Friday, December 16, 2011

New Gallery Window and Holiday Hours

Our Art Director, AnMorgan Curry has posted her latest editorial comment in the gallery window. Come have a look, and while you're at it, there's a few new photographs by Kevin Jones hanging in the gallery.

Meantime, John Ito is working away on an intriguing exhibit that he's hoping to have on the gallery floor sometime in January. Hint: His inspiration for this exhibit was found on the streets of Bellingham. It has certain features that might remind you of a vintage 1930 grandfather clock, writ large.

Holiday reminder: We'll be closed Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, December 23, 24, and 25; also on January 31 we'll close at 3PM, and will be closed all day on January 1, New Years day.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

What are we?

A  local media organization asked to interview us for a short video production. We requested that they send us some specific questions that they might care to have answered during their interview. Since we often have difficulty generating off-the-cuff answers to such questions, three of us sat down for a half hour to discuss the questions proffered, in the process discovering responses that might not otherwise have occurred to us.

1. What is Mindport?

This is one of the questions asked us frequently by people who haven't been here. We've never been comfortable calling ourselves a "museum" or "gallery," (though we do have a space we refer to as a "gallery") because these terms don't quite fit how we understand ourselves. Usually we tell people that it's best if they come and see what they think we are. In a sense, we're a "work in progress," because the work that appears here depends a lot on who happens to be on the staff at any given time. The majority of us have been here for quite awhile, so where we go creatively also depends on where our personal explorations are taking us at the moment. We assume that whatever interests us will likely interest our visitors, which has proven to be true nearly all the time.

2. What sets your "museum" apart from other history/art museums?

One important factor that distinguishes us from other "museums" is the fact that we're not a government-defined "non-profit" organization, hence we on the staff entirely set our own direction. We are not responsible to a board of directors or other outside forces. This gives us great freedom, not enjoyed by most other public organizations who display artistic work.

3. How many exhibits are built at Mindport?

Almost all exhibits at Mindport are built by staff members. Occasionally  we find something we like "out there" and either display it as-is, or incorporate it into exhibits we build. We've discovered that in-house exhibit-building is a rarity in the museum world, possibly because most such organizations have more money than time, whereas we have more time than money.

4. How long has Mindport been open?

Mindport opened in 1995 at our previous location at 111 Grand Avenue in Bellingham, right across from Henderson Books. In 2000 we acquired our present building and spent a year remodeling it before reopening in 2001.

5. What exhibits are most popular?

We avoid any measurement of exhibit popularity. Such measurements tend to force all exhibits to fit some average or standard, which eliminates the surprise factor and dampens a spirit of creative exploration. There's nearly always someone who likes any particular exhibit, and we believe that the average should not receive too much favor over the exceptional. Many people like many or our exhibits, and a few like even the ones that are less popular with the masses.

6. What kinds of reactions do you get from visitors?

Reactions run the gamut from those who stick their heads in then run the other way, to some who get hooked after a few minutes of exploration, stay for a couple hours, then write us a donation check for $50, telling us how much they appreciate what we're doing. Some visitors engage our docents in long conversations, others walk around checking out the exhibits, then leave without further ado. Some spend an hour here then tell us they'll be back with friends or family members.

7. What do you hope people take away from their experience here?

In answer to that, I'll respond by describing my own reaction when viewing the creative work of others: Creative work and beauty always raise my spirits and give me hope. They remind me, especially during an era when things are looking pretty grim in the world at large, that human beings are capable of doing wonderful things, and amidst ample examples of humanly created ugliness, there's also the possibility of beauty. We hope visitors leave Mindport with renewed curiosity, calmer minds, and greater optimism about human possibility.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Tools

My co-worker, John Ito, our exhibit designer/builder, sent me this link to a short video describing a shop in New England that sells used tools. Watching it set me to reflecting about tools and the part they've played in my life. It's an appropriate thing to be contemplating during this era of consumerism that has culminated in our being swamped with goods that are non-repairable and must be thrown away when they fail. When I was growing up in the fifties, a do-it-yourself (DIY) movement was in full flower. In the decades following the seventies DIY seemed to disappear into the woodwork, so to speak. You began to get the feeling that only nerds and losers bothered to fix anything, much less build anything from scratch.

The picture above was shot in my father's workshop. He's 94 years old now and doesn't spend much time there any longer, sad to say. But seeing those tools, some of them the same ones I used when he first started teaching me to use them, when I was age eight or ten, stirs my nostalgia. At the time he was very active with Do It Yourself projects. He always had a well-organized workbench in the house where he operated on ailing appliances and built various projects, some of them for my own entertainment. For that reason using tools, repairing and building things seemed an ordinary part of life, one which I completely took for granted and which skills I absorbed by osmosis.

Here's photo of my drawer of electronics tools and another of my woodworking tools, all of which were instrumental in building every exhibit I've contributed to Mindport's collection. With the woodworking tools you'll notice a certain father-son resemblance in the means of their organization, if you compare to the earlier photo of of my father's shop. Most of my tools visible in these photos have been with me for over 40 years and are as much a part of me as my own hands. I own one set of chisels that my mother gave to me. When I was about seven years old, she took a carving class from an old German woodcarver, and bought these chisels from him. It's pleasing to me to use tools that have a history of known human connections, as these do. These photos remind me of the contrast between the throw-away values of today, and the values of a time when many household objects, especially tools, served us well for years, during which time we grew increasingly attached to them, to the point where we'd only part with them regretfully.

During the past few decades, there's been a growing cultural tendency in the US to value abstract mental work over manual skills. If you were a machinist, carpenter, or practitioner of any other trade that involved using physical tools (outside of computers. . . which are only semi-physical) your pay rate betrayed the fact that your profession was valued less than that of someone sitting in a cubicle shuffling paper or bytes and thinking for a living. This despite the fact that your work was the last step in a chain of activities culminating in creations that were actually necessary and useful, in the physical sense of the word.

Now that the activities of an elite group of paper and byte shufflers has brought the world's economy to its knees, and the possibility of the collapse of industrial civilization has begun to hit the mainstream press as a distinct possibility, we're suddenly hearing that certain physical skills and the tools necessary to put them into action might be coming back in demand. Various groups around the country are beginning to ask what steps we might take to re-industrialize America and get us producing useful things again, not only useful, but repairable and recyclable. Hallelujah!

Having done an assortment of jobs as a self-employed person, that included both mental/paper-shuffling work and physical design and construction, I've increasingly come to appreciate the latter. For a long time, I've noticed that the best medicine for anxiety and unease is to build something with my hands. There's something deeply reassuring about seeing things that I've only imagined come together in the physical world, and that satisfaction serves to remind me of my deep appreciation for the tools that make that possible.

Kevin Jones

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Occupy Yourself

This title is not to be construed as my being unsympathetic to the Occupy Wall Street movement. In truth, I'm at least 60% sympathetic to it. Not having yet seen a hard list of demands by the protesters, I can't tell you exactly what positions I completely agree with, but the point I intend to make is that Wall Street greed is not the only culprit behind this cascading economic collapse we're presently suffering. My title (suggested by my co-worker, AnMorgan Curry) speaks to the part the "99%" have played in creating this debacle. I bring this up because when revolutions occur, it's too frequently true that, because the revolutionaries have ignored the part they played in the dysfunctional system, the new system they install is as bad or worse than the one they replace. I'd hate to see that happen.

