From Mapping

Very hot, very cold

I arrived in Bangkok a couple days ago. Here, you cannot escape the physical effects of the place. It is humid and muggy outside and then you go inside, you get blasted by the air conditioning. Your sweat soon dries and you become very cold.

This is the dialogue I quickly experienced: manmade vs nature. Traffic is omnipresent and there are AC-cooled shopping malls everywhere. However, nature looms large with adverse weather, flooding and the Chao Phraya river itself.

On my first day, as I wandered, I also wondered. How many people actually have a relationship with the river that runs through Bangkok? How often do they think about the lifeblood of the river, which provides drinking water, transportation and, in the past, food?

  

The next morning, we visited visited the Huay Kwang community. This group of people have lived on the banks of the Chao Phraya for many decades and are low-income, often forgotten by the business and shopping districts. When it rains, the sewer infrastructure backs up and floods the river. Like many cities, the pavement and cement prevents water from flowing naturally into the ground.

This community is one of the most affected and they are currently developing a master plan to relocate their homes to higher shores. It isn’t easy. After all, no one wants to lose their home. The master plan also details widening the canal, dredging it and establishing a transportation lane for tourism and commerce.

I listened to the community leaders and their hopes for the workshop. I made several points, but one of the most important ones was to set expectations for what I can really do here. I’m only here for a month. So let’s think about sustainable projects and how we can make public art with water data.

And I also met my assistant, Ekarat, who is super-helpful and will be assisting me throughout the project. Without him, I can’t imagine how to make this project a success.

Yesterday, we spent an entire day procuring items. The best find were these small containers, which are often used for hot sauces, which we will use for water samples on the Chao Phraya. And they were a bargain at 10 Baht each!

Machine Data Dreams @ Black & White Projects

This week, I opened a solo show called Machine Data Dreams, at Black & White Projects. This was the culmination of several months of work where I created three new series of works reflecting themes of data-mapping, machines and mortality.

The opening reception is Saturday, November 5th from 7-9pm. Full info on the event is here.

Two of the artworks are from my artist-in-residency with SETI and the third is a San Francisco Arts Commission Grant.

All of the artwork uses custom algorithms to translate datasets into physical form, which is an ongoing exploration that I’ve been focusing on in the last few years.

Each set of artwork deserves more detail but I’ll stick with a short summary of each.

Fresh from the waterjet, Strewn Fields visualizes meteorite impact data at four different locations on Earth.

water-jet-1Strewn Fields: Almahata Sitta

As an artist-in-residence with SETI, I worked with planetary scientist, Peter Jenniskens to produce these four sculptural etchings into stone.

When an asteroid enters the earths atmosphere, it does so at high velocity — approximately 30,000 km/hour. Before impact, it breaks into thousands of small fragments — meteorites which spread over areas as large as 30km. Usually the spatial debris fall into the ocean or hits at remote locations where scientists can’t collect the fragments.

And, only recently have scientists been able to use GPS technology to geolocate hundreds of meteorites, which they also weigh as they gather them. The spread patterns of data are called “Strewn Fields”.

Dr. Jenniskens is not only one of the world’s experts on meteorites but led the famous  2008 TC3 fragment recovery in Sudan of the Almahata Sitta impact.

With four datasets that he both provided and helped me decipher, I used the high-pressure waterjet machine at Autodesk’s Pier 9 Creative Workshops, where I work as an affiliate artist and also on their shop staff, to create four different sculptures.

water-jet-2Strewn Fields: Sutter’s Mill

The violence of the waterjet machine gouges the surface of each stone, mirroring the raw kinetic energy of a planetoid colliding with the surface of the Earth. My static etchings capture the act of impact, and survive as an antithetical gesture to the event itself. The actual remnants and debris — the meteorites themselves — have been collected, sold and scattered and what remains is just a dataset, which I have translated into a physical form.

A related work, Machine Data Dreams are data-etchings memorials to the camcorder, a consumer device which birthed video art by making video production accessible to artists.

pixel_visionMACHINE DATA DREAMS: PIXELVISION

This project was supported by an San Francisco Individual Arts Commission grant. I did the data-collection itself during an intense week-long residency at Signal Culture, which has many iconic and working camcorders from 1969 to the present.

sonyvideorecorderSONY VIDEORECORDER (1969)
pixelvisionPIXELVISION CAMERA (1987)

During the residency, I built a custom Arduino data-logger which captured the raw electronic video signals, bypassing any computer or digital-signal processing software.data_loggerWith custom software that I wrote, I transformed these into signals that I could then etch onto 2D surfaces.Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 10.56.15 PM I paired each etching with its source video in the show itself.

sony_video_recorderMACHINE DATA DREAMS: PIXELVISION

Celebrity Asteroid Journeys is the last of the three artworks and is also a project of from the SETI Artist in Residency program, though is definitively more light-hearted than the Strewn Fields.

Celebrity Asteroid Journeys charts imaginary travels from one asteroid to another. There are about 700,000 known asteroids, with charted orbits. A small number of these have been named after celebrities.

Working with asteroid orbital data from JPL and estimated spaceship velocities, I charted 5 journeys between different sets of asteroids.

My software code ran calculations over 2 centuries (2100 – 2300) to figure out the the best path between four celebrities. I then transposed the 3D data into 2D space to make silkscreens with the dates of each stop.

20161025_165421_webCELEBRITY ASTEROID JOURNEY: MAKE BELIEVE LAND MASHUP

This was my first silkscreened artwork, which was a messy antidote to the precise cutting of the machine tools at Autodesk.

