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
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