SOLARI SCHEMATICS

Our first soft-launch of Cheryl Sim’s exhibition at the CJ Media Gallery has been really amazing to troubleshoot some of the coding glitches and work out the machinery. We’re realizing that the timing needs to be quicker for an art exhibition than the machines are used to. Thankfully, Mark Demers (of Spikenzie Labs) has been on hand to help us iron out all of the wrinkles. The boards look amazing as an installation, and see how we’ve aligned the bench like it’s a small waiting room at the end of the space?

We’re now working away at the second installation at the POPOP Gallery in the Belgo Building here in Montreal on April 1. Come see the boards in action and introduce yourselves to us? More details at: https://www.facebook.com/events/411667685861656/

In the meantime, for those who can’t make it to the exhibition, we’ve got Mark’s final Solari Schematics, a ‘readme’, and some of the Arduino files. If any of you are working on your own Solari board, use and build on our files for your own projects. Zipped file here: YMX_Solari_Concordia.

VERNISSAGE – April 1

29 March – 13 April 2017

Galerie POPOP (Belgo Building – 372 rue Ste-Catherine O. Espace 442-444)

OPEN // Wednesday – Saturday 12:00-17:00

VERNISSAGE // April 1, 2017 15:00-18:00

EVENT INFO: https://www.facebook.com/events/411667685861656/?notif_t=plan_user_associated&notif_id=1489099263777663


The Montréal Signs Project is excited to announce the opening of the installation YMX: Migration, Land, and Loss after Mirabel by Cheryl Sim. Inspired by the acquisition of two Solari split-flap information displays from Mirabel Airport by Matt Soar, Associate Professor of Communication Studies at Concordia University, Sim’s exhibition speaks to the parallel stories of displacement and forced migration: those dispossessed of their land to build the airport and the thousands of people who arrived at Mirabel escaping war, disaster, or economic adversity. Join us at Galerie POPOP in the Belgo on April 1 for a pack of pretzels, a can of ginger ale, and an individually-sized bottle of wine to celebrate this project.

Continuing her immersive installation practice and single-channel video work, Sim enlivens the intersecting narrative lines that run through the airport: of belonging and escape, the force of borders and the perpetuation of colonialism. A labyrinth of crowd control stanchions leads to the memories of Pierre Nepveu, Prem Sooriyakumar, and Kim Thuy: three experiences of Mirabel. Sim’s video work weaves together these voices—both exproprié and refugee—together with archival footage of the airport and the protests that followed its creation. The installation also speaks to the governmental response to the Kanien’kéha:ka of Kanesatake’s claim to the land, whose unresolved petition dates back to 1718, 257 years before the airport opened. At the heart of the maze, the two bright yellow split-flap displays chatter to one another about land and home, resistance and politics, arrival and departure. Sim’s installation digs deep into layers of history to intricately address land, movement, and safety.

Cheryl Sim is an artist, researcher and musician as well as Curator/Managing Director at DHC/ART Foundation for Contemporary Art. She is an alumni of Concordia’s MA in Media Studies in the Department of Communication Studies. Presented in North America and Europe, her single channel video and installation work explores identity, women’s work, ethnic clothing and memory through an inter-genre, auto-ethnographic and interdisciplinary approach. As a musician and singer, Cheryl has produced five CDs as a solo artist and with the electronic group Gazelle and now endeavours to bring her music practice into her artwork as much as possible. Stimulated by works across an array of forms and genres, her current curatorial interests include the conditions of diaspora, screen theory, political economy and clothing as a marker of identity. Recent exhibitions include her PhD dissertation project La Cabine d’Essayage/ The Fitting Room (2014) and The Thomas Wang Project presented at OBORO (2015). She is currently working on a new work for the upcoming Expo 67 exhibition at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. Her work is infused with a desire to tell stories through a critical strategy of what she calls “politicized sensuousness” that combines video, music, installation, and performance.

ACCESSIBILITY: A wheelchair-accessible entrance with power assist doors is located at the building’s entrance at 372 Sainte-Catherine St. W, between Bleury St. And Saint-Alexandre St. Wheelchair-accessible restrooms are located on all floors except the entry level. Two elevators are located to the right and left of the main stairway on each floor. Metered parking spaces for people with reduced mobility are available at the underground parking of the building, with access to the garage located on Saint-Edward St. between Sainte-Catherine and René-Lévesque. For further information, please contact Danica Evering at 519-994-3869 or danica.evering@gmail.com.

