Snowy Tree Cricket

Douglas Edric Stanley


Although this blog is mostly dedicated to projects I’m directly or indirectly involved in, I’ve decided to open a new category — physicalization —, to discuss more often than usual news related to this (ancient) emerging phenomenon. This follows on the heels of my last post about physicalizing algorithms via rope; which you might have read as just an annecdote, but in my opinion should be reframed within a larger general tendency of computing technology.

Simply put, computers will indefinitely be entangled with the process of physicalization — even in the case of (and especially in the case of) miniaturization and dematerialization —, quite simply because the very process of phyiscalization is what made the very idea of the computer possible. It is, for lack of a better term, the achilles heel of computerization, meaning that this imprint from its ontological birth accompanies it, re-defining it structurally as the internal limit of its possibility precisely at the point of its becoming-possibile.

But while it’s interesting to look at how algorithms can directly be ported to the physical world (with or without imitating digital circuits), it is also interesting to think about how modular (and not simply algorithmic) processes might simply be piggy-backed, or bastardly hybridized with biological phenomena. Latest exhibit: Robert Krulwich’s video segment on Measuring the Temperature (in Farenheit) using Snowy Tree Crickets. Recepie: if you have a Snowy Tree Cricket in your backyard, count the number of chirps for 14 seconds, add 38°, and you have the precise temperature (in Farenheit). Apparently it’s an extremely stable guage (cf. Dolbear’s Law, via Make Blog & Geekdad Blog).


Throughout much of science fiction, you will find examples of animal/human/technology hybrids, which is quite natural given the dependence we have on these two supplementary phyla (to use a Deleuze & Guattari term). Our civilization is founded not only on technological principles — language being number one —, but also on the concept of animals used as a technology (and vice-versa). I also consider significant that early texts of cybernetics look not to chess-playing machinery for their examples, but instead to mice, cats, fish, and sleuth-hounds. The most famous animal-human-technology would probably be Douglas Adams’ idea of the Babblefish. I’m also thinking of real-world examples, such as my friend Beatriz da Costa’s brilliant Pigeonblog. I could also mention Eduardo Kac’s piece currently down the street at Second Nature, entitled An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, although that might be more of a stretch since humans are only spectators to the apparatus. But in the same vein of the Pigeonblog or the Babblefish, I figure that it wouldn’t be all that hard to build a Snowy Tree Cricket counter, i.e. find the exact frequency pattern of the chirp, build some sort of physical, electronic, or algorithmic filter for that pattern, and then count it against a timer.

Original Comments:

2007-07-12 16:57:59


Ultimate physical limits to computation