Do you remember Adam Bartholl’s Dead Drops art project? The one were he installed USB drives into public spaces and invited people to plug into them and share data? It is incredibly prescient that he created it in 2010: the same year that Stuxnet was discovered. Stuxnet is the centrifuge-ruining computer virus that wormed its way into Iranian uranium enrichment centrifuges after spreading through USB keys for several years. The virus—purportedly written by Israeli and US American government cyber warriors—was meant to reach targets that were not connected to the Internet. The strategy was to have the virus spread via removable media in the hopes that some scientist will eventually bring their MP3s to work with them from a home computer infected via the Internet. In a post-Stuxnet world, I am a prude about opening my computer’s ports to strangers’ USB keys without formatting them first let alone jacking into a Dead Drop.
Bartholl’s Dead Drops project is described as a rumination on public space and sharing, but behind this optimistic story lies a much darker comment on the dangers of mutual exchange. Stuxnet and its variants threaten to turn any innocent bystander into an enabler of international cyber warfare and the risk of unforeseen consequences loom over people’s personal data. The paranoia widened after the paradigm-shifting NSA related leaks from Edward Snowden. How likely is it that your computer is not currently infected with sophisticated spyware?
Adam Bartholl’s Data Drops are the digital equivalents of the glory holes. There is dangerous excitement around the idea of complete anonymous intercourse and the exchange of information between strangers. A recent new product referred to as a “USB Condom” caught my attention not only for its functional promise, but for its potent symbolism. By short circuiting the USB’s data pins and leaving only the power pins functional, this device promises to sanitize device charging via strange ports and third party cables. It seems that our post-Stuxnet, post-Snowden world needs some USB Condom vending machines in every bathroom of every public playground which houses a USB Dead Drop device. So if you see a Dead Drop and plug into it I hope you find something tasty. Or perhaps you can leave something tasty behind. There is a glory in surviving such an anonymous encounter.
Parametricism (parametric design) encompasses computer aided design approaches that let you endlessly tweak models by changing variables and generate new iterations of structures. A two day conference on the politics of parametricism was sponsored by Autodesk—the company behind 3D modeling programs and Building Information System management tools. There was an ideological divide between the speakers: some designers and architects were on the “right” and spoke of top-down design approaches being the answer to humanity’s problems. Others were on the “left” because they were more concerned with issues of access to these design methodologies and how they may marginalize whole swaths of people.
One of my favorite speakers was Teddy Cruz. He gave examples of kids who started using a crappy lot under a highway overpass as a skate park. They were told to stop by the city and county, but they kept at it and eventually formed a non profit organization, did fund raising, and finally made over the underpass as a really cool skate park. I was energized by this story which was optimistic about dealing with state bureaucracy . I’ve heard this idea in the parametric design circles of reconfigurable buildings which would physically readjust their structure based on human desires. Cruz overwrote this mechanistic vision with video of Tijuana street vendors who retracted their ultra light sales kiosks to make room for a passing train. As the train cleared the railroad the vendors unfolded their awnings in rapid succession, closing behind the train in a wave.
The question and answer period resulted in a heated exchange between and the panelists and Patrik Schumacher with demands being made to disclose political affiliations and rebukes of etiquette flying back and fourth with the audience caught in a sort of awkward rapture in between. It was truly worthwhile to be part of a real confrontational smack down between parametricism apologists led by Schumacher and the opposition led by Cruz. They said the conference was going to be streamed and archived on the site, but I can’t find the racy video anywhere! All I have is this lousy pic.
I’ve use living plants and animals in my artworks and research. I always worked hard to make sure the fish and plants (and even bacteria) are happy during all these trials. After a year of living in an aquaponics toilet, my tilapia named Beefadou was adopted as a pet into a roomy new fish tank. Today I found out that the pair of Koi I used to bootstrap that system—which I later sold on Craigslist—are alive and well.
So far, I’ve been able to retire all the plants and animals used in all experiments. The fish all went to new homes as pets, and the vegetables got eaten. I would like to continue this in the future. I’m happy to get word that these two Koi, named “Mr. and Mrs” are still together. They always spent every moment with each other, and now are continuing to do the same. Here is an image of them in their new home.
