Sunday, June 26, 2011

David Eagleman’s Sum

“In one afterlife, you may find that God is the size of a microbe and unaware of your existence. In another version, you work as a background character in other people’s dreams. Or you may find that God is a married couple, or that the universe is running backward, or that you are forced to live out your afterlife with annoying versions of who you could have been.”

That is from the back cover of David Eagleman’s Sum, subtitled “forty tales from the afterlives.” Each tale is a vignette about what happens when you die.

Eagleman is a neuroscientist, and Sum is a literary mind game. With imaginative what-ifs, he subverts familiar conceptions of life and death. Instead of a singular light in the dark, you get a light show.

It’s quirky, adventurous, and at times eloquent. It’s a virtuoso performance of thinking different. It’s also admirably brief.

If Sum sounds interesting, The New York Times has an excerpt with four vignettes. And here is the book’s page at Amazon.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Dreaming FIDS

Dreaming FIDS (Flight Information Display System) is an artwork in San Jose Airport’s new Terminal B.

It’s a fish tank. Inside are fish, video screens, and cameras. You see not only the fish but also the cameras’ view of the fish.

And who is that in the background of the fish-surveillance video? That would be you, looking at yourself looking in.

Seeing Dreaming FIDS brought to mind the Lou Reed lyric, “This here’s a zoo, and the keeper ain’t you.” However, I appreciated the work even more after I watched this three-minute video. Check it out.

Dreaming FIDS is by Ben Hooker and Shona Kitchen. It’s located between gate 25 and 26 in San Jose Airport’s Terminal B.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Edward Tufte's ET Modern Gallery

Many readers of this blog know the work of Edward Tufte. His books, such as The Visual Display of Quantitative Information and Envisioning Information, are widely regarded for their rigorous pursuit of truth and beauty in data visualization. A recent Washington Monthly profile captures his notoriety well.

Perhaps fewer of you know that Tufte’s main interest these days is sculpture. Or that he has his own gallery, ET Modern, in New York City. Or that he is often there on Saturdays, giving free tours.

Now you know. Be advised, however, that the gallery and tours are primarily about Tufte’s sculptures, which are not data-driven. They are modern art compositions made of metal, light, and space. They reveal different aspects depending on the viewer’s position, the time of day, and other environmental factors. In that sense, they are meant for the viewer’s analysis and interaction—a form of visualization more subtle and open than charts on a page.

Tufte escaping flatland

In his gallery tour, Tufte’s voice is familiar from his books: professorial, authoritative, on a mission. He wants you to understand what he is doing and why. He makes connections to his previous data-visualization work, but just as often he makes distinctions. In the tour I attended, he said he had explored the conceptual territory of data visualization to the point that he is now more a guide than an explorer. For discovery and exploration, he has his art.

So if you visit the gallery with that mindset, and you get the chance to see a Tufte tour, you will be rewarded.