What this does, as you will (hopefully) see if you try it, is open a prompt, allow you to enter text, and then convert that text to a QR code using the Google Chart API.
This one simply converts the current URL to a QR code:
And this one prints the current screen. Which would be helpful if your current screen shows a newly-minted QR code.
The goal of all of this (for me) is to try and develop a way to reduce the printing of a QR code to a “one-click” sort of procedure. I’ve been working with a heat-activation Polaroid Zink printer, but not having a lot of success. For one thing, the Zink printer is kind of a pain. It only accepts jpgs in a particular portrait size (you might note the constraining 350 x 500 pixel variables in my code above), and the Google API only generates gif and png (adjust the “chof=” variable in the code to get a png, if you like). And while the Bluetooth on the printer works pretty well, iPhones still can’t send pictures over Bluetooth, so that means I have to drag a computer around with the Zink printer. At least until I can get a non-iPhone, but with my current budget, that will probably not be for a while.
But, one step at a time. If you find a better mobile printer, or use any other fun QR tools or tricks, let me know.
Posted: September 28th, 2011
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As part of my Burning Man reflections, I did a bit of thinking about what “art is”. Or, perhaps said better, is how it might work.
I actually did not realize the significance of a couple of sentences that I had written on that subject, until they were quoted back to me (thanks, Matthews Battles!). Here they are:
The purpose of Burning Man is to entertain. The art is low on poignant meaning, high on effort converted into wow-factor. But through that expression of entertainment is channeled an incredible amount of material, human resource, and hard work.
With these words still in my head last week, I went to see some of the events and installations of the Time Based Arts festival (TBA) here in Portland. Now, I always talk a lot of shit about TBA. Mostly because it provides me, as an artist, with that every so delicious opportunity to complain about his/her own art scene. And additionally, as the artists receive compensation for their work at TBA, it gives this non-paid artist another vector for being bitter, along a more materialist critique.
But with playa dust still coming out of my hair, TBA seemed even more asinine this year than ever before. It is not about the scope of the artwork. That there were no forty-foot tall burning structures or flame-belching vehicles meant that the work at TBA is of course going to be judged according to a different venue. But it was the attention of the artists to their art, or the lack thereof, that really stood out to me.
This is something that as an artist, or a person who builds or makes anything, can immediately see. It is as inimical to the work as the material out of which it is made. Once upon a time, we might have called it “workmanship”. Today it might be abbreviated as “good design”. I might describe it as the part of the worker that is abstracted into the work; and even this is a bit too materialist-philosophically esoteric to use as a description.
Instead, I would merely call it “quality”. Quality is something that can immediately be apprehended in viewing an object. It is something difficult to fake. In talking about this on Twitter Ella Dymaxion, playing the devil’s advocate, suggested that quality might just be a measure of privilege, “quantified by the amount of time one has had to devote to past art.” I think this gets at the point of quality, but specifically differentiating it from “skill”. We might have seemingly innate skills, or skills learned through excellent training, either acquired by luck, by privilege, or by hard work. “Quality” is limited to the particular work in question, and is only used as a stand-in for “skill” when the word is used to refer to something more general, such as the oeuvre of an artist, or an entire venue or thematic category of work.
There may be a threshold of skill that makes quality much easier to achieve. Or, some of the privilege representative in skill might constrain the sorts of mediums in which quality might reasonably be achieved by a particular person. However, the true factor in quality is effort. Whether it is a small drawing that took a few minutes, or a life long work, was the effort put into that thing, in creating it, sufficient to make quality apparent? Subjectivity will determine the response, but each subject should be able to easily make this determination.
My point in arguing this out is not to establish a new aesthetic criteria. I believe notice of quality already exists in our apprehension of artwork, mostly in terms of the negative. It isn’t so much that we stand in front of artwork and say to ourselves, “yes, this has quality, and I notice by this-and-this-and-these features.” It is that we stand in front of it, and say, “boy, but was that a waste of materials and everyone’s time.” Work lacking in quality is missing something. We’re looking for something expressed to us that means this is why we have all taken the time.