When I was ready to switch to the tilapia, I thought of releasing these Koi into the wild. I’m glad that they became pets because they grew up with humans. Luckily I haven’t done anything weird enough to any of these life forms to preclude safe release into the wild. There is little chance of anything like the terrible frog fungus epidemic spread by laboratory frogs released into the wild happening in my case.
In conclusion am also happy to report that the snail I sold to the same people is reportedly bigger than golf ball now. It is the sole companion of a gruesome looking but congenial fish named Oscar who suffers from hole-in-head disease. I knew the snail would do well. I remember him when he was just a young transplant: a leader and good samaritan even in those days.
The other week was the most stressful week of my year, and I got a staph infection in my face. May started off so warmly and I didn’t realize what I set myself up for. I worked an intrigue-ruined job at an epically dirty factory. I had my final meetings with students. I defended at my second year review with faculty (I passed). I had to prepare renderings of the Vessel installation (TONY 2012 show) to send to the City Council and prepare for the following week’s meeting. All PHP applications hosted on my rented server got infected by a virus which resulted in Google black-listing several websites, including this very blog (and people couldn’t get Mobile Sauna content from the dsinstitute site either). Finally, I had to drive the vehicle pulling the still-to-be-registered mobile sauna on it’s maiden road voyage (see video here).
This was too much to do in one week and it had serious consequences on my physical and emotional health. Now I’m on antibiotics and recovering. To celebrate the end of the semester, I decided to slap together a short little video from cell-phone footage that was all shot on Thursday, May 3rd of said hell week. As you can see, the week was full of surprises. The video here is the best way I could pack the impressions of that day into a single unit. Have faith that the other days that week were at least this charged. The footage includes job related scenes as well as footage from an event I encountered when doing an installation site visit.
Adam Smith, the father of Capitalism, wrote about “The Invisible Hand”. The Invisible Hand is the functioning of a capitalist system, which would always bring good. Adam Smith imagined a well honed system of free markets plus enveloping democracy that turned people’s innate greed into productivity. I like the idea that some people are hungry and hire me to make their dinner and both parties benefit. But what if there is only a finite amount of food to be turned into dinner? In a reality of limited resources, the blind Invisible Hand hits a wall.
Jonathan Swift satirized this exact scenario in his writing on the Irish Potato Famine. The most shocking part of that actual historical event is that the Irish continued to export food while their population was dropping dead from famine! The “Visible Hand” is what is inevitably called in to clean up after the fervent workings of the Invisible Hand are complete. In the case of the Irish, the grave diggers together formed the thumb of the Visible Hand.
In the case of Onondaga Lake in Syracuse, NY, which was turned from a resort lake to the worlds dirtiest waste pit in the span of a 100 years, the Visible Hand takes the form of giant cranes currently dredging the lake. Honeywell’s externalities are largely to blame for the continuing mess, though the lake has indeed gotten a lot better. Nonetheless, the tons of mercury persist: 22 pounds of it was dumped per day at the nadir of industrial lake use. Corporations externalize risk by externalizing as many costs as possible. This is great for the share holders in the short term, but awful for the other stake holders (the community, the environment) in the long term. The externalities disappear off the record books and reappear smack dab in the middle of our lives.
Remember the time before the 2008 crash? The “Trickle Down” theory seemed somehow semi-real, at least in the form of that slightly bitter drip in your throat after the party at your financier’s friend’s Manhattan apartment. Today, as the economy sinks, corporations are evaporating way faster than the festering pools of externalities they leave behind. The Visible Hand is made of the thousands of Chinese people hired to paint pollen onto flowers to polinate them, filling in for the deceased bees. The Visible Hand is the conglomeration of crews and communities cleaning up and dealing with catastrophic oil shipping accidents that could have been prevented (Exxon Valdez Spill: captain was drunk). The Visible Hand are the people lighting their tap water on fire after they’ve signed their land over to Hydraulic Fracturing (‘Fracking’) projects.
