Cistern Mapping Project…with Bikes

Do you like riding bikes and mapping urban space?

On October 11th, 2015, I will be leading the Cistern Mapping Project, which will be an urban treasure hunt, where we document and geolocate all of the 170 (or so) Cisterns of San Francisco.

The easiest way to let me know you want to participate is to sign up with this contact form. This will email me (Scott Kildall) and I can give you some more exact details.

The plan
We will meet at a specific location in the Mission District at 11am on Sunday, October 11th. I am hoping to gather about 20 riders, paired up in groups. Each will be provided with a map of approximate locations of several cisterns.

The pair will find the search for the exact location of each brick circle, photo-document it and get the geolocation (latitude + longitude) of the cistern, using an app on their iPhone or Android. Plan for 4-5 hours or so of riding, mapping, documenting and tweeting.

The background story
Underneath our feet, usually marked by brick circles are cisterns, There are 170 or so of them spread throughout the city. They’re part of the AWSS (Auxiliary Water Supply System) of San Francisco, a water system that exists entirely for emergency use and is separate from the potable drinking water supply and the sewer system.


In the 1850s, after a series of Great Fires in San Francisco tore through the city, 23 (or so) cisterns were built. These smaller cisterns were all in the city proper, at that time between Telegraph Hill and Rincon Hill. They weren’t connected to any other pipes and the fire department intended to use them in case the water mains were broken, as a backup water supply.

They languished for decades. Many people thought they should be removed, especially after incidents like the 1868 Cistern Gas Explosion.

However, after the 1906 Earthquake, fires once again decimated the city. Many water mains broke and the neglected cisterns helped save portions of the city. Afterward, the city passed a $5,200,000 bond and begin building the AWSS in 1908. This included the construction of many new cisterns and the rehabilitation of other, neglected ones. Most of the new cisterns could hold 75,000 gallons of water. The largest one is underneath the Civic Center and has a capacity of 243,000 gallons.


Augmenting an Existing Map
Last year, as part of the Creative Code Fellowship between Stamen Design, Gray Area and Autodesk, I worked on a project called Waterworks, which mapped the San Francisco water infrastructure as a series of 3D prints and web maps.

As part of this project, I created an interactive web map of the San Francisco Cisterns (the only one), based on the intersections listed in the SFFD water supplies manual. However, this map is less-than-complete.

The problem is that the intersections are approximate and are sometimes a block or so away. They are inaccurate. Also, there are very few photographs of the brick circles that make the San Francisco cisterns. I think it would be an urban service to map these out for anyone to look at.

The goal will be to geolocate (lat + long) cistern location, photograph the bricks that (usually) mark them and produce a dataset that anyone can use. cistern-web-map

A Live Twitter Performance…on bikes

This will be a live Twitter event, where we update each cistern location live using Twitter and Google docs, adding photographs and building out the cistern map in real-time.

Bikes are the perfect mode of transport. Parking won’t be an issue and we can conveniently hit up many parts of the city.

Will we map all of these cisterns? This is up to you. Contact me here if you would like to join.


Press for Chess with Mustaches: the response to the Duchamp Estate

Press coverage is like an improv performance. It’s unpredictable, erratic and sometimes works or falls on its face, usually by the lack of press.

I’ve seen my work get butchered, my name get dragged in the mud. I’ve been called a “would-be performance artist”, an “amateur cartographer” and even Cory Doctorow recently called me a “hobbyist”.

But as long as my name is spelled right, I’m happy.

We recently went public with our response to the Duchamp Estate and the Chess with Mustaches artwork.

We soon received coverage from three notable press sources: Hyperallergic, and The Atlantic, and this was soon followed up by Boing Boing and later, plus a mention in Fox News (scroll down) and then Tech Dirt.

These are arts blogs, 3D printing blogs, tech rags — and well, The Atlantic, a  well-read political and culture new source — so there’s a wide audience for this story.

The press has certainly reached the critical threshold for the work. The cat is out of the bag, after being inside for nearly a year…a frustrating process where we kept silent about the cease-and-desist letter from the Duchamp Estate.

This is perhaps the hardest part of any sort of potential legal conflict. You have to be quiet about it, otherwise it might imperil your legal position. The very act of saying anything might make the other party react in some sort of way.

But the outpouring of support has been amazing, both on a personal and a press level. Sure, some of the articles have overlooked certain aspects of the project.

And as always #dontreadthecomments. But overall, it has been such a relief to be able to be talk about the Duchamp Estate and the chess pieces, and to devise an appropriate artistic response.