All of these artworks depict the ephemeral nature of the physical body in one form or another. Machine Data Dreams is a clear memorial itself, a physical artifact of the cameras that once were cutting-edge technology.

With Celebrity Asteroid Journeys, the timescale is unreachable. None of us will ever visit these asteroids. And the named asteroids are memorials themselves to celebrities (stars) that are now dead or soon, in the relative sense of the word, will be no longer with us.

Finally, Strewn Fields captures a the potential for an apocalyptic event from above. Although these asteroids are merely minor impacts, it is nevertheless the reality that an extinction-level event could wipe out human species with a large rock from space. This ominous threat of death reminds us that our own species is just a blip in Earth’s history of life.

 

Asteroids and Celebrities

Asteroids! Planetary scientists have found and mapped about 700,000 of them and some estimate upwards of 150 million asteroids in our solar system. Most of them are in the asteroid belt, between Mars and Jupiter.

David Bowie has one named after him. Prince does not, though both have songs about being in space. Recently Freddie Mercury was awarded one on his 70th posthumous birthday, which seems a fitting tribute to a star, whose life was cut short by AIDS.

FILE - In this 1985 file photo, singer Freddie Mercury of the rock group Queen, performs at a concert in Sydney, Australia. Queen guitarist Brian May says an asteroid in Jupiter's orbit has been named after the band's late frontman Freddie Mercury on what would have been his 70th birthday, it was reported on Monday, Sept. 5, 2016. May says the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Centre has designated an asteroid discovered in 1991, the year of Mercury's death, as "Asteroid 17473 Freddiemercury." (AP Photo/Gill Allen, File)

Most asteroids have provisional designations. The full list of human-named asteroids are here. A few pets and fictional characters have even made it onto the list.

I saw this as an opportunity, as part of my SETI Artist-in-Residency to work with asteroid orbital data from JPL, estimated spaceship velocities* and create a new work called Celebrity Asteroid Journeys, which charts imaginary travels from one asteroid to another as silkscreen prints on wood panels.

20161025_165421_webCelebrity Asteroid Journey: Make Believe Land Mashup

I will be presenting the Celebrity Asteroid Journeys as part of my Machine Data Dreams solo show at Black and White Projects. The reception is on Saturday, November 5th, 7-9pm.

Representation is important and the list of asteroids-named-after people is no exception. Even though the majority of the asteroids are named after Western men, I worked to balance as much as possible.

 20161025_165440_webCELEBRITY ASTEROID JOURNEY: SINGERS

And how are asteroids named? According to my research, they are first given a provisional name. Then, when the orbit is determined, it is assigned a sequential number. The discoverer of the asteroid can then request from the International Astronomical Union to give the asteroid a formal name.

*the spaceship speeds do not use true acceleration and deceleration (the math was beyond my skills), but I did work with the best numbers I could find, about 140,000km/hour using a nuclear-electric engine.

KALW Story: Brothers and Cisterns

What’s beneath those brick circles in San Francisco intersections?” is a story that Audrey Dilling, editor and reporter for KALW’s Crosscurrents, recently released for broadcast on the radio. She joined us as a journalist-on-a-bike for the Cistern Mapping Project, shadowing a pair of volunteers.

The bike-mapping project is just one part of her larger story about the San Francisco Cisterns.

cistern30_VanNess_Bay

Audrey did a fantastic job on the production work. I like the asides, such as the question “What do they call manholes in Holland?” The radio personality talks over my own words, bridging the inevitable gaps and fissures in any audio interview, making me look smarter than I am.

Other interviewees include an author, Robert Graysmith, author of Black Fire, who gives character to the story by talking about 1850s San Francisco, and a representative from the San Francisco Fire Department.

And the sound queues such as “Can I get some period music?…great job.

Me: not the best interviewee, not the worst, still sounding too matter of fact. But hey, I’m learning slowly the lessons of being a better communicator.

And the finale, of bookending the story with Chava and Lucas, very nice.

 

 

 

 

Cistern Mapping Project Reportback

On October 11th, 2015, 18 volunteer bike and mapping aficionados gathered at my place to work on the Cistern Mapping Project — an endeavor to physically document the 170 (or so) Cisterns in San Francisco. There exists no comprehensive map of these unique underground vessels. The resulting map is here.

I personally became fascinated by them, when working on my Water Works project*, which mapped the water infrastructure of San Francisco.

The history of the cisterns is unique, and notably incomplete.

Image2

The cisterns are 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, about 23 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.

The original ones, presumably rebuilt, hold much less, anywhere from 15,000 to 50,000 gallons.

Cistern109 22nd Dolores

Armed with a series of intersections of potential Cistern Locations, the plan was to bike to each intersection and get the exact latitude and longitude and a photograph of each of the cistern markers — either the circular bricks or the manholes themselves.

We had 18 volunteers, which is a huge turnout for a beautiful Sunday morning. I provided coffee and bagels and soon folks from my different communities of the bike teamExploratorium and other friends were chatting with one another.

Cistern Prep Meeting 3

One way to thank my lovely volunteers was to provide gifts. What I made for everyone were a series of moleskine notebooks with vinyl stickers of the cisterns and bikes. I was originally planning to laser-etch them, but found out that they were on the “forbidden materials” list at the Creative Workshops at Autodesk Pier 9, where I made them. Luckily, I always have a Plan B and so I made vinyl stickers instead.