In a Russian fairy tale from my childhood there is a whale so large that a whole city exists on it’s back. I am fascinated with the idea that the whale can do it’s thing and due to it’s sheer size never even feel the city. At the same time, the citizens of the city are going about their business, not even noticing that they are living on a whale! I haven’t seen such a beast as that whale in real life until I saw the bucket excavator. Is that thing really real‽ It looks like Dick Cheney’s steam punk fantasy nightmare. And if you look at it, there is even a little house on it! It looks like a fine family home, but how long can someone live up there? And why do they need to live on the excavator anyway?
Perhaps the bucket excavator is also a whale, swimmingly guided by that ever-determined Invisible Hand, mining dirty brown coal for us to burn for electricity. I don’t want to think about the kind of Visible Hand we are going to need to arm wrestle this bad boy. The bucket excavator symbolizes the mutability of the Invisible Hand, it’s slow but crushing fatalistic lexicon. But the bucket excavator is easy to pick on you might say, and other examples of apocalyptic machinations of State Captialism are probably more salient.
Take for example, the trucks Bloomberg just unleashed on the Occupy Wall Street protesters. The amazing sound weapons were used to bring the protesters to their knees do the bidding of the Invisible Hand, which by this point carries signs of gangrenous infections of government corruption. The fetid smell of a wormed-through congress, pampered by lobbyists and drunk on insider information, has swirled around the fingers of Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand. As we sit by and feel the Invisible Hand fisting our future, we may ask: is so-called “progress” evil?
Progress is great, and anyone who says that in order to stay competitive we have to steer clear of environmental regulations is probably someone who is not willing to face the true costs. People say that wind and solar energy would be competitive with coal if the price of coal reflected it’s true cost. Recent reports show that despite the economic downturn, CO2 production kicked up 5% in 2010. Global subsidies for the fossil fuel industry is being approximated at the astronomical levels of 400 billion. Yet, in the US the energy companies invest only 2% on R&D (as written about in a recent New Yorker magazine issue). Basically, that is almost nothing. We need uncorrupted regulation to wrap the uncorrupted free market and achieve a system that makes sense.
The current condition of Corporatism, or Statism, is fragile. The system claims to be doing it’s best: and like HAL 9000 it is apocalyptically wrong. The Invisible Hand, though it is festering with infected abscesses from bailout injections and bedraggled with engorged ticks of greed is flailing forward and shaping and re-shaping the world in it’s image. But the Visible Hand knows what the other hand is doing. The Visible Hand is inevitable. The Visible Hand will HAVE to do the clean up.
My friend needs to create a time-lapse of his laboratory setup. I already know that stiching image sequences together into a movie is straight-forward (using Quicktime Player 7 for example). But how to grab the stills at a certain time interval?
Using a new digital still camera with built-in time-lapse features is one way. Hooking up an intervalometer to a still camera is another method. But if you would like to use a software solution, you might be tempted to evaluate two programs: one called Boinx iStopMotion (priced at $50) and EvoCam (priced at $30).
Both of those programs have free trials available. I tested them out and found that both lacked the ability to record at the needed resolution: 2592×1944. My friend needs full resolution images of the setup to string into a compressed movie later. Boinx didn’t seem to want to grab images over 900 pixels in width. Evocam had a buggy preview mode, and didn’t want to grab anything taller than 1600 pixels in height.
Overall, EvoCam seemed liked it had more advanced features (grab an image when hearing a sound, upload an image to a server, etc) and was priced lower. I almost recommended it, but alas it couldn’t grab at the resolution wanted and I decided to write a Jitter patch. Here is the patch. It has a way to set the resolution and to adjust the frequency of image grabs. It dumps png images named with the timestamp right in the folder that the patch is in. If you don’t have Max/MSP/Jitter, you can run it using the free Max MSP Runtime from Cycling 74.
A celebration of EMPAC’s opening with video drums.
EMPAC’s Opening Gala after-party in October 2008 was headlined by the legendary musician and producer Madlib. The ever-innovative VJ collective Vidvox was asked to take advantage of the one-of-a-kind cylindrical screen hanging over the stage and asked me to join them. I played the electronic drum instrument we created for the event that controlled custom video synthesizers. We began rehearsing and realized we could be a Live Video (VJ) band which led to performances under the name LMNOPF Presents.