"Occupy Yourself" says it's important to put yourself into the driver's seat, pay attention, educate yourself, and don't waste all your energy blaming corrupt government, and corporate CEOs for what has happened. They're a large part of the problem and the culprits should have been prosecuted years ago, however, throwing them in jail and making new laws or reviving old ones that have been ignored will not deliver us from our current predicament.

We're in trouble because we've been attempting to defy the law energy conservation. This physical law is inviolable and cannot be countermanded by congress, the president, or anyone else. It states, in lay terms, that you can't get something for nothing.** Sadly, a large proportion of the American populace has been seduced into believing the opposite, via a storm of corporate advertising and the blandishments of self-serving politicians, not to speak of their own reluctance to face reality. A belief in the possibility of getting something for nothing shows up in many guises, including a reluctance to pay taxes, the embrace of a consumerist throw-away culture, and a general willingness to blame somebody else for whatever is wrong. This, in other words, means to  embody an attitude whereby I have permission to do whatever I want and, if there are unpleasant consequences, to blame it on something THEY did.

By the way, if you believe a bank officer who tells you can afford to buy a house worth a half-million dollars when your income is $20,000 per year, do the math, or get a disinterested party to do it for you. This is part of what I term, "educating yourself," or "putting yourself in the driver's seat."

The sad fact is, any system that defies the law of energy conservation must sooner or later collapse. Our system was brought to the edge more quickly by greed and ignorance, but it actually was doomed from the start. It worked well when there was plenty of low-cost energy available in the form of oil, plenty of other natural resources, such as minerals, vitamins (oops, I mean forests), fish in the sea, unpolluted water, air, etc. But we're to the point that the availability of low-cost hydrocarbons is on the wane, and this, beyond anything, means we're in big trouble. It means that our economic system, whose functioning has been predicated on growth, CANNOT continue in its present form. You can't grow without fuel, and the fuel supplies, along with other resources (water being of prime importance) are getting tight. And for numerous reasons, alternative energy sources are unlikely to be able to take up the slack as oil depletes. See This link.

"Occupy Yourself" also asks us to start getting in touch with our creativity. That's because it's going to require a huge amount of that human resource, along with other types of human energy to dream up a new and sustainable way of living on this earth. It will have to involve recycling materials 100%, for one thing. Take a look at this site:  for ideas about how that might be accomplished. The new system will not be based on consumption, unless it involves somehow funneling all our waste back into producing the next generation of stuff. Even then, it will be a much lower key style of living than what we're used to.

If the Wall Street protesters indeed have been vague or confused about their demands, it may be because they haven't quite yet discovered that much of what needs to be demanded is inside themselves, and not available from the empty husks personified by Bankers, Wall Street, corporate manipulators and their government lackeys. Protesters, and all of us, must begin to demand from ourselves the aforementioned creative energy to devise a whole new culture that is both kind to people and does not require infinite economic growth and continuously increasing energy input for its perpetuation.

Here's a film whose story is an exact allegory for the state in which we currently find ourselves, and which suggests symbolically, and possibly in actuality, a direction we might follow: "The Milagro Beanfield War." Even better, read john Nichol's book by the same title, along with its two sequels.


Kevin Jones


**
You might not immediately see how the law of energy conservation is equivalent to "you can't get something for nothing," Let's take unwillingness to pay taxes as an example of an attempt to defy the law of energy conservation:

First, you have to understand that money has no inherent value. It's paper that we've arbitrarily assigned value. Useful things like food, oil, clothes, a car, a bicycle have real value, and we assign an amount of money to the value of any of these things. Then we can trade the money instead of the things, which is very convenient, because it means you can buy a bag of groceries without dragging in a barrel of crude oil to pay for them.

Now the law of energy conservation says that you can't destroy energy or create it from nothing. You can only change its form. If you drag a weight up a hill, it takes energy to do the job. The energy you expend, say, riding your bike to the top of a hill is stored in the earth's gravitational field as "potential energy." When you coast back down the hill, it's the release of potential energy that keeps you moving. You don't have to put any more energy into pedaling because of that. A fraction of the energy you put into riding up and down the hill is not lost, but dissipated into space through heating your tires, heating your body, and warming the air that flows by you as you ride up and down the hill.

Roads are a necessity for the perpetuation of our present civilization. Creating and repairing them requires energy, lots of it, and materials such as gravel and asphalt, derived from crude oil. It takes energy to run the machinery, grow the food that feeds the workers who operate it, transport that food, keep the workers warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Someone digs the oil out of the ground that supplies that energy. The digging itself requires energy, usually supplied by oil. Oil is full of potential energy held in the chemical bonds of the oil's hydrocarbons, which were originally cemented together by the energy of sunlight. The same energy is conserved through the entire chain of its conversions from one form to another.

Much of the oil we burn today comes from foreign countries. We exchange dollars for it, which implies that the foreign country taking our dollars will eventually be able to get something of real physical value back by sending back the dollars we traded them for oil. If we've been printing a lot more dollars than we have valuable things for them to represent, then we can't very well pay back the oil-producing countries with material goods of value equivalent to the oil we got for the bucks in the first place. We don't have them. Hence, in the future, those countries are not likely to trust the value of or our dollars and are likely to want a lot more of them for the same amount of oil, which indeed has real, measurable value.

If you don't want to pay taxes, then the roads can't be built or fixed because to do so requires a finite and measurable amount of energy. We trade tax dollars for that energy. Because of the law of conservation of energy, we can't create the energy needed to build or fix the roads out of thin air. It has to be dug out of the ground, and we need to trade dollars that are still worth something for that energy, otherwise we won't get it.

Hence money, when a monetary system hasn't been abused, is equivalent to energy, in that it can't (or shouldn't be able to) be created or destroyed. Money is actually LENT into existence, and the money that is lent must be paid back to its creator, namely the government. If you aren't willing to pay for what you get, or pay with dollars that have been inflated by a government that has created more dollars than there is true value for them to stand for, then basically you're attempting to defy the energy conservation law. The consequence is systemic collapse, which is right were we are just now.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Dial "G" for Gator


Over a year ago. I posted a picture and wrote a blog entry about a piece of obsolete telephone technology- the rotary phone relay. At the time I mentioned my plans to turn it into an exhibit for Mindport, which I've finally accomplished. See a picture above. I've christened this creation, "Dial G for Gator." It's not that you'll necessarily see the gator when you dial "G." The name refers to a fifties Hitchcock thriller, "Dial M for Murder," the perfect vintage for this technology. But when you manipulate the dial you will occasionally call up an ominously toothy character hiding behind the left hand window.

Through the window on the right you can see two views of the telephone dial mechanism. We've had push-button dialing for so long that younger people have probably never even seen a dial telephone, except perhaps in old movies. When you dial a digit a train of electrical pulses is generated, one pulse for each digit traversed by the dial as it returns to its resting position. Looking through the window you can watch the operation of this clever mechanism, which includes a "worm drive," a speed regulator, and a pair of contacts that generate the dialing pulses.

Through the two left-hand windows you see front and side views of the rotary relay. As it receives dialing pulses from the dial, its main commutator rotates, making a new contact for every pulse sent from the dial. In the days before the advent of solid state electronics, there were huge rooms of these rotary relays, which were linked in such a way that pulses coming from the dial of your phone triggered a series of them, thereby selecting your desired party from thousands of others. Needless to say these rooms full of rotary relays generated quite a din!

