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Again, it’s been too long. A lot has been happening!

I’ve been settling into my new career as a developer, which has been fun and challenging.

I attended the Inst-int conference, which was really quite amazing. I had the pleasure of meeting amazing, creative, smart people from all over the world and hearing them talk about what they do. 2.5 very full days left me tired and excited and full of ideas.

The site got a pretty substantial redesign, and a lot of both new and archival projects added. There are still some things I want to add, but let me know what you think!

I’ve been spending a lot of time on a project that’s been through several iterations in the last five years, but I’m finally closing in on the best prototype so far. I’ve spent a lot more time with Processing, been fabricating my own pressure sensors, programming RGB LEDs, learning how to use a laser cutter, making new sound loops – all kinds of fun. Have ideas for a couple new web projects as well. And today I did some unplanned, completely ridiculous pre-Halloween millinery.
Life is fun.

Dusty prototype!
Dusty prototype!

Adventures in web development

It turns out that 2013 was quite a year. I could write a lot more about Burning Man and the creation of Kickstarter reward sculptures and making an elevator for the Art Shanty Projects, but instead I’m writing about a couple web projects. Immediately after returning from the desert, I headed west again for another big adventure in Boulder, Colorado.

In Boulder, I spent a very intense few months focusing on computer programming as part of RefactorU‘s first cohort. My experiences there, and my career transition from nonprofit arts to software development could fill their own several posts (the focus and energy spent on that process is why these pages have been blank for so long), but I’ve created a few fun practice pieces and I’m excited to be gaining the skills that will allow me to take on more complex art projects in the future.


First up is an interactive audio app called DropAudio. (As it’s a practice piece, a quick caveat that cross-browser compatibility hasn’t been tested extensively, but Chrome or Safari should do just fine.) It was mostly created using Processing.js. Processing’s port to Javascript is relatively recent, and the implications for its use with web applications and data sets are exciting! Features I’d like to add include multiplayer capability and more interactive audio. Currently, I’m creating a non-web based version connected to a physical knobs and buttons:

Buttons! Knobs!
Buttons! Knobs!

Resistor Decoder

Another little web app I created is slightly more practical, at least for electronics hobbyists, is a drag and drop calculator for resistors. Online resistor calculators are nothing new, but I will say with reasonable confidence that this one is the prettiest, thanks to some design assistance from Scott Raleigh.

Any questions about technologies incorporated here, my bootcamp experience, or bug reports? Feel free to drop a comment or email.

Back home.

As usual, my lack of updates doesn’t correlate to a lack of activity. Immediately after Burning Man this year, I moved to Boulder, Colorado for 3 months for a software development training program. It’s been quite a whirlwind, but I’m back in Minnesota and reintegrating with life here.

I’m wrapping up the loose ends (and messy studio) left from Burning Man and Status Update. Our many hours of work paid off – everything worked incredibly well and I’m so happy with the results. There are several hours of recordings I have yet to sift through and I will share some favorites here.

One unfortunate thing about the piece is that, while it was beautiful, the lightbulbs were dim enough that it proved very difficult to photograph. This one was taken during testing after we got everything installed, right as the sun was setting behind the mountains.

sunset in Black Rock City
sunset in Black Rock City


The clock is definitely counting down before we head to the desert, and as always, we’ve been busy! We are SO close to our stretch goal! If you can help put us over the $2500 in the last couple days, that would be super super great! Kickstarter is here.

This week we completed fabrication of all the lamp posts – so as promised, I have some spark-filled metalworking photos:

Cali welding
Cali welding 
Caly grinding
Caly grinding
Aaron grinding
Aaron grinding

After some frustrating wrangling with shipping, the broken charge controller was returned and completely functional! It was a big relief to see the display that told us the batteries were receiving charge from the solar panels. For fun, we disconnected the batteries to see how well the panels were doing, and they worked well enough that everything was running fine with just partial Minnesota sun!