For the Kid Koala show at Revolution Hall in Troy New York we rigged up a butcher paper screen over the dance floor. We projected mashed up websites, text, and live digital painting with video synthesizers powered by our VJ electronic drum set. The drum set was actually just a drum controller from the video game Rock Band that we piped into the VDMX software.
We were excited to VJ for Dan Deacon but at the last moment Dan got hurt and couldn’t come. In the end Prefuse73 came instead, and I was already a fan after having seen Prefuse in Brooklyn a few years back. I was excited to bust some video drum groovers for this noble purpose. The show was great all around and we shared the bill with Skeleton$ and Luciano Chessa. Skeleton$ showed us their crazy vintage electric guitars which had super ancient shitty pickups paradoxically getting louder (though noisier) as they degraded giving the band all sorts of microtonal range. Luciano Chessa did a fantastic rendition of Marinetti’s Futurist sound poem Zang Tumb Tumb. I’ve known about this poem for years but have never heard it read by an Italian live, especially one with such theatrical fervor. Below are some stills from our video show that night.
Throughout this time we were backing DJs such as Back From Japan and even playing holiday parties. Another highlight was VJing a music performance battle by Disposable Rocket Band and My Robot Friend which I curated and for which we created a video performance called Citizen Burger. We mined video from the Nintendo game Burger Time as well as video of David Lublin walking around and eating many different hamburgers from several restaurants while wearing a specially designed POV camera harness. Below is the flyer I created for the event.
It was almost three years to the day that the Experimental Media Performing Arts Center opened in Troy, NY. EMPAC is one of the reasons I miss living in Troy. It’s an interesting venue that brings artists, performances, and installations into Troy and ends up pulling an audience in from surrounding cities. Back then I was part of LMNOPF, a multi-media performance troupe. My role was that of the video drummer.
I banged on a drum-kit from the video game Rock Band and the MIDI events triggered a video synthesizer made by David Lublin. This was the setup we used to back JUICEBOXXX when he opened for Madlib and J.Rocc. Checkout a good summary video of the night by Sebastien B. JUICEBOXXX had an 8-bit sound going for some of his backing tracks, so the video synthesizer relied on a disco color-scheme. Every hit of a pad revealed a new color bar, while the kick-drum advanced the color sequence to the next one. The amount of color bars on the screen increased as the performance went on. This straight-forward setup was perfect for JUICEBOXXX who was hot and bothered and running around on the floor with the kids. Here is a newly acquired video of a track and a half.
I am helping a friend out with a website. He wants to have a wordpress theme with a media content slider and he wants it to work on smart phones. I found that the two best sliders that handled images and video (AnythingSlider and WP_Slider Theme) had a bug when viewed on my Android HTC Incredible (Android 2.2, WebKit 3.1 Browser). I found that the bug is on the Android browser side, and created this quick and dirty patch of WP_Slider Theme to work on Android.
There seems to be a bug in Android phone browsers relating to overflow:hidden CSS property. The overflow property, when set to hidden on a div causes any elements that spill out of that div’s bounding box to be clipped and not shown. It seems that on my phone’s browser this breaks for videos. Youtube embeds, for example, float on top of everything even when they are supposed to be hidden.
Using jQuery and CSS selectors I found all the elements that are supposed to be hidden and set their visibility to hidden as well, which really hid them even on my phone. Here is the diff to WP_Slider Theme (generated with git) that shows my changes. I’m also including another patch which hides redundant commenting links in the theme. More specifically, the theme doesn’t differentiate between a first-time reply (first comment ever) link and a link to previously made comments. Other than that it is a fine theme, though if I end up using it I would tone down the graphics quite a bit.
I came home from Montreal after my talk at McGill to find my site and blog down. My DNS registry expired and the site was not reachable. I’ve corrected the issue, so hopefully the DNS upgrade will propagate soon and the site will be available for anyone looking for it. Sorry for that: it was a stupid mistake.