Yesterday was the 10th anniversary of the 3/11 triple disaster that struck the Tohoku region of Japan (and the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant) which abruptly changed the course of my life, not to mention millions of others. 10 years ago, over the following days and weeks we’d start pulling together the people for discussions that would eventually solidify into Safecast. If you are reading my personal website then I suspect I don’t need to tell you about how many ways that decision changed the direction. If nothing else, it’s unlikely I would have had the opportunity to live in Japan as long as I did. In early February 2020 I made this post about Safecast, detailing our future fundraising plans and discussing some of our next big steps. Obviously 2020 didn’t end up playing out as I, or anyone anticipated and a few months before year end we had to make the challenging decision to shift to 100% volunteer in favor of using the funding reserves we had left to keep the servers online. Over 90% of the Safecast team has been volunteer the entire time so at face value that’s a tiny change, but those 10% who weren’t (including myself) were more than full time, all day every day, positions. We’re all still involved, just unfortunately with less available time to put towards the project.
How that would play out was not clear. Would things keep going? Slow down? Come to a crashing halt? We didn’t know, but we kept our fingers crossed and forged ahead.
Later today, a 24 hour live stream celebration of Safecast’s 10 year anniversary begins and earlier this week we announced a new air quality device that we’re deploying in partnership with Blues Wireless. Things are still moving, perhaps differently than we would have guessed last year at this time, but moving none the less. And the steps feel natural and appropriate, and being able to focus more on the data and less on the hardware actually frees us up to explore many other things that we might not have been able to otherwise. One of those things also launches today, and is called Safecast.live.
If your first reaction is that this feels more like an art project, you aren’t wrong. Last year my friend Ray Ozzie came across Listen To Wikipedia and sent it my way. I fell in love with the this way to “visualize” data with sounds, and it reminded me a lot of the concept behind many of Brian Eno’s ambient works that have deep systems in place to create ever evolving soundscapes rather than simple repeating loops. We discussed how Safecast’s data stream might lend itself to a similar audio experience. But we were busy at the time and the idea, as ideas sometimes do, kinda faded away. A few months back Ray surprised me – in preparation of the new air sensors coming online he’d been playing with the data stream and had put together a feed that he pointed to some test samples and it kind of worked. He handed me the keys and wished me luck. My mind was racing and I immediately started working on new samples from my synthesizers and sample collections I had, and trying to think of what kind of visual front end would go with it?
My friend, designer Rob Sheridan, runs a pretty fantastic discord server filled with creative people from many disciplines. I posted there asking if any front end developers might have some spare time to help out with a little project. Almost immediately I was contacted by a developer in the Ukraine, Kether Cortex, and we started trading notes and ideas. Aesthetically we clicked right away, and when he reminded me that the Nine Inch Nails Ghosts I-IV album was Creative Commons licensed, I knew this was going to shape up to be even better than I’d imagined. Since then Kether Cortex and I have spoken every day, refining and reimagining the idea every step of the way. The production version which launches today is the culmination of those many hours. I don’t want to give away too many secrets as it’s intended to provide a space for exploration. I will say there are several different audio options, all of which are being driven by the data feed which is random and constantly evolving. As new sensors come online daily it will continue to change. In addition to the NIN sample, and ones I recorded myself, we’re using some samples provided by Hainbach and Samples From Mars. Find one you like, and you can listen to it forever and the pattern will never repeat. There’s no real purpose for this other than as a reminder that you can sometimes find some beauty in the chaos. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
So here we are, 10 years into Safecast – not where we expected to be, a little more beaten up than planned, but still here, and still moving.