There’s also been a lot of time spent making sure all the hardware is cooperating with the software. The software now happily records and plays audio back on all channels. It’s pretty amusing to watch someone studiously peering at a laptop with a phone receiver crooked on their shoulder, knowing they’re working and not having a conversation or on hold for tech support or something.

Other parts, of course, have been trickier than imagined. For those interested in some geekier details, I’ll describe one of the more frustrating problems and the somewhat ridiculous work around:

The original version of this installation ran using a controller that output 5 volts, and relays designed to run on that amount. This version of the project runs with a controller that supplies 3.3 volts. Most often, components are happy to either supply or accept either voltage, but these particular relays are not. So, to get around this problem, another custom program was written for the old controller to act solely as a voltage converter. One more component in this mix is not ideal, but it worked!! (If I haven’t mentioned it enough already, I am incredibly grateful to have the help of very smart people.)

We’re also troubleshooting an intermittent problem with so many audio devices trying to be recognized all at once when the computer starts up. Intermittent problems are the worst kind! Our success rate is quite high, so we’re not overly concerned. It can be programmed to restart itself until everything is working the way it should be.

Kickstarter is here.

Build Progress

Thanks so much to all of our backers! It’s not even a week and we’ve almost fulfilled our initial goal! The Kickstarter link is here if you want to help out.

It’s been a really busy and very productive week.
We got lumber and built the Big Box – this will house… well, everything – the computer, sound and light control, batteries, voltage converters and other power management. It will have a filtered fan to run air through the Box and keep all the components from getting too hot. We hope. This is one of the times to keep tabs on the temperature specs of all of your materials. (This weekend I learned the heat tolerance for industrial velcro, for instance. Handy!) Fortunately for us, the project will only run at night, and electronics generally handle cold better than heat.


These are the relay boards that will control the light bulbs:

I finished the build on the tiniest 24 channel amplifier!


The other lumber was for mounting the solar panel array. (I’ve been calling this part of the build the panel-panel.) At first we thought we were going to use 10 of the solar panels, but the math has that down to six, so this is actually 40% smaller than what we originally thought:


We’ve been taking stock of the cable supply to make sure we have long enough runs to get all the sound and power where they need to go, and taking this time to spool them all. This is a really tedious job, but we’re reusing cables from the installation on the Foshay Tower at Northern Spark, and I’ll admit it was hastily deinstalled. The runs are up to 125′ long, and were very prone to massive tangles. Doing this now will likely save us hours once we’re on playa, and spending those hours on a nice summer day in the shade is much more pleasant than in the hot desert sun:


We also purchased all the steel rods that we’ll use to fabricate the lampposts; production on those will begin this week.

Once again, huge thanks to our backers. I’ll begin collecting information for backer rewards as soon as I can, so keep and eye on your email.

The Kickstarter link is here if you want to help out!


Status Update – Burning Man 2013

The blog has been pretty silent for a while, I realize, but it hardly means I’m not keeping myself busy. Quite the opposite.

A small crew and I have taken on bringing Status Update, my project from the Artists on the Verge fellowship last year, out to the middle of the desert for the Burning Man festival.

For anyone unfamiliar, Burning Man is a huge annual art festival in the middle of the Nevada desert. It’s the world’s largest leave-no-trace event, and it’s what largely inspired me to start making interactive work in the first place. You can read more about it here.


Getting this project rebuilt to withstand one of the least hospitable places on the planet is a really great challenge.

Let the fun begin!

My primary collaborator David is in charge of the power system. The middle of the desert doesn’t have any power but what we bring out with us, and where I thought everything would run on a (large, noisy) gas generator, he’s gone all out and decided to build a system that will make the whole project run via solar panels.
This is huge.

No, literally. Here’s a photo of one of the panels. It’s 18 feet long.
We’ll be using at least 6 of these.


And these are the rechargeable batteries those panels will charge. These each weigh about 50 pounds. My hand is on the floor for scale; they’re about the size of a car battery:


All that still wouldn’t run the equipment the older version of the project used, so, the amplifiers and computer are being replaced with new ones that are much smaller and much more energy efficient.

