Every Icon: Applet on the Edge of Forever

A few years ago, I bought an artwork by John Simon Jr. that was executed as a Java class. Every Icon is a Java applet programmed to display each possible image that can be drawn in a grid 32 pixels wide and 32 pixels deep.

The artwork will take an impossibly long time to complete. Exhausting the possibilities of the first 32-pixel row takes over a year on most computers. Extending that to the second row will take 16 billion years on a PC with a Pentium processor (a few billion less on a Pentium III).

Adding to the work's geek cred, Simon was inspired by early icon-editing programs on the Macintosh:

It basically counts forward, from 0 to 10 to the 308th power. The number of atoms in the universe is 10 to the 80th. The number of possible images in the universe is much greater. I use a 32 X 32 black and white grid. I chose that, because that was the original Macintosh definition for an icon, when the first Mac system came out. With the old Macs, you went to the icon editor "ResEdit", where you could design you own icons by clicking on the different fields of this grid.

I'm the 63rd person to buy the artwork. Simon compiled the purchase date into the applet, so mine displays how far the class has gotten since it was created on May 15, 2000.

As Simon told Matt Mirapaul in the New York Times, the piece repudiates the jaded notion that "we've reached the end of imaging." Even within the simple limits of a 1,024-pixel black and white box, there's more potential images than we could ever take in.

I enjoy the piece for its glimpse of the infinite. I love the idea that a Java class could run for my lifetime and beyond, displaying a unique image each moment it is viewed that represents the passage of time since it began, iterating towards the end of a loop it will never reach.

At some point, I'd like to move this class to a solar-powered PDA, tablet PC, or another self-sustaining device so it can run forever and be inflicted on my heirs. Click the graphic to launch the applet in a desktop window using Java Web Start.

Open Every Icon Applet in new window

More Every Icon objects can be found on Enterzone, StadiumWeb, All My Life for Sale (#85), and Archives & Museums Informatics.

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