Time Travel Radio, Mk. II


it travels through time and space!  With the selection switch, you can set the radio to move through space, which plays tracks from the time tuned to, in the appropriate category (for example, a 1940 FDR speech, the a 1940 speech by Winston Churchill, etc.)  To move through time, the radio will follow an event, such as the space race, playing Sputnik’s earnest beeps, then the announcement of Yuri Gagarin’s triumphant flight, then John Glenn’s rocket ride, then the Apollo 11 landing …

Dividing up into these two categories should be an interesting way to explore history—I see history as following stories, each of which fits into a coherent whole.  As the tuning dial is servo controlled, it can move through time as a track is followed, giving a visual indication of progression through time.  In “travel through space” mode, the dial will stay fixed, but the tuning indicator may move radially, to indicate which track it is on, if moving across different themes, as selected on the rotary selector switch.

for the dial, I rather like the multicolored Zenith dial pictured below, although I think that I will stay with the rotating dial with fixed pointer as was employed in Mk. I


each colored track will indicate a historical progression, and I’m thinking about having a floating tuning indicator (perhaps an LED or three behind the disc?)  I could use a dummy CD (the non-aluminum coated one from the bottom of the stack in shipment), with the translucent printed overlay.  I’ll have to build this when I get back to school Monday.



for conceptual inspiration:

2020 Mobiletech

The Background

In 2020, challenges that will be faced by emergency workers will be foreseeably similar to the challenges they face today. Ideally, there would only be a need for emergency response (EMS, fire-rescue, emergency technicians), but in 11 years, the world is likely to be similar to the world of today, with need for military, police, and social-activists to keep them in line.

Technology trends

Augmented reality

It’s coming. In 10 years, it will be on your glasses, although TFTs or the like might be integrated into contact lenses, which would be awesome. http://www.technovelgy.com/ct/Science-Fiction-News.asp?NewsNum=1409. As far as integrating AR into glasses, there’s plenty of space for batteries and computing power … or at least a Bluetooth receiver to communicate with a wrist-top computer or smartphone. If there are Oakleys with an MP3 player or Bluetooth radio in them, certainly in 10 years, there will be good AR glasses available
What would you want to see in AR? I worked on a project in 2005 researching AR for obstacle detection in driving applications—the whole windshield was an AR display (cool, huh?). In the ambient environment, AR would be really useful for military uses to identify threats—which would probably be the first implementation considering who has money to throw around, but it would be incredibly useful for first responders to get beyond-visual-spectrum information. Imagine an IR image superimposed on the external scene for a rescue team exploring the rubble after an earthquake—it would make finding survivors much easier, to be able to see augmented reality before you. The trick will be making sure the computer generated imagery doesn’t lead you astray or into a hole!
The applications are already coming out for AR – mostly smartphone based applications integrating a live view with superimposed information display. Putting this into glasses or contacts, or as a virtual retinal display, will be a great boon to medicine, search and rescue, military, and civilian applications will abound


Pico projectors are here, http://www.fastcompany.com/blog/noah-robischon/editors-desk/10-tiny-mighty-pico-projectors-photo-gallery, and will keep shrinking, getting brighter, and battery technology will hopefully continue to improve in terms of safety, longevity, and energy density.
Already this technology is making its way into devices like Nikon’s Coolpix S1000pj –a pocket digital camera with an integrated projector. While it’s mostly a gimmick here (see amazing video of Helicopter Boyz in Yomuri Land), it could be a great tool in the future. When my dad went to teach anatomy in Uganda in the 1970s, he brought trays of slides and a Kodak Ektagraphic projector. Now all that gear could fit into a practically pocket sized device.
11 years from now pico projectors could be in watches, who knows!
Pico-projectors could become a tool for advertising or propaganda, or counter-messages. Likely both will result, potentially leading to an overloading free-for-all of lighted messages bombarding us all the time. Or people could be nice about it. I guess it will be one of those socially determined issues of détente, like the current level of advertising in our lives.


I can buy a GPS for my arduino. There’s a GPS receiver in my smartphone. There are GPS watches. I know where I am, and other people could too, if I used Google Latitude, or Foursquare. This could end as a big-brotherish Stasi nightmare (their stated objective was “to know everything”). Fortunately, they were limited by technology: “how do you know if the Stasi has bugged your apartment? There’s a new piece of furniture.
This is a philosophical problem. Do I want to know if one of my friends is nearby? Would it make life easier if I could use my smartphone or AR glasses (see above) to find my friends in a crowd? How about rescue with the aid of your Breitling Emergency watch? Keeping track of people with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia would probably be a good thing. But the dark side is that the Man could keep track of us, equally for ill as for good. In the case of social activists (or anyone the Man doesn’t like) this could be big trouble. It could also be good for tracking down Antisocial actors. Damocles’ sword hangs heavy over this technology, but as with all things, it is becoming ubiquitous – and we are tacitly signing away our rights to control this information in many circumstances.