The work at TBA is largely of the sort that seeks, either explicitly (by the artist’s statement) or implicitly (by “taking part” in a genre or medium, as it were), to transmit meaning. The artists’ statements are designed to imply that the art itself is a statement. The work at Burning Man is the sort that does not imply a meaning, or if so, with a very light touch. The focus, overall, is on the apprehension, and hence, there is more of an opportunity for quality to come through in the immediate viewing of the work, rather than having to read a statement in order to “get it”.
But in addition to this difference lending Burning Man art to have its quality more easily observed than the work at TBA, I think this framework provides a better venue for aligning the artists towards finding quality in their work. I had an endemic sense at TBA that the work itself was “written off”, so to speak, in favor of the artist statement. As if it didn’t matter what sort of shit was slapped together, if it could be justified as quality in the statement.
I’ve heard the statement before that “art doesn’t justify bad craft”: meaning that you cannot use art to justify mistakes you made. You know there are mistakes. The viewer knows. There are always mistakes in work. But saying “those mistakes are supposed to be there” insults not only our intelligence as people who make things, as well as demeaning our notions of quality that art is supposed to invoke. We know better. We know when materials have been wasted, and when something could have been done better. A lack of quality, quite simply, cannot be justified as artistic. And that is the difference between quality and a lack of it.
I think that statement extends to saying that “meaning identified as artistic doesn’t justify bad craft”. I often complain about “gimmicky” artwork, seeking a popular appeal by easy, spine-jerking vectors. But at least a gimmick, well-executed, doesn’t leave the viewer with a sense of being cheated somehow. It doesn’t leave a taste in the mouth of ruined materials. It doesn’t give one an overwhelming urge to go recycle something. It may be cheap, but at least it does what it says on the box. There are quality gimmicks, and then there are voids of quality. At TBA, I noticed the latter, in hordes.
I told myself on starting to write this little essay, that I wouldn’t target any particular works I thought were lacking quality. But there was one so egregious, one so paramount of what I’m trying to convey, that I can’t help myself. Let me just say this: if you do a piece of work that, through repetition, attempts to represent a particular amount of “otherwise uncounted numbers of war dead”, and then put your work on display WITHOUT FINISHING THE TOTAL NUMBER OF THE REPRESENTATION, you are telling me that either those hundreds of thousands of dead that you did not finish representing are meaningless, or that your entire concept is. This example was particularly awful, because through its poor quality it negated a purportedly ethical meaning. But the general point is illustrated: just because you say the work means something, you cannot expect that it will. And quality is the brick from which you are going to build anything, meaningful or otherwise. You can say a wall will keep out the mongol hordes. But unless that wall is built from brick, it’s not going to do shit. And once you have a built a wall so high and so long, you don’t need to say anything. Because a real wall will be a wall without anyone having to say a thing.
What is the point of all this?
The point is that it is incredibly easy to develop stand-ins for the worth we all implicitly know and respect in work of any kind. It is easy to excuse a lack of quality for sake of art, entertainment, political meaning, wow-factor, or money. There aren’t many absolute rationales for anything in the world anymore. Even quality, despite all my talk of its almost sui generis qualities (and no it’s not, but it might sound like it is) is nothing like an absolute force in the world. And so, why not make a little money? Why not take a political cheap shot, or go after a gimmick rather than put in the time?
Yeah, that’s a good question. But I think the thing about quality is, we already know the answer to that. We just need to remember to speak up and say so, rather than take the easier way out.
Posted: September 22nd, 2011
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unknown flame-effect vehicle or building or bicycle or something
A dis-jointed meditation on things learned at Burning Man
The night after we got back from Burning Man, I had a waking playa-dream.
I woke, dazed and disoriented, in the orange street light that filtered in around the curtains. The sound of the light rail going past was a non-potable water truck to my ears, spraying down the dust street outside of the enclosure of our apartment. I reached my heavy arm up from the bed, tossing covers off of me in the heat, and touched the drywall. “Odd,” I thought. “Drywall would be such a mess on the playa. But it does have a nice finish.” Who built this structure? It has a very regular cubic shape. Have they pre-made dry wall panels, and then hung them from the inside of a geodesic dome? How have they sealed the edges? There is very little dust in here. I want to meet the person who designed this structure and chat with him or her. I got off the mattress, sitting on the playa floor, and only when starting down the hallway towards the bathroom to look for a water tank did I realize I was back in our apartment in Portland, and was not in a city of 50,000 built for a week on an alkaline lake bed.