CONTACT: Matt Soar, Founding Director, Montréal Signs Project, 514 848 2424 x2542, mattsoar@gmail.com.

CURATORS: Danica Evering and Matt Soar / COORDINATOR: Treva Pullen

THANKS: Pierre Nepveu / Prem Sooriyakumar / Kim Thuy / Souligna Koumphonphakdy / Luciano Frizzera / Aéroports de Montréal / FRQSC

April 1 – YMX: Land, Migration, and Loss after Mirabel

After many months working on the Solaris, germinating ideas in the dark of winter, the project is almost ready to spring up into the light. We’re excited to launch Cheryl Sim’s installation with the boards, YMX: Land, Migration, and Loss after Mirabel on April 1, 2017 from 3-5 PM at Galerie POPOP (Belgo Building – 372 rue Ste-Catherine O. Espace 442-444). The show will run until April 13.

Sim has been working on an installation that uses our two Solari boards as a starting place to talk about the multiple levels of human and other-than-human movement through Mirabel: those displaced from the land to build the airport and the thousands who arrived at Mirabel escaping war, disaster, or economic adversity. Upon entering the darkened gallery space, visitors will follow a labyrinth of airport belt stanchions. Along this winding path, the visitor will encounter a video montage of interviews and archival materials reflecting Mirabel’s many intertwining narratives. This lyric video work weaves together the voices of poet Pierre Nepveu, whose family were expropriés, the farmers displaced to build Mirabel, and producer Prem Sooriyakumar and novelist Kim Thuy, whose families both immigrated through the airport. At another stop on the path, visitors can stop and read from Lignes Aériennes, a collection of poems about the airport by Nepveu.

At the end of the path, in the corner of the room, Sim has drafted an abstract script that our two Solari boards (Gate 46 and Gate 48) will read to one another. Although the boards have limited alphanumeric options (each can only display total of 6 letters or numbers), the script Sim has drafted has an iconographic quality. Mark Demers has been working to connect the two boards so that they can be programmed by one script. This is really exciting, as it means the boards will be able to “speak” to one another rhythmically—through call and response, or changing in unison. They’ll be programmed through a single SD card which will hold the program and the script in a TextEdit file. It’s amazing to have both of the boards functioning now. Stay tuned for more logistical details—we’ll share those soon.

We’ve also been working with local metalworker Colin Burnett of ICON L to make our signs freestanding. Colin has welded each of the boards two steel legs to stand on. In Mirabel, the signs once hung from the ceiling of the airport on burly pipe-like arms. These arms weigh almost as much as the signs themselves—we’ve been working out our own burly arms moving them around the Solari Lab! Each unit is very heavy, so we wanted a system that would allow them to be moved more easily from space to space. The new legs fit up inside the existing pipe, fitted with a bolt that acts like a pin to keep the legs from swivelling. The feet are 3 ft each, so they fit neatly through the door and so we can still squeeze them into the elevator. Each foot is equipped with two swivelling caster wheels, so they can roll easily and then be locked into place when they’ve been appropriately positioned. Matt mentioned in the summer that when the units got legs, they were going to remind him of Huey, Dewey, and Louie—the three service robots from the 1972 post-environmental-apocalypse sci-fi film Silent Running. And they do, don’t they? They’re almost-identical twins—similar, but each with their own personalities and quirks. These particularities will no doubt play into their performances in the installation in April.

silent_running_moc_002

Hello, Solari: Art, Specs, and Communication

Image of large bright red three-line Solari split-flap board. Above the top row is an open panel, displaying the electronics and mechanics of the board.We had a lovely back-and-forth with another Solari owner and operator, Lynn Shade, a US designer currently living in Japan who found us through the Atlas Obscura article. She’s got a handsome cherry-red three-line 81-cartridge Italian departures board, which she’s rigged up with a couple of technically-minded pals to display people’s messages that they send via Twitter and that are fed back online via webcam. You can check out these messages on the board’s twitter feed, @hellosolari. We know a few of you following along at home are keen to hear more about the tech information of these boards, and so we thought we could share a bit of our email exchange, which also includes some details on the artistic development of the project.