What Happened to the Readymake: Duchamp Chess Pieces?

Over the last several months, we (Scott Kildall and Bryan Cera) have been contacted by many people asking the same question: What happened to the Readymake: Duchamp Chess Pieces?


The answer is that we ran into an unexpected copyright concern. The Marcel Duchamp Estate objected to the posting of our reconstructed 3D files on Thingiverse, claiming that our project was an infringement of French intellectual property law. Although the copyright claim never went to legal adjudication, we decided that it was in our best interests to remove the 3D-printable files from Thingiverse – both to avoid a legal conflict, and to respect the position of the estate.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Readymake: Duchamp Chess Set by Scott Kildall and Bryan Cera, this was our original project description:

Readymake: Duchamp Chess Set is a 3D-printed chess set generated from an archival photograph of Marcel Duchamp’s own custom and hand-carved game. His original physical set no longer exists. We have resurrected the lost artifact by digitally recreating it, and then making the 3D files available for anyone to print.

We were inspired by Marcel Duchamp’s readymade — an ordinary manufactured object that the artist selected and modified for exhibition — the readymake brings the concept of the appropriated object to the realm of the internet, exploring the web’s potential to re-frame information and data, and their reciprocal relationships to matter and ideas. Readymakes transform photographs of objects lost in time into shared 3D digital spaces to provide new forms and meanings.

Just for the sake of clarity, what we call a “readymake” is a play on the phrase “readymade”. It is ready-to-make, since it can be physically generated by a 3D printer.

Our Readymake project was not to exist solely as the physical 3D prints that we made, but rather as the gesture of posting the 3D-printable files for anyone to download, as well as the initiation of a broader conversation around digital recreation in the context of artwork. We chose to reconstruct Duchamp’s chess set, specifically, for several reasons.

The chess set, originally created by Duchamp in 1917-18, was a material representation of his passion for the game. Our intention was not to create a derivative art work, but instead to re-contextualize an existing non-art object through a process of digital reconstruction as a separate art project.

What better subject matter to speak to this idea than a personal possession of the father of the Readymade, himself?  Given the artifact’s creation date, we believed it would be covered under U.S. Copyright Law. We’ll get back to that in a bit.



On April 21st, 2014, we published this project on our website and also uploaded the 3D (STL) files onto Thingiverse, a public online repository of free 3D-printable models.  We saw our gesture of posting the files not only as an extension of our art project, but also as an opportunity to introduce the conceptual works of Duchamp, specifically his Readymades, to a wider audience.


The project generated a lot of press. By encouraging discussion between art-oriented and technology-oriented audiences, it tapped into a vein of critical creative possibilities with 3D printing. And perhaps, with one of Marcel Duchamp’s personal belongings as the context, the very notions of object, ownership and authenticity were brought into question among these communities.

Unfortunately, the project also struck a nerve with the Duchamp Estate. On September 17th, 2014, we received a cease and desist letter from a lawyer representing the heirs of Marcel Duchamp. They were alleging intellectual property infringement on grounds that they held a copyright to the chess pieces under French law.





We assessed our options and talked to several lawyers. Yes, we talked to the Electronic Frontier Foundation…and others. We were publicly quiet about our options, as one needs to with legal matters such as this. The case was complex since jurisdiction was uncertain. Does French copyright law apply? Does that of the United States? We didn’t know, but had a number of conversations with legal experts.

Some of the facts, at least as we understand them

1)  Duchamp’s chess pieces were created in 1917-1918. According to US copyright law, works published before 1923 are in the realm of “expired copyright”.

2) The chess pieces themselves were created in 1917-1918 while Duchamp was in Argentina. He then brought the pieces back to France where he worked to market them.

3)  According to French copyright law, copyrighted works are protected for 70 years after the author’s death.

4)  Under French copyright law, you can be sued for damages and even serve jail time for copyright infringement.

5)  The only known copy of the chess set is in a private collection. We were originally led to believe the set was ‘lost’ – as it hasn’t been seen, publicly, for decades.

6) For the Estate to pursue us legally, the most common method would be to get a judgment in French court, then get a judgment in a United States court to enforce the judgement.

7) Legal jurisdiction is uncertain. As United States citizens, we are protected by U.S. copyright law. But, since websites like Thingiverse are global, French copyright could apply.

Our decision to back off

Many people have told us to fight the Estate on this one. This, of course, is an obvious response. But our research indicated this would be a costly battle. We pursued pro-bono representation from a variety of sources, and while those we reached out to agreed it was an interesting case, each declined. We even considered starting a legal defense fund or crowdsourcing legal costs through an organization such as Kickstarter. However, deeper research showed us that people were far more interested in funding in technology gadgets than legal battles.

