A Stone, finally! And Some Numbers on Randomness

I am super happy that my classmate Yen, who happens to work at ITP as well, heard about my project and gave me a beautiful big natural stone that he kept in his office . Very likely it is granite and therefore a good source for natural radiation / random numbers. 

radiation tests

So last night I sat down and did a few experiments measuring the amount of decaying particles with and without a stone close to the geiger-counter. I conducted 3 test rows, so three times with the stone, three times without the stone. 

Here are the results measured over the time of 3 minutes each:

round 1

(86 vs 67)

round 2

(76 vs 67)

round 3

(75 vs 62)


The stone from Yen's office seems to be slightly radioactive, around 15 - 20% compared to "normal" conditions that mainly detect gamma rays from cosmic radiation. It is still very low compared to carbon-monoxide detectors, big granite kitchen countertops, old watch luminescent hands, which emit many more decaying particles over this amount of time. 

installation prototype setup

I decided to do a quick run to test parts of the setup. Here a solenoid knocks the random particle decay from inside the stone that gets detected by the geiger counter back into the stone  - the heart of the stone is talking to its audience:


So far so good - tomorrow I have to test the setup powered entirely with two solar panels - let's hope the sun is out and the panels can generate enough current to power the entire installation! 

More C4D experiments for Randomness_Project

As I am currently looking for a digital translation of the physical interface of the random-project (stone and knocks with hand or hammer / solenoid as the "hammer of randomness") that might be part of the installation piece and create a more immersive space for the audience, I am exploring cinema4d shapes and materials to find the right fit for the  "devotional device" that the installation tries to create: the rhythm of the animation would be triggered by the particle decay inside the granite (and some gamma-particle noise probably caused by solar flare). The materials of the digital objects should remind of devotional objects: precious stones, gold and fur. These become animated and "alive" through true randomness.

And I am quickly realizing the relationship between computational power, render-time and animation/material complexity - it takes forever to render a short animation in high-res ....

Here a few more screenshots and animations:


(animation above based on mograph-tutorial)


Merging "Energy" and "Project Development Studio" - Finals

For my final in my energy-class I decided to create a solar powered version of my installation piece for project development studio: In this iteration of my project, the audience can only "connect" to the true randomness of the granite when the sun is out. 

I will build a more complex installation for the spring show that will not run on solar, this one for my energy-final will run entirely on it.

Here a modified wiring schematics that is based on an Adafruit tutorial for using the piezo and solenoid in combination:



I am using a logic level converter between Arduino nano running on 5V and the geiger-counter running on 3V. The solar panel is providing power for the Arduino and the solenoid. The piezo is running on a separated power-circuit provided by the Arduino. This circuit feeds as well into the logic-level converter which is providing power to the geiger counter (convert voltage down) and enables listening to its pulse (convert signal voltage up). 

The code for the installation is still in the making, I still have to merge the solenoid trigger into the piezo and geiger counter code. The comparison of geiger counter beeps and knocks to identify whether the knocks of a user are in sync with the randomness of the particle decay inside the granite needs to be improved as well. 

Random Random Random ... and my first cinema4d attempts

Last week I took a few moments to play with cinema4d  - I somehow felt explorative with creating animations for my random-project. So far I am not sure how exactly it could fit in, but there is something to this motion ... maybe three screens / panels on each of the side-walls of the room that are triggered by the random-ness of the geiger-counter underneath the black granite?




Random Devotion meets Physical Computation meets Stone-Carving

This past week I focused on sourcing a bigger piece of granite (granite is by nature slightly radioactive and will be the source for generating random numbers with the geiger counter) and the circuit for the user interaction. I used an example from the adafruit-learn section as the basis for my code which will interface with the geiger-counter. The circuit will perform the following tasks:

  • listen to knocks of the users against the stone with a piezo element
  • listen to geiger counter (convert 3.3 V of geiger-counter pulse to 5 V of Arduino digital-in)
  • compare the knocks of the user with the inner true random decay pattern of the granite (measured with the geiger counter)
  • trigger a solenoid for 10s in the true random decay pattern of the granite if user and stone pattern align / if user and stone are "in sync"
  • repeat 
voltage conversion testing

voltage conversion testing

voltage converter wiring detail

voltage converter wiring detail

Random Devotion: Geiger-Counters and Pink Granite

Two weeks ago I had the idea to center the devotional piece around a granite rock as source of randomness  - with a geiger counter measuring the (random) decay of radioactive particles from the rock. Here a chart tracing the decay of Radon gas and an explanation of the true random nature of this subatomic process:

( source )
( source )

Last week I assembled a geiger-counter kit - lots of soldering and lots of fun:


Now the setup can be more finalized:


Project Random: Infinite Random Devotion

As an iteration on last weeks ideas I am thinking of not using the quote at all and let users listen to a rhythmic pattern (generated by random numbers that are measured by a geiger counter, a granite stone is the  source of radiation and random radioactive decay), and repeat it with a hammer on the same source of radiation - as if they were trying to influence the infinite randomness of the universe. Maybe humans can? Probably not. But we can still try like Camus' Sisyphus:

"The struggle itself [...] is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy" .