Cistern Prep Meeting 4Cistern Prep Meeting 1

Here I am, in desperate need of a haircut, greeting everyone and explaining the process. I grouped the cisterns into blocks of about 10-20 into 10 different sets. This covered most of them and then we paired off riders in groups of 2 to try to map out the best way to figure out their ride.Cistern Prep Meeting 2

Some of the riders were friends beforehand and others became friends during the course of riding together. Here, you can see two riders figuring out the ideal route for their morning. Some folks were smart and brought paper maps, too!

Cistern Prep Meeting 7

Here are the bike-mappers just before embarking on their day-of-mapping. Great smiles all around!

 

Cistern Group 1

I would have preferred to ride, but instead was busy arranging the spreadsheet and verifying locations. Ah, admin work.

How did we do this? Simple: each team used a GPS app and emailed me the coordinates of the cistern marker, along with a photo of the cistern: the bricks, manhole or fire hydrant. I would coordinate via email and confirm that I got the right info and slowly fill out the spreadsheet. It was a busy few hours.

Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 4.09.31 PM

The hills were steep, but fortunately we had a secret weapon: some riders from the Superpro Racing team! Here is Chris Ryan crushing the hills in Pacific Heights.

Cistern chris uphill

One reason that we traveled in pairs is that documentation can be dangerous. Sometimes we had to to put folks on the edge or actually in the street so they could get some great documentation.

Cisterns chris

So, how many cisterns did we map? The end result was 127 cisterns, which is about 75% of them, all in one day. We missed a few and then there were a series of outliers such as ones in Glen Park, Outer Sunset and Bayview that we didn’t quite make.

And the resulting map is here. There are still some glitches, but what I like about it is that you can now see the different intersections for each cistern. These have not been documented before, so it’s exciting to see most of them on the map.

Cistern web map

What did we discover?

Most of the cisterns are not actually marked with brick circles and just have a manhole that says “Cisterns” or even just “AWSS” on it.

Image1

What I really enjoyed, especially being in the “backroom” was how the cyclists captured the beautiful parts of the city in the background of the photos, such as the cable car tracks.

IMG 0609

Also, the green-capped fire hydrants usually are nearby. These are the ones that get used to fill up the cisterns by the SF Fire Department.

Green hydrant

A few were almost like their own art installations, with beautiful brickwork.

Cistern118 24th Noe

The ones in the Sunset and Richmond district are newer and are actually marked by brick rectangles

Cistern135 46th Geary

Thanks to the AMAZING volunteers on this day.

* Water Works is supported by a Creative Code Fellowship through Stamen Design, Autodesk and Gray Area.

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.

cistern-mapping

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.

cistern_main

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.

 

Dérive in Paris

The first day after arriving in Paris, we embarked on a dérive — the French word for a “drift” — an unplanned journey (usually) through an urban space. The idea is to immerse yourself in the moment, the now of a city. No maps, no mobile phones, no direction, just walk and make choices on where to go based on your senses: the smells, sights and sounds of a city. This experiment would hopefully be some sort of authentic experience, devoid of the central modes of organization and give us a subjective experience.

I did this once before, in Berlin, while reading Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost. That time was by bicycle and I spent the first day meandering through the city with no direction. Every couple of hours, I’d stop for a cup of coffee or a snack and read Solnit’s book, which covered themes of mental and emotional wandering. It was profound. I noticed odd things, mostly architectural.

solnit_gettinglost

My recommendation is to do this when you first arrive in an unfamiliar city, after getting a night’s sleep but before you’ve done anything else. At this point, your body is still jet-lagged. Daily patterns have yet to be formed. Memories are unestablished. The brain is at its most receptive state.

IMG_1178

We started here, near where we were staying. All I know was that the 6th Arrondissement was on the Left Bank. I’ve since become familiar with the shell-like ordering of the city’s districts.

We picked the direction that we most “liked”, based on whatever looked best down the street.IMG_1179

When you’re not trying to get somewhere or having a conversation about something, you notice funny things, like tons of push-scooters locked with cheap cable locks everywhere.

IMG_1183

Or custom-painted tiles like these. Of course, these are “touristy”, but the walk pushed these labels out of my mind. IMG_1184

I wanted to document the dérive, but didn’t want to be in a documentation state-of-mind, so just snapped photos without much consideration for what I was shooting.IMG_1185

The space-for-women was inviting, but also seemed to be closed. It was some sort of library.IMG_1187

We never would have found this old store on Yelp, but it was incredible. Lots of old science and medical devices and posters were inside! The dérive soon meant that we could go inside shops and here is where my expectations of some sort of 1950s Paris that Guy Debord lived in quickly got dashed on the rocks. There were tons of distracting shops and restaurants everywhere. I guess that was the case 60 years ago as well, but I’m sure capitalist advertising techniques have advanced significantly since his time.IMG_1190

We found some contemporary art galleries, too.IMG_1192

Though the Jesus spinning on the turntable didn’t “work” for me.IMG_1193

With two people, the dérive meant compromising. Sometimes I wanted to walk on one side of the street and Victoria would walk on the other. And when we made a decision, we had to pick one person’s “way” if we disagreed. I’m would have been curious to see where my choices would have left me.IMG_1194

Sure, you notice all sorts of details.IMG_1195

And signs in French, mostly about parking rules.IMG_1196

Interesting chimneys on buildings.IMG_1198

You’re not supposed to stop to do errands, but we had to get some coffee capsules for the espresso machine in our room. And then I noticed the shrink-wrapped cheese. IMG_1201

