NSFE (Not Safe For Electrosensitives)
March 5, 2011 11:46 PM   Subscribe

Unless you are in an extremely remote location, your environment is likely filled with an invisible mesh of dozens of wireless signals, silently communicating. What would you see if that electronic aether was made visible? Some attempts to do just that: lightpainting the “electronic terrain” of WiFi in Oslo, “Immaterials”, visualizing the volume and shape of RFID signals, and a delightful little Rube Goldberg-esque film of devices and objects influencing each other in a chain reaction of nearfield wireless communication. Also: Wireless in the World and its sequel, along with Magnetic Movie.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul (18 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
RFID and WiFi have been on my mind a lot recently, for various reasons. This is a really interesting exploration.
posted by lekvar at 12:03 AM on March 6, 2011

the video on that first link is saaaaweet.
posted by mhjb at 12:16 AM on March 6, 2011

Woah, what was that last link, Magnetic Movie? Are those visualizations of live magnetic fields as recorded in their environment? Or was that just some really awesome artist's conception? Sure I everyone knows there are EM fields in the environment, but if that's really a live representation of the actual tail end of the sun's magnetosphere blazing around metal objects in an office, shoving around EM forces in the environment, oh man was my physics education inadequate.

That reminds me of my high school physics class, they made us measure EM interference patterns with two little microwave emitters the size of a dime, a receiver, and an oscilloscope. We'd plot the high and low points on a piece of graph paper as we ran the receiver over it. Then we'd measure the pattern and calculate the frequency of the emitters.

Now I just can't get this picture out of my mind.. I'm sitting over a lab bench, plotting out a planar 2D cross section of a little EM field with graph paper and pencil. But I'm staring at the paper and the oscilloscope, and can't see the crazy, awesome magnetic fields flickering all around me.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:48 AM on March 6, 2011

charlie don't surf: Woah, what was that last link, Magnetic Movie? Are those visualizations of live magnetic fields as recorded in their environment? Or was that just some really awesome artist's conception?
It's actually footage from the Director's Cut of Donnie Darko.
posted by hincandenza at 1:02 AM on March 6, 2011

Obligatory Feynman observations on how we are somehow able to make sense of this mess of electromagnetic noise.
posted by Harry at 1:10 AM on March 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Electromagnetic ghosts all around us....whhoooaa....Scarrry.

I like this stuff.
posted by Skygazer at 1:27 AM on March 6, 2011

Very cool links. Thank you. I've been spending a lot of time thinking about the immaterial dimensions of cities, and how they map out a very different landscape than the physical environments. They connect people in radically different ways that are barely visible except to the people who are connected. Social networking is the most obvious example of this, and there are dozens of other ways that this is happening. It's fascinating to me how many things happening today have to contend on some level with making sense of how the immaterial (virtual, online..) relates to the material (actual, in person, 'real'...)

The disjunctures or friction between the immaterial and material are going to produce a lot of cool things and ideas, as well as a lot of trouble and trauma. I suppose this has been the case in some form for centuries, but the particular way it plays out when the immaterial is primarily digitized information has been and will continue to be exciting to witness.
posted by mariokrat at 2:27 AM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Last year I randomly decided to count the various wireless signals being used in my home. A rough list: wifi, bluetooth, GSM, FM radio, satellite TV, digital radio, the logitech wireless mouse/keyboard signal, cordless phone, bi-di baby monitor, and wireless doorbell.

That's ten different wireless signals/protocols in one home, not counting IR remotes. I'd give up almost all of them for wireless power though.
posted by vanar sena at 3:00 AM on March 6, 2011

CharlieDS: the video is made up of sound activated CGI superimposed on lab scenes. Effective though.
posted by Duug at 4:00 AM on March 6, 2011

I feel obligated to toss in a link to Craig Baldwin's Spectres of the Spectrum, a delightful indie sci-fi film/mashup of the history of broadcasting, while we're looking at awesome art/film about e&m. Just re-watched it this weekend. So bloody awesome, in a totally different way from Magnetic Movie.
posted by Alterscape at 6:54 AM on March 6, 2011

Sigh. Some of this stuff is cool and artistic I suppose, but it's so chock full imprecise wording that it borders on disinformation.