Lynn started off by telling us how she bought her board and how they’re currently troubleshooting the connection to Twitter:

“[F]rom our side we can tell you how we hooked it up to Twitter plus webcam so anyone in the world could write to the board. Unfortunately as I write the board’s Twitter connection is temporarily down. Originally it was connected to a Raspberry Pi & Pi camera and now an Intel Compute Stick + webcam. The Intel is super buggy and keeps flaking out…thinking about going back to Raspberry Pi but a more powerful one.

I’m interested in figuring out how to change my board from line-by-line flipping in sequential order, to randomized full board simultaneous flipping.

I bought my board from Solari 10 years ago. It was decommissioned from Milano Malpensa airport baggage claim. Solari re-configured the board, a collaborative project that took 2 years. The re-configuring included enabling it for ethernet. I can send the specs, such as they are, if that’ll help you guys.”

Closeup of inside of Solari board, the artist Lynn Shade's hand is on the left, and she is holding a metal part with a bundle of twisting wires inside.

We wrote back eagerly about Arduino and our future plans for a GUI:

“We’re working on two stages: currently our friend Mark from Spikenzie Labs is doing the heavy lifting (in the complete absence of schematics) of building the Arduino boards we need to get them working again. As you might have seen from our website solaris.concordia.ca each of the two signs has an array of eight units; the first six are all the same (alphanumeric); the last two are to display the 24-hr clock in 15-minute increments. Right now we can control all the units in one of the signs by sending commands from a laptop running the Arduino software. I believe ours are ‘simultaneous’ but strictly speaking sequential – just very fast, one after the other. Mark might be able to explain that better.

Stage two will be to use a Raspberry or similar (thanks for the tip re Intels) to build a GUI/control interface that we can feed data (or we might even just upload them to the Arduino). Definitely curious to find out how you made yours internet-enabled, which will be something we do down the line after our public installation on forced migration.”

Lynn sent us some more curious details about connecting to an IP and how they used Filemaker to program the frontend, and some of the limitations of that. She also shared a bit about how the project came together through a collaborative process, bolstered through friendship and enthusiasm and shared ideas:

Everyone I’ve worked with found the specs useless. The “Ethernet Kit” they refer to is 20-year old CPU with a Disk on Module (photo enclosed) which Solari connected before I bought it. That ethernet cable is simply plugged it into a wireless router. There was some confusion before figuring out my modem subnet range needed to be reconfigured since Solari had hardwired the web address 192.168.1.200 to the board…but you won’t have that problem as you’re building your own.

The Solari board would be nowhere without smart friends. Riccardo at Solari who’d championed the project and told me stories about how several Solari employees were stationed full-time at Grand Central Terminal in New York just to take care of the big board, but despite his stories when the Solari arrived I hadn’t realized the weight of owning industrial machinery. Eric Hixon had helped with tech in other art projects and took charge of getting the board running. As you can relate there are times you don’t know if the board is ever going to flip. The night he got it working, he and his new girlfriend (now wife) had actually left for the night, but were suddenly back: Eric had one last idea in the car, the idea about the modem subnet. A few years later Kevin Tieskoetter wrote a cool FileMaker front-end to send data to the board continually. When I wanted to put the board online Eric wired up a Raspberry Pi & camera. Wilson Chan and Jon Christman got inspired during their holiday to Japan and stayed up nights making the board tweetable. Essentially, the board continually requires a specialist on call. During stretches when help wasn’t available I felt the pain of knowing there are just a tiny handful of people in the world with the talent, interest, and availability to work on the board—I think you can understand!”

It’s interesting too to hear Lynn talk about how the Solari board functions as a work of art. Lynn notes that the act of people writing to the board from afar works best when they are friends. Strangers had a different relationship with the board:

“The twitter thing is currently a lightweight proof of concept. I wanted a way to experiment with distant people writing to the board. Impressions so far: really cool to have friends write, not so great with and for strangers, even though they get a video back. If you guys are considering an interactive component it might be interesting to have a way to let people “talk” to the board only if they’re physically in the same location as the board. Your artwork on migration could incorporate a Papers Please kind of painful process, people would have to write on paper then get the message stamped approval etc. to *maybe* get their voice heard.”