Finally we ascertained, through various channels, that the Estate was quite serious. We wanted to avoid a serious legal conflict.

And so, without proper financial backing or pro-bono legal representation, we backed off — we pulled the files from Thingiverse. This was painful – it was incredible to see how excited people were to take part in our project, and when we deleted the Thingiverse entry and with it the comments and photo documentation shared by users, we did so with much regret. But we didn’t see any other option.

Initially, we really struggled to understand where the estate was coming from. As part of the estate’s task is to preserve Duchamp’s legacy, we were surprised that our project was seen by them as anything other than a celebration, and in some ways a revitalization, of his ideas and artworks. Despite the strongly-worded legal letter, we heard that the heirs were quite reasonable.

The resolution was this: we contacted the estate directly. We explained our intention for the project: to honor the legacy of Duchamp, and notified them that we had pulled the STL files from online sources.

We were surprised by the amicable email response — written sans lawyers — directly from one of the heirs. Their reply highlighted an appreciation for our project, and an understanding of our artistic intent. It turns out that their concern was not that we were using the chess set design, but rather that the files – then publicly available — could be taken by others and exploited.

We understand the Estate’s point-of-view – their duty, after all, is to preserve Duchamp’s legacy. Outside of an art context, a manufacturer could easily take the files and mass produce the set. Despite the fact we did put this under a Creative Commons license that stipulated that the chess set couldn’t be used for commercial purposes, we understand the concern.

If we had chosen to stand our ground, we would have had various defenses at our disposal. One of them is that French law wouldn’t have applied since we are doing this from a U.S. server. But, the rules around this are uncertain.

If we had been sued, we would have defended on two propositions: (1) our project would be protected under U.S. law; (2) not withstanding this, under U.S. law, we have a robust and widely-recognized defense under the nature of Fair Use.

We would make the argument that our original Duchamp Chess Pieces would have have added value to these objects. We would consider invoking Fair Use in this case.

But, the failure of a legal system is that it is difficult to employ these defenses unless you have the teeth to fight. And teeth cost a lot of money.

Parody: Our resolution

We thought about how to recoup the intent of this project without what we think will be a copyright infringement claim from the Duchamp Estate and realized one important aspect of the project, which would likely guarantee it as commentary is one of parody.

Accordingly, we have created Chess with Mustaches, which is based on our original design, however, adds mustaches to each piece. The pieces no longer looks like Duchamp’s originals, but instead improves upon the original set with each piece adorned with mustaches.



The decorative mustache references vandalized work, including Duchamp’s own adornment of the Mona Lisa.


Coming out with this new piece is risky. We realize the Duchamp Estate could try to come back at us with a new cease-and-desist. However, we believe that this parody response and retitled artwork will be protected under U.S. Copyright Law (and perhaps under French law as well). We are willing to stand up for ourselves with the Chess with Mustaches.

Also for this reason, we decided not to upload the mustachioed-pieces to Thingiverse or any other downloadable websites. They were created as physical objects solely in the United States.


Final thoughts

3D printing opens up entire new possibilities of material production. With the availability of cheap production, the very issue of who owns intellectual property comes into play. We’ve seen this already with the endless reproductions on sites such as Thingiverse. Recently, Katy Perry’s lawyers demanded that a 3D Print of the Left Shark should be removed from Shapeways.

And in 2012, Golan Levin and Shawn Sims provided the Free Universal Construction Kit, a set of 3D-printable files for anyone to print connectors between Legos, Tinker Toys and many other construction kits for kids. Although he seems to have dodged legal battles, this was perhaps a narrow victory.

Our belief is that this our project of reviving Duchamp’s chess set is a strong as both a conceptual and artistic gesture. It is unfortunate that we had to essentially delete this project from the Internet. What copyright law has done in this case is to squelch an otherwise compelling conversation about the original, Duchamp’s notion of the readymade in the context of 3D printing.

Will our original Duchamp Chess pieces, the cease-and-desist letter from the Duchamp Estate and our response of the Chess with Mustaches be another waypoint in this conversation?

We hope so.

And what would Marcel Duchamp have thought of our project? We can only guess.


Scott Kildall’s website is:
Twitter: @kildall

Bryan Cera’s website is:
Twitter: @BryanJCera

BOOM! WaterWorks

My Water Works project recently got coverage in BOOM: A Journal of California and I couldn’t be more pleased.

Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at 9.06.28 AM

A few months ago, I was contacted by the editorial staff to write about the 3D printed maps and data-visualization for Water Works.

What most impressed me is the context for this publication, which is a conversation about California, in their own words: “to create a lively conversation about the vital social, cultural, and political issues of our times, in California and the world beyond.”

So, while my Water Works project is an artwork, it is having the desired effect of a dialogue outside of the usual art world.

EquityBot got clobbered

Just after the Dow Jones dropped 1000 points on Aug 24th (yesterday), I checked out how EquityBot was doing. Annual rate of return of > -50%

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Crazy! Of course, this is like taking the tangent of any curve and making a projection. A day later, EquityBot is at -32%.

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Still not good, but if if you were to invest yesterday, you could be much richer today.

I’m not that much of a gambler, so I’m glad that EquityBot is just a simulated (for now) bank account.

EquityBot Goes to ISEA

EquityBot will be presented at this year’s International Symposium on Electronic Art at Vancouver. The theme is Disruption. You can always follow EquityBot here: @equitybot.

EquityBot is an automated stock-trading algorithm that uses emotions on Twitter as the basis for investments in a simulated bank account.

This art project poses the question: can an artist create a stock-trading algorithm that will outperform professional managed accounts?

The original EquityBot, what I will call version 1, launched on October 28th via the Impakt organization, which was supported the project last fall during at artist residency.

I intended for it to run for 6 months and then to assess its performance results. I ended up letting it run a little bit longer (more on this later).

Since then, I’ve revamped EquityBot about 1 month ago. The new version is doing *great* with an annual rate of return of 10.86%. Most of this is due to some early investments in Google, whose stock prices have been doing fantastic.


How does EquityBot work? During stock market hours, EquityBot scrapes Twitter to determine the frequency of eight basic human emotions: anger, fear, joy, disgust, anticipation, trust, surprise and sadness.


The software code captures fluctuations in the number of tweets containing these emotions. It then correlates them to changes in stock prices.  When an emotion is trending upwards EquityBot will select a stock that follows a similar trajectory. It deems this to be a “correlated investment” and will buy this stock.


The ISEA version of EquityBot will run for another 6 months or so. The major change from version 1 was that with this version, I tracked 24 different emotions, all based on the Plutchik wheel.



The problem that I found was this was too many emotions to track, both in terms. Statistically-speaking, there were too few tweets for many of the emotions for the correlation code to properly function.

The only change with the ISEA version (what I will call v1.1) is that it now tracks eight emotions instead of 24.


How did v1 of EquityBot perform? It came out of the gates super-strong, hitting a high point of 20.21%. Wowza. These are also some earlier data-visualizations, which have since improved, slightly so.

But 1 month later, by December 15th, EquityBot dipped down to -4.58% percent. Yikes. These are the vicissitudes of the market and a short time-span



By January 21st 2015, EquityBot was almost back to even at -0.96%.



Then by February 4th, 2015, EquityBot was back at a respectable 5.85%.


And on March 1st, doing quite well at 7.36%


I let the experiment run until June 11th. The date was arbitrary, but -9.15% was the end result. This was pretty terrible.


And which emotions performed the “best” — the labels aren’t on this graph, but the ones that were doing well were Trust and Terror. And the worst…was Rage (extreme Anger).



How do other managed accounts perform? According to the various websites, these are the numbers I’ve found.

Janus (Growth & Income): 7.35%
Fidelity (VIP Growth & Income): 4.70%
Franklin (Large Cap Equity): 0.46%
American Funds (The Income Fund of America): -1.23%
Vanguard (Growth and Income): 4.03%

This would put EquityBot v1.0 as dead last. Good thing this was a simulated bank account.

I’m hoping that v1.1 will do better. Eight emotions. Let’s see how it goes.


Machine Data Dreams: Barbie Video Girl Cam

One of the cameras they have here at the Signal Culture Residency is the Barbie Video Girl cam. This was a camera embedded inside a Barbie doll, produced in 2010.

The device was discontinued most notably after the FBI accidentally leaked a warning about possible predatory misuses of the camera, is  patently ridiculous.

The interface is awkward. The camera can’t be remotely activated. It’s troublesome to get the files off the device. The resolution is poor, but the quality is mesmerizing.



The real perversion is the way you have to change the batteries for the camera, by pulling down Barbie’s pants and then opening up her leg with a screwdriver.


I can only imagine kids wondering if the idealized female form is some sort of robot.


The footage it takes is great. I brought it first to the local antique store, where I shot some of the many dolls for sale.



