The Decision-Maker

I’m participating in Fun-a-Day, a daily art challenge through the month of January, committed to do a daily post here detailing some Big Art Idea or project that looms somewhere out in my future.


I want to create a magical machine, an actual physical electro-mechanical device, that allows you to dial in information that it will use to render decisions for you.

Years ago, when I was trying to decide between UC San Diego and UC Santa Cruz, two schools that had offered me admission, I was having a rough time making a decision.

I knew UCSD had a better computer science program at the time, but I just liked the vibe at UCSC a lot better.  I liked the trees and little town and the hippy girls who were hanging out at the organic student-run restaurant above the bookstore.

But I was going to school to uh, go to school, so those things weren’t supposed to be major factors in my decion.  Strength of the program, faculty reputation, available courses, all these things should matter more, right?

I was in a dither.

So I did what any bright young CS student would do: I wrote a program to help me make a decision.

It was a simple idea:  You gathered up the choices and the factors that influence your decision.  Then you quantified how important each factor was, and how each choice rated with regard to each factor.  Then the program calculated a weighted sum for each choice and rendered a decision.

I wrote it first as an overly complicated spreadsheet and then as a command-line Perl program.  Later, I wrote it as a simple web application. Recently, I created a new On-Line Decision Maker. But lately, I’ve been itching to create a physical manifestation of the Decision-Maker.


I picture something maybe like the crazy computer console in Brazil. Or perhaps something that looks a bit like an Enigma machine, with dials and lights and an old monochrome screen or nixie tubes or something for output.

I think it could work very similarly to the web version.  Gathering data through dials and typed input, and rendering questions and output through lights, printed output, and/or CRT.


The brain of the thing could be a modern micro computer in the form of an Ardunio or Raspberry Pi. The Pi is so flexible, I could use bits of the Perl code in which the original Decision-Maker was written.

Back to my original decision beteween UCSD and UCSC: The Decision-Maker suggested strongly, based on what I told it about the academic program, that I go to UC San Diego. I kept going back and doing it again, and fudging the numbers. Ultimately, I decided this was telling. There were criteria that really secretly mattered to me that I wasn’t taking into account in my decision: Redwoods, beautiful meadows, and a laid-back culture.

In the end, I ended up at UCSC, and here in Santa Cruz is where I’ve lived for most of the last 25 years.

Please check out further thoughts on the aesthetics of the Decision-Maker.

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