It seems particularly important to draw from her experiences with programming the board with “meaningful” content in contrast to programming it with the kinds of data it would have traditionally held and having the viewer interpret that for themselves:

“No content I’ve tried on the board has moved me as much as staring at the boards at Frankfurt Airport. I wasn’t lost, this was organized Germany   : )   but I was so lost internally. Standing in the Departures hall staring up at the giant board, the sound of flipping and changes to the flights, all the destinations, there’s an aspect of looking to the board for literal direction and emotional direction. It’s exactly as you say in the description of Cheryl’s project: you’re in between arrival and departure in every sense. In Frankfurt as you go deeper into the airport the signs get smaller until at the gates they’re finally at eye level. It’s the most mesmerizing thing and reminded me of childhood flights from Haneda Airport. The art series I was working on at that time was about love & travel how both can be so incredibly inspiring and so destructively draining. When I’ve tried putting ‘meaningful’ content on the board, messages etc., the board somehow loses its power. My current thinking on my project is somehow, the board is meant to inexorably flip, and the meaning found in it needs to be interpreted by the viewer rather than have meaning given.”

Finally, she shared a bit of trivia with us! We knew that The Terminal was shot at Mirabel, but hadn’t heard about the title credits by Yu & Co.:

“Bit of trivia: the Spielberg film The Terminal was shot in Montréal-Mirabel airport. Garson Yu of LA special effects company Yu & Co. did the title credits that show the board. He said Spielberg brought in and installed another, larger board from Germany. The special effects crew sat up all night spray-painting umlauts out of the flaps. In the end, though, the title credits were re-created in CG. Garson said it took them over a month to analyse and recreate the physics of the board so the flaps would do that infinitesimal bounce at the end. http://www.yuco.com/projects/the-terminal.”

Write to Lynn’s board on Twitter by sending a tweet to @hellosolari! Within 5 minutes, you’ll get a tweet back with video and audio of your message. The 3-line board’s capacity is 27 characters per line. For line breaks, type “space / space”—for example:  “first line / second line / third line”—if the message doesn’t indicate line breaks, the board won’t flip. Like our board, in addition to the alphabet from A-Z and numbers from 0-9, @hellosolari can also display a period, a hyphen, a space, and a slash.


For anyone who’s interested, here are a few of the technical documents Lynn mentions:

Technical Information: Solari di Udine Flap Displays

Solari Software Specs

Solari Diagram: Final Dimensions

FULLY AUTOMATED

Solari – virtuoso demo from Matt Soar on Vimeo.

It’s been an exhilarating week: Mark Demers from SpikenzieLabs was in on Wednesday to finalize some work on our #48 board, and had a wonderful surprise for us – a program made in the difficult-to-search-for-but-easy-to-use automation software Processing.

Drawing from a TextEdit file, Processing allows us to create sequences of commands to send to the panel in our Solari board. Mark wrote a sequence that allows us to demonstrate the capacity of the program to change speeds, to turn the light on and off, to set the display and clock at the same time and independently, and to activate individual units one by one. This ability to program in advance will be instrumental in thinking about the possibilities for the signs’ use in a public art installation.

The software allows us not only to set the speed of the flapping, but also how long the program waits before sending the next command. Thinking about programming in this way feels a bit more like a composition or a choreography of sound and movement and symbols. Given these commands to run through instead of entering them manually changes the call-and-response dialogue of entering data and listening and looking for a result. Instead, the program allows the sign to perform. Listening to the Solari run the course of its automation, you begin to notice the nuance of the sounds of each unit. Its second display unit rumbles, lower-pitched, while its first has a higher voice. The clock units have a more lispy whisper on account of their large, thin size. And the light turns on with a slight upper ping, as its taught spring switches and the filament flushes red at the sudden rush of electricity.

HELLO WORLD

So, the summer is over, and we’ve got one pretty perfectly working Solari board! The light behind the gate number turns on and off, the letters flap smoothly, the missing flaps have been cut, screenprinted, and replaced, it’s got a new set of wiring, DIN connectors, and a brand-new blue circuit board inside. Mark Demers at Spikenzie Labs has also solved the issue we were having with variant letters appearing. In early testing, we ended up with some interesting versions with the command to display “SOLARI,” which appeared as “SOHAPG,” “SOJARI,” “SOHASE,” and soforth. The extra coding Mark has added to his sequence is an additional measure to catch any errors in letters that might have come out different than the command. Now, it appears correctly every time. We’re still playing around with the 24-hour clock cartridges—the mechanism is a bit sticky from several years of disuse—so stay tuned for an update on those. We’ll also be working on getting the second unit running smoothly, and a support structure for the two displays. Until then, HELLO WORLD.