Having been born just before the era of the dial telephone, in the days when we had multiple parties sharing one line, and you had to ask an operator to connect you to the number you wanted, I feel a certain nostalgia for such visually accessible technology. The way it worked was fascinating, and you could actually SEE it, not to speak of take it apart and learn something from it. As I touched on in my 2010 entry, the down side of today's complex, micro-miniature electronic technology is that the details of its operation are no longer visually apparent. No matter what the function, all that young eyes can see upon inspecting, say, a modern cordless phone's guts, is a lot of tiny, static components on a circuit board. Some of the components have become so small you can hardly see them at all.

The irony of  miniaturization and complexity is that technology has become so inaccessible that it no longer has the ability to inspire the interest of young people who might eventually grow up to be engineers, scientist, and technologists, the very sorts who create new technology in the first place. I've read that we're now suffering a dearth of technical skills in this country, which necessitates the importation of engineers from overseas. There are political and economic reasons for this, to be sure, but I suspect that it's also true that the complex miniaturization of technology could become partially responsible for its own downfall. Hence, one reason we at Mindport have avoided including computers and other visually inaccessible technology (with one or two exceptions) in our exhibits, is that we believe that relatively low-tech exhibits are inherently more interesting, especially to young people who nowadays are rarely exposed to the mechanically intriguing mechanisms of earlier eras.

Come in and visit "Gator." It should be up in our gallery by the second week of October.

Kevin Jones

Friday, September 9, 2011

New Shows


There’s a new collection of my photos hanging in the Gallery. Some will be up until September 14th, at which point they will be replaced by a group of paintings from the 6th Annual Downtown Bellingham Plein Air Paint Out.

I’ve chosen the currently displayed images from those I’ve shot over the last couple years, a few from longer ago than that. When images I’ve recorded have only been in existence for a short time, I often have difficulty judging which of them effectively express something of substance, and which are “flashes in the pan” so-to-speak. At times I discover a photo from many years ago which, at the time, held no particular interest, but which I suddenly see with new eyes, thereby noticing significance that had never been apparent to me previously. For this reason, I find an occasional perusal of old photos to be an entertaining pastime, a little like panning for gold, or perhaps reminiscent of my childhood memories associated with hunting Easter eggs.

My computer screen-saver has brought to attention another phenomenon relating to archived photographic work. It’s set up to run a slide show of the images stored on my hard drive, picked at random. There are a couple thousand of these images available, and the effect is that images pop up on the screen juxtaposed completely out of time and subject sequence. Since I normally view them in the order they were recorded, this accentuates the “new eyes” perspective on each image.

We have a large collection of my photographic prints stored at Mindport, which I add to periodically. Sometimes I choose a group of images which Art Director, AnMorgan Curry, hangs in the gallery. When there isn’t a specific group to be shown, I encourage staff members who spend time in the display area to chose photos from the reserves and hang them as they please. It’s always interesting to me to see which ones get chosen, and in what combinations they show up on the walls.

The current batch on the walls of the gallery, as mentioned earlier, were my choice, a few of them grouped according to my specification, the rest hung to suit AnMorgan’s excellent taste. If you wish to see them all, please visit before September 14th, when AnMorgan will be hanging the work of the Plein Air painters in our gallery. About a third of the photos in this show will remain up for some unspecified time beyond the 14th, and there are also a number of my other photos on the wall in the interactive exhibits area.

Kevin Jones

Friday, August 26, 2011

Travelogs

Last night I watched a thirty-minute travelog on Greece and the Cyclades. Beautiful photography and a tolerable soundtrack, but as always, the two impose a reality on the scene that tends to trivialize the true aura of the place. Instead of a place it becomes a tourist destination, a spectacle to be see in passing, which is what tourism too often is. It reminds me of the sort of disorientation and cognitive dissonance that sometimes makes travel an uneasy process for me. I can’t reconcile the passing-through, spectator mentality with my knowledge that those rooted in a spot perceive a much different reality, as I would as well if I stayed there for a week, a month, a year, or longer. A traveler who stays in a place for a day or two is always separate from it, alienated by an invisible bubble that prevents any authentic commingling of his spirit with that of the local culture. He leaves saying, well, I’ve been to such-and-such. But he hasn’t actually BEEN there, he’s just passed through.

Southeast Utah is one distant place where I’ve spent a great deal of time compared to any other temporary destination I’ve visited. Most of that time has been concentrated in the choice two or three weeks of the year, the last week of April and the first week of May. The place is usually a paradise then, budding out in vivid green, contrasting to the omnipresent pink sandstone cliffs and canyons.  Potholes brim with water, with the only down side being those biting bugs which swarm at this short-term spell of abundant moisture. When I’m there, I often remind myself that at other times of the year paradise becomes hell, or at least purgatory. I’ve driven through the area in winter, when it’s cheerless and bleak, and at the height of summer when the sandstone roasts under the solar glare. Even though I remind myself of the fuller reality of the place, I tend only to imagine it in its spring garb when I need somewhere for an imaginary retreat.
As I watch a Greek video travelog, shot under blue skies and in the warmth of summer, I imagine how it must be in the dead of winter. Having never traveled in Greece in either winter OR summer, imagination is all I can muster, embellished by the writings of those who have been there. Trouble is, most of those descriptions leave out the harsh parts. Similarly, I remember traveling to the South of France as a youth. At the time it was spring and the weather was beautiful, which is the way I still picture it. But I've also read much about winters in Provence, when the Mistral blows from the north, creating conditions similar to the dreaded Nor'easter that plague the area where I live. People who visit me here in the sunny midsummer say they can hardly imagine icy winds, rains, and the general damp chill of winter here.

I’ve at times considered the fact that so many of the beauties of Europe are actually the product of horror. Witness the architectural beauties commissioned by King Leopold of Belgium, all financed by the exploitation of the African Congo. The narrator of this Greek travelog mentioned that those lovely convoluted streets of some harbor hillside villages were constructed that way to confuse invading pirates. It’s another case where horror begets beauty, that is, once the horror has been buried in the past. To me, the virtual tourist reality created for us by the forces of commerce and the imagination of ad agencies becomes disturbing when I manage to penetrate the illusion of the glittering ads for tropical winter havens in the back pages of the New Yorker and the picturesque travel videos I find at the local library.

Despite that, I still like to watch the travelogs sometimes, taking the hype with a large granule of rock salt. Or maybe one of those cubic-foot salt blocks the ranchers in Utah set out at watering holes for their cattle.

Perhaps all manmade beauty is a product of or a reaction against grimness of one sort or another. Grimness or despair. So it’s best to appreciate whatever beauty unpleasant experience begets as an expression of that which is best within the human spirit and try to temporarily ignore the darker reflections of truth.

Kevin Jones

Friday, August 12, 2011

Exhibits: Rolling Marbles

A question I get frequently get from visitors, and to which I’m hard-pressed to formulate a quick answer is, “Where do you get your ideas for exhibits?”. . . or simply, “how do you THINK of these things?”

The answer to that is complicated, since I’ve built over thirty major exhibits since we opened in 1995, and the idea for each one came from a different source. Some exhibits are all my own idea, others are modified versions of something I saw elsewhere, or they incorporate elements of something I ran across in anywhere from a magazine article to another museum.

