Tag: technology

The Beige Times, issue 2, May 1949: Desert Sand

Beige November 27, 2018

a drawing I made of the imperfections of the paper on which I was drawing, overlaid with typed text

a drawing I made of the imperfections of the paper on which I was drawing, overlaid with typed text

a drawing I made of the imperfections of the paper on which I was drawing, overlaid with typed text

[Image description: an abstract beige, brown, pink and white drawing made with pencil on 3 tabbed index cards. The drawing has been collaged over with lines of typed text. The text reads as follows:

As noted in Issue 1 of The Beige Times, the artist Lázsló Moholy-Nagy was suspected to have lied about the method of creation of his Telephone Pictures. He claimed to have ordered the paintings over the phone, but is alleged to have ordered them in person. During the 1960s and ’70s, a globally distributed network of blind teenagers were also lying about their telephone use.

In the mid-1950s Joe Engressia (1949-2007), a blind eight-year-old with perfect pitch, discovered that by whistling into the telephone receiver he could trick the AT&T phone system into thinking it was listening to itself. By reproducing the frequencies AT&T used for its long distance switching system, Engressia found he could connect to any phone number without dialling (or paying for) it.

In the mid-1960s Mark Bernay (not his real name) travelled up and down the U.S. West Coast leaving stickers in telephone booths. The stickers read, “Want to hear an interesting tape recording? Call these numbers.” The numbers listed were loop-arounds – pairs of phone numbers that the telephone company used for remote circuit testing and troubleshooting. A technician would call one of the numbers in the pair from any telephone line, then call the second number in the pair from another telephone line. The two lines would be automatically connected via the loop-around pair, and the technician could run diagnostic tests on the connection. Mark Bernay and other telephone enthusiasts (known as phone phreaks) had discovered that two people could talk over loop-around connections anonymously and toll-free.

Eventually Bernay’s road trip paid off, and teenagers everywhere were chatting anonymously on loop-arounds and setting up massive, free, international conference calls. Phone phreaking was particularly popular amongst blind kids. Isolated in a sighted world, they could dial into a loop-around at any time of the day or night and instantly connect to other blind kids, at home in an aural medium.

During this time, AT&T held a monopoly over the North American telephone services market via a network of companies called the Bell System. Households had to lease their telephone from Bell, and were prohibited from using other companies’ equipment. During the first half of the 20th century, nearly all Bell telephones were black, as it was too costly to produce them in different colours. However, after World War II, the telephone became a decorative, as well as functional, household item, and AT&T began mass producing them in a variety of colours. One colour, marketed by AT&T as beige, is actually a variant of beige more precisely called Desert Sand.

In 1998, Desert Sand was introduced into the Crayola colour range. According to the Crayola website, Desert Sand is a member of  the Crayola brown family. I attempted to construct a chronology of all current Crayola brown crayons, but my efforts were frustrated by absent and conflicting data. The study of Crayola colour history has been complicated by inconsistent naming and record keeping conventions on the part of the Crayola company. A small number of devoted fans have laboriously compiled Crayola colour timelines, collecting antique crayons and comparing their colour variations in an attempt to discover which colours are genuinely different and which are just differently named. Such visual distinctions would no doubt have seemed irrelevant to Joe Engressia, who changed his name to Joybubbles in 1991. After recovering memories of childhood abuse, he decided to revert permanently to childhood, and founded a spiritual and peer support organisation for other eternal children called We Won’t Grow Up. The message on his telephone answering machine included the slogan, “Out of the rat race, into the sand box.”]

The Beige Times issue 1, January 2002: Cosmic Latte

Beige September 20, 2018

abstract, amorphous beige image, sort of like a stain or maybe outer space, with typed text pasted on topabstract, beige, grey, and yellow drawing, possibly looks like a bruise or a face, with typed text stuck on topabstract, beige, grey, and yellow drawing, possibly looks like a bruise or a face, with typed text stuck on topCCF03022016_0007abstract, amorphous, beige drawing, possibly a galaxy, possibly a spilled drink of some kind, with typed text stuck on top

Image description: a five-part collage. An abstract, amorphous, beige image, sort of like a stain or maybe outer space, made with oil pastel and wax medium on fabric. Strips of typed text are pasted on top. Text reads:

Owing to a software error, scientists initially believed that the universe was green. It is now known that the universe is beige.

In January 2002, Ivan Baldry and Karl Glazebrook from Johns Hopkins University declared that the true colour of the universe was pale green. The scientists had used data from the 2dF Galaxy Redshift Survey – a survey which measures the light coming from more than 200,000 galaxies – to determine the average wavelength of light in the universe.

The scientists wanted to know what colour the universe would look like to a hypothetical outside observer who could stand in the void and gaze at the universe from afar. Unfortunately, the 2dF Galaxy Redshift Survey was not undertaken in the void, but rather at the Anglo-Australian Observatory in New South Wales.

The universe is expanding at an increasing rate, and the cosmic bodies within it are moving apart at increasing speeds. Your perception of light is dependent on the velocity of the light source relative to your own. When a light source is moving away from you, the wavelength of light that your eye receives will be longer than the wavelength of light that was emitted by the source. This is known as a redshift. As New South Wales is situated within the universe, and the universe is moving away from New South Wales, any measurement of universal light taken from there is redshifted.

As such, the scientists needed to de-redshift the data before they could discover the externally-viewable colour of the universe.

I read Red Shift by Alan Garner in 2002, the year I first became mad, the same year that the universe was first green, then beige. Red Shift is set in Southern Cheshire, England; its story spans nearly two thousand years. The characters – ex-soldiers of the Roman Empire, villagers caught up in the English Civil War, and two teenagers in the 1970s – echo each other across vast gaps in time. The place is like a character, its personality manifest in the words, actions and prophetic visions of its inhabitants who cannot know each other, but who continuously repeat and predict each other’s paths.

A second problem in determining the colour of the universe lay in the physiology of human vision. The human eye registers colour differently in different environmental conditions. The researchers wanted to see, from a human perspective, what the data was telling them about the universal perspective. In order to do this, they needed to further adjust the data from the 2dF Galaxy Redshift Survey.

Unfortunately, the software they were using had an error in it. Just weeks after announcing that the universe was green, the scientists issued a correction, saying that the true colour of the universe was a shade of beige they had named “cosmic latte.”

On Glazebrook and Baldry’s webpage, where they discuss the science behind their discovery, there is a typo: “emailed” is spelled “emailled.” Emaille is German for enamel. In 1923, László Moholy-Nagy produced a series of paintings entitled Konstruktionen in Emaille, better known as Telephone Pictures. He describes his work process:

I ordered by telephone from a sign factory five paintings in porcelain enamel. I had the factory’s color chart before me and I sketched my paintings on graph paper. At the other end of the telephone the factory supervisor had the same kind of paper, divided into squares. He took down the dictated shapes in the correct position.

Several decades later, Moholy-Nagy’s first wife stated that he’d actually ordered the pictures in person, not over the phone. There is still some disagreement regarding the truth/relevance of this claim.

Said Glazebrook, “There’s no error in the science, the error was in the perception.”