Solari 'Hello World' demo from Matt Soar on Vimeo.

Flight YMX Welcomes Aboard Artist Cheryl Sim

Good afternoon, everyone. Please ensure that your tray tables are secure and your seats are in the upright position. As we taxi into the fall, Flight YMX is delighted to welcome on board artist and curator Cheryl Sim as our collaborator. Using our two Solari boards as a starting place, Sim will be exploring ideas of memory, diaspora, hope, displacement, and migration through the lens of Mirabel airport. Drawing on video archives, oral history, crowd control stanchions, immigration statistics, and histories of resistance, Sim will create a site-specific installation that will speak to the experience of being in between arrival and departure physically, emotionally, and psychologically. We look forward to working with her to develop and find a berth for this project in a Montreal gallery when we begin our descent into winter.

Bienvenue à bord, Cheryl Sim!

Cheryl Sim is a media artist, curator and musician. She began her professional life at Studio D of the NFB, which led her to the wild world of video art and her involvement with artist-run centers. Her artistic output in single-channel video and media installation has persistently dealt with questions of identity formation and relations of power. Musically, she explores the intersections of jazz and electronic music that are haunted by a cabaret spirit. Her work as curator at DHC/ART Foundation for contemporary art has been greatly informed by the artist-run center ethos as well as her work as an artist. She recently completed her PhD research-creation dissertation at UQÀM, “The Fitting Room: The Cheongsam and Canadian Women of Chinese Heritage in Installation.”

Flight YMX is a part of the Montreal Signs Project, an ongoing research project dedicated to the exploration of signage in the city of Montréal, through memories, archives, and rescued or donated signs. It is supported by a grant from the Fonds Québécois de la Recherche sur la Société et la Culture (FQRSC), Appui à la recherche-création, titled ‘Les enseignes de Montréal: Culture, technologie, patrimoine.’

Photo: Still, CBC News, Archives: Mirabel airport inauguration, 2 May 2014, “Montreal’s ill-fated airport of the future opens its runways in 1975,” http://www.cbc.ca/player/play/2453941780.

We’re in Atlas Obscura!

The beginning of fall feels slighly like heading off on a trip, no? As the leaves start to change colour and the air gets crisper, the days feel like hope. We may have some jangly nerves from being on a plane for the first time, or gleefully setting off at a new school: there’s a bit of anticipation, a few bated breaths, the promise of adventure.

We’re excited to start the season off right with some press from Sarah Laskow over at Atlas Obscura. Her piece, “Artists are Salvaging Train Stations’ Analog Departure Boards,” talks about our project along with others who are repurposing Solari boards once they become decommissioned and removed from airports and train stations. Read about some of their split-flap afterlives here.

Letters and Numbers

An index points. We might think of the index as an outstretched finger directing the way. (This is how the first finger on each hand got its name, the index finger—the one that points, that indicates, makes known). Or, it is a list in the back of a book that directs you to the correct page number to find the information you require. In 19th-century semiotics, philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce sought to formalize a way of thinking about signs as a continuation of his studies in logic. He wrote about the icon, the index, and the symbol. The icon physically resembles the thing it stands for (a small picture of a plane stands in for the plane itself) and the symbol points to connotations (usually word-based, but also in the sense that the bald eagle is also a symbol for the USA). However, the index is a sensory feature that correlates and implies something else. The classic example of an index is the presence of smoke, an index of a nearby fire.[1] Though it may have been unintended in its original design, the rhythmic clacking of the Solari display also has this signifying effect. Its cascade of clicking turns faces upward. The noise of the circulating flaps acts as an index—it points to new departure and arrival information. And maybe this indexical noise can’t be underestimated—when Boston’s Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority replaced their split-flap displays in 2006 with digital LED displays, they retained the noise of the analog departure board:  a tick-tick-tick emitted by a speaker system inside of the board when the schedule changed over.[2]

In addition to the rustle of letters, there are a few other factors that make the analog split-flaps appealing (aside from retro-nostalgic longing, which is patently undeniable and yet perhaps a whole other story). Unlike digital displays, which become washed out and hard to see in bright light, and can only be read when regarded straight-on, the high contrast white-on-black letters of the Solari display allows for higher visibility in most light conditions. It is also able to be read from many different angles—which is useful in airports and train stations, where people are dispersed across the arrivals and departures area. Additionally, unlike a LED display that must remain lit when it is static, a split-flap display uses very little power until it is instructed to flip. And if power is cut temporarily to the system, the information remains visible instead of falling dark and then resetting in a jumble when the power returns.