Wide boulevards with complex intersections. Surprisingly little traffic noise and congestions for a major city.  IMG_1202

Streets signs and greenery.IMG_1203

Plaques with names of historical figures and where they once lived.IMG_1204

The smell of dog shit everywhere. Cigarettes, lots of cigarette smoke. I still hate getting the exhale of smoke in my face.IMG_1206

Many apartment buildings with exactly the same window dressing on them. Why do only the 2nd story windows have planters on them?IMG_1207 Everywhere, ads for various services, including “Tantra Massage” on drain pipes. IMG_1209

A giant old wooden door with intricate carvings.IMG_1210

An old church interspersed amongst the apartment buildings.IMG_1211

Odd urban compositions.IMG_1213

A time portal to the year 1858.IMG_1214

Bubble windows.IMG_1215

Ah, the iron work.IMG_1217

Gold leafing shop. Isn’t it dangerous to leave this in the window for potential thievery?IMG_1218

Real estate ads everywhere. Prices are comparable to San Francisco.IMG_1219

French flags outside what looks like government buildings.

IMG_1223

Lots of small dogs and apparently it’s okay to bring them into the restaurant with you.IMG_1222

Sign for a movie theater…or something else.IMG_1226

The most amazing air vent I’ve ever seen.IMG_1227

Reserving your parking spot with trash.IMG_1228

The stop sign figurine is fatter than the walk sign figurine.IMG_1229

Goats in a park.IMG_1230

One cannot escape the Eiffel Tower as a point of orientation.IMG_1231

Bodily functions rule in the end. The toilets are free, but the lines are long.IMG_1232

Human Brain Project @ Impakt Festival

I spent my time at the five-day long Impakt Festival watching screenings, listening to talks, interacting with artworks and making plenty of connections with both new and old friends. I’m still digesting the deluge of aesthetic approaches, subjective responses and formal interpretations of the theme of the festival, “Soft Machines: Where the Optimized Human Meets Artificial Empathy”.

imapktIt’s impossible to summarize everything I’ve seen. While there were a few duds, like any festival, the majority of what I experienced was high-caliber work. Topping my “best of list” was the “Algorithmic Theater” talk by Annie Dorsen, the Omer Fast film, “5000 Feet is the Best”, the Hohokum video game by Richard Hogg and a captivating talk on the Human Brain Project.

vid-game

For the sake of brevity, I’m going to cover just the presentation on the Human Brain Project (HBP). Even though this is a science project, what impressed me was similarities in methodology to many art projects. HBP has simple directive: to map the human brain. However the process is highly experimental and the results are uncertain.

HBP is largely EU-funded and was awarded to a consortium of researchers from a competition with 26 different organizations. The total funding over the course of the 10-year project is about 1 billion Euros, which is a hefty price tag for a research project. The eventual goal, likely well-after the 10 year period will be to actualize a simulated human brain on a computer — an impossibly ambitious project given the state of technology in 2014.

I arrived skeptical, well-aware that technology projects often make empty promises when predicting the future. Marc-Oliver Gewaltig, who is one of the scientists on HBP presented the analogy of 15th-century mapmaking. In 1492, Martin Behaim collected as many known maps of the world as he could, then produced the Erdapfel, a map of the known world at the time. He knew that the work was incomplete. There were plenty of known places but also many uncertain geographical areas as well. The Erdapfel didn’t even include any of the Americas since it was created before the return of Columbus from his first voyage. But, the impressive part was that the Erdapfel was a paradigm shift, which synthesized all geographical knowledge into a single system. This map would then be a stepping stone for future maps.

Carte_behaimAccording to Gewaltig, the mission of the HBP will follow a similar trajectory and aggregate known brain research into a unified, but flawed model. He fully recognizes that the directive of the project, a fully working synthetic human brain is impossible at this point. The computing power isn’t available yet, nor will it likely be there in 10 years.

The human brain is filled with neurons and synapses. The interconnections are everywhere with very little empty space in a brain. Because of this complexity, the HBP project is beginning by trying to simulate a mouse brain, which is within technology’s grasp in the next 10 years.

brain-mapThe rough process is to analyze physical slices of a mouse brain rather than chemical and electrical signals. From this information, they can construct a 3D model of a mouse brain itself using advanced software. For those of you who are familiar with 3D modeling, can you imagine the polygon count?

Gewaltig also made a distinction in their approach from science-fiction style speculation. When thinking about artificial intelligence, we often think of high-level cognitive functions: reasoning, memory and emotional intelligence. But, the brain also handles numerous non-cognitive functions: regulating muscles, breathing, hormones, etc. For this reason, HBP is creating a physical model of a mouse, where it will eventually interact with a simulated world. Without a body, you cannot have a simulated brain, despite what many films about AI suggest.

virtualmouseWhile I still have doubts about the efficacy of the Human Brain Project, I left impressed. The goal is not a successful simulated brain but instead to experiment and push the boundaries of the technology as much as possible. Computing power will catch up some day, and this project will help push future research in the proper direction. The results will be open data available to other scientists. Is that something we can really argue against?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Water Works Final Report

Overview
Water Works is a project that I created for the Creative Code Fellowship in the Summer of 2014 with the combined support of Stamen Design, Autodesk and Gray Area.

Water Works is a 3D data visualization and mapping of the water infrastructure of San Francisco. The project is a relational investigation: I have been playing the role of a “Water Detective, Data Miner” and sifting through the web for water data. My results of from this 3-month investigation are three large-scale 3D-printed sculptures, each paired with an interactive web map.

