Photographing the living pixel

Fascinating story in The New Yorker about tapestries, digital photography, computer mathematics and clean rooms — not to mention a super computer with two million processors and fourteen thousand hard drives that will use 2½ million watts of electricity and require 2,000 gallons of water per minute flowing through its core to keep it cool — if the pumps fail, it will melt down in less than ten seconds.
Long story short: In 1998, the Metropolitan Museum of Art needed a photographic record of a set of priceless tapestries from its collection. Once the images were recorded, though, there was no way to stitch the separate images together into a whole, no computer had the horsepower necessary. The museum turned to two Russian-born mathematician brothers who used a homemade computer they called It to attempt to create the unified images, only to find that under closer examination the images couldn’t be “woven” together because the process of photographing the tapestries changed their physical appearance. The edges didn’t synch.
This is the story of how math, art, computer science and history came together to save an ancient and mysterious artifact of beauty forever.

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