmarked September 24th, 6:30 pm, 1908.  M.L. hopes that Mr. Metzger is "catching lots of rats and are making money" and wonders how Mr. Metzger and "Edward divide them."  Hmm.  

I've been thinking about correspondence - particularly letter-writing - fairly often during the last couple of   years.  Many of the friends with whom I used to correspond by letter have turned to e-mail, Facebook, and the phone (a triumverate I term "the dark side" in gloomier moments), and I've been puzzling out my feelings about this change in media.  Why do I feel so sad that my friends don't write anymore?  Why do I still prefer letters to anything else and persist in writing them?  How does a letter writing relationship differ from one based on the phone or e-mail or Facebook?  What does the trend away from letter writing say about current culture, and dictate how historians of the future might "read" us?

I'm hoping to explore some of these questions in an exhibit at MP in the coming months, but in the meantime, here's an interesting article on friendship and Facebook.  If you have any thoughts about any of the above that you'd like to share, please comment here or send me an e-mail (tjones at mindport dot org) or letter!  I'd be delighted to hear them. 

     Faux Friendship by William Deresiewicz. 

T. Jones

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Pipe Organ Progress Report

A few entries ago we posted news about the pipe organ that I'm presently building in my shop at home, where I built all the exhibits I contribute to Mindport.

Things are moving forward slowly. All 32 pipes are finished and laid out on the floor, more or less in the pattern they will be finally mounted. They'll be spaced out wider than you see them here, and mounted in two tiers, since their tone is affected by anything spaced too close to them.

Presently I'm working on the keyboard. Initially I'd intended to build all the keys from scratch, but after building the first key I thought- there must be a better way. So I went searching on eBay and came up with a set of keys salvaged from an 1888 vintage Weaver Organ, made by a now-defunct company that was originally based in York, PA. The set cost me $50 and will save literally weeks of work. Well worth the investment. Here's a picture of the inscription on one of the keys:

Still, the keyboard is proving to be a challenge. Devising a mounting scheme and installing the keys requires quite a degree of precision in order to get the spacing and alignment even. To add to the challenge, the keys are not perfectly uniform, so they'll need to be fudged a bit by sanding them here and there, and bending the pins that hold them in position once they're all in place.

The keys will be mounted on top of an airtight pressurized box, the "wind chest." Inside will be 32 "flapper valves" connected by thin wires to the ends of the keys. When you press a key, it lifts a small piece of wood from atop a hole leading to a tube, through which the pressurized air then flows to the appropriate pipe. In the photo below, all the white keys are mounted and now it remains to repeat the process with the black ones.

Of course the pressure in the wind chest has to stay constant no matter how many pipes are sounding, otherwise the tones would not be consistent, since the pitch and timbre change slightly according to pressure. Hence a device is necessary to accomplish that end. The air that drives the organ will be supplied by a blower whose output is funneled into a pressure regulator consisting of a diaphragm and a valve. As the pressure in the wind chest decreases with more pipes sounding, the diaphragm actuates a valve allowing more air to be admitted from the blower to compensate.

There's quite a bit to do yet on this project. As with nearly everything I build, the job turns out to be bigger than I anticipated. I'm glad that I opted to keep this instrument of minimal size, with only 32 notes. Once I do 32 of any part I'm grateful not to face another dozen or so. Also, as the notes become lower in pitch, the pipes become so large that they require a lot of expensive maple, not to speak of becoming physically unwieldy to build in my very small workspace. As you go farther up the scale, the pipes require more and more precision in order to arrive at proper pitch. So this is an optimum range for an instrument if it's required to be of manageable size and cost.

It's probably fortunate that previous to starting such projects I keep myself in denial about what will be involved. Otherwise it I might think twice about starting at all!

Kevin Jones

Friday, May 14, 2010

In Praise of Poetry

Canned Peaches for Snack; 360; Legos; My Room; Too Short a Ride; The Squid; Orange; Parking Lot; Crushed; Madre Mia; No; Short Sexy Season; Flight, and 413 others.  Paper, ink.  Various dimensions.  

 Our front window currently houses all 426 entries from this year's Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest.  As I come in to work, I stop and read a few poems before heading up the stairs.  It's heartening to imagine all 426 individuals taking the time to craft these small windows into a moment, a place, a feeling, a person- and then offering them to us freely. 

Look for the winning poems from the 2010 contest inside WTA buses, and outside the walk leading to the library.  Poetry Walk, a collection of the winning poems from the past five years, is on sale at Village Books.  Proceeds help insure the longevity of the Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest.