The final website lives here: http://www.waterworks.io/

sewer

Stamen Design is a small design studio that creates sophisticated mapping and data-visualization projects for the web. Combined with the amazing physical fabrication space at Pier 9 at Autodesk, this was a perfect combination of collaborative players for my own focus: writing algorithms that transform datasets into 3D sculptures and installations. I split my time between the two organizations and both were amazing, creative environments.

Gray Area provided the project guidance and coursework: 12 hours a week of Creative Code Immersive classes in topics ranging from Arduino to Node.js. About half of the classes were review for me, e.g. OpenFrameworks, Processing, Arduino, but Javascript, Node and more were completely new.

This report is heavy on images, partially because I want to document the entire process of how I created these 3D mapping-visualizations. As far as I know, I’m the first person who has undertaken this creative process: from mining city data to 3D-printing the infrastructure, which is geo-located on a physical map.

My directive from the start of the Water Works project was to somehow make visible what is invisible. This simple message is one that I learned while I was working as a New Media Exhibit Developer at the Exploratorium (2012-2013). It also aligns with the work that Stamen Design creates and so I was pleased to be working with this organization.

Starting Point
Underneath our feet is an urban circulatory system that delivers water to our households, removes it from our toilets, delivers a reliable supply firefighting and ultimately purifies it and directs it into the bay and ocean. Most of us don’t think about this amazing system because we don’t have to — it simply works.

Like many others, I’m concerned about the California drought, which many climatologists think will persist for the next decade. I am also a committed urban-dweller and want to see the city I live in improve its infrastructure as it serves an expanding population. Finally, I undertook this project in order to celebrate infrastructure and to help make others aware of the benefits of city government.

drought

On more personal note, I am fascinated by urban architecture. As I walk through the city, I constantly notice the makings on manholes, the various sign posts and different types of fire hydrants.cistern_manhole

About a year ago, I had several in-depth conversations with employees at the Department of Public Works about the possibility of mapping the sewer system when I was working at the Exploratorium. We discussed possibilities of producing a sewer map for museum. For various reasons, the maps never came to fruition, but the data still rattled around my brain. All of the pipe and manhole data still existed. It was waiting to be mapped.

Three Water Systems of San Francisco
When I was awarded this Creative Code Fellowship in June this year, I very much about the San Francisco water system. I soon learned that the city has three separate sets of pipes that comprise the water infrastructure of San Francisco.

(1) Potable Water System — this is our drinking water, comes from Hetch Hetchy. Some fire hydrants uses this.

(2) Sewer System — San Francisco has a combined stormwater and wastewater system, which is nearly entirely gravity-fed. The water gets treated at one of the wastewater treatment plants. San Francisco is the only coastal California city with a combined system.

(3) Auxiliary Water Supply System (AWSS) — this is a separate system just for emergency fire-fighting. It was built in the years immediately following the 1906 Earthquake, where many of the water mains collapsed and most of the city proper was destroyed by fires. It is fed from the Twin Peaks Reservoir. San Francisco is the only city in the US that has such as system.

water_treatment

Follow the Data, Find the Story
From my previous work on Data Crystals, I learned that you have to work with the data you can actually get, not the data you want. In the first month of the Water Works project, this involved constant research and culling.

I worked with various tables of sewer data that the DPW provided to me. I discovered that the city had about 30,000 nodes (underground chambers with manholes) with 30,000 connections (pipes). This was an incredible dataset and it needed a lot of pruning, cleaning and other work, which I soon discovered was a daunting task.

Lesson #1: Contrary to popular belief, data is never clean.

What else was available? It was hard to say at first. I sent emails to the SFPUC asking for their the locations of the drinking water data — just like what I had for the sewer data. I thought this would be incredible to represent. I approached the project with a certain naivety.

Of course, I shouldn’t have been surprised about that this would be a security concern, but in no uncertain terms I received a resounding no from the SFPUC. This made sense, but it left me with only one dataset.

Given that there were three water systems, it would make sense to create three 3D-printed visualizations, once from each set. If not the pipes, what would I use?

In one of my late-night evenings research, I found a good story: the San Francisco Underground Cisterns. According to various blogs, there are about 170 of these, and are usually marked by a brick circle. What is underneath?

cistern_circle

In the 1850s, after a series of Great Fires in San Francisco tore through the city, 23 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.

The original ones, presumably rebuilt, hold much less, anywhere from 15,000 to 50,000 gallons.

* from the various reports I’ve read, this number varies.

old-cisternsmap

I searched for a map of all the cisterns, which was to be difficult to find. There was no online map anywhere. I read that since these were part of the AWSS, that they were refilled by the fire department. I soon begin searching for fire department data and found this set of intersections, along with the volume of each cistern. The source was the SFFD Water Supplies Manual.

cisterdata

The story of the San Francisco Cisterns was to be my first of three stories in this project.

Autodesk also runs Instructables, a DIY, how-to-make-things website. One of the Instructables details the mapping process, so if you want details, have a look at this Instructable.

What I did to make this conversion happen was to write code in Python which called Google Maps API to convert the intersections into lat/longs as well as get elevation data. When I had asked people how to do this, I received many GitHub links. Most of them were buggy or poorly documented. I ended up writing mine from scratch.

Lesson #2: Because GitHub is both a backup system for source code and open source sharing project, many GitHub projects are confusing or useless.

The being said, here is my GitHub repo: SF Geocoder, which does this conversion. Caveat Emptor.