The original version ran on a mac mini and an Arduino mega. The desert version will run on a wee unix computer called a Beaglebone. It fits nicely inside a mint tin:


The original version used 12 standard consumer stereo audio amplifiers, like this:


Those are being replaced by 12 of these:



 Because the computer is so different, the software that runs everything must be rewritten in a new language. I’ve been spending the last several months digging in to computer programming. So far I really love it, though it’s slow going and I’m REALLY grateful for very smart collaborators and friends to help, people who understand unix kernel hacking – which has been necessary to force the computer to recognize all 24 channels of audio – and the math to calculate kilowatt hours, charging rates, voltage drops over the length of cable runs, relative merits of alternating vs. direct current… the list goes on.

This weekend, we finally got our Kickstarter together. If you have the interest and means to help us out, we’d be so grateful.

This week, we’ll be getting the steel we need to build the lampposts, and hopefully all the components I need to finish building the amplifier system will arrive. More updates soon!


Non-art-life has been getting in the way of art somewhat, when I much prefer it the other way around. But, I did have good adventures recently, as I headed west with friends to Toorcamp – a few hundred geeks of various stripes camping together on the furthest northwest corner of the lower 48.

It is very pretty there.

It is a fun juxtaposition to have so many tech heavy projects far from traditional cell phone reception or internet access (but, of course Toorcampers are the people that can -and did- build it for themselves.)


Welding! One of the highlights of my weekend.

At any of several campfires would be people working on their laptops, or playing chess or Go. A geometric tower was built, soldering stations could (and would) be used around the clock. There were more sound systems than revelers to enjoy them. You could learn to weld, solder, pick locks, or create papercraft automatons. There was a weekend-long cryptography challenge.

Remote controlled quadcopters surveilled above. One managed to catch the wind and crash into the massive fir trees. But, because we were where we were, well, it’s only a matter of borrowing an antenna to locate it, and then appropriating one of a few 3D printers that happen to be set up to fabricate replacement parts.

Not pictured: the crazy sounds these things make

There was a massive laser, a Tesla coil gun, the Church of Robotron, bicycle jousting. I met very smart people who live all over the world. There was a station to be implanted with an RFID chip (no, really.)

In the midst of all these things, we were invited to sit at a campfire one afternoon to hear the stories and songs of the Makah people – the campground is part of the lands they have inhabited for thousands of years.

If I’m allowed one misgiving it’s that the offerings were (understandably) aimed at the ends of the spectrum- beginners or experts. I am rather further along than the beginning soldering/microcontroller classes, but couldn’t even decipher the titles of some of the keynote speeches.

I do often feel that I live in-between, knowing I can never know everything. It’s comforting and frustrating in equal measure.

Always learning

I don’t have a current deadline for a creative project, which is a double edged sword. Deadlines are really great motivation, but they can also restrict freedom of exploration. There’s a freedom that comes with a lack of pressure or expectation of high performance when you’re doing something you’ve never done before.

So, my newest challenge is coding. On the advice of artist/programmer friends, I am spending my time free of project deadlines learning Processing. I’m interested to learn more about the relative strengths of Processing and Max/MSP (with which I’m more familiar.) They are used to run similar kinds of projects, and can, I think, also be used in tandem. It feels a bit odd- I am surrounded regularly by friends who have turned programming into successful careers- and artists creating the kinds of work I find the most interesting and inspiring tend to have computer science or engineering backgrounds. I hope to not let the excitement of learning new things diminish by comparison or otherwise feeling like I’m somehow behind. That stuff is nothing but counterproductive!

In the same turn, I am very much looking forward to getting past the basics, to the point I can make things in which I am more invested artistically and intellectually. (I believe this process never stops, which, really, is pretty exciting.)

Several wonderful projects that use the tools I’m learning are linked in an online gallery on the Processing site. This one is a current favorite, particularly the coffee grinder.

Next week I will leave for Toorcamp, where I’ll also be seeing things I’ve never seen before- including the northwest Washington coast. Looking forward to it.