Archived entries for Rest of You

Columbus Day Weekend

This is a path I traced over Columbus Day weekend. It originates in Sunnyside, Queens and moves around lower Manhattan, traveling through Greenwich Village, and later emerges from Penn Station. The path goes out to Long Island, through Rockville Centre and Lynbrook, before doubling back and completing its idiosyncratic circuit in Sunnyside. The drawing was completed with a GPS module, Arduino, and logger shield and processed through GPS Visualizer and Adobe Illustrator. DIY Location and Data Logging from ladyada.net was an extremely helpful resource as I got up and running.

With mobility, location awareness, and open-ended data logging functionality, I’m anticipating a series of urban sensing expeditions to gather place-specific information such as air quality, light level, and ambient noise. Implicit in these investigations is the idea that such factors impact life in the city. While curious about the information as such, I’m even more interested in the stories and visualizations that can be sculpted out of the data as well as the experience of gathering it.

Graphing Light and Temperature Data

In my last post I documented the collection of light and temperature data over a seven-hour period. Noting curiously that temperature did not seem to change with the sunrise, I wondered if there might be more to this weather pattern than a cursory glance at the numbers would reveal. This code allowed me to visualize and scroll through the data log to get a better picture of the interaction of light and temperature in my room.

In the first image above, the graph displays straight lines—a blue one across the top representing the absence of light and a red one beneath holding steady at about 79°. In the next image over, from 6:22–6:57, daybreak is discernible as the blue line begins to dip downward. Then after 9:00 (below), you notice that the red line is not as solid as it was before. On average the temperature remains the same but it’s a less consistent reading, suggesting that variable conditions like wind and cloud cover are causing subtle changes. Clouds would also explain the variation in light levels from 10:00 on, with peaks and valleys marked by black circles.

As I had supposed, that morning’s weather was in a state of flux while I was taking readings and this neutralized a temperature increase from sunlight. That a graph provided a more objective and subtle view of this phenomenon is not particularly significant in itself but is leaning into potentially more consequential explorations of consciousness and quantification. Questions about objectivity will certainly arise in the process, but data and its visualization does provide a form of knowledge about ourselves, others, and the space we occupy.

Lastly, with the help of friends, I was able to get this Processing sketch running using the Xcode integrated development environment. While Processing’s native IDE is quite sufficient in many respects, we were encouraged to consider Eclipse for its consistency across programming languages, error detection, and auto-completion, among other things. Visually, though, Eclipse stresses me out so I was eager to take advantage of Xcode’s smooth interface and Java capability. More info about setting up Processing in Xcode is available here.

Logging Light and Temperature Data

For this exercise, I’ve set up a photocell and temperature sensor to log data values of outdoor light level and room temperature. Readings were taken every two seconds from approximately 4:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. for a seven-hour view. The Processing and Arduino code I based my sketches on is available here.

Sensor placement corresponds to where I do most of my work at home so I was curious to note how environmental changes compare to my perceived experience of them on a daily basis. Interestingly, while light levels displayed their predictable variation, there was little change in temperature over the duration of the log. I did some tests to make sure the LM34 I was using gave accurate readings and indeed it did. It appears that the sunlight-to-outdoor temperature ratio equalized the difference indoors from evening to morning, resulting in smooth light level curves and relatively static temperature readings.

On Illusion

Last weekend, at my local green market, I purchased a nice bell pepper. The vendor sells both green and red ones but the red peppers cost 50¢ more than the green. Not only are they more visually striking, they’re sweeter and have more vitamins and nutrients. Of course, as Isaac Newton proved, neither of these inherently possess the property of redness or greenness. Rather, the peppers are reflecting different wavelengths of light into my eyes and, as such, I’m participating in the construction of their appearance. The red ones are still better for you, though.

In winter, I like to go snowboarding. Living in New York City, this requires a three-hour drive out to a nearby mountain, an expensive lift ticket, and many minutes spent waiting on chairlifts to get to the top of the slopes. In return, I receive perhaps a dozen fifteen-minute rides down the mountain before it’s time to call it a day. Nevertheless, that small portion of the day spent on the snow—which feels even shorter in the moment of its execution—retains outsize significance in the space of my memory. Time acquires a different quality in the course of weaving down the side of a mountain. This is a phenomenon that Hungarian psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes as flow.

Last year, I bought a new pair of sneakers at a small, family business in the East Village. They are black and have “Saucony” written on the back in red letters. It seems to me that buying Saucony sneakers is somehow different than buying Nike sneakers, communicating different priorities about scale and manufacturing. Shortly thereafter, I discovered that both brands are manufactured by Pou Chen, the largest shoemaker in the world. Nike and Saucony, with their distinct images, may project different messages and styles but the notion of their fundamental difference is an illusion.

As illusion influences perception, so perception influences decision-making. Pointing out illusion is valuable—not to exclude it from the realm of experience, but to question what the illusion tells us about ourselves. The subjective nature of phenomena presents us with both challenges and possibilities.



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