Wireless data transfer

First radio, then communications satellites made it possible to communicate without wires across the globe. I now have a smartphone with data transfer capabilities, which works in areas with data coverage, and satellite phones are available which work almost globally. Prices for data transfer will decrease, and coverage will increase, making communication ubiquitous. In a sense, there is no more “away.” This is a good thing when you want to say hi to your friend in Antarctica, or find your way around Tokyo. But there is a lost romance of being in ‘Deepest Darkest Africa’ –my grandparents didn’t hear from my dad for months when he was off circling the globe.
With the explosion in information, and increasing ease of access, what you need to know will be close by, especially 11 years from now. This will be a great boon to civil workers – it would be great to be able to access the map of where cables are before digging, or for firefighters to see the layout of the building interior before going in, or for public health workers to get information they need to combat an epidemic – or to treat a specific patient.
Paired with mobile computing platforms and AR, there is great promise for faster wireless data transfer, both local (WiMax and cellular data) and satellite.

Data Visualization

“One dead man is a tragedy, ten thousand dead men is statistics”—Stalin. We’ve been living in the information age since the 1940s, and data is the big thing—and will continue to be so. The issue is understanding it all. Advances in cognitive science and new methods of visualizing data will help to make sense of all the data that Google (for one) has on us, and improving the efficiency of society, which is an essential goal.
The GapMinder is a great way to see how societies have developed, with respect to several factors such as mean life expectancy, population, and GDP per capita. The truth is out there, you just have to understand it, and get others to understand what they’re seeing.
For activists, the cause of pursuing and disseminating truth is the essential goal. To persuade effectively, accurate information must be disseminated in a clear and compelling manner. Visualizations make complex information understandable, and developments over the next decade will make it possible to do more with more data.

The Time Travel Radio, Mk. 1

Before the internet, before television, the first live instant communication was radio.  Radio is an incredibly powerful medium, even in its unidirectional and audio-only implementation.  FDR’s fireside chats, the Long Count, the live broadcast of the destruction of the airship Hindenburg … radio was there to tell the world what was happening.

For the media controller project for physical computing, we began the development of a ‘historical’ radio: rather than tuning to a station, you tune to a year to hear a broadcast of historical note.  Among the selections, there are speeches by Churchill, the radio Moscow announcement of Yuri Gagarin’s first trip into space, some Beatles, some B.B. King, and of course some selected advertisements (no, Wilkins Coffee ads are on TV, not on the radio).

The idea is for something that would make a good museum piece, that people can use to explore history, and that can stand on its own without a computer.  I wanted to stay away from the computerized stuff, because it’s not truthful.  If it’s going to be a radio, it should act like a radio, none of this ultra-glitzy projection stuff.  I’m trying to explain history, and to be true to it in at least a good measure.

The Outside

Jason and Lucas made a really great box, modeled on the Hallicrafters sets of the late 1950s and 1960s, designed by Raymond Loewy.

  DSC_0139  DSC_0124

The concept is to convey a sense of continuity with things that we are familiar with – it’s simple with two knobs (volume and tuning) and two switches, one for master power, and the other for internal lighting.

The box is a beautiful stained wood, in contrast to the metal/plastic Hallicrafters units.  the front panel is black lacquer covered masonite.
the galvanometer functions as a tuning indicator, the file plays when the needle is centered (and the proper year is reached on the rotating dial on the upper left).

The Innards

The system is based on an Arduino microcontroller, and Sparkfun MP3 trigger.  The MP3 trigger is pretty easy to use: by bridging or providing voltage to the set of pins on the left, you can play 7 files.  Serial control allows for playing 255 files, start/stop, and volume control.  It worked pretty well, until it died right before presenting, due to some sort of internal fault, as evidenced by the flashing diagnostic light.  I’m not sure why it failed, but it’s always a bad thing when a critical part dies at the wrong time.  I have a suspicion it could have been shorted on a screw embedded in the table surface, although when I contacted Sparkfun, they said they may have to reload the image on the EEPROM on the board.  Good for them, bad for me!

Mk. 2

for Mk. 2, priority is getting the MP3 trigger to not die at the wrong time.  Other priorities are using a better amplifier with physical volume control (and more power output), a multi-band tuning system for more ‘space’ and a few special surprises!


A few years ago, the NY Times word of the year was Logistics.  Ushahidi is logistics, in the sense that data visualization allows for people to know what is going on where.  The other side of Ushahidi is the crowd-sourcing of information, with a good filtering system to prioritize and sort data.  Developed in Africa, it works well with a minimum amount of infrastructure, and can be set up pretty quickly – and then manage a whole country’s worth of data on election violence, medicine distribution … whatever you want to set up.  Even more clever is the alerting feature – where you can set up an alert for if any event in your category selection occurs within 20km of your designated spot.

