Order and Chaos in the Exploratorium.

On Saturday of last week, I spent a few hours at the Exploratorium museum in the Palace of Fine Arts, near the Presidio in San Francisco. That really wasn’t enough, and I saw a bunch of cool stuff, but what really struck me was the chaos and the order.

First, the chaotic pendulum. This was a bunch of swinging arms and joints embedded into the interior of a big spinning wheel. When you spun the wheel, all the pendulums started off swinging in the same direction, but they don’t all spin with the same frequency or energy, so they start to throw each other off and get the larger wheel kicking and jerking back and forth. Fun to watch, but also a good lesson to learn about anything complex in the world.

Second, the balancing pendulum. This was one weight on a long rigid swinging arm, connected to a computer motor that could move back and forth. The computer could read the position of the arm and was programmed to get the arm balanced straight up as quickly as possible and keep it that way. It was fun to see the computer in action – choosing its moment to swing into action, going back and forth to build energy if the pendulum wasn’t swinging up all the way, and nudging carefully along if you tried to push the arm to the side by yourself.

Careful feedback and monitoring can help us defy even the law of gravity.

Which is similar to the lesson that the floating ball holds. The secret is not in the ball itself, but in the traffic cone that blasts out a stream of air that moves more quickly around the edges than in the center – thus, anything carefully balanced in the center of the stream can float on the air, because movement anywhere is met with a counterforce – moving up it’s going against gravity, and in any other direction it’s hitting higher air pressure.

This is just a Caternary arch that I built by the numbers:

And finally, I’m not sure if this last item counts as bringing an ordered vision out of the chaos of seperate figures, or creating the chaos of deception out of the order of reality, but here’s an optical illusion created through a Zoetrope:

More Nanoposts soon, everybody! Tell me which your favorite video was.

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