The rhythmic signal in the headphones gets recorded and played back automatically from speakers in the background of the installation. 

This setup would not need the the prediction of the quote by Emile Borel, it could serve as the title of the piece:

"Whatever the progress of human knowledge, there will always be room for ignorance, hence for chance and probability."

The process of generating the rhythmic pattern would be started the moment the users gaze at the granite (as a hint at the role of the observer of quantum processes). The duration of the rhythmic pattern would be determined by the first random number generated by the stone.  

Here an overview of the setup:


Technical setup:

  • Mighty-Ohm geiger counter
  • 2 x Raspberry Pi Zero W with phatDAC (for audio out to speakers and headphones)
  • speakers and headphones
  • NVIDIA Jetson Tx2 plus external camera for gaze detection

Project Random: Granite, Devotion, Marbles and Gazes

After last weeks feedback session I sat down with my classmate Azelia who decided to join the project and discussed different aspects of the piece:

marbles or candles

During our conversation we talked about the role of marbles in visualizing the random process as a hint at infinity and spirituality. Azelia suggested to go even further and use candles for the visualization - I would love to build such a candle lighting machine, although I am aware of the issue of fire safety and possible misunderstanding when a candle is not lit up (audience might think the machine is not working correctly). So far we will stick to the marbles then and work on the mechanics of the machine to transport the marbles back after usage.

clean/minimalist looks vs unsettling traditional referrals to religion

We were as well discussing the possibility of using traditional materials and looks like in churches to create an unsettling atmosphere  - like in installation pieces of Beuys or Schlingensief. We later decided for a more minimalist look with cast concrete and a granite stone in the middle (that will be a natural source of radiation for producing the random numbers).



flow of user/audience interaction 

So far we are not sure what would be the best setup of the installation regarding the user interaction: The disconnect between the random guessing process that happens in some sort of "black box", the machine, and the ritual of putting the marbles with their hands on the concrete ring is still there. Azelia had the idea to activate each process via gaze tracking/user observation (which hints nicely at quantum mechanics where the particles fall into a definite state once they are observed which is the basis of the random guessing of the piece) - I think that is a great idea. It raises as well the question if the user should be part of the ritual afterwards or leave it with this ":gaze activation".

quantum computer or decay of radioactive particles

After some further research and experiments on the IBM quantum computer (which is very slow at the moment) I found another way to create real randomness with quantum processes locally: with a geiger counter connected to a raspberry pi measuring the decay of radioactive particles (e.g. a granite stone) - which is based on quantum mechanics as it is impossible to predict when specifically the particles will decay. This setup would be much more tangible for the audience the granite stone which is slightly radioactive could serve as the centerpiece of the installation. I am . not sure if the quantum computer can achieve the same presence.

Project Random: Marble Detection

Over the past week I worked on the marble detection (distinguish black and white marbles) with a RaspberryPi 3 and a camera:

So far openCV worked great for the colors red and green but not very good for white. After a few attempts in getting greater accuracy I abandoned openCV on the Pi and went for a much simpler solution - compare brightness values. Now the camera takes a picture of the marble in the slot and a python script using the python library skimage analyses the brightness of the overall image. As the background of the marble slot is always black, the overall brightness changes significantly when a white marble is in the slot (compared to a black marble). 

Here the simple code:

Screen Shot 2018-02-27 at 10.27.52 PM.png



This means I can now distinguish black and white marbles using the PiCamera and send the right marble-color to the audience who will put them on the installation piece. 

Early prototyping-setup for testing with Pi and PiCamera:


Project Random: Live Experiments on an IBM Quantum Computer

Today I ran my first live experiment on the public IBM Quantum Computer that will be the backend of my installation piece - I am so excited! 

( source )

I tried an entanglement setup:

"Two or more quantum objects are entangled when, despite being too far apart to influence one another, they behave in ways that are 1) individually random, but also 2) too strongly correlated to be explained by supposing that each object is independent from the other." (ibm-guide)

Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 10.46.45 PM.png

Above the user interface with the applied gates to create a superposition (h-gate in blue), entangle (+ sign) and measure (pink gates) the states of the particles (q0, q1). And here the results:

Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 10.48.38 PM.png

Project Random: Quantum Devotional Performance

After lining out the basic idea of my project idea of a quantum spiritual experience to my classmates, I immersed myself in devotional objects, catholic symbolism, performance art of the fluxus movement and still life. 


