Imagine you could shrink yourself down, swim around your hard drive, and meet your files face to face—what would they look like? Enter The Machine is an art installation that aims to provide a new way of seeing our digital files, one that does justice to their uniqueness, the diversity of the data they contain, and the complexity by which they are structured. It does this by, in effect, turning a hard drive inside-out and putting its contents, in raw form, on display for us to see.
These works consist of hundreds of thousands of "file portraits," grouped together into "folder portraits." The series consists of visualizing nine different stops along the artist's hard drive, from his Dropbox folder (shown here) to his Downloads folder.
Four separate programs were written to accomplish this project.
1) File crawler that recursively transforms any and every file from its natural binary or ASCII data format to hexadecimal format (written in C++ with OpenFrameworks)
2) Custom algorithm that transforms the hexadecimal data of every file into color and form, effectively creating a portrait for each file (written in C++ with OpenFrameworks)
3) Each "file portrait" has a light border around it (or a stroke in Photoshop/Illustrator terms). This necessitated developing a program that would use contour finding algorithms packaged with OpenCV to find the edges of each "file portrait" to effectively create a border (written in C++ with OpenFrameworks).
On the hardware side, each "group portrait," of which there are nine, took roughly 300 computer hours to create. These nine portraits were created with five computers using 36 processor cores simultaneously.
To make the prints come alive, custom circuits were developed using Teensy microcontrollers to control the LED lights behind each print. There is actually a button screwed into the underside of each light box that will alternate through three stats: on/off/pulse. The code controlling the pulse rate and button states was written in the Arduino IDE.