The Ushahidi project Alive in Afghanistan provides a platform for citizen and professional journalism and tracking of several categories of data related to the continuing unrest in the country.  On the front page, you can see a map overlaid with markers for incidents ranging from election irregularities to NATO troop activity.  By relying on crowdsourced information, submitted by SMS, there can be a lot of data put down—far more than could be delivered by a professional new service.

Crowdsourcing generally provides pretty good information, either by way of ‘digital Maoism’ (which is how Wikipedia works) or regression to the mean, which is how the Peanut Gallery is often staggeringly accurate in terms of guessing the weight of the dressed ox (the original example).  Crowdsourcing can also be dangerous in terms of being subject to hijacking, which would be a real threat in Afghanistan: the Taliban or Al-Qaeda could put a pin down for “What Went Well” and have it lead to a truck bomb or other unpleasant surprise.  So the system has a trust selection system, so once you know someone is reputable, you can ‘trust’ them more than just someone who sends an SMS in.

By providing news and pushing updates to people through SMS, Alive in Afghanistan provides up to date and detailed information, potentially much faster than any new service.  In a high-threat environment, this is an essential service, and the information feed can also be tapped by traditional media outlets, like CNN and Al-Jazeera to see where things are happening.

Another Ushahidi system is Stop Stock-Outs.  Stop Stock-Outs uses crowdsourcing to make sure pharmacies in central Africa have adequate supplies of essential medicines (as defined by the WHO, 1977).  Without robust infrastructure, both transit links and telecommunications, it is often difficult to maintain adequate supplies of pharmaceuticals, especially those in high demand in rural areas.  Stop Stock-Outs allows for simplified tracking of pharmaceutical stocks, using the Ushahidi infrastructure to allow for real time reporting.  This system addresses a critical public health problem for these countries—both in terms of providing medications such as antibiotics and antimalarials, which are time sensitive, and also antiretrovirals where not being able to take medications on time can foster resistance and potentially reduce their effectiveness in combatting HIV/AIDS.
Additionally, stock-outs undermine confidence in the public health infrastructure, reducing the effectiveness of the health infrastructure and rolling back the fight against infectious and chronic disease.

“Immediately”–Günter Schabowski

… And with that, The Wall effectively crumbled (although it was a few days until the sledgehammers came out).  That was it for the Berlin Wall, the Iron curtain was rent, and the regimes passed into the dustbin of history with varying levels of violence, and now we are faced with a new, for the most part postcommunist (post Soviet-Communist) world.  No longer were people in Europe peering at each other across a mined, fenced, and patrolled no-man’s land, but now a number of the former eastern bloc countries are part of the EU, NATO, and it’s possible to walk across Europe in either direction without much interference, and the Iron Curtain trail is available for bike tours.

I’ve asked my friends where they were and what were they doing 20 years ago, and for the most part they didn’t really understand at the time, which is understandable because I was in 3rd grade, and they were in kindergarten-elementary school as well. 

Some other friends had different takes on the event, being older (in graduate school, teaching, or working at the time).

A friend, who was in graduate school at the time, claimed to have thought it one of the seminal events of his life.  He had wanted to get to Berlin to see it all happen, but unfortunately couldn’t make it there from Oslo.  A colleague of his was in shock—his doctoral thesis centered on how the communist bloc was going to be around for the foreseeable future; and he now was in the difficult position of defending his research and interpretation of it, considering that the GDR was no more and the USSR was on its last legs.
the Another friend, a West German, was busy playing pool and celebrating a friend’s birthday, and didn’t notice at the time—the next morning the newspaper announced quite a present: “one we had been waiting for all our lives.”

the most interesting note I received was from Prof. Walter LaFeber, who didn’t remember where he was other than that he was in Ithaca, and that the coming down of the Wall wasn’t that big a surprise.  Now, being one of the great foreign policy minds of the 20th century, having written several books on the subject, he is pretty well qualified to have seen the writing on the wall so to speak, before most other people (including the unfortunate Norwegian grad student above).

So, here we are 20 years later, in a world which is more complicated in some ways.  Where it was easy to point to a nation-state as an enemy, now we contend with nonstate actors and quasi-governmental organizations (such as the Taliban).  I think we’re in many ways better off, and the people who suffocated under the Iron Curtain are almost certainly better off (although during the 1990’s, Russia experienced a depression which some claim to have been as severe or worse than the American Great Depression of the 1930’s), we still live in an imperfect world.  Some of the commitments the communist regimes made (albeit halfheartedly) were laudable, and now that the the debate over medical care and egregious compensation are heating up in the US, perhaps it would be prudent to consider alternate political-economic models, which now are really nowhere to be found.

As Prof. LaFeber has said before, history can only be interpreted long after the events in question.  The 20th century paradigm began to dissolve in 1989 –and while it’s melt continues, it is a long way from gone from our consciousness.


"History is not without a sense of irony." — Morpheus, The Matrix.