Artists created the first virtual realities -- sometimes in the forms of cave drawings, paintings, and friezes. The above photograph is a woman who is experiencing the virtual experience of stereo viewing of a remote object or scene with a stereoscope. As modeling and simulation researchers, we should think of new ways to represent models of observed phenomena. Do you use equations, statistical plots, or diagrams with pointy arrows and boxes? With the rapid expansion of the web, we are reaching a state where multiple representations for any abstract concept are at our fingertips. Seeing one abstract concept 300 different ways. This is especially important for those outside of engineering. Modeling and simulation, as a discipline, is becoming so widespread that we need to bring the academic knowledge of our area into the hands of everyone. We are not going to reach the masses with limited human experiences for modeling. That means diversity in model representation. Want to model something but not in Simul8 or Arena, but instead in Minecraft? Go for it. For the professional engineer, Minecraft is the wrong choice. But for teaching the student who grows up in these new powerful multi-player virtual worlds, why not use environments that attract them rather than conforming to a perceived set of standards employed mainly by a limited set of professionals. Strap on your Victorian-era stereoscope and come with me on a different sort of simulation modeling adventure.
When I landed my first academic job at the University of Florida in the mid-80s, I began a slow and steady life journey of knowledge enrichment, which included making friends and colleagues in different schools. One of the things that confused me then, and continues to be a puzzle now, is the schism existing between and among areas such as arts, humanities, science, and engineering. Here is one example of a schism, or perhaps more of a deep canyon. Recall that the humanities are traditionally very old subjects--been around a while and dominated by reading and writing: Scholarly production. Then, consider the arts, and by "arts," I am referring to the arts of the senses such as fine art, ceramics, sculpture, and performing arts such as theatre and dance. Tasks that involve making live in the art building. People are making things--paintings, kinetic sculptures, cinema. Tasks that involve writing are somewhere else on campus--in the humanities building. There is a deep schizophrenia where the people who "make" and the people who "write" don't talk much with each other. As an engineer, I find this peculiar because in engineering, not only are writing and making in the same place, they are also in the same person. All engineers are expected to form carefully worded arguments about what they contribute to knowledge through making; engineering has a high degree of scholarship as do most areas within the university. All of this causes me to wonder whether what is going on in "digital humanities" is actually a leaking of engineering culture into the humanities. Is that a bad thing? I don't think so, and let's not muddy the waters in the digital humanities with misleading phrases like "using a tool" or "using technology." These have nothing to do with what is occurring at a fundamental, philosophical level within the humanities. At the core, the transitions are about a social and cultural osmosis from science and engineering. Similarly, there are big shifts--rooted in the arts and humanities--occurring in science and engineering, but that is the subject of another post.
About a year ago, two of my colleagues (Bonnie Pitman and Cassini Nazir) and I got together and decided to connect. The idea was to connect ideas using Liz Larner's sculpture, appropriately entitled "X". Larner's sculpture was first modeled in wood (above) and then resculpted in steel. The sculpture was on loan to us in the Art & Technology (ATEC) building, and is now heading back to its home at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas. The three of us imagined a web presence and asked everyone to make connections to "X". Making these connections creates bridges across the university, poking holes into the vertical silos defined by colleges, schools, and departments. These connections are part of an online exhibit of perspectives on, and views of, the object. The ideas of modeling, found within the simulation and modeling field, are found in these perspectives. Models are perspectives on a thing: abstracting out space and time. These ideas were brought home for me yesterday when visiting the Brooklyn Museum where they have an exhibit Connecting Cultures. Museums are places where we are encouraged to make connections among people, places, and things. Models are language-based artifacts that assist us with forging new cultures around ways of modeling. So, the worlds of museums, sculptures, and scientific models may have stronger connections than we might think.
Physicality is defined by Merriam-Webster as "intensely physical orientation : predominance of the physical usually at the expense of the mental, spiritual, or social." The above photograph is from a post within a list of physical visualizations. The list begins with the corporeal concept of number in the form of Mesopotamian clay tokens from 5500BC. Included are many fascinating realizations such as a "sculpture" from the Tohoku Japanese earthquake data. The photo from 1985 of Rick Becker of AT&T Bell Labs is particularly striking because on the left, we have a tangible representation, and on the right, something flat on a green screen. To be sure, the screen representation had the advantage of being dynamic and more efficiently constructed. At the same time, something was lost in the evolutionary process-- the physicality disappeared. We may need to revisit the past to see what can be reconstructed, but with a new flair guided by technologies such as 3D printing and embedded micro controller-based systems. We may also need to evolve our culture because we have lived in flatland for so long. [Related post The Disappearing Trick of HiTech]
I got up this morning very early. My goal was to see the lunar eclipse, which in Plano, Texas, occurred between 5:25 and 5:35AM CST today (October 8, 2014). A total eclipse is often called a blood moon. The Incans and Mayans had a wonderful story where the jaguar would eat the moon. Hence the reddish color. The sky was very clear up until 5:30 when a few clouds obscured the viewing. A lunar eclipse is when the earth is between the moon and the sun. Just prior to the eclipse, there was a sliver of white from the sun on the right side (toward the West). But then, the eclipse happened, and it was very impressive. I tried capturing it with my iPhone. Nothing worked correctly. I kept getting pop-up messages about the phone wanting to access my photos, and then I must have pressed the "selfie" mode by mistake and I was taking pictures of myself. I couldn't see the phone (forgot the reading glasses). After a while, I put down the technology and just spent my time experiencing. The lesson here is that, at the core, it is our personal experience that precedes any art or science that we may do with the world. We can re-create our experience, thus creating something we call art so we can share our experience with others. Or we can observe and find patterns: science. Just before I headed back home, I kept on hearing a song in my head that would not go away: "And if your head explodes with dark forebodings too. I'll see you on the dark side of the moon." Pink Floyd. And then it occurred to me that we were all, for an instant, on the dark side.
