Friday, October 2, 2009

Multiverse on 14th: The technological challenges of making a fountain Twitter. Part 1 of 2.

This is the story of our technological misadventures getting the fountain in Union Square Park to tweet out our Multiverse on 14th poems.

For some context: Multiverse on 14th consists of 3 "infinite" poems programmatically constructed by searching and pulling select "tweets" from the public Twitter feed in real-time.

You can experience Multiverse on the web at

Multiverse on 14th is also going to be a projected installation as a part of the Art in Odd Places 2009:SIGN art festival that will take place Th Fri Sa Oct 15 16 17 from 8PM-midnight at the fountain in the SW corner of Union Square Park. Map. You can read more about it here.

Now, onto the technical details.

Original Vision

Project the Multiverse website from a laptop via *unionsqwifi* into the fountain in Union Square Park.

In our original application to Art in Odd Places, we proposed projecting from a 10 foot tall tripod, onto the fountain in Union Square Park from ~20 feet away, almost hidden away in the trees behind some park benches.

Original Proposal

We also proposed that we would project for 4 hours. (It turns out that committing to 4 hours instead of say 2 hours made the whole endeavor approximately 350% harder to pull off, but more on that later.)

The idea was to turn a relatively unimposing waterworks ("I didn't know there was a fountain in Union Square!") into a temporary well of musings, memories, rants and sometimes even poetry that passersby could "discover" on their own. Our goal was to not compete with the loud and insistent electrified signage all around Union Square. Instead, Multiverse on 14th's twittering fountain would be an unexpected oasis of introspection. (Yes, the irony!)

Hence, the need to stay 20 feet away from the fountain. The "set up" needed to be transparent, enabling the spectacle while avoiding turning into a spectacle in and of itself.

AiOP responded sagely that something 10 feet in the air would not escape the curiosity of certain public officials and might even pose a safety hazard. At the time, the festival was still 4 months away, so we thought: Well that's no problem, we'll figure something out.

We were both wrong and then right.

It's a matter of power...

Projectors eat a lot of power, 300 watts at any given moment to be specific. Especially if you're trying to project 30 feet in an uncontrolled space with a lot of ambient light onto turbulent, dirty water. (More on that to come as well.)

Such a projector would require a generator.

Generators a) cost a lot of money, even to rent; and b) make a lot of noise. This is Honda's "Super Quiet" 1000W generator. It's purring at 60dB, that's supposed to be as loud as "normal speaking voice." Not exactly the transparent "enabler" we were going for.

But then lo! and behold I found out about pico projectors. A new generation of hand-held projectors that are intended to be carried around in your pocket for whenever you feel an unplanned urge to watch a movie on the ceiling and will probably eventually be incorporated into mobile devices like the iPhone. Best of all, they work with the iPhone. Our power-sucking "10-feet in the air" set-up instantaneously downsized into 2 battery powered hand-held devices. We thought for a hot second, maybe we can rig up 4 of these babies, 1 in each corner of the fountain!

Beware of first-generation technology!

Goldilocks Picks a Projector

Pico Projector No. 1: Optoma PK-101 Pico Pocket Projector

I got Multiverse up and running in the Safari browser on a friend's iPhone and plugged in projector. Nothing. Turns out the iPhone won't send a signal from anything other than the iPod movie player. Not helpful for projecting websites. Okay, then we'll just have to use a laptop instead. Slightly bigger, but not a problem. Wrong. The PK-101 doesn't connect to laptops. (For the geeks, that means no support for a VGA signal.)

Pico Projector No. 2: 3M MPro110 Micro Professional Projector connects to laptops...Yay! But the projector's lamp (at just under 9 lumens) is too weak...Boo...Hiss.

(I'd like to take this opportunity to thank B&H for taking returns with no re-stocking fee!)

So back to the drawing board. Or rather back to finding a quiet power supply for a power-sucking projector.

On Amazon I found a giant battery pack. I'm still not clear on how to do the math but everyone agreed this bad boy would probably do the job. (Actually, I think I eventually figured out it would take 2 of these to get me the 4 hours of power I needed.) And dear Lord it weighed 60 pounds! And cost 400 dollars a pop.

Despair...followed by...

Pico Projector No. 3: Brought to us courtesy of...

3M's Serendipitous Product Release Cycle

Accidentally, I found out that 3M was about to release a 2nd generation hand-held projector, this time with a slightly more powerful lamp.

I will spare you the 2 weeks of online retail bungling that it took to finally get my hands on a 3M MPro120.

Projector in hand!

Now we finally had the essential ingredients.

  1. 3M MPro120 Micro Professional Projector

  2. Asus Netbook with 10.5 hours of battery life!

  3. 3-foot VGA projector-to-laptop connector plus a 10-foot female-to-female, VGA-to-VGA, projector-to-laptop connector-extender. (Say that quickly 3 times in a row.)
  4. Union Square wi-fi

More to come...
  1. Union Square wi-fi is completely unreliable!

  2. Damn, that water is dirty.

  3. Man, that's a big-a$$ harness.

  4. Fullscreen mode: IE versus Firefox.

No comments:

Post a Comment