For the sake of relative brevity, I’ll pick examples of several exhibits which I find most interesting or satisfying, and, over time, write a blog entry to describe the origins of each.

Let’s start with the Marble Pump and “Marbellous Indeterminacy”:

When I was in my twenties I went through a stage where I had grown tired of doing electronics work at the University of Colorado and had decided that maybe I’d start a business making wooden toys.

As a kid I’d loved playing in water, and I knew most children are similarly attracted. The problem with water and kids is that when you combine them, they make a mess. Hence I thought, why not dream up a toy with elements equally alluring to children as those afforded by water play, but without the mess. If you can pump water, why not pump marbles? My first marble pump was born.
Marble Pump 1
As it happened, this “toy” took me so long to create that I quickly realized that if I spent that much time on all such efforts, I’d never earn a living. After building a few more “toys,” I concluded that I’d probably be happier doing  electronics work for much higher pay, while building gadgets like this in my spare time. Furthermore, rather than defining them as “toys,” I thought it would be better to think of them as kinetic sculpture, since I seemed to be at least as interested in their aesthetics, function, and the sort of indirect statements they made, as I was in entertaining children. In fact, having appreciated the fact that good children’s stories entertained me as much as they did my daughter, I was challenged by the idea of creating these “sculptures” as objects which anyone could enjoy, not just children.

When Mindport materialized in ‘95, I’d already spent a year exploring my own fascination with water through the process of creating the Wave Music exhibit. This was a device I’d designed partly with the idea of manufacturing it. As had been true with the first marble pump, building a version that was commercially viable seemed impractical, or, to be honest, much less fun than putting together the first units. However, the one I’d built did seem perfectly suited as a first exhibit for Mindport.

Not long after Wave Music was installed at the newly-opened Mindport, my old interest in marble pumping re-awakened. The version you find displayed today is one of our oldest exhibits, and, to my amazement (knock on wood), it’s still going strong.
Marble Pump 2
The marble pump theme cropped up again in Marbellous Indeterminacy. For that exhibit I dreamed up five other ways to get marbles from a lower level to a higher one. . . and I literally mean DREAMED. Much of that exhibit grew from 3 AM, half-waking imagination. It took about 15 months to build, and it cost me endless  anxiety. The “indeterminacy” part originated from an idea I have about consciousness originating from “quantum indeterminacy.” No, I’m not going to attempt to articulate what I mean by that, but the exhibit has definitely lived up to its name, which was the source of my anxiety during its construction, and continues to be today. We’ve come to refer to Marbellous as “she” (and ladies, don’t take that as a sexist pronouncement), but once you get to know her. . . I’ll just say she has certain traits that I’d characterize as loveably mischievous in a distinctly feminine style.
Marbellous Indeterminacy
The Marble Pump and Marbellous are likely not the last exhibits you’ll see at Mindport incorporating rolling balls or marbles. John Ito and I have been discussing yet another exhibit incorporating this theme. Don’t’ hold you breath, but one of these days it will turn up. Rolling marbles, if anything, are even more entertaining, than water. Stay tuned!

Kevin Jones

Friday, August 5, 2011

Curiosity Killed the Cat?

Fully alive. . . and enjoying the catnip!

Whose curiosity are we talking about? The cat’s? According to Wikipedia, one origin of this term was English villagers whose cats were being killed by the experiments of the local scientist. It was the scientist’s curiosity that killed the cat, not the cat’s. Interesting the way this phrase been turned around so as to imply that allowing your own curiosity free rein might bring you to a sorry end.

I wonder if this bit of mythology has accounted for what appears to be an astounding lack of curiosity in so many citizens of “developed” countries, especially including our own. It seems it’s become unfashionable for the average citizen to harbor curiosity about what goes on around us, where we all came from, what makes our universe tick, or even mundane matters, like how the shelves of our local food market get stocked. We might be curious about what’s going on behind a neighbor’s closed curtains, or about who was in the car wreck down the street. But beyond that, it’s almost as though there’s a fear that if we look too closely, something scary might emerge from the shadows and devour us.

Indeed, there’s merit to that fear. Donald Rumsfeld talked about “the things we don’t know we don’t know.” It’s true that once curiosity gets a grip on us we might learn a lot of things we didn’t want to know. On the other hand, if we knew about them, maybe that would render them harmless, or at least accessible to consideration.

Somehow, any fears that I might have associated with gratifying curiosity didn’t inhibit it, even though, at age eight, I used to get myself into a slightly spooky frame of mind by wondering what was outside the universe. The first phenomenon I observed, which sparked a passionate fascination with science, and especially electronics, was the mystery of magnetic attraction. When I was five or six years old, my uncle, whom I admired for his esoteric knowledge of electronics, gave me a little cylindrical magnet that came from a radio loudspeaker. It set my curiosity alight about the  invisible and unfathomable force emanating from this bit of metal. It's not surprising that I should wonder about it, because nobody knows really what magnetism is, even now, though we know a great deal about what it does. Sixty years later, it’s still an absorbing mystery to me.

A friend of mine, trained as a scientist, once told me he hated the word “mystery.” That surprised me because personally I love it. Our  neighbor, the American Museum of Radio and Electricity has adopted the slogan: “Where discovery sparks imagination.” I like to consider their slogan in reversed form, as in, “imagination sparks discovery.” Even better, try, “mystery sparks imagination and discovery.” The mystery of magnetic force stimulated my imagination and a passionate interest in science and, beyond that, a curiosity about how on earth did we and all this amazing world around us come to be. . . and how did we get to be in such a mess these days?

What bothers me most about today’s state of political, economic, and every other kind of unrest, is that it betrays not only a lack of curiosity, but a lack of general interest in just about everything, except the fact we can’t find a job. Sorry, I don’t mean to say that’s a trivial concern, but, if you delve deeply enough, you find out the reasons for that. . . and they ultimately have to do with the physical realities of energy, pollution, resource depletion, complexity, overpopulation, and various inadequacies of the industrial system that has held us in its sway for over 100 years. Oh yes, greed and politics play a big part as well.

We’ve become preoccupied with abstractions. . .unexamined assumptions taught by rote, like “the invisible hand of the free market.” (See this essay and its sequel, by John Michael Greer ) We’ve lost sight of crucial physical realities, like the source of our daily ration of food, about how natural ecosystems are essential to our continued well-being and very existence. Instead, too many of us are breathlessly awaiting the release of the latest iGadget, and distracting ourselves with other trivialities, like political sex scandals, in the face of climate change and economic catastrophe.

Curiosity can lead us to delve into physical reality, to look into what is actually going on. Once we overcome our anxieties, and get a grip on actuality, then we’re much less likely to be mislead by those to whose advantage it is to foster our ignorance by indoctrinating us with abstract slogans. Greer’s comments in his essay cited above address the part education plays in this “wising up” process. All too frequently, the sort of education we get in officially certified schools does not wise us up in ways that might actually bring about real change in the predominate beliefs that are now leading us, like lemmings, over a cliff.

