Rust Garden

Rust is gorgeous. We marvel at its endless shades of ochre, red, orange and sienna. We appreciate the organic shapes created as right angles collapse and edges decay into jagged landscapes. Rust is poetic, photogenic, artistic and melancholy. It grows on its own and famously, never sleeps.

As an agricultural species, we love to garden. We plant seeds outdoors, water them diligently, watch the miracle of life, trim, weed, and appreciate the lush green plantscape we’ve created. Gardening gets right at our souls. But why limit ourselves to plants?

Let’s garden with rust! Rust gardening is easy and the perfect way to exploit a “brown thumb.” In some ways it’s identical to growing a plant garden. In other ways it’s the polar opposite. A rust garden is created by “planting” metal pieces outdoors where they can weather organically. Patience is required, though the process can be sped up with regular watering, plus a few other tricks. You’ll eventually be rewarded with lush decay, in a myriad of sunset colors. Of course, your rusted wonder won’t bear anything edible, but it also won’t attract any pests. You might even extract a centerpiece-worthy “bouquet” from your rust garden, in leiu of a traditional harvest. Of course pesticides are unnecessary, and weeding is entirely optional.

For this year’s Dinacon I’m planting a rust garden outside of a home in Gamboa, Panama. Since I’ll only be there for two weeks, I’ve chosen to accelerate the initial rusting process using a household concoction of white vinegar, peroxide and table salt. The results are instant, but really just a head start on what promises to be a post-industrial patch of sepia-toned disintegration, offsetting the riot of tropical greenery.

Here’s how to make your own rust garden.

  1. Pick a patch of ground outdoors. You can also set up an indoor planter box or humidity-rich terrarium.
  2. Gather some scrap iron or steel. If it’s already rusting, so much the better.  Painted or coated metals won’t rust quickly. Strip the paint and sand the metal for best results. If you’re not sure a metal will rust, try it anyway. Experimentation is a terrific way to learn, and the artist’s favored tool.
  3. You can leave the metal to rust on its own outdoors, or water it regularly to accelerate the decay.
  4. If you’re an impatient gardener, it’s easy to get some rust going immediately. Pour some white vinegar into a plastic spray bottle and mist your metal scraps until they are thoroughly moistened. Wait for the vinegar to dry, around 15 minutes. Next, in another spray bottle, mix:
    • two cups of hydrogen peroxide
    • four tablespoons of white vinegar
    • one-and-a-half teaspoons of table salt (why salt?)
  5. Swirl the mixture until the salt has dissolved. Spray it onto your metal scraps and they will turn rusty as you watch. Allow the rusty metal to dry, then repeat as desired.* Careful with this mixture, it will rust anything it contacts instantly!

“Plant” other metal scraps as often as desired to create a variety of rusty delights. You can include non-ferrous metals like copper which will grow a green patina for contrast. Rust gardens are perfect for photography, try a macro lens for the most beautiful corrosion close-ups.

Rob Faludi

* Rust recipe inspired by Bob Vila.

Sun Set Clock – Prototype

Sun Set Clock

Technology separates us from nature, but does it need to? I used some of my stay at the Digital Naturalism Conference in Thailand to prototype a clock that determines local time of day from sunlight to promote a natural sense of timekeeping.

By using technology to encourage human relationships with nature, I hope to highlight that machines can encourage us to be *more* human and organic rather than slowly making people irrelevant. As a counterpoint to consuming industrialized time we can also obtain time from scratch, regaining control of the very pacing that drives our lives. The Sun Set Clock uses local solar time, therefore noon is when the sun is at apogee at our location. This is how time used to be measured, before telegraphs and transcontinental trains required a move to time zones, where the clock and the sun no longer match. This system isn’t concerned with exactitude–there’s plenty of systems to do that if you need it. Instead this clock can be used to mark the general progress of the day rather than creating anxiety around how every minute is used.

Sun Set Clock in its natural environment

The initial prototype uses light level changes to detect sunrise and sunset, with local noon being the point exactly between these two events. When the clock starts, it makes its best estimate of the time. For example, if it’s dark at startup, the clock assumes that it’s midnight because that’s the best guess you can make without more information. At sunrise, this corrects to 6 am (a higher-quality guess) and then at sunset it will correct to the proper local time (not time zone time but astronomical time at your precise location). All of this works, although it’s still a bit fragile–operating best in full view of the sky on a relatively sunny day. Dark clouds, deep shadows and porch lights can confuse it, so these will need to be addressed in a future version. For now, I’m enjoying what I think of as “some time of my own.” I hope you enjoy it too.

 


Sun Set Clock – Instructions for Use

Continue reading “Sun Set Clock – Prototype”

Rob Faludi

PLANS

Technology separates us from nature, but does it need to? My focus will be using technology to encourage people back into relationships with nature. Three planned week-long explorations include: 1. A clock that determines local time of day from environmental factors (light, sound, movements) to promote a natural sense of timekeeping. 2. A personal weather station that detects and whimsically describes the current weather around your body, to counteract the industrialization of weather. 3. A structured method for taking a random walk in the woods, possibly using an assistive device to promote exploration & discovery. (Wilderness version of my ruleset for random walks in New York: faludi.com/random ) 

By using technology to encourage human relationships with nature, I hope to highlight that machines can encourage us to be *more* human and organic rather than slowly making people irrelevant. As a counterpoint to consuming industrialized time, weather and directions, we’ll obtain time from scratch, declare our own version of the weather and make systems to help us wander rather than simply arrive. I look forward to taking a few weeks far away from distractions and close to the organic inspirations that drive my best work.

BIO

Robert Faludi was the Chief Innovator at Digi International, working to forge strong connections with the maker community, uncover new innovation methodologies, support outstanding new work and create prototypes that spur new product development. Faludi has been a professor in the MFA program at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan and in the Interactive Telecommunications graduate program at NYU. He specializes in behavioral interactions through physical computing and networked objects. Rob is the author of Building Wireless Sensor Networks, with ZigBee, XBee, Arduino and Processing published by O’Reilly Media, 2011. He frequently consults on interactive projects including recent work in entertainment, architecture and toys. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Wired Magazine, Good Morning America, BBC World, the Chicago Museum of Science & Industry and MoMA among others. He is a co-creator of LilyPad XBee wearable radios, and Botanicalls, a system that allows thirsty plants to place phone calls for human help.