Oh to have an EE clue.

My expertise in geekythings is limited to what I can do in the software of a system. Given a fully built linux box, I can run just about any program, write anything, do what I want with it. Bend it to my will as my whim directs.
But once outside that box, interfacing with the real world, my skills fall off. Some of my more geekier ambitions fall into interfacing with the computer and systems in ways other than just a keyboard, mouse and screen. Secondary controllers, mobile electronics, small devices that do ‘something’ for you and communicate amongst themselves. Fascinating, but really beyond my base knowledge.
So when I come across absolutely stunning projects like this one, it makes me keenly aware of the holes in my education. Embedded systems are a fascinating field, but one I don’t have the time to explore. Doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate things like this though:
The CLIVE Project is a combination hardware/software/art project that is on display at Burning Man The setting is an archway sculpture in the middle of the playa, with a large countdown clock on it, as well as a green laser shining up into the sky :

A giant digital clock that hangs from that arch counts down from 00:01:30. The warning spinners go still, having gotten your attention. The beam, still pointing oddly at nothing as the countdown marches on, slowly dims. As the clock reaches the last fifteen seconds a tiny dot in the sky gets just bright enough to be seen… moving swiftly towards the green pencil of light.
The dot is barely visible at first; in only seconds it’s brighter than the stars near it and then gets brighter yet. As it crosses the beam its light peaks — shimmering a good eight times brighter than anything else in the sky. It’s moving fast. Not so fast as a falling star, but quicker than most anything else one would see in the natural night sky.
Just as quickly it pases, fading; the laser dimmed to nothing, the entire archway gone dormant. No light; no sound… just that same travelling pinpoint of light dipping out of sight into blackness again. A few long seconds pass; maybe a halfminute or so. With a gentle whirr and flicker of green light the archway returns to life, counter resetting. “NEXT FLARE:” scrolls up on the display across the archway’s main beam, the 10-foot-long clock resetting and starting the countdown anew.
You just witnessed the magnitude -8 flare of an Iridium satellite, reflecting the sun straight at you as it passes overhead.
The large copper structure you’re standing under? It’s an almagest of sorts; a guide to the stars. We like to call it CLIVE: the Celestial Laser Identification / Visualization Experiment.

How cool is that?

Dave Shevett


A wandering geek. Toys, shiny things, pursuits and distractions.

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2 thoughts on “Oh to have an EE clue.

  1. That’d be Torr and Garth. 🙂 They’ve been friends of mine for well over 16 years now. They’re working on a new version for this year’s Burning Man. If you’d like, I could likely get you an interview with ’em.

  2. *waves* Glad you like the project! It was a blast to build. If you’d like we’ll keep you up to date with the v2.0 that’s underway right now. I’d also be glad to answer any questions you have. Thanks for the cool write-up. 🙂
    BTW — we’re no EE’s either. I’m a network guy, Garth’s a code-head. We saw similar gaps in our knowledge and decided to fix them by just picking a project and following through. Everything we did on Clive we learned from fussing around, googling and cracking the occasional book. No worries!

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