Curiosity is a quality to be both fostered and followed. It can be an educational guide, and educational opportunities are everywhere once you commence looking for them. There’s the Internet, especially sites like TED, where you can watch all sorts of talks by thinkers and scientists that will open up a world of possible explorations. Besides Mindport, I suggest visiting our neighbor, right around the corner, The American Museum of Radio and Electricity. Just reading or exploring such web sites as TED is only a start. Hands-on  involvement with one’s fascinations is essential, whether done via manual artwork, or, say, by taking one of the Radio Museum’s courses in Amateur Radio or building crystal sets. Physical exploration leads us in unexpected directions that we’d never anticipate if we restricted ourselves to simply reading or watching video.

One of my greatest hopes for Mindport is that it will inspire curiosity in those for whom curiosity might have been numbed, regardless of age. If we succeed, we hope curiosity won’t stop here. Liberation from the tedium of ingrained and unexamined beliefs comes to those whose curiosity inspires them to take their education in their own hands, moving away from abstract theory and toward the sort of concrete knowledge that might serve in the long term to deliver us from the severe predicaments we now face.

Kevin Jones

Friday, July 15, 2011

Starting Something New



Recently three of my adult cello students here at Mindport –who’ve been playing between 10 months and 3 years- have become proficient enough for us to play cello quartets together.  It’s a milestone of sorts, to go from having just enough facility with the instrument and reading notes on a page to play alone or with just one other person, to playing with three other people, all with their own parts.  Watching these students transition to being ensemble players,  I’ve been reconsidering the experience of starting something new, and the fears that can be associated with beginnings- the not knowing whether one will succeed, the idea that it’s somehow “too late” and maybe even silly to try. 

What these students have really reminded me of though, is how determination, commitment, and passion in the face of a new venture really can take a person where they want to go (given they have or can find some essential resources to put at their disposal.)  Initially, each of them showed up to the classroom saying, “I love this instrument, and I want to learn to play it – even if I’m nervous about it, and even if it’s just for myself,” and they’ve struggled, and have had doubts, and have been frustrated.  But they’ve also noted their accomplishments, worked out their strategies, and have kept at it.  The series of small "failures" that are a part of learning an instrument have not soured them on the process or themselves.  

Now, one Saturday morning a month, these students and I gather here at Mindport and sit down to tackle Mozart, Handel, Bruckner, and some folk tunes.  And though this is the first ensemble experience they’ve had as cellists, with some effort the pitches and the rhythms get played – together and in time.  Music happens, but beyond music, and perhaps this is integral to music’s power and beauty, what happens also is a testament to these students’ optimism, patience, self-acceptance, persistence, and love for this instrument.  They were brave enough to start something new, and determined to stick with it, and here we are – making music together. 

Tallie Jones 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Allella

John Ito, our newest exhibit designer/fabricator, has just finished a new piece that he's been working on down in Mindport's basement shop for the last several months. Here's what he has to say about it:

"To me the Allella is something of a sound travel device... if an instrument can be called that. I was going for kind of a Queen Anne furniture made for a DJ from Atlantis look.

My intent was to create something experimental that utilized a planetary gear system to drive an instrument that anyone could play, one in which all of the operative components could be seen in action. Such gearing allows for a variety of speed and oscillating directional movement. I figured something with strings could reflect the movements of the device.

I built two sound boxes, something in the fashion of a rectangular harp or guitar, with rounded bridges mounted on each side for consistent 360 degree rotation of all 24 strings.

I didn't know how the instrument would sound until it was entirely finished, as there was nothing in existence to compare it to. The end result, a surprise awaited during the three months it took me to build it, is more complex than I had imagined. The sound can be controlled in many ways, but there's a distinct aspect of chaos as well. 


Simple movements can produce unexpected melodies and rhythms, as the placement of the string plucking is intentionally non-incremental in location. As speed builds, the cacophony of sound develops its own shifting attributes. It can be melodic and atonal at the same time, a paradox.

The music that it makes is certainly strange, and does not conform to any style. If expectations are let go of, interesting and pleasant surprises abound.

The only way to play it, is to play it. "

There's a video of John playing the instrument here.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Engineering Art from 1928

Yesterday I received a set of large drawings from my cousin that were executed by our great grandfather in 1928. He was an engineer, and these are designs for a sewage plant in Florida, drawn in colored inks on paper-covered canvas. They must be seen in person to be fully appreciated, but I've included the photo above so you can get an idea what they look like.

Having viewed little graphic work of this sort from that era, I don't know whether it's typical of the times, or whether this was exceptional. I do know that I've never seen any comparable contemporary work that comes anywhere close to these in visual impact. This man was clearly an artist, as well as an engineer, and he must have been exceptionally dedicated to his work, since these certainly took months and extreme patience to complete.

Viewing these drawings, I find myself comparing the manual process that brought them into being with the process employed currently by draftsmen and engineers, inevitably involving computers. Obviously our way of doing things now is quicker and possibly easier. I say “possibly,” because the overhead expense and labor involved in maintaining computer systems, and keeping workers up to date on software changes, has a way of at least partially canceling out supposed advances in efficiency.

Beyond the consideration of overhead expenses, when I compare the process that begot these 1928 graphics  with the current graphic processes, both of which I’ve had personal experience with, I become acutely aware of what we’re losing and have already lost as we replace manual and mental skills with computer expertise. I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t be making such changes, but I do believe we should be thinking carefully about what exactly is being lost, asking ourselves whether we’re OK with losing it, and, if not, how we can preserve at least some of the traditional qualities of mind and talent that brought these manually generated drawings into existence.

We’re planning a gallery show whose theme will be the presentation of information. These drawings of my great-grandfather's will be included in the show. No doubt we will include provocative material comparing traditional methods of production with current ones. Check back with us later for more specifics.
Kevin Jones

Friday, June 10, 2011

Oasis

"Clean Coal'" by AnMorgan Curry
I usually avoid political commentary in Mindport's blog, aside from my occasional semi-political rants about noise, or computers, etc. But, as you may have surmised by our display windows, mostly created by AnMorgan Curry, we're not politically unconscious. Far from it. Not a day goes by that I don't read of the horrors being perpetrated in the outside world. It gets to a point that I have to go on vacations from the news. . . although I'm not too successful at it. It's like trying to tear my eyes away from an ongoing train wreck.

The reason I mention this now is because it seems, from observing the publications of many institutions, you'd think business was proceeding as usual, since there's hardly passing reference to this "train wreck" proceeding right in front of our noses. I find myself wondering on a daily basis what small thing can I do to counter the catastrophe. The best answer I come up with is to simply continue our attempt to provide an island of calm and beauty at Mindport, so our visitors can be reminded that better things are possible.

Our society has a way of cutting funding to the arts before anything else, which is perhaps the very reverse from the way things should be. The arts are, in large part, about ideas, beauty and raising consciousness of our shared humanity. We Americans have a cultural tendency let economic expedience take precedence over such values, which can be blamed to a large extent for the economic and environmental catastrophe we see unwinding currently.

Anyone who questions the importance of art should, for example, consider the cinema's ability to educate us about other lives and cultures and to promote conciliation between opposed cultures. Such films as Rana's Wedding and The Syrian Bride, to name two I've viewed recently, highlight cultural differences and suggest how governments contribute to the unhappiness of individuals, not to speak of pursuing frivolous wars instead of helping the citizenry they should be serving. If the political leaders and the CEOs of weapons corporations were the first to march off to war, I suspect the cause of peace would take on a new priority.

