Friday, July 30, 2010

Check out some pictures of my sculpture Mono-culture:
Mono-culture is an examination of our societies dependence on a vast genetically invariable, artificially supported monoculture of a single food crop: corn. The work reveals how our agricultural practices create not only monocultures of food crops but more dangerously, monocultures of the mind . Industrialized agriculture not only standardizes the means of production/consumption but the producers and consumers as well.
The sculpture is automated and embedded with a motion sensor. When viewers/participants approach the table to partake in some emblems of American food stuffs such as Coca-cola(high fructose corn syrup) or Doritos corn chips the suspended "corn hive" comes to life, violently shaking kernels loose from vinyl seed sacks. The kernels than fall to a metallic floor connected to an amplifier, producing a cacophonic deluge of falling corn, like sand falling through a nightmare hour glass.

Here is a rare pic of the work in progress. The sculpture is composed of welded steel, vinyl, electronics, and corn.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

My thoughts on: The Digital After life

Possibilites of a Digital Afterlife
What happens after you die? Well according to the gospel of the good book (the facebook that is) you are guaranteed immortality in perpetuity as long as the Facebook shall live. Mankind has agonized and lamented over the answer to this question for as long as we have been capable of recognizing our own mortality. Entire religions influencing tens of millions of people have arisen based on the promise of an answer. Now for the first time in history we may be seeing some quantifiable results thanks to social networking services such as the Facebook.

Facebook has reached a point of maturation and scope that it is estimated that over 3 million of its users may actually be deceased. I first encountered this phenomenon of digital ghosts when an acquaintance, Barry Bernard, unexpectedly passed away. He had gone to the beach and was sadly drowned by a rip current. His last status update eerily stated “Getting ready for a fun day at the beach”. Since it is facebooks explicit policy to never release password and login information Barry’s literal “last words” haunted the main page of his profile for months as people poured out their emotions over his death on his Facebook wall.

Facebook spirits began materializing in earnest with the new “reconnect” feature that encourages users to interact with other users whose accounts have been idle; the goal of the feature: to bring infrequent users back into the Facebook fold.

My sister’s best friend, Christina, passed away from a lifelong battle with cancer over a year and a half ago. Now Facebook’s reconnect algorithm recognizes her accounts inactivity and frequently pops-up her profile picture suggesting that I interact with her in some way. The first time this happened I was taken aback as well as offended by Facebooks machinic insensitivity towards a person that has passed away, clearly I cannot “reconnect” with her. However the more I thought about it the more I thought that maybe this is the beginnings of digital immortality.

In fact the issue of what is to become of digital avatars or online personas of individuals who have passed away has spawned new services that offer to manage your post-humus internet footprint, services such as Legacy Locker. Legacy Locker offers a monthly fee or a lifetime membership to manage your digital assets after your death. They provide databases to store all of your email, banking, passwords, social networking data etc… as well as whom to release this information to upon your death.

Facebook recognizing this issue has created a memorializing service. Only upon a family members request and only after investigating that the individual is in fact deceased, Facebook will move a profile to “memorialized” status. Once a profile has been memorialized it will prevent new friend requests as well as disable non-friends from viewing the profile. However, all other features remain enabled such as wall posting and photos.

Not only does Facebook now memorialize the departed it has even played a role in their departure. Cyber bullying has been a buzz word in the media since digital social networking’s inception, social misfits in real life can now be bullied twenty four hours a day seven days a week in digital life. With the advent of cyber bullying however there have been real world deaths, the teenage victims taking their own lives in some cases. Their online husks now become inverse memorials to the technology that enabled their tormentors to reach them. Granted they didn’t have to be a part of Facebook but if you’re not on Facebook you might as well be a non-person anyways.

There has been some media attention surrounding the issue of the deceased and Facebook but it is still not such an issue as to be on the public mind. As this technology grows and becomes more imbedded in our lives however, these are issues that will not be able to be avoided. Especially as the intelligence of these networks and computer intelligence increases in general. We as a society will have to devise laws as to the rights of the digital deceased.