2011 was my first Burning Man, an event I’ve wanted to attend since I was about 15 and read about it in BoingBoing. 13 years later, it’s a completely different event, of course. And apparently, it is also many different events at the same time. The week of Burning Man is a tripartite collusion of drunk revelers, hardcore makers, and hippie consciousness-expansion. But outside of that week, it is something else again.
I was lucky enough, through a convoluted series of events that was never fully explained to me, to get an early access pass. These are handed out to volunteers, artists, and theme camp builders so they can get a jump start on construction before the event officially opens. The unofficial theme camp I was camping with managed to get a few of these, and having nothing else to do except drive rebar into the earth, I went along with our small build team to erect shade structures for 30 people from PVC, aluminum conduit, tarps, and silk parachute. Easy enough.
Black Rock City, pre-city
The best part of this, which I never imagined in all my visions of the event, was being there for the week immediately prior to the actual week of Burning Man. Before all the “tourists” and party-goers get there, there is a hardcore contingent of people there with one goal. Build shit. Also, I suppose, drink beer and make sexual innuendo, but that kind of goes hammer-in-hand with build shit.
So you’ve been to a Maker Faire. You’ve read about the DIY revolution in countless publications. You have a network of enthusiastic artists you know who are all involved in crazy projects to put Arduinos on Roombas or something, and have a couple Kickstarter campaigns under their belt a piece. All of this is awesome, and I don’t mean to imply it is anything less than so. But none of this really compares to the building environment pre-Burning Man.
It’s possible that I was extraordinarily lucky to be with such a particularly awesome group of people on our own build team, and I have no doubt that I was. But the feeling extended beyond our group, to the entire community. It was an notion of collectivism and altruism that I’ve only dreamed about in my most blue-sky moments. There was an overall sense that everyone was there for a single purpose, and every project and camp was an extension of that process. Resources, tools, and hands were all part of the overall effort, and were lent and asked for freely. Every task was praised and supported with helpful suggestion with a single voice. Rivalries existed, but only insofar as it improved the overall experience. There was a sense of cooperative challenge that paled team-building activities in comparison, and completely flattened the lip-service of collectivity espoused by sports.
I have no doubt that the harsh conditions of the playa contributed to this. If we were in a meadow somewhere, near air-conditioned homes and bars, disputes would result in people “stepping out for a moment”, and divisions would result. However, in the desert there is no place to go. Furthermore, the daily effect of the desert on the body means that collectivity is a survival strategy. It is a saw on the playa, that if someone is getting pissy and annoyed, the proper thing to do is to tell them to “drink some water”. It’s irritating, because people say it all the time, but after you drink water you immediately feel better because you were actually dehydrated. A “fuck you, buddy” turns into a “drink some water”, and everyone is reminded that we are in the desert together, and we are nothing but evaporative meat sacks a few liters of water from death at all times.
Camp Spinaesthesia - PVC, aluminum, canvas, silk.
This sort of hydration ethic is found in other forms. During the pre-week, there was a ubiquitous imperative to thank people for just about everything, and to be obsessively polite. Someone gives you a hand, you thank them by name. Someone gives you a piece of cheese, you look them in the eye and say thanks. If a tarp is about to be ripped away by a 50 mph gust of wind, you still take the time so say, “hey, would it be possible for you to give me a hand with this?” or “do you have a minute to help?” At first, I thought this was simply hippie sentiment, and I found it a bit obnoxious. But then I realized that the overall imperative to speak this way had the same effect as the emphasis on hydration. By reminding yourself to speak like this, it is a sub-conscious reminder that we’re all in this together, and the help you ask for is the help you will give five minutes from now. Yelling, “somebody help me now!” might be literally true, but it won’t get you the help any faster, and promotes division and aggression as opposed to collectivity. The tarp blowing away is not actually the most important thing. The fact that the tarp will continue to be an inch from blowing away for an entire week is the important thing, and that everyone works together to make it secure is the real goal.