I've noticed that when I'm feeling down, one thing that can lighten my spirits is exposure to fine art: music, dance, painting, photography. Witnessing fine art reassures me that someone cares enough about beauty to put creativity first in his or her life, before money or any other consideration. This sort of dedication inspires me to believe that, beyond the deepening disaster, there's possibility for the rebirth of a new regime, motivated by something grander than the bottom line.

Kevin Jones

Friday, May 20, 2011

Introducing John Ito, Exhibit Designer & Builder



We feel both lucky and happy to have had John Ito join Mindport’s staff this January.  A former employee of the Children’s Museum of Boston, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, and the Lawrence Hall of Science, John is now calling Mindport (and Bellingham) home.  Though he currently spends most of his work time in Mindport’s basement building what he calls a “people and sound convergence device,” Kevin and I lured him up from the depths for a conversation.  Here’s some of what we discovered: 

John grew up outside of Boston in a suburb called Norwood, home his parents’ ice cream shop and a terrific scrap metal yard.  Access to “junk,” the inventions of Dr. Who, and encouragement from his grandfather and an uncle -builders themselves- led to a childhood spent taking things apart and putting them back together, carving bows and arrows, and fixing bikes. 

After high school, where he focused on art and was voted “Most Radical Senior,” John attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.  He initially thought he might want to be an animator, but at 17 “had way too much energy to do something that required sitting down.”  John turned to metal sculpture instead, but continued to “focus on everything” finding that not being limited to one area resulted in a much bigger and interesting perspective. 

Following stints working for a photo developer, a video store, a hospital laundry room, and a coffee shop, John found his way to museum work, starting out in Visitor Services at the Children’s Museum of Boston at the age of 22.  He then moved into exhibit designing and building at this and other institutions before joining the staff of Mindport. 

When I ask him what he likes about what he’s doing now, John laughs and says, “Well, it’s exactly what I want to be doing, and that’s an impossibility for most people.  I get to build what I want to build – there’s no one giving me directions or telling me what to make, and that’s just not normal for most people.  It’s wonderful.” 

Questioned about how he came to have such a varied and interesting set of skills, John admits that he was not studious ever, noting that, “not focusing on what I was supposed to focus on to be a ‘success’ led me to where I am.  When you let go of expectation – especially expectations for yourself – a lot of interesting things can happen.” 


 Carol, another MP staffer, had some additional questions for Mr. Ito.  

Q. How many pens do you have on you at the moment? 

A. Six fountain pens, one ball-point, two mechanical pencils, and one standard issue pencil.

Q. What is your favorite bike? 

A. A Schwinn Corvette cantilever frame with 2-speed kickback coaster brake hub, moustache bars, leather saddle, BMX pedals with mavic rims and slick tires.  It should also be black and have a milk crate on the front. 

Q. What was the first thing you took apart and put together?

A. My grandparents’ clock.  It was broken and I accidentally fixed it – leading me to believe I could fix anything.  


Tallie Jones

Friday, April 22, 2011

Do You Have Any Homework?

After spending twenty-two of my thirty-four years going to school, I finally get to answer, “No!” to that question.  It’s been five years since I’ve been assigned homework and three years since I’ve worked in a traditional school setting where I’ve designed, assigned, and graded large amounts of the stuff myself. 

It feels good to be done – lovely and very freeing, in fact.  Outside of work and family, my time is now my own, and I have no problem figuring out how to spend it.  But homework is still on my mind.  Puttering around the house, I run into literal piles of spiral bound notebooks filled with notes, double-spaced essays with comments lurking on the back pages, even a report titled The Desert that I wrote in fifth grade.  Talking with my coworkers, I discover that at least half of them also have stashes of homework from 20 to 50 years ago.  Even my father, who hated the majority of his homework assignments and who says that even after 40 years of not doing homework, he still feels relieved not to have any, brought in a couple of typed essays from his freshmen year of college when asked. 


Despite the freedom I feel now, and the feeling of dread and anxiety I associated with much of the homework I had through those twenty-two years, being assigned homework certainly wasn’t all bad.  Homework offered me a reason to sit quietly with my thoughts outside of the tumult of school.  I took it seriously – and luckily much of it was worth taking seriously, and as a result I learned plenty from what I was assigned.  But I also wonder if there was a cost.  Thinking back, I rarely had anyone ask me what I would like to pursue, what homework might be useful and interesting.  As a result, I didn’t really learn to follow my own curiosity – or rather attempted to do so in the limited time available after homework was done.

Working with young people through Mindport’s education program, I continue to consider the value of homework.  How does it affect an individual’s desire to learn?  What are its effects on a person’s life and the life of their family?  Is it useful?  What kind is useful?  Why?  When a student and I make a plan for what they might do between our meetings, should we even call it homework? Or is that too loaded a term? 

To help me look for answers, I’m starting to put together a show for Mindport’s gallery on this very theme, and I’d love to have your thoughts – and/or to see your homework (returned to you if a SASE is included). What was the best homework assignment you ever had?  The worst?  What homework would you give yourself?  What homework do you wish you’d been given?

Comment on this blog, or write to me at 210 W. Holly St. Bellingham, WA 98225 or talithamdj at yahoo dot com.  Looking forward to hearing from you. 

Tallie Jones

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Something to Try

I've been playing with digital cameras from nearly the first day they appeared on the market. The early models had a resolution comparable to the old VGA video monitor standard, of 640 by 480 pixels. Enlarged to over snapshot size, the images looked terrible, full of "jaggies" and JPEG artifacts, which were distortions inherent in the process of compressing photos to sizes compatible with the amount of computer memory available at the time.

Those early cameras did have one odd advantage, which was the fact that their image sensors were tiny and focusing an image on them required very short focal-length lenses. Due to the physics of the situation, this meant that the cameras possessed huge depth-of-field, much like a pinhole camera. In other words, the lens would bring any object from a few inches away to infinity into focus simultaneously. This made it possible to shoot interesting photos that would be difficult to capture with a conventional 35mm film camera.

One of the illuminating aspects of my switch to digital was that, with no film to buy, I could experiment freely in order to understand better how a camera sees, and how to make use of the unique qualities of a particular type of camera. Of course the computer and camera cost money, but unless I made prints it cost nothing extra to shoot as many images as I desired. With digital cameras the possibilities of what a camera can record are considerably beyond what was possible with film cameras. In the process of playing with digital images I learned some lessons, as I did with depth-of-field, above, that have not only expanded my repertoire of possible imagery, but have encouraged me to create images that would have been difficult or impossible to attain with film.

Here's an example of a technique I've tried with my digital camera that often brings interesting and surprising results, while educating my eyes to see subtleties that were previously not apparent.

In the first example, I shot pictures of intriguing marks left on a concrete breakwater by the wooden forms in which they were poured. The concrete was dull grey and the resulting image hardly interesting to look at. I loaded the picture into my image processing program and greatly enhanced its contrast until it began to bring out colors and textures that were nearly invisible in the object or the original photograph of it. There were hidden blues, browns, reds, and shades of texture you'd hardly notice if you glanced casually at the original surface.


 After I'd experimented with this technique for awhile, I began to see all sorts of possibilities for creating striking images from subject matter I previously would have ignored. Such transformed imagery reminds me of my pottery-making days and the excitement of opening a kiln after a firing, then inspecting the surfaces of ware after their colorful transformation by heat.