Although we’ve delved mostly into the visceral mechanics of wiring and breadboards so far, the flaps themselves are the capricious face of each display. Originally metal and later plastic,[3] they came in the form of a fixed text (the whole name of a station or an airline) or an alphanumeric display that could be programmed individually. They would have been industrially cut and silk-screened in sheets. This was complicated in terms of individual replacements. As Tom Chaffin, the acting Principal Engineer for Telecoms at Thameslink writes of the fixed text displays, “every time the timetable changed altering train service calling points or final destinations changed or even for a train company name/branding change, new flaps had to be silk-screen printed and then inserted into the indicators ideally the night of the timetable change.”[4] With an entire rail or airport system, this process was costly and time-consuming. As a person responsible for the twice-yearly updates for the Southern Regions rail system reminisces, delivery took about 9 months, so you would have to predict requirements a year in advance. However, he notes, they could also order the flaps in multiple colours, and even could use the “rest position” as an advertising display for newspapers and whiskey.[5]

Black and white split flap board showing fixed and alphanumeric flaps from Kagoshi, Japan, small pink flowers in front of it, and airport arrival information on the boards.
Wikimedia Commons, “Split-flap display in Kagoshima airport, Kirishima, Japan.”

We’re working with two arrivals/departures displays—relatively small ones in the grand scheme of the giant multi-city boards Solari has manufactured—each display has eight cartridges, each cartridge has 40 cards (and how many were there going to St. Ives, I wonder?).

TwoSolaris

The first six cartridges in each board are 2-inch alphanumeric displays, followed by two larger cartridges to display a 24-hour clock. Inevitably, just in the ordinary course of their use—to say nothing of the subsequent closure, abandonment, and decay of Mirabel—at least a few flaps would have gone missing. We had to get an overview to make sure we had a full set. Earlier this summer, I flipped through what should have been a total of six hundred and forty flaps, so we could make sure that we had a complete set. Incredibly, we’re only missing two.

I wrote earlier about our makeshift replacement flaps in this post, laid out in Adobe Illustrator and sliced from the matte black plastic file folders Matt had found in the Loyola Campus bookstore by Mark’s laser cutter. Next, we needed to get the letters printed onto the black plastic. In an early experiment, I wondered if we might be able to paint the letters on with a brush. It seemed like the best choice to start, given that we only needed two flaps. I marked off the bottom half of the test B with painter’s tape and gave it a go. However, when I carefully tweezed off the tape after the paint was dry, the results were less than inspiring. The edge was a bit ragged from paint seeping under the tape or being pulled off in the removal process, and the brush marks bunched and stripped the paint in varying ways across the surface. So, we needed a different option. MIT’s The Beach Lab, in an effort to make their split-flap display relatively inexpensive, opted for cut vinyl letters. You can learn more about that project here. But I was so taken by the crisp edge of the screen-printed letters of the originals, and wondered if the vinyl letters might stick out sorely in a cascade of printed ones. It looks like others have done this method also—of cutting the flaps first and then individually screen-printing—like this dance company in preparing a board for a performance about travel.

My pal Justin Gordon is one of the three founding members of the excellent Montreal-based printmaking collective and studio Atelier Lost Cause, along with Concordia fine arts students Gabrielle Mulholland and Hillary Barnes. I asked him if he could help us out with printing, and he said he could try. I’d traced both sides of our missing letters (top of an E/bottom of an F and top of a Z/dash) at the lab and taken them home with me. In order to screen print, you need the parts you want the colour to go in jet black, and the other parts white. I took the original layout of the split-flap I’d made in Adobe Illustrator to use for the laser cutting:Black and white outline of split-flap…and repurposed it for our four half-letters. I carefully measured the tracings and laid out the letters in Illustrator, filled them with black, and printed them out on ordinary paper (with back-ups—in case one of them didn’t work out).[6]

