Not waving but globally drowning

When did Stevie Smith’s drowning man realise he had been much too far out all his life? Just as the waves lapped over his head the final time, as his final breath bubbled up through the chill water?

We are a drowning world. Arctic ice is diminishing year by year. If it all undergoes a phase transition, London would be entirely submerged, and all the levees in Holland wouldn’t save the Netherlands. It’s D-x, but we don’t know xxactly which breath we are on – not quite our last, not yet.

We chatter about it.

Arctic Ice Chatter on Twitter
Arctic Ice Chatter on Twitter

We run campaigns for action about it, increasingly galvanised by activity online – think The Future, Occupy, 350.

But despite all this chatter, we do little to ameliorate climate change. While some flat out deny climate change, they are just a vocal minority. Most of us know that our actions – burning fossil fuels, deforestation, consumption of resources, global trade, flying – all add together to a future global catastrophe. Yet we fail to act – both in global policy decisions, and in our daily lives. Life now is too good to want to change it for the sake of tomorrow.

There is an unseen consequence to our online activity. Computers use power. Making them requires mining, fabrication, shipping. Communications cost carbon. According to the comically named Tweetfarts: “The energy it takes to send a tweet generates .02 grams of CO2.1 With 500 million tweets sent daily2, a total of 10 metric tons of CO2 are emitted per day.”

It can’t be denied that the online chatter raises awareness. The next step is action, for if we fail to act, isn’t all this activism actually adding to the problem rather than helping fix it?

Water is key. Not only is it an impending threat, it is also ironically also a diminishing resource. Alongside the threat of submersion, London faces a drinking water crisis of gargantuan proportions: by 2050 the city will be 350 million litres of drinking water in deficit – if it’s not already an urban sea bed. And water itself – or at leas our use of it – adds to the problem. In 2009, five percent of US carbon emissions were down to treatment, transport and use of water by humans. That’s the equivalent of 62 coal-fired power stations.

Tiny icebergs float in a bath. Tiny people huddle together as the ice retreats under their feet. Some will certainly drown. Those unfortunate enough to be on the smallest iceberg are the first to go.

The melting is now inevitable, but there may be a chance to slow it down, buy a few more precious minutes. Their fate scrolls above them. Like Tinkerbell, if only enough people make enough noise their existence might be saved – for just a little while. Maybe long enough. Show you care.

Floating. Floating. The sky was blue, the waves lapped around his toes. Life was good, no need for change. The current carried him further, the tide rose. Perhaps if he’d realised sooner he might have swum ashore.

How I learned to stop hating and love old electronics – or, making a servo work with a Raspberry Pi by cannibalising ancient motherboards and creative use of the CRT monitors that have been cluttering up the studio

I’m going all guns preparing my sculpture for the New Atlantis theatre show by The Enlightenment Cafe. It’s opening on 19th January at The Crystal in London, UK. Having made iceberg moulds and delivered them to the UCL ice physics laboratory, the next step is to create a hot water boiler that responds to water-related activity on Twitter.

This involves some playing with electronics…

I unwrapped my “christmas presents” from myself gleefully yesterday morning. Electronics to play with! A Raspberry Pi! Cables! A servo!!

Except not everything was there… In fact, there were no jumper cables, and there was no Raspberry Pi B+. And to make matters worse, the 7 inch screen I ordered arrived broken – crucial wires having been sliced through before it was bunged in a package and sent over to me.

cable cutter... not impressed with the ebay service
This is not a serviceable screen.

 

Woe. Woe is me.

Having fortified myself with tea, I decided to see how far we could get with an old RPi (Model A, rev 2) and the cables we already had.

Thus, I made command central. All systems go.

IMG_5450

Using one age old CRT monitor as a workbench, I used the other – normally used for video editing – as a makeshift screen. I literally lost track of how long we spent looking for cables to hook up these bad boys. Finally, hanging onto these hulking brutes of useless electronics through international relocations has paid off. Jun (my incredibly helpful other half without whom I’d not have got so far yesterday) – and his vast stores of seemingly irrelevant and outdated gear – has been vindicated.

But it’s not just Jun who hangs onto old electronics – I have been lugging old bits of redundant crap around the globe too. Including this old motherboard.

motherboard
HOW OLD? I got this baby from a skip outside my department at the University of Cambridge in 2006.

This old motherboard which was the source of the final component we needed – female adapters for my cables so we could link them up to the RPi.

Ancient tech on a shiny new RPi
Ancient tech on a shiny new RPi

Et voila!

All that remained was for me to hook everything up

IMG_5456

Rigging up the servo
Rigging up the servo

Do a bit of programming – you can find some details of how Jun and I got it working on my New Atlantis hackpad – and suddenly you have a servo getting its groove on to the tune of Twitter.

New Atlantis Sculpture – Servo dances to Twitter beats from Kat Austen on Vimeo.

“This video shows two steps in getting a servo to respond to Twitter. First, we’re rigging it up and testing its response by varying the PWM-MS values. Then we hook it up to a Node Red script that scrapes Twitter for #water and #fail at the limits of the PWM-MS values – and it’s grooving to Twitter’s beats.”

The Node Red json files for this can be found on my github repository for New Atlantis.

Finally, I’m struggling with a name for the sculpture. In a wanton fit of sentimentality and punnage I went for Melting Hearts – but I hate it. Suggestions gratefully appreciated.