The Human Fax Machine

The first fax machine was created by Alexander Bain in 1864, revolutionizing communication. Although, it is previously thought that the fax operates on phone lines, but interestingly enough was created before the phone!

The first fax machine worked by transmitting black and white areas of the document placed in the charged coupled device—the scanner—where an electric pulse is sent out on the phone line where it s received and printed almost instantaneously!

Original image with a grid and straight lines joining coordinates drawn on top
Original image with a grid and straight lines joining coordinates drawn on top

Within the meda102 workshop we tried to imitate this encoding and decoding process of an image of a high heel shoe. However, before receiving the picture, our team had to devise a system of encoding and decoding any image that we were given. In order to eliminate error from the outset we decided to compress our image in accordance to our vector mode of extraction. The use of coordinates  allowed us to place a grid on our picture and map out the points of interception which roughly marks out the outline of the picture—thus restricting ourselves with using line instead of focusing on curves, colour and finer details.  Recording these coordinates made it easier for the transmission of the code to the decoders.

The compressed coordinates of each line. The horizontal line indicates two different continuous outlines(outer and inner shoe)
The compressed coordinates of each line. The horizontal line indicates two different continuous outlines(outer and inner shoe)

Given a bell with two plastic balls that hit either side of the bell, we had to create different sounds from the one instrument to indicate different instructions. With this instrument we decided, after much deliberation, that we were going to hold one ball silent while the other ball struck the bell to indicate a number on the x axis. To differentiate between the axis, we held our hand over the bell while the ball struck it so it made a dull noise to indicate the y axis. The number of times the bell sounded was the number of the coordinate.

Making room for inevitable error, we created a ‘handshake’ that would indicate for the encoding side to continue as the decoding side received the co-ordinate. The decoders would slap the bench once to indicate that they understood or slap the bench twice to re-do the coordinate—a parity bit. With this I found it difficult to magnify the dull sound on the y axis as the opening of the bell was covered restricting the noise coming from our instrument. This muffled sound blurred two sounds together into one so we too slapped the bench to re-do the coordinate.

Plotting the end and start of each line became very time consuming, so as we progressed we altered the code where we would quickly ring the bell a few times to indicate the repetition of the last y coordinate as all of the lines connected to create the outer outline—where previously we were repeating the last y coordinate and the first x coordinate to indicate that the line was continuous.

meda102
The instruction sheet given to the decoders with their interpretation of connecting the coordinates recorded from the bell

Overall, our team did very well extracting the code from sound. Of course minor details were left out in the final product, however, that was only due to our decision of a lossy compression where we lost information like shade and curve from the outset.

Left- decoded image right-original image
Left- decoded image
right-original image

Overall, out team did very well extracting the code from sound. Of course minor details were left out in the final product, however, that was only due to our decision of a lossy compression where we lost information like shade and curve from the outset.

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