Judging for the 2011 contest will begin next March, so now's the perfect time to get writing!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Quote of the Day

"This often happens in math and the sciences - problems that you solve for aesthetic value only, to create something beautiful- turn out to have an application in the real world.  As weird and surprising at it may sound, origami may someday save a life." 
-Robert Lang, origami pioneer

It turns out that some of the same folding technology used to create objects like this:

...can also be used to create heart stents, airbags, and enormous telescopes.

To hear Robert Lang explain how math and engineering principles are being used to create new kinds of origami click here.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Tetrahedra* Are Us

From this:

To this: 

On one of his forays through Western Washington University's library, Exhibits Manager Bill Lee happened upon a series of books by Bradford Hansen-Smith.  (Hansen-Smith explores folding the circle with a passion and determination I doubt is matched by many others and has created a number of texts that provide instructions for creating an array of fascinating objects.)  Being a math enthusiast, Bill checked out one of Hansen-Smith's books and brought it to Mindport, leading a group folding effort that has resulted in the pyramid pictured above and a few more like it.  For now, the folding continues up in the offices, but ultimately we expect to have a finished exhibit down on the floor.  

If you're interested in exploring the folding of the circle before then, see Bradford Hansen-Smith's website

*A tetrahedron is a kind of polyhedron and is one of the five Platonic solids.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Get Your Creature On

Our current window features the froggy pictured above, a lovely wearable sculpture created by Mindport staff member Carol Oberton for the Bellingham Procession of the Species, a parade celebrating creativity, community, and our connection with nature.

It’s April 2, which means that Bellingham’s Seventh Annual Procession of the Species is now less than a month away.

Carol, one of the creative prompters of the Bellingham Procession from its inception in 2004, has been showing up at Mindport lately with large insect heads constructed from old plastic take-out containers, plumbing bits she’s found in the recycling bins here, and cast-off black mesh.  If you’re bored with staff meetings, try having someone come with an oversized beetle head for everyone to try on.  Works wonders!  (Actually, we are never really bored in Mindport staff meetings – it’s the only time most of us are in the building in the same time, and we have a good time checking in with each other.) 

Anyhow, Carol, who’s been both amphibious and crustaceous in the parade, and the rest of the Procession collaborators invite everyone to join in the fun.  There are Procession workshops every Saturday in April to help you get ideas for and construct banners, creepy creatures, stroller beasts, heads, tails, masks, BIG puppets, and the like.  The workshops are held at the Environmental Learning Center, 514 West Holly and are free and open to all.  Since there are only three simple rules to follow: no motorized vehicles, no live animals, and no words written or spoken, you can really let your imagination go.  Check out the Procession web site for more details: 

Once you’ve got yourself ready, just line up Saturday, May 1 at 3:30 behind the library.  You’ll march through the streets with your fellow creatures and wind up at the ending celebration held in Maritime Heritage Park.  We’ll see you there. 

The Bellingham Procession of the Species is a collaboration of the City of Bellingham Parks and Recreation Department and Start Here Community Arts. 

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

More on "Vintage" Technology

Lately we've been conducting an appreciation of the "obsolete" technologies of earlier eras. I've often noted the unfortunate fact that the "guts" of modern electronic technology are so microscopic that their physical function is no longer visible. The air-driven pipe organ mentioned in an earlier entry will provide contrast to modern electronic instruments in which micro-electronics have replaced large-scale physically functional components that tell obvious stories about how an instrument operates. My desire with that project is to call attention to the elegant simplicity of such instruments as they existed for hundreds of years previous to the modern era.

The telephone system is another technological artifact whose operating components have become invisible. Previous to our electronic era, this was not the case. The basic switching component of the phone system, before our contemporary push-button dialing appeared on the scene, was a special relay, which you can see pictured above. This device will appear in a future exhibit at Mindport. Don't hold your breath on this, however, because I still have two or three months to go before the pipe organ will be complete and ready for our growing gallery of musical instruments.

My thanks to our Exhibit Manager, Bill Lee, for chasing down this telephone relay, and a second unit of a different style that will also find its way into the new exhibit as we presently envision it.

-Kevin Jones

Friday, March 12, 2010

What's Been Happening at MP (Lately)

Looking over our introduction to this blog, I realized that we promised to keep readers apprised of what’s happening at MP “right now.”  In practice, this has turned out to be primarily keeping readers apprised of some of what we’re reading and thinking “right now,” so this week I’ll turn my attention to less strictly cerebral goings on.  Here’s the rundown of the last week or so.  

Last Friday Mindport housed “Speak Easy 3,” an evening of poetry organized and hosted by Luther Allen.  Five regional poets, Susan J. Erickson, Kari Galbraith, Christine Kendall, David M. Laws, and Oliver de la Paz read selections from their work to a full – and appreciative - house.  Look for “Speak Easy 4” in late spring or early summer. 

