Take a few seconds for 'Playing with Time'

Time flies when you're having fun. Time drags when the bus is late...and it's raining...and you have a hole in your shoe. Of course, such distortions of duration are purely internal, but there are also external methods of altering our chronological perspectives, and Playing With Time has some prime examples of - and instruction in - the art of temporal transformation.

A creation of Red Hill Studios and the Science Museum of Minnesota (home base for a traveling exhibit of the same name), Playing With Time uses QuickTime movies to reveal changes that occur either too fast or too slow for us to see in real time. With a basic layout contributing to fast, easy access for most web browsers (you'll need to activate JavaScript), the site saves its gee-whiz moments for the exhibits themselves.

The primary attractions of the site are gathered in the "Gallery of Time," located in the To See and Do section of the site. The Gallery holds 81 clips, most 10 to 15 seconds long, recording events with real time durations ranging from 20 millionths of a second (neurotransmitter transmission) to 7,700 trillion seconds - or 240 million years (movement of the Earth's continental plates). While these extreme examples require "artists' conceptions," the Gallery's photographic records span an impressive range, and include 20 years of forest growth, and 2 microseconds of an exploding firecracker.

Many of the movies we've seen before, such as the slow-motion undulations of a bouncing water balloon. They are still fascinating to watch, though, and there are likely to be at least one or two subjects that are new to most viewers. (Personally, I'd never seen a slow-motion cymbal before.) Some clips, such as the accelerated snow removal of winter-to-spring movies, might even lay claim to a certain therapeutic effect.

Each clip includes information about the film's content and the methods used to create the effect, and files in the Gallery can be sorted by name, time scale, or file size. (File sizes are small enough (most under 500K, all under 1 megabyte) that for the most part, dial-up users can make use of the site without entering their own dimension of suspended time.) A Place in Time takes clips of the same subjects and collects them into sets, inviting viewers to view the same process over varying timescales. One set offers views of a Cape Cod beach that range from 10 seconds of real time, to a satellite impression of 7,000 years of changing shoreline. (Hint: Don't get locked into any long-term Cape Cod leases.)

Collaborate offers the "Time Explorers" program, which invites visitors to submit their own time-lapse concepts and possibly be granted the use of a digital camera to execute the idea. If you'd rather work in the tradition of the independent film maker, the site also provides a Toolkit, with online instruction in creating time-lapse films using both still and video cameras.

All things considered, Playing With Time is time well spent.

Playing With Time can be found at http://www.playingwithtime.org/.

Jim Regan is a graphics artist and writer who lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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