Overvew of four black-and-white letters with blue split-flap outline laid out in a grid. The top of an E, bottom of an F, top of a Z, and a dash.Justin laid all four letters out with oil on one screen, exposed it, and then we were ready to go. We laid down a test onto acetate so we could see where the print would land, lined up each black flap behind the acetate, and printed the letters. They were a bit sticky when they came out, and so we tried to dry them under a heat dryer, which resulted in melted plastic. A brief stint under the dryer, and then some time by an open window, and they were ready to print the other side. Here they are—crisp, clean, and smooth, and although the gloss of the letters isn’t exact, it’s a pretty good match.


[1] R. Port, “ICON, INDEX and SYMBOL (Short Version),” http://www.cs.indiana.edu/~port/teach/103/sign.symbol.short.html.

[2] Mac Daniel, “Nostalgia for noise at South Station,” Boston Globe, 6 April 2006, https://www.ble-t.org/pr/news/pf_headline.asp?id=15901.

[3] http://www.iridetheharlemline.com/2010/05/14/fridays-from-the-historical-archives-solari-departure-boards-photos-history/

[4] http://unknowndomain.co.uk/category/design/split-flap-display/page/6/

[5] http://www.railforums.co.uk/showthread.php?p=2255362

[6] I should have had both a copy with the outline of the flap for a guideline and one without for the printing, but I didn’t print the latter! This meant that Justin and I had to cut carefully around each letter, lest the outline of the flap be printed in white onto the edge itself.

Completing the Circuit (Board)

When Mark was in the lab last Thursday, he brought in the circuit with four cables attached. This was his first test with more than one alphanumeric split-flap display—a set of four, which we need to be able to program to display different letters. This will eventually lead to the final wiring of six letters and the two cartridges of the 24-hour clock display. After getting them to level out and running a few tests, we invited up Communications Studies’ own Douglas Hollingworth to see our run of four spell out his name. Here’s the wiring in action:

On our next test Mark moved on to try out his own name, but instead it flipped up as MORK. We guessed that this was because of the same dirty wheel conundrum we had with the new solo unit last week. We cleaned it off again with a little rubbing alcohol, reconnected it, and this time, it flipped perfectly to MARK. Seems like we’re going to need to clean the wheels on all of the units to make sure the display registers correctly. (On a side note, is it just me or are these all-caps 4-letter names somewhat reminiscent of the demons of Twin Peaks?)

Confident now that the board configuration will work for the Solari controller, Mark is now getting a PCB—a printed circuit board—made up. You’ll recall that Mark has been working from a large-size breadboard:

IMG_5946A breadboard makes it possible to plug in wires, capacitors, sensors, resistors, power sources, integrated circuits, diodes, and transistors and still move them around. It’s a temporary support consisting of a plastic board with rows of holes, and a metal backplate. The electrical parts are pushed through the board until they connect and hold with the metal plate. It’s a provisional circuit that can be tested, adapted, and moved around until you’ve got something you’re happy with. When I asked Mark about those two teal-headed pins in the center of the board, he told me that they’re used as placeholders. Sometimes you want to move a wire and try it somewhere else, but you don’t want to forget where it came from in case it doesn’t work and you need to move it back. The pin stands in and holds the place of the moved wire until you can confirm that the circuit will work in its new configuration.

Historically, breadboards were actually that—boards for bread. Electricians needed a way to affix and keep steady a circuit involving tubes, lights, transformers, and other large components. They would screw these components and wires into the board, and would be able to unscrew them and move them around as needed during the testing process. Check out a picture and more information here.

However, once the circuit is complete and ready to be used, the breadboard makes it very difficult to practically use. Though temporarily secure, wires can get fall out, the long metal arms of capacitors and resistors can lead to crossed wires, and the whole shebang can get tangled and messy. So, once your circuit is fixed, you can print a PCB, a circuit board which has all of those components, just laid out flat on a piece of non-conductive material. Wires are printed as copper lines, and other parts are soldered onto the board.

Our PCB will have our names silkscreened on it—Spikenzie Labs as the designer, and Flight YMX – Montreal Signs Project as the initiator. Like the small yellowing tag, written in Italian, that points towards the boards’ origin in Udine, this PCB will be our trace in the board, the index towards this project—this time and place.