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#265 :: Strobe

October 31, 2004

Start with a power-of-10 subdivision beginning with the Big Bang’s one hot pulse. Break it down: The incandescing of star clusters, supernovas, red giants, yellow stars, Sol boom with radiation ebbing and flowing around them as they stabilize. Zoom in farther on the timescale: the dull, hot roar of magma spheres cooling one by one into solar orbit; the orbit of years around the sun marked by revolution – when viewed fast enough to perceive our orbit, the earth spins rapidly, fairly flickering with new dawns. Slow it down some: Now the flashes of campfires and wildfires, firestorms and nuclear blasts are distinct, occurring only every few rotations, then only every few revolutions. The buzzing of your synapses Dopplers down to a rapid clicking, then a tick-tocking, then the thud of your heart. Turn it down even slower, and events scream past you. This is the pace of life – immediate and electric, and impossible to hold still or control. You can only watch. But – hook up this need for control to a rheostat, a timer and a gas-filled tube that is extremely efficient at building up and discharging miniature lightning bolts from a parabolic reflector; point it at someone dancing, waving their arms, moving only their eyes. Fiddle with the controls: show yourself only strobe-lit segments of the whole picture. Make your mind fill in the black spaces between.

This is a wonderful toy, and a peerless tool for fucking with time. I found it in the basement of my co-ed frat in college, and have played with it every Halloween for years. It spent tonight in the front window, streaking our “spooky” branches and cotton-floss cobwebs with hideous, metronomic lightning.

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