I mean suppose you have a little a little box with a red LED flashing out Morse code sitting on your desk. That LED is emitting a tiny fraction of the energy of the light fixture behind you. Now imagine you have a decoder that tries to determine if that LED is blinking and what it's saying.

If you just tried to measure the light in the room, you'd be screwed. You'd a have a number that waffled between 99 and 100 except when the washing machine kicked on and it dropped to about 80 for a second, or the sun went behind a cloud outside, or when someone walked between the light fixture and it, etc. So you'd put all kinds of filters and such on it, so you were just measuring the red part of the spectrum. You'd stick an optical chopper in there so that if your 1's didn't have the right pulse superimposed on them, you could rule them out as noise and so on.

These guys are ignoring all that and reporting their ability to pick up signal as a measure of emissions. To use my little blinky LED detector as an example, they would say that the lights were off if they walked past a major traffic accident with a dozen emergency vehicles covered in flashing red lights, and it would say that the light was really bright in a photographic darkroom where the signal emitter was the only light source. I could set their detector on fire using energy of any wavelength other than what they were measuring and they'd never notice.

So, looking at vanar sena's list, what's missing is every light bulb in the house that's screaming a broadband one at the void but not really transmitting any data at all.

It beats sitting in the dark, though.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:25 AM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

The last few bits of the first movie, where there was more interaction with the landscape were really nice. Though it seemed like some little all-terrain snow wheels would have made carrying the light pole less arduous, but maybe it is less cumbersome than it looks. Having a few people with light poles following each other would be especially cool.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:11 AM on March 6, 2011

Good thing this stuff doesn't cause cancer. Right?
posted by Redhush at 11:00 AM on March 6, 2011

The evidence suggests that it doesn't, but let's pretend that RF emissions are about as carcinogenic as a bucket of plutonium. Do you want to be where there are a lot of lights on their pole, or just a few?

Also, we absolutely know UV causes cancer and just falls out of the sky without human intervention. But if you put a building up that casts a perpetual shadow on the playground you are suddenly the poster child for callous corporation rather than the sworn protector of the little children. Why is that?
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:04 PM on March 6, 2011

Uh...so not allowing kids to see the sky and feel a sense of space and wonder, or feel the sun on their skin for at least 30 mins during school time, and when the sun it as it's least intenisty in the autumn, Winter and Spring, is a humanitarian act?

Sunlight is key in the formation of Vitamin D in the body, which is crucial for the formation of strong healthy bones in growing children and maintaining strong bones in adults (especially women who're susceptible to Osteoporosis. That factor alone, is way more important than a little UV radiation.

Also, lack of sunlight is responsible for warding the depression of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) that effects lot of people in the winter time.
posted by Skygazer at 2:13 PM on March 6, 2011

>Good thing this stuff doesn't cause cancer. Right?

I have a woman friend who claims to be electrosensitive, she won't go into this one room in the local coffee shop where almost everyone is using WiFi, she says it has an "evil" atmosphere. I don't want to tell her that I think she's being ridiculous. I mean, she has her own WiFi laptop.

There's a lot of charlatanry around EM sensitivity. I read about one guy who will measure EM in your environment and try to reduce it and eliminate sources. This works great until you live in a corner apartment next to a power transformer. So he will sell you expensive metallized wall paint to turn your bedroom into a Faraday cage, so you can at least sleep and spend the longest amount of time away from EM fields. I think that's ridiculous, hell, I sleep with my laptop about 1 foot from my head.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:50 PM on March 6, 2011

Paging William Gibson, come in, William Gibson.
posted by subdee at 7:11 AM on March 7, 2011

yeah all that UV radiation that's produced by human action is bad stuff too. Can't get my cell phone coverage without that
posted by Redhush at 12:34 PM on March 7, 2011

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