I was struck by text that I recently saw when browsing online information about art-science collaborations and upcoming conferences. There was a phrase in one of them promoting connecting "artists with technologists." What the heck is a technologist? Everyone is a technologist. A "technologist" is someone who uses (modern, recent) technology. One might think that a computer scientist or electrical engineer is a technologist, but think again. People in these fields have their own research and agendas; they do not think of themselves as technology gurus out to serve the public at large. They use technology like everyone else. I have to backtrack a little bit because it so happens that these fields just so happen to produce the most sophisticated technologies (as end products) around. But to a computer scientist, a digital artist might be a "media technologist." The message here is: let's penetrate the broad term of "technology" and get to what is really important to individual practitioners of art, computer science, and engineering. Technology, and the "digital", are simply tools for all of us to do that which drives our passions.
I was in Vienna about a week ago at the SIMULTECH 2014 Conference, and gave one of three keynote talks. I spoke about why computing is everywhere, and that when we teach it, or think about it, we need to re-emphasize analog, in addition to digital, computing methods. It is the analog that enables us to link to the real world. In a prior post, I covered how to portray one computing concept (queuing) within a media-rich environment. I used this example in Vienna. The result was a sort of performance of the abstract queuing object since musical instruments were being queued. This makes me wonder about whether we should perform other mathematical or computing constructs? The idea is the reverse, the complementary case, where artists use computing as a means to create music and art. In this instance, it is the abstract concept of queuing which is placed in the foreground--that which is to be experienced and appreciated. We can present lots of material in this way. Bubblesort performed by Hungarian folk dancers is a great example.
Computer science and engineering as a field doesn't have that great of a track record when it comes to gender balance. While I was Director of Digital Arts & Sciences (DAS) at the University of Florida in 2012, I published a piece in Leonardo demonstrating that a core computer science degree can indeed achieve a better balance. The DAS program encompasses an undergraduate (BS) and graduate (MS) degree in computer science with a strong shell of human-centered computing (HCC) surrounding the CS/Math/Science core. The paper represented a 10-year comprehensive summary of what worked, and what didn't, along with statistics. There are others around the country that have tried similar programs involving media and the arts. At the University of Texas at Dallas, we have computer scientists, engineers, designers, and artists working in the same building (Arts and Technology). The gender situation is complex and it isn't clear what works and what doesn't work in every situation. However, there appears to be hope on the horizon in the form of programs that have a strong social/human-centered approach to computing.
Bipolar thinking could mean many things, but I refer to it as thinking with two poles, connecting art and science. let's call the poles the north and south poles since the earth can be used as a metaphor. At the north pole, we put down a flag labeled "mental concept." The art of abstraction, as with mathematical thinking, is to dwell near the north pole. At the north pole, representations involving the senses do not exist. One must walk in the direction of the south pole, which means in any direction, for more sensory experience. The term "abstract" is used in art as well, however, art relates to the senses and for pure abstraction found in mathematics, there is only thought. At the south pole, we have pure experience. Let me give an example from mathematics: the circle. We learn in mathematics that the circle is a concept, an idea and that anything you hear, touch, or see is not a circle-- it is a representation of the circle concept. This means that things drawn on paper, spoken, or writing the word "circle" are not circles. Where do you position yourself on the earth: do you inhabit the poles, or are you somewhere near the equator? Maybe you live in Iceland or Borneo? My suggestion is that we should be constantly walking between two poles without being overly attracted to either one. Every time I see an object that reminds me of a circle, I celebrate the uniqueness of that object, taking time to experience it. But then, I am drawn to the wonderful reduction, abstraction, and concept of circle--all of the experienced objects are identical near the north pole. This bipolar thinking is common at the lab because we are creating representations of math and computing concepts. Thankfully, we do not actually have to pack our snowshoes.
Van Gogh produced compelling artwork ahead of his time. This one is called "Wheat field with cypresses" from 1889. The original is in the National Gallery in London. How do we archive this kind of work? Clearly, digital scans of all varieties and wavelengths can be employed to record the static painting. But that is the final product. No art is static. It is all dynamic, time-based media, to use a phrase coined within media studies. The only reason why we think of Van Gogh's artistry as static is that there is no recorded process of how it was created over time. Contrast this situation against the products of modern cinema and video games. These products are the result of complex models of geometry and dynamics. So, if you want to archive a video game, best to archive the process, the shape, and the behaviors. Preserve the simulation models rather than an end-product. How something changes over time is precious and ultimately more valuable than what emerges from the end of a creative pipeline. Even with packages such as Photoshop or Gimp, there is a process that is stored as a dynamic stack of human interaction events. That is what we ought to be saving wherever possible. The focus on process, and on model, can also have an effect on how we think of art-not only from the perspective of archiving. Musicians and performers are used to modeling. Maybe, the rest of us should jump on board.
It all began on a day when I was visiting a friend of my fathers. I was fairly young and found a book on his shelf when I noticed the above diagram embedded somewhere in the book: a lituus. A what? It was something wonderful looking, and I had to know how it was made. You can make them by hand using plotting, but when I was first introduced to computing (the old card punch days), my first programs were graphical. I wrote something that read an equation (any equation), and plotted it out in ASCII characters. OK, so it wasn't very elegant looking but I had no direct access to a line plotter. The thing that fascinated me was the making. I could make a machine that did something. There was something intensely liberating about that realization. Today, the President announced Maker Day which will be tomorrow, June 18th. The first Maker Faire will be held then to coincide. It is becoming easier to make anything you want from cardboard or wood to 3D printed plastic. And, yes, you can make a lituus. Out of chocolate? Why not.