Tagged data

GPS Tracks

I am building water quality sensors which will capture geolocated data. This was my first test with this technology. This is part of my ongoing research at the Santa Fe Water Rights residency (March-April) and for the American Arts Incubator program in Thailand (May-June).

This GPS data-logging shield from Adafruit arrived yesterday and after a couple of hours of code-wrestling, I was able to capture the latitude and longitude to a CSV data file.

This is me walking from my studio at SFAI to the bedroom. The GPS signal at this range (100m) fluctuates greatly, but I like the odd compositional results. I did the plotting in OpenFrameworks, my tool-of-choice for displaying data that will be later transformed into sculptural results.

The second one is me driving in the car for a distance of about 2km. The tracks are much smoother. If you look closely, you can see where I stopped at the various traffic lights.

Now, GPS tracking alone isn’t super-compelling, and there are many mapping apps that will do this for you. But as soon as I can attach water sensor data to latitude/longitude, then it can transform into something much more interesting as the data will become multi-dimensional.

Waterjet Etching Tests

For the last several weeks, I have been conducting experiments with etching on the waterjet — a digital fabrication machine that emits a 55,000 psi stream of water, usually used for precision cutting. The site for this activity is Autodesk Pier 9 Creative Workshops. I continue to have access to their amazing fabrication machines, where I work part-time as one of their Shop Staff.

My recent artwork focuses on writing software code that transforms datasets into sculptures and installations, essentially physical data-visualizations. One of my new projects is called Strewn Fields, which is part of my work as an artist-in-residence with the SETI Institute. I am collaborating with the SETI research scientist, Peter Jenniskens, who is a leading expert on meteor showers and meteorite impacts. My artwork will be a series of data-visualizations of meteorite impacts at four different sites around the globe.

While the waterjet is normally used for cutting stiff materials like thick steel, it can etch using lower water pressure rather than pierce the material. OMAX — the company that makes the waterjet that we use at Pier 9 —  does provide a simple etching software package called Intelli-ETCH. The problem is that it will etch the entire surface of the material. This is appropriate for some artwork, such as my Bad Data series, where I wanted to simulate raster lines.

Meth Labs in Albuquerque(Data source: http://www.metromapper.org)

The technique and skills that I apply to my artistic practice is to write custom software that generates specific files for digital fabrication machines: laser-cutters, 3D printers, the waterjet and CNC machines. The look-and-feel is unique, unlike using conventional tools that artists often work with.

For meteorite impacts, I first map data like the pattern below (this is from a 2008 asteroid impact). For these impacts, it doesn’t make sense to etch the entire surface of my material, but rather, just pockets, simulating how a meteorite might hit the earth.


I could go the route of working with a CAM package and generating paths that work with the OMAX Waterjet. Fusion 360 even offers a pathway to this. However, I am dealing with four different datasets, each with 400-600 data points. It just doesn’t make sense to go from a 2D mapping, into a 3D package, generate 3D tool paths and then back to (essentially) a 2D profiling machine.

So, I worked on generating my own tool paths using Open Frameworks, which outputs simple vector shapes based on the size of data. For the tool paths, I settled on using spirals rather than left-to-right traverses, which spends too much time on the outside of the material, and blows it out. The spirals produce very pleasing results.

My first tests were on some stainless steel scrap and you can see the results here, with the jagged areas where the water eats away at the material, which is the desired effect. I also found that you have to start the etching from the outside of the spiral and then wind towards the inside. If you start from the inside and go out, you get a nipple, like on the middle right of this test, where the water-jet has to essentially “warm-up”. I’m still getting the center divots, but am working to solve this problem.

This was a promising test, as the non-pocketed surface doesn’t get etched at all and the etching is relatively quick.


I showed this test to other people and received many raised eyebrows of curiosity. I became more diligent in my test samples and produces this etch sample with 8 spirals, with an interior path ranging from 2mm to 9mm to test on a variety of materials.


I was excited about this material, an acrylic composite that I had leftover from a landscape project. It is 1/2″ thick with green on one side and a semi-translucent white on the other. However, as you can see, the water-jet is too powerful and ends up shattering the edges, which is less than desirable.


And then I began to survey various stone samples. I began with scavenging some material from Building Resources, which had an assortment of unnamed, cheap tiles and other samples.

Forgive me…I wish I hadn’t sat in the back row of “Rocks for Jocks” in college. Who knew that a couple decades later, I would actually need some knowledge of geology to make artwork?