The Underwood typewriter is back on the floor after receiving a resurfaced platen (otherwise known as the roller) from a company in Pennsylvania.  The platen provides a backing for the type as it hits the paper.  If the rubber around the platen becomes hard and brittle, then the type doesn’t hit the paper in a consistent manner, resulting in uneven print.  Our free Underwood typewriter (courtesy of the alley) now has a price tag of $95 (not counting the labor hours it took to restore it), but everything typed on it looks a lot better. 

Our director, Kevin, is busy building the last five of 32 organ pipes for our pipe organ exhibit.  Once he’s done with the pipes, he’ll be turning his attention to creating a keyboard and windchest.  He says to look for this exhibit in about three months or so.  In the meantime, he’s been trying out the “Drawdio,” a clever device designed by MIT students that measures the resistance of a line of carbon as you draw and translates that resistance to sound.  Unfortunately the Drawdio seems to be sensitive to humidity and has a few other quirks that make it impractical for Mindport. 

Another addition to the Mindport musical menagerie should be out on the floor much sooner than the pipe organ.  AnMorgan is just putting the finishing touches on a table for our new autoharp.  After months of trying to restore a very, very antique -to put it kindly- autoharp, we gave up and found a newer one.  I’m looking forward to having this instrument on the floor for patrons to try, although I will miss the impromptu renditions of popular songs given by Mindport staff.  You really can do quite a bit with three chords and limited inhibitions. 

Music must be on the brain these days.  Exhibits Manager Bill Lee and Public Relations person Karen Weber have been working on finding a way to turn a single piano key mechanism that’s been hanging out here for about three years into an exhibit.  So far they have a gong made out of an old mechanical back-up alarm taken off a truck, the piano key, and a claw.  I have total confidence that these three pieces will make beautiful music together (har).   

I think those are probably the highlights.  We’re also making our usual rounds, cleaning fish tanks, trouble-shooting light fixtures, emptying the recycling, and fixing pieces of exhibits that have succumbed to slightly too vigorous declarations of affection.   I’ll keep continue to keep you posted as to what’s new and exciting. 

Until next time,


Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Seductive Screen

I'm reading The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future, by Mark Bauerlein. Oh, I can hear the screams of anguish over that title from digital age apologists. I won't argue the author's arguments here. I'd rather you read this book and decide the truth for yourself. If you're a parent it may open your eyes to a few myths prevalent in our society and cause you to question what your youngsters are doing with their time.

Even as someone who has been passionately interested in science and electronic technology from the age of seven, I've come to harbor serious doubts about the direction they're taking us. . . ( read more )

On the other hand, if you're not up for anything more than that teaser just now, please do register the following recommendation as an antidote to the message of Mark Bauerline's book: Mindport's around-the-corner neighbor, The American Museum of Radio and Electricity, offers excellent alternatives to excess screen time for people of all ages (as do we!). Check out their SPARK program and their ham radio classes . They're two possible ways to moderate the screen habit and engage technology more creatively.

-Kevin Jones

Friday, February 26, 2010

Local Students in Action

Mindport was hopping earlier today!  30 students from Kulshan Middle School made the trip to Mindport as part of an economics class led by eighth grade social studies teacher Jeff Thran.  The class combines in-class work and discussions with field trips to local businesses (organized by the students themselves) in an effort to enhance students' understanding of economics.  We were impressed by the students' excellent questions and level of interest, and by the effort Mr. Thran has made to get students off-campus to see the local economy in action.  We wish them well as they travel to other businesses and continue their studies. 

Thanks too, to the parents who volunteered to drive! 

Friday, February 12, 2010

Friday, February 5, 2010

Dumpster Diving: A Mindport Tradition

A few months ago, Kevin spied an Underwood typewriter in the alley next to the trash cans.  He brought it in from the rain and restored it to its former glory - or as close to that as possible given its age and experience. 

The Underwood now graces the front desk, introducing younger visitors to a machine that takes physical effort to use, doesn't delete, and has only one font and one font size!

Last Wednesday morning, I was inspired to undertake a rescue mission of my own.  Hauling out the garbage before racing off to work, I lifted the dumpster lid and discovered this lovely machine resting heavily on a bed of black plastic trash bags.  A muddy jacket, a cut knuckle, and a few minor expletives later, I had myself - or Mindport, rather - this R.C. Allen mechanical adding machine.


What will we do with it?  We'll probably try to make it work again and then put it out for visitors to try.  We've been talking a lot lately about some of the benefits of traditional mechanical technology over modern microelectronics-based technology (think mechanical typewriter versus laptop).  While it's true that modern electronic technology does a lot that the older versions don't, its impressiveness is overshadowed by the fact that its inner working are invisible, so that it's almost impossible to either discern how it works or to repair it when it breaks. For the most part, it's throwaway technology, and if you find even a twenty-year old computer in a dumpster, you might as well leave it there. . . unless you're public-spirited enough to salvage it for a trip to a recycling facility.