Consider this, if a young individual now begins using a product such as twitter and continues so until their natural death that could be over 80 years of mundane and idiosyncratic information collected about nearly every detail of this persons life. As machine intelligence evolves along with this collection of personal data matrices it could be perfectly possible that the machine could reconstruct a simulacra of the deceased, continuing their twitterings and musings about their daily lives based upon constructions and analysis of their accumulated personal data, literally picking up where they left off.

I already see this happening in the example of Facebook popping up my deceased friend Christina, when she pops-up I sometimes click on her profile, scores of people still post on her wall daily about how they miss her, or about some old memory. I feel this constant interaction is due in large part to the “reconnect” feature. If this were an era pre-FB the bereaved would mourn for a time and eventually people, all but the closest family members, would move on. It is as though Facebook is the master and the profiles the marionette. Though Christina cannot respond, perhaps it is only a matter of time.

The techno-determinist and digital immortality proponent Ray Kurzwiel posits that it is through incredibly advanced scanning technology that we will be able to record every facet of our human brain and upload it, in one fowl swoop, to a digital format, existing forever as digital selves. I personally have found his method of digital integration further in the realm of science fiction than anything possible, as what is to say an exact copy of a brain would produce that brains personality. Perhaps it is much more likely that we have already begun the migration to a digital existence as we upload every minute detail of our daily lives, and slowly over time and through the evolution of machine intelligence we will all be reanimated in the ether of cyberspace.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Early progress on empathy enhancer

Lately I have been furiously working on my projects :) and have not been posting a lot so here in this post I will bring you all up to speed on my project status.

Originally I set myself the task of finding ways to augment the quality of interpersonal communications through technological means. I realized that it is empathy and your ability to have others empathize with you that creates powerful and effective communication.

Some of the methods I had propsoed in class to acheive this goal involved possibly projecting images and colors onto or behind a user that would be reactive to the users communications, or to possibly have appropriate tones and sounds play through a user triggering a device with the fingers. Ultimately I settled on a project that would focus solely on negative emotional states such as discomfort or anger.

The goal is to create a device that will measure users negative emotional states and project these feelings into others in the immediate vicinity. Effectively the enhanced individuals emotional state influences that of the groups. Here is a pic of the device and circuit in progress:
To do this I have hacked a biofeedback sensor to read skin galvinity and heart rate, both being indicators of distress. I utilized a Darlington pair for the transistors to amplify the signal. I have hooked the device to an arduino microcontoller that will then trigger an ultrasonic emitter that I have but need to assemble still. (It has been shown that when ultrasonic beams are projected at people that they experience sensations of discomfort. )

Once i get the sensors and the ultrasonic emitter working properly I will than build the device into a sculptural wearable that I have drawings of but not machetes yet. So my next steps in order are to 1) get ultrasonic opertational 2) build machetes 3) embed device into a wearable sculpture.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Some of my collages

Similarly Different
This first collage was inspired from Tufte's Visual Explanations text. Its just a simple juxtaposition of a serendipitous relationship in shape and form. I had these bronze bird skulls that I had cast recently that i knew I wanted to use. I flipped open an old children's book and found an image of an ice cream cone that was exactly the same shape and size of the skull. I liked the relationship of the two, of similar difference, so i decided to constrain them here in this collage.

totem factotum
This second collage has become a visual analog for some of my work here at Digital Worlds on technologically augmenting empathy. The layout mimics the chakra system while paralleling Maslow's Hierarchy of needs, linearly up the center, while forwarning of ego or desire driven augmentation around the sides of the image.
It is my fear that as we begin to augment our mental and physical bodies through technological enhancements that we will forget to augment our very souls. The powerful consumers of the world will be able to even more effortless exploit the worlds poor through their enhanced state of beings.
I worry that as we merge with machines that our empathy and human spirit will wither if we do not actively seek ways to incorporate the incorporeal into technological systems.
That is my purpose of these projects I am working on, to actively seek solutions to this problem.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Kid games

So I have been teaching an after school art program for kids ages 5-7. For their most recent project I am trying to teach them how to bring concepts from the drawing board to life so I am having them all construct their own board games. Today we started with our concept sketches. Here are a few of them:
A game called "quick" in which players
try to get through a forest as fast as they can
without getting eaten by a bear.

