Misha's Blog

Berlin — A Tuned City

Posted in Local Spotlight by Misha on July 9, 2012

Print by Cia Rinne, downloadable pink noise added by me (download at bottom of post)

There are a few things I really like about Berlin besides walking around with open beer. Dogs have reached consensus to act calm and have achieved independence from leashes. Bicycling is encouraged: there are bike paths, bike lanes, and bike traffic lights. There are lots of bike shops (and there is even one open on Sunday at Alexanderplatz if you need it). In this post I’ll review art and architecture in Berlin, and generate pink noise!

The soundscape of the city is unique with birds. Caitlin says that bugs beget birds. But where are the bugs coming from? Maybe all the green roof subsidies? Speaking of subsidized culture, we’ve visited a lot of museums (Pergamon with Babilonia artifacts, Hamburger Banhoff with the Beuys and fog sculptures by Anthony McCall) as well as artist run centers or ‘producer galleries’ (téte, Grimmuseum, General Public) showing great photography (Julia Kissina), sound installations (Cia Rinne), and interactive installation (Antonia Low). We also checked out a talk by an english acoustician Max Dixon at the Guggenheim Lab.

Dixon inaugurated acoustics-based urban planning. Don’t just remove traffic noise in London because it repeals the drunken arguments! Walk-ways that tune foot-fall so you can hear who’s coming and who is going. When you can’t hear yourself move, it feels like your sound-bubble shrunk to be smaller than the size of your body. I remember walking along a loud highway and feeling so insignificant that I feared the gust of a hurtling truck passing by would toss me into the air like a feather. What about roofs designed for tuned rainfall? In the jungle, every species finds their sound niche. Each animal evolves to locate their sound in a certain frequency and to space their sound out temporally so they can be heard by their kind at a distance. What if instead of volume-based sound regulations we had frequency related regulations too? What if we admitted that the sound environment is an ecosystem?

What if urban environments engaged in call and response? Fountains and waterfalls generate pink noise (noise spaced out by octaves). This is a pleasing noise blanket, much better than the harsh white noise (all frequencies at all levels) which sounds hissy. Fountains mask noise. But some new fountains grow when it is loud and peter out when it is quiet. To show my appreciation, I generated a one minute pink noise track for you to enjoy (two noise sources per stereo channel) so please relax!

Stereo Pink Noise by Misha Rabinovich

Human Amusement Videos From the Basement

Posted in Local Spotlight by Misha on January 16, 2011

Meyer Giordano is a hacker with strong alchemical leanings. He showed me around his laboratory at the Warehouse which featured a massive frustrated internal reflection interface slicked with vaseline (to increase reflectivity). In the following clip, Meyer demonstrates wireless power transmission through some kind of plasma fire. When he draws the receiving node (screwdriver) close enough, the tens of thousands of volts leap to it. That lights up the LEDs.

In this clip, we see what melting a screw driver can deliver. I smelled that metal vaporizing.

Digging Deeper into Onondaga Lake

Posted in DS Institute, Local Spotlight by Misha on November 24, 2010

Apparently, there is a large lake in Syracuse NY, but I didn’t see it until recently. Onondaga Lake is hidden by the flat geography and Carousel Mall. Hearsay of the lake’s pollution fuels the mystery. Now I’m at the DS Institute working on the limnological study. We went to the twelfth annual Onondaga Lake Scientific Forum a few days ago. The day-long conference included many presentations by scientists and contractors hired to work the lake. We found out that most of the work is on analyzing and modeling the lake system, and not remediation.

Before going to the conference, I perused the history of this Superfund site. To summarize:

  • Syracuse dumped raw sewage into the lake for years, resulting in phosphorus, ammonia, nitrite, bacteria, and other harmful microorganisms choking off the lake’s life.
  • Millions of gallons a day of chloride, sodium, and calcium were dumped into the lake since 1884 until the Clean Water Act closed Honewell’s soda ash plant in the 1970s.
  • Honeywell dumped mercury, a byproduct of chlorine production, right into the lake, maxing out at 22 pounds of mercury per day (82 tons total), between the 1950s and ’70s *.
  • Other companies dumped PCBs into the lake.
  • The lake is still the geographic drainage basin for Onondaga County accepting unfortunate runoff from the neighboring Solvay Paperboard plant and others.
  • Fishing for food has been banned for decades, but fish diversity is slowly growing and bird presence is increasing, despite heavy pollution (video of Bald Eagles on the lake here).

At the conference, I learned that:

  • The lake is a complex ecosystem. Alewife (fish), Daphnia (tiny crustaceans), and Zooplankton (microorganisms) feed off of each other producing perennial boom and bust cycles/feed-back loops.
  • The lake is still a source of pollution because even waves caused by wind can stir up the toxic sediment into the water.
  • Many scientists (teams from Michigan U, Cornell, etc) and contractors (Metro and Marcellus Sewage treaters) work on the lake and tributaries.
  • The funding for this work comes from the Upstate Freshwater Institute, Syracuse Center for Excellence, and the 475 million dollar fund from Honeywell.
  • The majority of these people are focussed on analysis, not remediation. The few that do focus on rehabilitation (not remediation either) are the sewage processing plants. They focus on making sure their effluent is getting more clean (limiting phosphorus and etc).
  • Daphnia look beautiful – even chimerically mythical – under a microscope (photo below)!

The conference did not seem to address:

  • The need for improved knowledge sharing between parties. Most groups are working out their own particle tracking models, while some are still messing with dumping dies into the lake and studying their movements.
  • The current debate between Honeywell and others about how deeply to dredge the bottom of the lake.
  • The complexity of the pending plan of pumping out lake water, sending it for processing, and returning it back into the lake.
  • The critical need for public debate about what the lake should become so as to inform future action.

The talks were very informative. The visualisations were stellar. One group discussed the life and death cycles of the iconic Daphnia, a crustacean that can easily swim far up your nose. Another group described their algorithms that find correlations between sunlight absorption of the lake and different contents of substances such as phosphorous, benzene, and chlorophyll. Soon, they said, they wouldn’t have to send scientists to sample any more lake water because their models would be able to figure it all out from a satellite photo.

The conference was at the movie theater and was well orchestrated. The lunch in the theater’s banquet area was delicious. The coffee was good and strong, and held up for the day. The attendees were very optimistic. $25 dollars well spent!

Daphnia are small, planktonic crustaceans, between 0.2 and 5 mm in length.

Daphnia are small, planktonic crustaceans, between 0.2 and 5 mm in length.