If you try this, it's best to choose low-contrast, minimally colored subjects. However look for any patterns and textures that might not be apparent due to the low contrast inherent in the scene. Boulders, rocks, and geological formations are good possibilities to investigate. The soft light of a cloudy sky makes for the right sort of illumination. It's color neutral and just the opposite of the sort of lighting you might conventionally wish for such subjects. When you increase the contrast of the image, you may have to tone down the brightness in order for the highlights not to "burn out," that is go completely white.

After playing with this or other means of digital transformation you might ponder this question: What do you think are the advantages and liabilities of digital photographic process compared to the old days of film and chemistry, and how do you feel about digitally modified images as an art form? These are ideas I still contemplate quite a lot and will probably discuss in future postings, along with a few other ideas for modifying digital images. Meantime, have fun experimenting.

Kevin Jones

Friday, April 8, 2011

Harbingers of Spring

Spring has sprung. . . barely, it seems. When I awakened this morning there was frost on the roof below my bedroom. But the frogs are in full din in the several wetlands around where I live. In the past they've often begun to pipe up toward the end of the first week in March, but they've begun their song a week or two later in the two or three most recent years. Early on, cold nights apparently inhibit their ardor, though once they've gained momentum a frosty night doesn't seem to curb their enthusiastic song.

Above is a photo of one of these characters, a different species, I believe, from the more common variety who raise their multitudinous voices in the wetlands every spring. This particular variety I've observed occasionally perched on leaves in the flower beds around our house. One of them, in fact, actually paid us a more intimate visit than that a couple years ago. I was sitting in our kitchen enjoying a cup of tea.  The silence of the kitchen was suddenly interrupted by a subdued CREEAAK issuing from somewhere behind me. The sound was so sporadic that it took me some time to discover its source, which turned out to be beneath the dish drainer. Upon lifting the drainer's rubber base, I spotted the green vocalist, an individual just like the one pictured. Thinking his chances of finding a mate in this venue were limited, I gently carried him outside, all the way to the opposite end of the house, and set him on a leaf.

That wasn't the end of the story, however. A week later, again while sipping tea in the kitchen, I heard the selfsame CREEAAK as before. Sure enough, there was my green friend, once again under the dish drainer. Now, I can't prove it was the same critter because I hadn't banded a leg or anything, but I don't see these frogs around very often, so I like to think that he somehow made his way around the house, climbed through the kitchen window, which was cracked open only an inch, as had been true the previous week, and reclaimed his hiding spot in the damp cave under the drainer.


The other harbinger of spring in the many wetlands on Lummi Island is the skunk cabbage. They're one of the first flowers to show their faces, usually just a week or so before we hear the first frogs commence their song. Over the years I've watched one patch on the west side of Lummi expand, now covering a good quarter acre on a wooded, swampy hillside. When the flowers first poke up their heads, they're irresistible to photographers like myself. I must have accumulated a couple hundred photos, captured as I slogged around in the mud, now and then losing a boot to its grip after becoming immersed in it to well above the ankles.

The skunk cabbage is an unusual plant. It's reputed to generate enough heat of its own to be able to melt its way through a snowbank. Check out this article on the web site of the Nature Institute for more information. While you're at it, explore their site farther. It's one that I've visited periodically for years, and which I discovered after becoming a subscriber to Steve Talbott's Netfuture series of essays.

In closing, best wishes for a happy spring to all our readers and visitors.

Kevin Jones

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Graphic Design

Graphic design is a field that has interested me for years. I first became conscious of its effect on me in my twenties, when I began to notice that I was buying quite a few books that I never bothered to finish reading. Eventually it dawned on me that I bought them not so much because of their informational content but because of the beauty of their layout and text and/or the quality of included photographs and other graphic material. It was a pleasure to look at them, in other words.

During my early thirties I abandoned photography for a few years and set about teaching myself to draw. Needless to say,  that raised my consciousness about graphic design even more, and had quite a salutary effect on my photography when I eventually went back to it.

Around the time we opened Mindport in 1995, I stumbled across the books of Edward Tufte, perhaps some of the most beautiful books I've ever encountered. Tufte, among other activities, taught in the Department of Graphic design at Yale University, and has written at least four books on the visual presentation of data, the first being entitled, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. These books have asserted an influence on me in my effort to make the instructions accompanying Mindport's exhibits clear and comprehensible.

The task of writing instructions and other documentation I find enjoyable. There's a fascination in the attempt to view a familiar exhibit from the point of view of a total stranger seeing it for the first time, then in devising a way to explain as succinctly as possible how to make it do something. This involves organizing diagrams, photos, and text on a page in a manner that makes instructions easy to understand and follow, and choosing minimally ambiguous language in order that instructions and labels not be misinterpreted. I consider myself an amateur at this process, but I hope I have succeeded at it to some degree.

In the world outside, of course, the most obvious venue for graphic design is in advertising. We delve into that at Mindport to the extent that we put considerable effort into the design of our posters and other publicity materials. That's not my domain, personally. Staff members AnMorgan, Carol, Karen, and Tallie have been the main contributors to that department, though I do put in my two-cents-worth from time to time.

We all swim in a sea of graphic design, and, like fish swimming the ocean, most of us are scarcely conscious of its atmospheric presence or its effect on us. I've heard plenty of people complain bitterly after having struggled through the assembly of some consumer item labeled, "some assembly required." Right there is an example of what happens when an item and/or its instructions are NOT well designed. With well-designed objects and  instructions, you're likely to finish with the comment, "well, that was fun," possibly never realizing that the work of some designer eased your way through the process.

If the subject of graphic design interests you, I recommend having a look at Edward Tufte's books, or watch the documentary film, Milton Glaser: To Inform and Delight. Glaser is a well known graphic designer from New York, who was responsible for the "I [heart] NY" graphic, and by extension, the "I [heart] . . . [whatever you can imagine], visible everywhere. Glaser, incidentally, claims that he made not a cent off the design of this graphic. The film about him provides an outline of what the finest graphic design is all about and might awaken you to a new appreciation for ways in which we're influenced by it.

Kevin Jones

Friday, March 25, 2011

Contrast: A Look at Silence

 I know, I've written quite a few entries here on the subject of noise, but I've neglected to comment on its opposite, so please indulge me in one more reading suggestion:

In Pursuit of Silence, Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise , by George Prochnik

This book comes at the noise problem from a different and useful direction, namely by defining noise as any sound that keeps us from hearing what we want to hear, whether it's the voice of the person sitting across the table from us, the birds singing in the spring, or the silence of our own thoughts. Then it explores the sounds and silences beneath the noise, what they mean and why they are important.

Prochnik pays considerable attention to silence, but also takes an interesting look at the meaning behind purposeful noise. He includes a chapter of interviews with "boom car" devotees; you know, those people who soup up car stereos so you can hear them a block away. There's a cadre of serious boomers who push beyond the 160 decibel noise level, loud enough to blow the windshield out of a car. He also covers another favorite noise-maker, Harley motorcycles, with their copyrighted resonance and what's behind that. Purposeful noise is a means by which disempowered people make their presence felt.

To me the most interesting and important part of the book deals with the subject of silence and its spiritual implications. In fact the book focuses on the lives of monks, meditation, and the idea of "quiet mind," which Prochnik suggests is essential to the creative process. Without the respite of silence we lose track of the very depths of our being, which, in a culture as awash in noise as ours, it appears to be just what many of us want to do.