Mapping the San Francisco Sewers
This was my second “story” with the Water Works project, which is simply to somehow represent the complex system that is underneath us. The details of the sewers are staggering. With approximately 30,000 manholes and 30,000 pipes that connect them, how do you represent or even begin mapping this?

And what was the story after all — it doesn’t quite have the uniqueness character of the cisterns. But, it does portray a complex system. Even the DPW hadn’t mapped this out in 3D space. I don’t know if any city ever has. This was the compelling aspect: making the physical model itself from the large dataset.

Building a 3D Modeling System
In addition to looking for data and sifting through the sewer data that I hand, I spent the first few weeks building up a codebase in OpenFrameworks.

The only other possibility was using Rhino + Grasshopper, which is a software package I don’t know and not even an Autodesk product. Though it can handle algorithmic model-building, several colleagues were dubious that it could handle my large, custom dataset.

So, I built my own. After several days of work, I mapped out the nodes and pipes as you see below. I represented the nodes as cubes and pipes as cylinders — at least for the onscreen data visualization.

sewer-mapping

This is a closeup of the San Francisco bay waterfront. You can see some isolated nodes and pipes — not connected to the network. This is one example of where the data wasn’t clean. Since this is engineering data, there are all sorts of anomalies like virtual nodes, run-offs and more.

My code was fast and efficient since it was in C++. More importantly, I wrote custom STL exporters which empowered my workflow to go directly to a 3D printer without having to go through other 3D packages to clean up the data. This took a lot of time, but once I got it working, it saved me hours of frustration later in the project.

seweremapping2

I also mapped out the Cisterns in 3D space using the same code. The Cisterns are disconnected in reality but as a 3D print, they need to one cohesive structure. I modified the ofxDelaunay add-on (thanks GitHub) to create cylindrical supports that link the cisterns together.

What you see here is an “editor”, where I could change the thickness of the supports, remove unnecessary ones and edit the individual cisterns models to put holes in certain ones.

I also scaled the Cisterns according to their volume. The pre-1906 ones tend to be small, while the largest one, at Civic Center is about 243,000 gallons, which over 3 times the size of the standard post-earthquake 75,000 gallon cisterns.

OF-cisterns-nomap

Story #3: Imaginary Drinking Hydrants
In the same document that had the locations of all of the San Francisco Cisterns, I also found this gem: 67 emergency drinking hydrants for public use in a city-wide disaster.

Whoa, I thought, how interesting…

drinking_hydrants

I dug deeper and scouted out the intersections in person. I took some photos of the Emergency Drinking Hydrants. They have blue drops painted on them. You can even see them on Street View.

I found online news articles from several years ago, which discussed this program, introduced in 2006, also known as the Blue Drop Hydrant program.

Picture of What is the blue drop hydrant program

blue_drop_man.jpg

And, I generated a web map, using Javascript and Leaflet.

imaginary-drnkinghydrants

I then published a link to the map onto my Twitter feed. It generated a lot of excitement and was retweeted by many sources.

twitt.jpg

The SFist — a local San Francisco news blog ended up covering it. I was excited. I thought I was doing a good public service.

However, there was a backlash…of sorts. It turns out that the program was discontinued by the SFPUC. The organization did some quick publicity-control on their Facebook page and also contacted the SFist.

The writer of the article then issued a statement that this program was discontinued and a press statement by the SFPUC.

press2.jpg

He also had this quote, which was a bit of a jab at me. “It had sounded like designer Scott Kildall, who had been mapping the the hydrants, had done a fair amount of research, but apparently not.”

In my defense, I re-researched the emergency drinking hydrants. Nowhere did it say that the program was discontinued. So, apparently the SFPUC quietly shuffled it out.

But later, I found that my map birthed a larger discussion. The SFPUC had this response, also printed later on SFist.
Picture of But then a good public response

The key quote by Emergency Planning Director Mary Ellen Carroll is:

“When it comes to sheltering after a emergency, we don’t tell people ahead of time, ‘This is where you’ll need to go to find shelter after an earthquake’ because there’s no way to know if that shelter will still be there.

This makes sense that central gathering locations could be a bad idea. Imagine a gas leak or something similar at one of these locations. So a water distribution plan would have to be improvised according the the desasters.

We do know from various news articles and by my own photographs that there was not only a map, but physical blue drops painted on the hydrants in addition to a large publicity campaign. The program supposedly costs 1 million dollars, so that would have been an expensive map.

They SFPUC never pulled the old maps from their website nor did they inform the public that the blue drop hydrants were discontinued.

I blame it on general human miscommunication. And after visiting the SFPUC offices towards the end of my Water Works project, I’m entirely convinced that this is a progressive organization with smart people. They’re doing solid work.

But I had to rethink my mapping project, since these hydrants no longer existed.

When faced with adverse circumstances, at least in the area of mapping and art, you must be flexible. There’s always a solution. This one almost rhymes with Emergency — Imaginary.

Instead of hydrants for emergency drinking water, I ask the question: could we have a city where we could get tap water from these hydrants at any time? What if the water were recycled water?

They could have a faucet handle on them, so you could fill up your bottle when you get thirsty. More importantly, these hydrants could be a public service.

It’s probably impractical in the short term, but I love the idea of reusing the water lines for drinking lines — and having free drinking water in the public commons.

So, I rebranded this map and designed this hydrants with a drinking faucet attached to it. This would be the base form used for the maps.