Keep an eye out for this machine on your future visits to Mindport, and never underestimate the value of what your local dumpster holds.  

For information on mechanical adding machines click here.

For the R.C. Allen Company history click here.

For a comprehensive site on "dumpster diving" click here.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

What We're Reading Now #2

Please forgive our silence over the past two months.  The holidays usually throw us for a bit of a loop around here, but our brains have now returned to our desks and workbenches. 

That said, we have been reading in the interim (and now we're writing)! 

Two Coots in a Canoe: An Unusual Story of Friendship, by David E. Morine

This is a non-fiction account of a canoe trip down 400 miles of the Connecticut River, commencing in Vermont and ending at Long Island Sound. The crew is a pair of friends in their 60s who haven't seen each other in years. Feeling too old for the trials of camping, they decide to mooch free lodging, arranged in advance, with volunteers along their route. Morine and his companion are opposites in character and their conflicts, many of them humorous, make for entertaining reading as do their interviews with the people they lodge with. Much of the dialog revolves around conservation and ecology, with vivid descriptions of both the beauty of the river and the ways in which it and the territory along its course have been damaged or destroyed by human enterprise.

Slow is Beautiful-New Visions of Community, Leisure, And Joie de Vivre, by Cecile Andrews

If ever I read a book that confirms my vision of Mindport's mission, this is it. The author, Cecile Andrews and her husband are founders of Seattle's Phinney Ecovillage, a sustainable urban community. Obviously, I found much to resonate with in this book, and it stimulated serious thinking, especially about the expression "Joie de Vivre" (Joy of Life). Here's an excerpt from my journal:

" I can't say that "joie de vivre" has always accurately described my orientation. I picture that expression as personifying someone who jumps gaily out of bed every morning, just full of ---- and vinegar, wildly excited to greet the birds and the sun, and to get on with the day's tasks. I wish! Maybe, rather than referring to an attitude of constant buoyancy (how exhausting!), this means that one maintains an awareness of the non-ordinariness of the ordinary and an appreciation for the miraculousness of existence, even though it can be damn terrifying and not at all pleasant at times."

I've always hoped that Mindport would inspire something like joie de vivre in our visitors. We certainly attempt to live up to many of the precepts Andrews mentions in her book, especially the Beauty of Slowness, which I interpret not so much to mean slow, but rather to take time for mindful engagement with one's life and work. This necessarily requires you to slow down, limit the multitasking and the greedy attempt to do everything that presents itself as a possibility. To me, leading a good life is about intelligent limitation. It's with this in mind that we tell visitors and even ourselves, don't be miffed if we don't seem to respond to your suggestions and ideas. There's just too much comin' at us to respond to everything, and it takes time for ideas to digest and work themselves into Mindport's flow of activity.

Andrews addresses the habit of perfectionism, which is something that comes up frequently at Mindport, and which I think about a good deal myself. For example there's always a compromise to be made between building an exhibit perfectly, and building it in a reasonable amount of time. An excess of perfection, when applied to artwork, often culminates in a sterile creation. Exhibits we put out for view at Mindport are often imperfect, simply because it's impossible to anticipate how they will interact with visitors, and which vulnerabilities will become apparent after a few weeks on the floor. Our exhibits are often far from perfect. If they were perfect, they'd never break. But I've observed that there's often an inverse relationship between robustness in an exhibit and the amount of interest it inspires. In other words, indestructible exhibits are frequently not very interesting. This is why we beg visitors to treat our exhibits gently. They ARE vulnerable. They and WE appreciate your mindful indulgence!

Deeply Rooted: Unconventional Farmers in the Age of Agribusiness, by Lisa Hamilton

Hamilton, a journalist and photographer lived in close quarters with three farmers who had converted to sustainable farming for business and personal reasons. Hamilton describes the characters of her subjects, a Texas Dairyman, a rancher in New Mexico, and a North Dakotan farming family with an intimacy that evokes a feeling of personal involvement with their lives. Her vivid descriptions of the countryside reveal her photographer's eye for detail, a quality which those, like myself, who revel in physical setting, will find alluring.

To me, one of the most interesting aspects of Hamilton's book is its perspective on the dynamic by which nearly everything small, intimate, local, and beautiful becomes co-opted and destroyed by "economy of scale." Better to say, the false economy of scale. These three farm operations only survive by a thread, and due only to the dedication of their owners to an ideal, along with their reluctance to give up work that they love for its own sake. There's inspiration here, reminding us that it's worth our while to fight "the system," even if we must sacrifice comfort and ease in order to do so.
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