Art the Millikan Way

Signal art at the Millikan Way MAX station

Years ago TriMet started the Westside MAX Public Art Program to install art at the MAX light rail stations on the Blue Line’s west side and I’d like to take a moment to celebrate the art at my stop near work, Millikan Way, where the art reflects technology and nature. Millikan Way is named after a famous scientist like many of the area streets, in this case for Nobel prize winning physicist Robert Millikan who measured the charge of an electron. I included my shoes in most of these pictures since I spend about a third of my commute walking and the other two-thirds on the train. This shot of some signal artwork shows off an older pair of blue New Balance running shoes, I bought these several years ago during a stretch when I was driving to work instead of taking the MAX and they’re still in good enough shape that they haven’t been relegated to dog-walking status. I tend to wear the other shoes in this post more often when I’m walking instead of driving, leading to their long life.

A goldfinch sonogram at the Millikan Way MAX station

My favorite art pieces are the many bronze plaques containing sonograms of songs of local birds, plots showing the different frequencies the birds make over time as they sing their song. I especially like this art as it combines two important parts of my life, you probably know my love for wildlife if you’ve spent much time here, but you wouldn’t know I’ve spent most of the past twenty years of my work life working with signals in the frequency and time domain. The equipment we design (like my last project or the one before it) is usually used in very different applications, like analyzing wireless communications or radar systems, and at much higher frequencies and bandwidths than birdsong, and with many different types of plots, yet many of the fundamental principles are the same. This sonogram is for the American goldfinch, I took the picture on a day when it poured rain, which is why I’m wearing my waterproof Merrell shoes. Like my orange running shoes, this is a pair I wish I had bought a handful of once I realized how much I liked them. They are great for keeping my feet dry when I have to walk through puddles but are still quite breathable, they’re wet in the picture but my feet were not.

A Bewick's wren sonogram at the Millikan Way MAX station

This sonogram is for the little Bewick’s wren, you can see how different it is from the goldfinch, especially the trill at the end where the song bounces between two frequencies. Birds have multiple vocalizations even though only one is shown in the plaques for each bird, and the songs can change with geography so that a bird on the east coast may have a different song from a similar bird in our area, but you can get a sense of how varied the songs are from one species to the next. The shoes are my blue New Balance trail running shoes that are the newer version of my beloved black shoes that finally fell apart, and are a favorite for days when it might rain some but not enough that I want to risk wearing out the more expensive waterproof shoes. These are my favorite shoes and the only thing keeping me from wearing them every day is that they weren’t available in brighter colors, although I do love this color of blue.

A great blue heron sonogram at the Millikan Way MAX station

This sonogram is for the great blue heron, full of lots of frequencies and not exactly the prettiest of songs. They’re squawkers, the herons. Shown too are my new yellow New Balance sneaks which replaced the orange ones which were wearing out, I wear them on dry days to make me more visible, plus I love colors. I don’t wear them on wet days as if they get dirty they’ll lose some of that eye-catching color. A clever photographer would have photographed his yellow shoes with the yellow goldfinch and his blue shoes with the blue heron, but you’re stuck with me.

A utility building at the Millikan Way MAX station

Even the utility building gets in on the art action, with brick patterns suggesting trees of the small wetland behind. There’s a little creek that runs past the other side of the parking lot that I walk over to get to work, and while it’s not the prettiest thing, I do see beavers in there at times (I believe they live at the nearby Nike campus). Occasionally a muskrat too, but nutria are much more common as is true of many of Oregon’s waterways. And a few varieties of ducks, and the occasional great blue heron too.

Sinusoidal signal art at the Millikan Way MAX station

There are lots of other little art pieces around, from mathematical symbols to pine cones and leaves and the like. I love that TriMet did this and over the years I’ve thought about getting off at each stop on my commute to take pictures as the art varies from station to station, but so far I’ve only done it for the stop where I normally get off. I do have a small camera now that would be perfect for the task, but I’m eager to either get to work or get home to the pup who is waiting for her walk.

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