Picture of Rebrand as Imaginary Drinking Hydrants

Creating Mini Models
I wanted to strike a balance with this data-visualization and mapping project between aesthetics and legibility.With the data sets I now had and the C++ code that I wrote, I could geolocate cisterns, hydrants and sewer lines.

These would be connected by support structures in the case of cisterns and hydrants and pipe data for the sewers.

I decided that the actual data points would be miniature models, which I designed in Fusion 360 with the help of Autodesk guru, Taylor Stein. The first one I created was the Cistern model.

cisterns-fusion360I went through several iterations to come up with this simple model. The design challenge was to come up with a form that looked like it could be an underground tank, but not bring up other associations. In this case, without the three rectangular stubby pieces, it looks like a tortilla holder.

After a day of design and 3D print tests, I settled on this one.

cistern-model

And here you can see the outputs of the cisterns and the hydrants in MeshLab.

meshlab-cisterns

Here is the underside of the hydrant structure, where you can see the holes in the hydrants, which I use later for creating the final sculpture. These are drill holes for mounting the final prints on wood.

meshlab-hydrants-underneathThe manhole chamber design was the hardest one to figure out. This one is more iconographic than representational. Without some sort of symmetry, the look of the underground chamber didn’t resonate. I also wanted to provide a manhole cover on top of the structure. The flat bottom distinguishes it from the pipes.

manhole

Mapping and Legibilitystamen

One of my favorite aspects about being at Stamen is that four days a week, they provided lunch for us. We all ate lunch together. This was a good chunk of unstructured time to talk about mapping, music, personal life, whatever.

We solidified bonds — so often shared lunch is overlooked in organizations. In addition to informal discussion on the project, we also had a few creative brainstorm sessions, where I would present the progress of the project and get feedback from several people at both Stamen. Folks from Autodesk and Gray Area also joined the discussion.

I hadn’t considered the idea of situating these on a map before, but they suggested integrating a map of some sort. Quickly, the idea was birthed that I should geolocate these on top of a map. This was a brilliant direction for the project.

OF-imaginaryhydrants-mapStamen provided be with a high-resolution map that I could laser etch, which came later, after the 3D printing. Now, with this direction for the project, I started making the actual 3D prints.  map-for-etching

Mega-prints with lots of cleaning
After all the mapping, arduous data-smoothing, tests upon structural tests, I was finally ready to spool off the large-scale 3D prints. Each print was approximately the size of the Object 500 print bed: 20″ x 16″, making these huge. A big thanks to Autodesk for sponsoring the work and providing the machines.

Each print took between 40 and 50 hours of machine time, so I sent these out as weekend-long jobs. Time and resources were limited, so this was a huge endeavor.

cisterns-buildtimeI was worried that the print would fail, but I got lucky in each case. The prints are a combine resin material: VeroClear and VeroWhite (for the Cisterns and Hydrants) and mixes of VeroWhite and VeroBlack for the Sewers.

support-cisterns-far

When the prints come off the print bed, they are encased in a support material which I first scraped off and then used a high-pressure water system to spray the rest off.
cleaning-cistern

It took hours upon hours to get from this.

sewerworks

To this: a fully cleaned version of the Sewer print. This 3D print is of a section of the city: the Embarcadero area, which includes the Pier 9 facility where Autodesk is located.

For the Sewer Works print, the manhole chambers and pipes are scaled to the size in the data tables. I increased the elevation about 3 time to capture the hilly terrain of San Francisco. What you see here is an aerial view as if you were in a helicopter flying from Oakland to San Francisco. The diagonal is Market Street, ending at the Ferry Building. On the right side, towards the back of the print is Telegraph Hill. There are large pipes and chambers along the Embarcadero. Smaller ones comprise the sewer system in the hilly areas.
sewerworks-3dMap-Etching and Final Fabrication
I’ll just summarize the final fabrication — this blog post is already very long. For a more details, you can read this Instructable on how I did the fabrication work. 

Using a cherry wood, which I planed and jointed and glued together, I laser-etched these maps, which came out beautifully.

I chose wood both because of the beautiful finish, but also because the material of wood references the wood Victorian and Edwardian houses that define the landscape of San Francisco. The laser-etching burns away the wood, like the fires after the 1906 Earthquake, which spawned the AWSS water system.

_MG_7318

The map above is the waterfront area for the Sewer Works print and the one below is the full map of the city that I used as the base for the San Francisco Cisterns and the Imaginary Drinking Hydrants sculptures._MG_7316The last stages of the woodwork involved traditional fabrication, which I did at the Autodesk facilities at Pier 9.

_MG_7314I drilled out the holes for mounting the final 3D prints on the wood bases and then mounted them on 1/16″ stainless rods, such that they float about 1/2″ above the wood map.
_MG_7330 And the final stage involved manually fitting the prints onto the rods._MG_7335

Final Results
Here are the three prints, mounted on the wood-etched maps.

Below is the Imaginary Drinking Hydrants. This was the most delicate of the 3D prints.

06_large

These are the San Francisco Cisterns, which are concentrated in the older parts of San Francisco. They are nearly absent from the western part of the city, which became densely populated well-after the 1906 Earthquake.02_large This is the Sewer Works print. The map is not as visible because of the density of the network. The pipes are a light gray and the manhole chambers a medium gray. The map does capture the extensive network of manmade piers along the waterfront.03_large The Website: San Francisco Cisterns and Imaginary Drinking Hydrants
The website for this project is: waterworks.io. It has three interactive web maps for each of the three water systems

The aforementioned Instuctable: Mapping San Francisco Cisterns details how I made these. The summary is that I did a lot of data-wrangling, often using Python to transform the data into a GeoJSON files, a web-mappable format.

