So, this might seem off topic, but I ask you to bear with me. So, this past weekend, I attended the National Society of Black Physicists Conference. (Yes, there is enough of us to have a conference) This conference was a convening of professional, graduate students, and undergraduate students in physics. There were about 210 or so of us in attendance. That sounds like a good number. However, one must remember African-American Physicist on makeup roughly 1.3% of all the Physicists in the country. Hence, one realizes that number is very small. Most physicists engage in physics from a research perspective. Students are reared to become researchers. Few if any are guided towards the high school classroom. Don’t quote me on this, but I think I heard someone cite that only 30% of the physics teachers in the country actually have degrees in physics. Now consider how many of them might be are teachers of color. As one could imagine, that number is small.
So many times, you have heard me speak of “perspectives” in art and science. I remember when I was a grad student, a woman asked me about a treble clef pin I was wearing on my jacket. She asked, “Are you a musician?” I responded, “Not by trade. I am becoming a physicist.” She looked amazed. She responded by saying, “A physicist? Well good for you!” However, I could not help but feel like the tone of her voice was patronizing. I wanted to respond to her, “Gee, thanks. Could I have a cook now?” That experience was forever burned in my memory. As I got older and more into my profession, I could not help but think, should that woman’s response had been that much of a surprise? I mean, after all, what are the chanced she would have met a black physics teacher much less an up and coming black physics professor. I imagine she meant well. However, her perspective made it clear that meeting such an individual was rare, to say the least.
Today, I have committed my career to making math intensive curriculum more accessible to underrepresented populations. I find at the root of that effort is changing people’s perspective. I try to change people’s perspective of what physics and what it means to be a physicist. I try to change people’s perspective what math is, and try to stop people from being afraid of it. I guess you could say I am trying to help people see the face and the vase. I am trying to change perspectives.
I think the STEAM initiative is the way to go to achieve this perspective change. Music, art, and science all have their roots embedded in math, trigonometry, and math. The work continues to change perspectives. And so the work of SciArt continues…………………
Through my work as a data tinkerer, I’ve learned to interpret data as beautiful, or imperfect, or disturbing, applying aesthetic criteria we use in evaluating art to numbers and patterns.
When I expect to see an interpretable visual pattern and instead receives a jumbled mess of pixels or words, my ability to evaluate the meaning of the visual pattern is interrupted. One possible response: “the machine made a mistake.” Another response: “did the computer just create art for me?”
With the Internet of Things seeping into our public and private lives, the unexpected banality of machine failure serves as a jarring critique of technological elitism while mocking the idea that Wifi-enabled toasters represent an improvement over their predecessors (then again, there are real consequences to this hyper-connectivity). In a way, the transformation of a sleek, phone-synced gadget into an inert brick creates a kind of public art:
With the rise of glitch art and symbiotic artistic relationships between people and machines, space has been created to allow for visual or audio expression that is ruled by algorithms as much as by aesthetics. I have been fascinated by the colorful block-art of my hapless printer, who apparently designed an audio
And equally captivated by the results of my computer-assisted travails exporting historic imagery from a wide array of formats and bit depths using different geospatial GUIs:
Top left: Output resulting from accidentally exporting an 8-bit image to 24-bit image. Top right: Output resulting from a GUI sewing a default spatial projection into an image without a coordinate reference system, visualized through another program. Bottom: Attempt by a computer program to stretch a single unprojected 1:24,000 panchromatic image across the entire visual extent of a UTM zone.
This week but I invite you to, in an act of mindfulness, experience the failure of technology in your life as an act of hilarity, or artistic transformation, or spiritual mystery, or contemplation.