A game like chess but with less pieces
only one piece can capture the "king"
and only one piece can kill this "king killer"
also the board spaces will be hexagons to allow
for 6 degrees of movement
A soccer board game in which the ball moves
via dice rolls but players move one square at a time.
An action adventure board game with many divergent paths.

In addition I am simultaneously enrolled in a Game Design class as part of my masters degree at UF's Digital World's. I find it interesting (and a bit sad) that 5 to 7 year olds were able to generate more original and cohesive game concepts than a lot of the people in the class!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Thoughts on: "As We May Think" by Vannevar Bush

Time for a history lesson:
"As we may think" By Vannevar Bush .pdf
Don't you hate it when you have a great idea only to discover that some one else has already thought of it? Well guess what, good ole' Vannevar thought up the internet and desktop PC's all the way back in 1945! Vannevar postulates that a desk sized device he calls the "Memex" could be created to store, index, and search all the worlds information. He proposes that advancing technologies in magnetic film and tape be used to make increasingly small microfiche that could contain all of the information. A bit implausible in retrospect but luckily for us the semiconductor was invented some 15 years later and made all this "digital" stuff possible, otherwise I'd be blogging to you all from my Memex Microfiche 3000.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

What is Information Visualization?

I will not be answering that question in this post.
Instead I am more interested in the phenomenon of information. It has been said that in the last couple decades we (humans) have produced exponentially more information than we have ever produced in all of history(due in large part to accelerating computing technologies).
Jean Baudrillard in one of his papers laments this as the saddest thing to ever happen to modern man, our information obsession in which we must generate and categorize information about everything but NO MEANING is ever produced.
He gives the example of a recent airplane crash in which recovery teams collected the majority of debris of the wreck and pieced the plane back together in attempt to discover why the plane went down, We gain no meaning, no solace from this activity, the deaths of the individuals on board still remain pointless and tragic, the human condition is still one of suffering, we have only garnered more information to be analyzed and continue its ad nausea profusion. SO the question than is how do we construct MEANING? How do we use our abilities of visualization and expression to make sense of it all?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Walter Benjamin and the Aura

Arturo this is in response to your Optical Vermeer post (which was in response to Francesca's Camera Obscura post). I have read Benjamins "Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" and for the most part I agree with him. The root of art in ritual gives credence to an "original" object that has been labored over for many hundreds of hours. Benjamin posits that reproduction diminishes the authority of the orginal (part II paragraph 3 last sentence), however I believe that reproduction may actually augment the aura of the original and brings art closer back to ritual. The Mona Lisa is perhaps the most recognizable work of art on the planet. It is really just a portrait of a rich mans wife from 100s of years ago, yet people flock to it from across the globe. If it were not for the unlimited proliferation of prints, photographs, postcards etc... would the Mona Lisa need to be housed in a bullet proof pressure controlled chamber? If you want to read Benjamins treatise here is a link: Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Interaction Vs. Story

As I mentioned in class I had the thought yesterday that perhaps stories and interactivity are incompatible. That maybe we are trying to force it, maybe stories are inherently un-interactive. Now that of course would be blasphemous and make this course awkward, but let's look at it. In a sense what makes stories such a powerful and enduring medium is that the user/listener is passive to the active storyteller (be it a person, book, movie etc...) An incredible story completely enraptures you.

A quick example: I finally saw Toy Story three last night; the movie took me in and created a an experience. I laughed, I cried, and I marveled at Pixar's ability to reveal elegant truths through the use of story. All of this emotion and realization came from a masterfully constructed combination of storytelling, sound, and visuals.