Above some of my ideas for visualizing the random guessing of the letters of a quote by Emile Borel ("Whatever the progress of human knowledge, there will always be room for ignorance, hence for chance and probability.") on chance and probability using quantum processes. The difficulty for me is to keep the experience sublime and "understandable" at the same time. I am asking myself how far the whole process should be explicitly visible for the audience and what should remain murky to create a spiritual, meditative and church-like experience. 

Now what is the essential core question of my project?

What are the consequences of absolute chance?

I am thinking about true randomness that is generated by quantum processes as a reasonable doubt of the reason of reason: Randomness as a principle cannot be generated with the means of logic/mathematics - but it can be proofed with those same logics/mathematics. It is in its very nature deconstruct-able with language, but can be described by explaining what it is not. This gives it a spiritual dimension, every task that is based on random action is devoid of pre-determined  choice or plan - and therefore free. The infinite repetition of a purposeless action defies any given logic and therefore constitutes its own logic. This logic can be felt in any ritual, especially in the repetition of prayers in religions. There is safety in structuring the unstructured, in addressing the void again and again. A frieze.com - article addresses this in its review of the Venice Biennale 2011 "Illuminations" referring to Schlingensiefs "Church of Fear" at the German Pavilion: "(...)his aim was ‘to open mere reason up to the limitlessness that constitutes its truth."And this limitlessness of the truth, the unreasonableness of reason, should offer one thing: Hope. 

In this light I embarked on a little journey into devotional objects I am familiar with from growing up in the countryside in a village with a catholic community: rosary-beads to keep track of the prayers (and to have a sensory sensation of rhythm), candles and monstrance as bearers of holy light and spirit, the architecture of churches, medieval still-lives and iconography. I limited my research on these objects as they are taken from my cultural upbringing, I have a familiarity with their place in society and their function as ritualistic metaphors of faith. 

I played with contrasting the richness of a still-life with the cold terminal-output of my guessing-code to see how this tension between faith, fear and reason unfolds on a 2-dimensional scale.

Screen Shot 2018-02-07 at 2.30.08 PM.png

I observed a feeling of security by leaving the code running on my screen while researching on obscure devotional-object sites, the infinite nature of the repetition of the guessing - process offered me a form of digital-steadiness/prayer with ritualistic qualities.

I played as well with adding sounds to this process and generated sounds based on pitched down recordings from the ITP-floor in combination with a simple harmonic synth layer. 

I would like to explore this further under the light of a three dimensional installation piece that offers a meditative space for the observer.


Project Development Studio: Project Idea

I would like to focus this semester on random and its connection to quantum physics.

(source:  wikimedia  )

(source: wikimedia )



In ICM last semester we talked about computer generated random numbers and their "pseudo-random" - nature. Dan Shiffman referred to read up more on this topic on random.org. This site offers an overview over the difficulties to produce random numbers with an algorithm and a service for random numbers generated by atmospheric noise. Different to the algorithmic "pseudo-random-number-generators" or PRNGs, TRNGs or "true-random-number-generators harvest random-numbers from observing physical phenomena - sometimes even on a subatomic level by observing quantum processes. On the page the authors mention that a comparison between PRNGS and TRNGS can be extended to a discussion on whether the universe is by itself deterministic or not. This philosophical question got me interested: randomness as a statement on determinism. 

Researching more about determinism, chance and probability I discovered the infinite monkey theorem: If a monkey hits a typewriter randomly for an infinite time, it will eventually come up with all works of Shakespeare (there are numerous versions of this metaphor but this is the basic one).

Emile Borel, a French mathematician, illustrated his research in statistics with this theorem and is widely regarded the originator of it. Reading more about him and the theorem I found a quote from one of his books that resonated with my passion for technology:

Quels que soient les progrès des connaissances humaines, il y aura toujours place pour l'ignorance et par suite pour le hasard et la probabilité. (Le hasard, Emile Borel, éd. Librairie Félix Alcan, 1914, p. 12-13)

(Whatever the progress of human knowledge, there will always be room for ignorance, hence for chance and probability.)

This quote fit perfectly into my research of quantum mechanics, a topic that I am interested in since my teens - and since Nov 2017, there is public access to one of three quantum computers worldwide, the IBM Q via an API.


I want to "guess" Emile Borel's quote about chance and probability using chance and probability - with quantum processes on the IBM Q, by observing superpositions to be precise. This process will be visualized with a physical installation or sonification. 


Guessing this quote will take a very long time and will very likely never be fully "guessed": As it consists in its French original of 144 characters (including two special characters), the probability for getting it completely right on the first try by random guessing is 1:18870668547844457769972080826950345531368943638112857227264.

I wrote a quick script for this guessing in Python using quantumrandom, a true random number generator from the University of Australia which is measuring the quantum fluctuations of the vacuum. This is a first step, the IBM quantum computer will be a more direct way to observe quantum processes, especially superpositions (a quantum particle will fall from a superposition, so multiple states at once, into one random state when it is observed/measured).