The Stamen designer-technicians were invaluable in directing me to the path of Leaflet, an easy-to-use mapping interface. I struggled with it for awhile, as I was a complete newbie to Javascript, but eventually sorted out how to create maps and customize the interactive elements.

Fortunately, I also received help from the designers at Stamen on the graphics. I only have so many skills  and graphic design is not one of them.

cisternsmapping

The Website:The Website: Life of Poo
The performance on Leaflet bogged down when I had more than about 1500 markers in Leaflet and the sewer system has about 28,000.

I spent a lot of energy with node-trimming using a combination of Python and Java code and winnowed the count down to about 1500. The consolidated node list was based on distance and used various techniques to map the a small set of nodes in a cohesive way.

lifeofpoo

In the hours just before presenting the project, I finished Life of Poo: an interactive journey of toilet waste.

On the website, you can enter an address (in San Francisco) such as “Twin Peaks, SF” or “47th & Judah, SF” and the Life of Poo and then press Flush Toilet.

This will begin an animated poo journey down the sewer map and to the wastewater treatment plant.

Not all of the flushes works as you’d expect. There’s still glitches and bugs in the code. If you type in “16th & Mission”, the poo just sits there.

Why do I have the bugs? I have some ideas (see below) but I really like the chaotic results so will keep it for now.

Lesson 3: Sometimes you should sacrifice accuracy.

Future Directions
I worked very, very hard on this project and I’m going to let it rest for awhile. There’s still some work to do in the future, which I would like to do some day.

Cistern Map
I’d like to improve the Cistern Map as I think it has cultural value. As far as I know, it’s the only one on the web. The data is from the intersections and while close, is not entirely correct. Sometimes the intersection data is off by a block or so. I don’t think this affects the integrity of the 3D map, but would be important to correct for the web portion.

Life of Poo
I want to see how this interactive map plays out and see how people respond to it in the next couple of months. The animated poo is universally funny but it doesn’t behave “properly”. Sometimes it get stuck. This was the last part of the Water Works project and one that I got working the night before the presentation.

I had to do a lot of node-trimming to make this work — Leaflet can only handle about 1500 data points before it slows down too much, so I did a lot of trimming from a set of abut 28,000. This could be one source of the inaccuracies.

I don’t take into account gravity in the flow calculations, so this is why I think the poo has odd behavior. But maybe the map is more interesting this way. It is, after all, an animated poo emoji.

Infrastructure Fabrication
This is where the project gets very interesting. What I’ve been able to accomplish with the “Sewer Works” print is to show how the sewer pipes of San Francisco look as a physical manifestation. This is only the beginning of many possibilities. I’d be eager to develop this technology and modeling system further. And take the usual GIS maps and translate them into physical models.

Thanks for reading this far and I hope you enjoyed this project,
Scott Kildall




 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EquityBot: Capturing Emotions

In my ongoing research and development of EquityBot — a stock-trading bot* with a philanthropic personality, which is my residency project at Impakt Works — I’ve been researching various emotional models for humans.

The code I’m developing will try to make correlations between stock prices and group emotions on Twitter. It’s a daunting task and one where I’m not sure of the signal-to-noise ratio will be (see disclaimer). As an art experiment, I don’t know what will emerge from this, but it’s geeky and exciting.

In the last couple weeks, I’ve been creating a rudimentary system that will just capture words. A more complex system would use sentiment analysis algorithms. My time and budget is limited, so phase 1 will be a simple implementation.

I’ve been looking for some sort of emotional classification system. There are several competing models (of course).

My favorite is the Plutchik Wheel of Emotions, which was developed in 1980. It has a symmetrical look to it and apparently is deployed in various AI systems.

 

Plutchik-wheel.svg

Other models such as the Lövheim cube of emotion are more recent and seem compelling at first. But it’s missing something critical: sadness or grief. Really? This is such a basic human emotion and when I saw it was absent, I tossed the cube model.

1280px-Lövheim_cube_of_emotion

Back to the Plutchik model…my “Twitter bucket” captures certain words, from the color wheel above. I want enough words for a reasonable statistical correlation (about 2000 tweets/hour). Too many of one word will strain my little Linode server. For example, the word “happy” is a no-go since there thousands of Tweets with that word in it each minute.

Many people tweet about anger by just using the word “angry” or “anger”, so that’s an easy one. Same thing goes with boredom/boring/bored.

For other words, I need to go synonym-hunting, like: apprehension. The twitter stream with this word is just a trickle. I’ve mapped it to “worry” or “anxiety”, which shows up more often in tweets. It’s not quite correct, but reasonably close.

The word “terror” has completely lost it’s meaning, and now only refers to political discourse. I’m still trying to figure out a good synonym-map for terror: terrifying, terrify, terrible? It’s not quite right. There’s not a good word to represent that feeling of absolute fear.

This gets tricky and I’m walking into the dark valley of linguistics. I am well-aware of the pitfalls.

Screen Shot 2014-10-01 at 3.18.33 PM

 

* Disclaimer:
EquityBot doesn’t actually trade stocks. It is an art project intended for illustrative purposes only, and is not intended as actual investment advice. EquityBot is not a licensed financial advisor. EquityBoy It is not, and should not be regarded as investment advice or as a recommendation regarding any particular security or course of action.