So this leads me to the topic; is it actually possible to create a story as compelling as the one i just experienced if I was forced to make decisions? But free will and choice are always good things right? I'm not so sure when it comes to stories. When you must interact, that is make a decision on the conscious level you are immediately ripped from the visceral flow of the story. When you read an enthralling novel you first lose conscious awareness of the page turning, than the pages themselves seem to disappear. However in the format of a modern interactive sory such as a video game, the constant high level decision making ultimately pulls you out of the narrative and lessens it's effect on you. That is why I have seen plenty of people cry over movies, books, or theater, but not over videos games (well not for the same reasons).

However, I did re-read some of Jesse Schell's game design book and he did bring up some interesting emotions in chapter 2 that games can engender that maybe other formats can not, such as feelings of accomplishment, or of responsibility.

So computer or video games are not at a complete loss as a format for an interactive story. They can create some experiences and emotions in the user. However, the challenge than is, how do we make the action or decision making process in interactive stories become so non-demanding that it can become as unconscious as turning a page. Sorry the post got so long :) (bonus question: can we keep users from making bad stories and still call it interactive?)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Jesse Schell on Making Everything a Game

Jesse Schell is an interesting guy and a very insightful game designer, I have read his book "The Art of Game Design: a Book of Lenses" and found it applicable to more than just games. Most of the principles in his book can be applied to any sort of experience or interaction design. Here's a video of Jesse ranting about turning everything into a game; give it a watch he has some interesting and maybe even scary ideas:

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Just found this video about a guy named Muti Randolph from Brazil. He is an audio-visual master builder and makes some really cool stuff using combination of sculptural elements and digital technology. He uses programs such as Isadora, after effects, etc... With my background in sculpture and my current MA in digital arts I could really see my self doing stuff like this in the future

Monday, July 19, 2010

Reconfigurable House

Arturo and I were talking about "smart homes". Most smart homes exhibit total control of the user by obscuring the computing elements. These smart homes though attractive in concept may not meet all the needs of the user. Here is an example of a "smart house" that is reconfigurable. They say that "In contrast to such smart homes, which are not able to adapt structurally over time, the many sensors and actuators of Reconfigurable House can be reconnected endlessly as people change their minds so that the House can take on completely new behaviours."
Check it out

Sunday, July 18, 2010


I know no one reads this blog...yet. But get ready America cause I'm getting serious about my blogging. I just spent some dedicated time today and queued up seven new posts to post one every day this week. Every Sunday I will begin creating my queue of posts for the following week of progress of my works and artworks, thoughts, discourses, rants, interests and all that. I am finally ready to make a concerted effort to be part of the internet, cloud, dialogue, whatever!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Hey everyone I hope you all had a fun and productive fourth of July weekend. I know I did! I just wanted to share some of my progress here on the blog. For a while I have wanted to continue my series of digital artifacts by making a device that when blown into sends messages to twitter based on your blood alcohol content, like some sort of digital web2.0 party horn. I got the necessary parts for it on Thursday and began working on it on Friday. I had initially thought it would take the course of the semester to complete, but once I started I got obsessed! I finally got the entire thing working sensor, twitter, bluetooth and all yesterday. The best part was testing it on my drunk friends celebrating the 4th!

Here is a pic of it naked, i still need to make a cool case for it:

The code still needs some fine tuning and I would like it to also play sounds, which shouldn't be hard to incorporate. The best part is that I am finally starting to feel competent with writing the code and wiring the devices. When I started this program in January I had never written a computer program in my life.

Also just recently I have had this idea for a movie or maybe more of a tableaux. I want to create a hyper-linked 3D tableaux of ambient scenes aesthetically composed of a combination of dioramas, collage, and real footage. So when I wasn't obsessing over my twitter breathalyzer I took some time to start putting this together. Here is just an initial low-res mock-up.

Hopefully when I have some more time i post a complete tutorial to making the breathalyzer.