And, of course, I had to hit up the machines at Signal Culture to do a live analog remix using the Wobbulator and Jones Colorizer.

In the evening, as dusk approached, I took Barbie to the Evergreen Cemetery in Owego, which has gravestones dating from the 1850s and is still an active burial ground.

Here, Barbie contemplated her own mortality.

barbie_cemetery barbie_close_cross barbie_good barbie_gravestone_1 barbie_headstore barbie_warren


It was disconcerting for a grown man to be holding a Barbie doll with an outstretched arm to capture this footage, but I was pretty happy with the results.

I made this short edit.

And remixed with the Wobbulator. I decided to make a melodic harmony (life), with digital noise (death) in a move to mirror the cemetery — a site of transition between the living and the dead.

How does this look in my Machine Data Dreams software?

You can see the waveform here — the 2nd channel is run through the Critter & Guitari Video Scope.

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And the 3D model looks promising, though once again, I will work on these post-residency.

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Machine Data Dreams: Critter & Guitari Video Scope

Not to be confused with Deleuze and Guattari, this is a company that makes various hardware music synths.

For my new project, Machine Data Dreams, I’m looking at how machines might “think”, starting with the amazing analog video machines at Signal Culture.


This morning, I successfully stabilized my Arduino data logger. This captures the raw video signal from any device with RCA outputs and stores values at a sampling rate of ~3600 Hz.

It obviously misses a lot of the samples, but that’s the point, a machine-to-machine listener, bypassing any sort of standard digitizing software.


For my first data-logging experiment, I decided to focus on this device, the Critter & Guitari Video Scope, which takes audio and coverts it to a video waveform.

critterguitari_3 critterguitari_2 Crittcritterguitari_1

Using the synths, I patched and modulated various waveforms. I’ve never worked with this kind of system until a few days ago, so I’m new to the concept of control voltages.audio_sythn

This is the 15-minute composition that I made for the data-logger.

Critter & Guitari Videoscope Composition (below)

And the captured output, in my custom OpenFrameworks software.


Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 10.56.15 PMThe 3D model is very preliminary at this point, but I am getting some solid waveform output into a 3D shape. I’ll be developing this in the next few months. But since I only have a week at Signal Culture, I’ll tackle the 3D-shape generation later.

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My data logger can handle 2 channels of video, so I’m experimenting with outputting the video signal as sound and then running it back through the C&G Videoscope.

This is the Amiga Harmonizer — output, which looks great by itself. The audio, however, as a video signal, as expected comes out sounding like noise.

But the waveforms are compelling. there is a solid band at the bottom, which is the horizontal sync pulse. This is the signature for any composite (NTSC) devices.



So, every devices I log should have this signal at the bottom, which you can see below.

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Once again, the 3D forms I’ve generated in OpenFrameworks and then opened up in Meshlab are just to show that I’m capturing some sort of raw waveform data.

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Atari Adventure Synth

Hands down my favorite Atari game when I was a kid was Adventure (2). The dragons looked like giant ducks. Your avatar was just a square and a bat wreaks chaos by stealing your objects.

In the ongoing research for my new Machine Data Dreams project, beginning here at Signal Culture, I’ve been playing with the analog video and audio synths.

Yesterday afternoon, I explored the town of Owego. I ran across a used DVD, CD & electronics store and bought an Atari Flashback Console for $25. I didn’t even know these existed.


I can plug it directly into their video synth system. After futzing around with the various patch cables, I came up with this 5-minute composition, which shows me playing the game. The audio sounds like marching with dirty noise levels.

Also, here is the latest 3D model from my code, which now has a true 3D axis for data-plotting.

Time is one axis, video signal is another, audio signal is the third.

Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 9.26.05 PMAnd a crude frequency plot.

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Van Gogh Wobbulator

In the first full day of the residency at Signal Culture, I played around with the video and audio synthesizers. It’s a new world for me.

While my focus is on the Machine Data Dreams project, I also want to play with what they have and get familiar with the amazing analog equipment.

I started with this 2 minute video, which I shot earlier this summer at Musee d’Orsay. I had to document the odd spectacle: visitor after visitor would take photos of this famous Van Gogh self-portrait…despite the fact you can get a higher-quality version online.

I ran this through a few patches and into the Wobbulator, which affects the electronic signal on the CRT itself.





Ewa Justka, who is the toolmaker-in-residence here, and who is building her own audio synthesizer spruced up the accompanying audio. I captured a 20-minute sample.


What I love about the result is that the repetitive 2-minute video takes on its own life, as the two of us tweaked knobs, made live patches and laughed a lot.