Misha's Blog

Expecting Animals to Perform

Posted in Miscellaneous, Rant by Misha on June 6, 2014

The excellent Amy Waldman (her book The Submission is great) wrote an article in a recent New Yorker magazine about the architect Jeanne Gang. Gang has been hired by aquariums to change their mission in order to reflect humanity’s recent realization that keeping whales and dolphins locked up is barbaric. It seems that everyone has seen Blackfish, a documentary about the evil of keeping hyper intelligent animals in slavery. The aquariums want to respond to this but as the article states they don’t want to just release their valuable animals into the wild or some kind of sanctuary: they will loose a lot of money. So what do they do?

The article describes an arrangement where the cetaceans are free to swim around in a protected sanctuary in exchange for pervasive video surveillance to let aquarium patrons gaze at them. The idea that aquariums have trained humans to expect animals to perform is a solid one, and the aquariums have to retrain humans to respect these animals while they are still sharing the earth with us. But to make them subject to our surveillance is desperate. These mammals need their privacy just like we do. I can imagine an underwater monitor for the dolphins that tracks the geolocation of their trainers by scraping social media activity so that the dolphins can prepare themselves for any possible incursions on their lives.

I do hope the aquariums start to retrain people to not expect these guys to always perform. This expectation is causing people to do stupid things like poke at wild sharks with go pro cameras on sticks. The sharks are just chilling so please lets not provoke them.

Dead Drop: the Digital Glory Hole

Posted in Miscellaneous by Misha on January 18, 2014
Image ripped off from Adam's website http://deaddrops.com/

Image ripped off from Adam’s website http://deaddrops.com/

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.

Politics of Parametricism

Posted in Miscellaneous by Misha on December 8, 2013

2013-11-16 15.41.21


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.

My Experimental Fish Live On

Posted in Miscellaneous by Misha on June 10, 2013

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.

The two koi I'm referring to are the silver guys.

The two koi I’m referring to are the silver guys.

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.

Snail Leader

Snail Leader

Adam Smith vs. the Visible Hand

Posted in Miscellaneous, Rant by Misha on November 17, 2011

The Bucket Wheel Excavator: Largest Vehicle Ever Built!  Also shown is Adam Smith.

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.

LMNOPF Presents: Madlib, Kid Koala, Back From Japan, and Prefuse73

Posted in Miscellaneous by Misha on September 8, 2011

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.

LMNOPF Presents: Prefuse73 EMPAC

LMNOPF Presents: Prefuse73 EMPAC

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.

Picture 5(2)

Picture 15(2)

Picture 19(2)


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.

Poster for Clash of the Titans musical battle between My Robot Friend and Disposable Rocket Band

Video Drumming at EMPAC in Troy, NY

Posted in Miscellaneous by Misha on September 7, 2011

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.

Adding Android support to WP_Slider WordPress theme

Posted in Miscellaneous by Misha on August 14, 2011

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.

Quick Response Boogie Woogie #2

Posted in Miscellaneous by Misha on November 8, 2010

Quick Response Boogie Woogie Version 2

Quick Response Boogie Woogie

Posted in Miscellaneous by Misha on November 4, 2010

I’m fascinated with the visual characteristics of 2D bar codes, or QR (Quick Reference) codes.
Wise Geek says that:

QR Code also has an error-correction capability, whereby the data can be brought back to full life even if the symbol has been trashed.

I’m experiencing this property of QR codes when I scan this image I made. Its rather degraded, but still works on my Android phone. What about your phone?