As the event began, this sort of ethic was still present, but as the “tourists” showed up, it faded. Perhaps it was simply the number of people, or the heightened vocality of people just there to consume and not to build. But by the end of Burning Man, people in general had stopped saying thank you, and were much more interested in what they could get from people.
As the Man burned on Saturday night of the event, I remember in particular a couple of girls yelling at everyone in front of them to “sit down” so they could see. A number of people had heeded their call, and so they had the feeling that their request was valid, rather than questioning it. We did not want to sit; this was the Man burning, and a culmination of everything that we had built and lived for two weeks. But even though we were on the edge of the standing mass, and it was clear we were not going to sit, they continued to yell at us to sit down throughout the entirety of the burn. Not a single please was uttered, just a constant braying of the will they wanted to impart upon others. If there was ever an example of the “selling out” of Burning Man, this was it. It isn’t a selling out at all, actually–it is a socio-emotional mind state. It is the transferring from a state of mind of collectivity, in which each person is a functional component of the whole, to a state of mind of ego-actualization, in which each person must fight to harness others to their own particular vector. Would I ever have sat? Perhaps. But suddenly, facing this person who was negating the positive culture I had experienced up to this point, my own will turned to stone.
Trojan horse, under construction. It was burned 5 days later.
I tell this anecdote to impart the seriousness of the community, and the strength of collectivity when done right, and how quickly all of that can be negated by thoughtless violation of that network.
The point of Burning Man to me is the way in which the stark reality of the intersection between art and infrastructure is made apparent, and becomes lived experience for those who choose to take part in it. Okay, sure: dancing all night in the middle of the desert is fun too. But that was what I expected, whereas the lessons about building collectivity were a complete surprise. The purpose of Burning Man is to entertain. The art is low on poignant meaning, high on effort converted into wow-factor. But through that expression of entertainment is channeled an incredible amount of material, human resource, and hard work. The end effect is in itself a cause, because it stimulates the drive to make such an incredible human infrastructure come together. It isn’t profit, or a pay check, or even something as pedestrian and necessary as security, safety, sustainability or stability. In fact, it is mostly antithetical to all of that, and perhaps that is why what happens at Burning Man is able to ignore those everyday drives, and really step outside the standard channels work normally forms itself to, and all the petty problems therein. But as much as an outlier this experience might be, it is a hell of a model to aspire towards. Perhaps there is some sort of synthesis to be made.
Why is it that hexayurts and geodesic domes, two structures billed as fabulous advances to architecture in the real world, have taken off much more strongly at Burning Man than in the real world? Why is it that in a place practically devoid of Internet and networked devices, and stronger and more resilient social network has developed? Why is it that people spend a year’s worth of time developing projects that will last a single week? I don’t really know the answer to these questions in words, but I could kind of feel the answer happening at Burning Man. The answer itself wasn’t important. If someone had tried to answer this question, the answer might be, “I don’t know. Let’s drink some water, and then put together this hexayurt before lunch.” A pretty good answer, I guess.
Grey-B-Gone greywater evaporation rig.
“Radical self-reliance” is a term that is thrown around a lot in regard to Burning Man. I don’t know that it’s necessarily accurate, because Burning Man seems to be much more about relying on other people: the people in your build team, the people in your camp, the neighbors on your street, the Department of Public Works folks and the rest of the volunteer infrastructure, and everyone who attends the Burning Man even. I suppose though, the term kind of works if you factor in the fact that Burning Man is a radical deformation of your sense of “self”. Call it collectivity, call it an ecosystem, call it a team, or call it intentional anarchism. It is about a state of constant reminder that your self is actually pretty frail and insignificant, and if you try to do anything on your own or only for yourself, you will end up with a sloppy pile of bricks, working for forty years all alone, or simply be dead. The human is a resolutely social animal. And while we build things for all sorts of reasons, the thing we are really building at all times is our culture, with those other humans around us, whether we are close to them or not.
Posted: September 9th, 2011
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