Prochnik mentions research implicating excess noise in cardiovascular problems and as a possible causative factor in autism. It seems that young children brought up in very loud environments take longer than normal to process speech, which is an important aspect of this disorder.

The book ultimately makes the point that efforts have been made for years, even centuries, to address the noise plague. But as one source is eliminated, others have a way of popping up like the marching broom fragments that threatened to inundate the Sorcerer's Apprentice. Rather than campaigning against noisemakers, it turns out to be more useful to educate ourselves about the importance of those sounds and silences we do want to hear. If enough of us come to recognize them, then there's hope that the noise may fall by the wayside of its own accord.

Kevin Jones

Friday, March 4, 2011

Sound Recommendations

I imagine most visitors to this blog have spent at least a little time looking at webcams around the world. There are thousands of them these days, pointed at everything from beautiful ocean or mountain scenes, to private dressing rooms. It can be fun to explore these cameras when one has the urge to vicariously visit exotic spots. Unfortunately, the one thing that all of the ones I've visited lack is the added dimension of sound.

As you may have gathered from reading my previous postings on the subject, sound has been a preoccupation of mine for a long time. I spent the year before Mindport opened building what has become our WaveMusic exhibit, which creates music from the movement of water waves. During that period I also occupied myself recording local ambient sounds, then computer processing them in various ways. This all served to increase my awareness of the power of sound to affect our lives in both positively and negatively.

From time to time I search the web for sources of live "streaming" audio, and I don't mean podcasts or other sources of "canned" audio files, of which there are overwhelmingly many. What interest me is ambient local sound, preferably nature sounds, though almost any would interest me. Considering the fact that sound can be far more emotionally evocative than pictures, it surprises me that there aren't as many live ambient audio sites as there are webcams. . . or at least webcams that broadcast accompanying sound.

It's this evocative power of sound which has sent me on a quest for audio Internet sites, and has inspired me to collect quite a library of ambient sound CDs, featuring mostly nature sounds from various places around the United States and the world. When I want to escape some of the less pleasant sounds that afflict the neighborhood where I live, such as car traffic, chain saws, lawn mowers, aircrart, etc, I put one of these CDs in my player, don my sound-canceling headphones, and travel. . .

During a recent unsuccessful search on the web for live ambient sound, I did come across a wonderful site that was new to me, and which I recommend you visit if you find the subject of sound and "soundscapes" at all interesting. This site is maintained by the University of Utah, J. Willard Marriot Library, and it includes a large selection of animal sounds, ambient natural sounds, and several interviews, many of them downloadable for private use. I found some great recordings, captured in the Canyons of SE Utah, an area where I've spent extended periods hiking and camping over the last 40 years. Listening to these recordings puts me back there in imagination more surely than do the many photographs I've taken during my visits.

In closing, let me recommend the book that originally sparked my interest in sound: R. Murray Schafer's, The Tuning of the World. Schafer is a Canadian author and composer who has written a number of books on the subject of music education, music and sound, any of which is worth a read. He's developed techniques for what he calls "ear cleaning," a process of cultivating one's awareness of sound and exploring the effect it has on our lives and consciousness. Such exercises can help you become aware of ways in which various "soundscapes" may be affecting you adversely without your knowledge, but more important, can be a great source of relaxation and pleasure.

Oh, and if you run across any live streaming "web-ears," please drop me a note and let me know. You'll find my e-mail address on my personal staff page at www.mindport.org.


Kevin Jones

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Exhibit updates: Sonoluce, Theremin and Rhythmo

Remember Sonoluce, with the spinning lights dancing to music? Through a chain of associations, it occurred to me that if I added a theremin to the input of Sonoluce, then visitors could control the light patterns directly by moving their bodies.

In case you're not acquainted with the theremin, it's a musical instrument that was invented by a Russian, Leon Theremin, in the 1920s. It's played by spatial movements of the hands; the left hand controlling loudness and the right hand controlling pitch. The first models were made with vacuum tubes, since that's all that was available during that distant dawn of electronic technology. Note that vintage vacuum tube theremins are now valuable collector's items, and some people go to great lengths, even today, to create replicas of the originals. They produce a beautiful tone quality that modern theremins are hard put to emulate.

I toyed with the idea of building a vacuum tube replica of the original theremin, but decided that the time it would take to build one, plus its maintenance demands, would make the project impractical. So I bought a kit theremin, designed by Bob Moog, the inventor of the Moog Synthesizer. It works very well and produces quite a satisfactory tone quality. . . and it only took a couple days to assemble.

Currently I'm building a junction box for the theremin that includes a headphone and speaker amplifier, since this model does not include one. The instrument will be mounted on a swinging arm near Sonoluce, so it can be used either in conjunction with that exhibit, or swung out of the way and used on its own. The junction box/amplifier is still in progress, but should be done before long. We'll post a note here to let you know when everything is together and working.

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In other exhibit news, visitors have been asking the whereabouts of Rhythmo. She's been off the floor some time for a revamp. We'd been having trouble with the turntable sticking, due to warping of the masonite from which it's fabricated. Also, the plating was wearing off the magnets, graying the scale markings and making them difficult to read. We've replaced the masonite with an aluminum disk, which Bill Lee has painstakingly drilled and re-fitted to the bicycle hub that serves as a bearing. We're hoping to have that project finished in the next couple weeks. We'll let you know when  it's ready again for public view.

Kevin Jones

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Organ

The pipe organ I've been working on for a year is finally installed in Mindport's gallery. Like many people who have built organs, I'm not an accomplished keyboard player, so it's really a treat when someone with the requisite musical skill comes in and plays for us, as has happened a time or two now.

If you're interested in a more in-depth account of the organ's construction, please follow this link. You'll need to download Adobe Reader software to access it if you don't have it installed on your machine already.

Kevin Jones

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Inner Life of Cats


This is the part of Lenny's life that ISN'T inner. His exterior carcass is hogging my chair. Some nights there's a cat on BOTH of our favorite chairs. Why do we put up with this? Well, my theory is that we keep cats around to remind us how we should be living ourselves. I probably haven't slept with such reckless abandon since I was four, but at least now I can remember what it must have been like.

The Inner Life of Cats, a Valentine's Day exhibition depicting six years of life with our feline friends, Lenny and Madeleine, goes up in Mindport's Gallery this week. Come and vicariously enjoy the good life.

Kevin Jones

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

In the Gallery: Recommended Reading Links

I found quite a few interesting articles about letter writing, the postal service, and on-line forms of communication in the process of putting together the mail show currently at Mindport.  All the articles are available to be read here at MP, but I recognize that all that reading usually takes more time than most visitors have during a trip to the museum.  Here are the links, so you can read as you will!

Please, Mr. Postman: Reclaiming the Lost Art of Letter Writing by Elizabeth Ryan

On Practice: Letter to Holly from Cougar Ridge by Brenda Miller

Faux Friendship by William Deresiewicz

Pushing the Envelope by David Henkin

Three Ways to Disconnect from the Internet and Engage the Present by Jeff Severns Guntzel

A Family, a Nation in 200 Years of Letters by Kirk Johnson

Eight or Nine Words About Letter Writing by Lewis Carroll



 
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