I began with some harder stone — standard countertop stuff like marble and granite. I liked seeing how the spiral breaks down along the way. But, there is clearly not enough contrast. It just doesn’t look that good.



I’m not sure what stone this is, but like the marble, it’s a harder stone and doesn’t have much of an aesthetic appeal. The honed look makes it still feel like a countertop.


I quickly learned that thinner tile samples would be hard to dial in. Working with 1/4″ material like this, often results in blowing out the center.


But, I was getting somewhere. These patterns started resembling an impact of sorts and certainly express the immense kinetic energy of the waterjet machine, akin to the kinetic energy of a meteorite impact.


This engineered brick was one of my favorite results from this initial test. You can see the detail on the aggregate inside.


And I got some weird results. This material, whatever it is, is simple too delicate, kind of like a pumice.


This is a cement compound of some flavor and for a day, I even thought about pouring my own forms, but that’s too much work, even for me.



I think these two are travertine tile samples and I wish I had more information on them, but alas, that’s what you get when you are looking through the lot. These are in the not-too-hard and not-too-soft zone, just where I want them to be.




I followed up these tests by hitting up several stoneyards and tiling places along the Peninsula (south of San Francisco). This basalt-like material is one of my favorite results, but is probably too porous for accuracy. Still, the fissures that it opens up in the pockets is amazing. Perhaps if I could tame the waterjet further, this would work.


basalt-more-detailThis rockface/sandstone didn’t fare so well. The various layers shattered, producing unusable results.


Likewise, this flagstone was a total fail.


The non-honed quartzite gets very close to what I want, starting to look more like a data-etching. I just need to find one that isn’t so thick. This one will be too heavy to work with.

IMG_0284  quartzite_close_IMG_0340

Although this color doesn’t do much for me, I do like the results of this limestone.


Here is a paver, that I got but can’t remember which kind it is. Better notes next time! Anyhow, it clearly is too weak for the water-jet.


This is a slate. Nice results!


And a few more, with mixed results.

IMG_0300 IMG_0301

And if you are a geologist and have some corrections or additions, feel free to contact me.

Data Miner, Water Detective

This summer, I’m working on a Creative Code Fellowship with Stamen Design, Gray Area and Autodesk. The project is called Water Works, which will map and data-visualize the San Francisco water infrastructure using 3D-printing and the web.

Finding water data is harder than I thought. Like detective Gittes in the movie Chinatown, I’m poking my nose around and asking everyone about water. Instead of murder and slimy deals, I am scouring the internet and working with city government. I’ve spent many hours sleuthing and learning about the water system in our city.


In San Francisco, where this story takes place, we have three primary water systems. Here’s an overview:

The Sewer System is owned and operated by the SFPUC. The DPW provides certain engineering services. This is a combined stormwater and wastewater system. Yup, that’s right, the water you flush down the toilet goes into the same pipes as the the rainwater. Everything gets piped to a state-of-the art wastewaster treatment plant. Amazingly the sewer pipes are fed almost entirely by gravity, taking advantage of the natural landscape of the city.

The Auxiliary Water Supply System (AWSS) was built in 1908 just after the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. It is an entire water system that is dedicated solely to firefighting. 80% of the city was destroyed not by earthquake itself, but by the fires that ravaged the city. The fires rampaged through the city mostly because the water mains collapsed. Just afterwards, the city began construction on a separate this infrastructure for combatting future fires. It consists of reservoirs that feed an entire network of pipes to high-pressure fire hydrants and also includes approximately 170 underground cisterns at various intersections in the city. This incredible separate water system is unique to San Francisco.

The Potable Water System, a.k.a. drinking water is the water we get from our faucets and showers. It comes from the Hetch Hetchy — a historic valley but also a reservoir and water system constructed from 1913-1938 to provide water to San Francisco. This history is well-documented, but what I know little about is how the actual drinking water gets piped into San Francisco. homes Also, the San Francisco water is amongst the most safe in the world, so you can drink directly from your tap.

Given all of this, where is the story? This is the question that I asked folks at Stamen, Autodesk and Gray Area during a hyper-productive brainstorming session last week. Here’s the whiteboard with the notes. The takeaways, as folks call it are, are below and here I’m going to get nitty-gritty into process.

(whiteboard brainstorming session with Stamen)


(1) In my original proposal, I had envisioned a table-top version of the entire water infrastucture: pipes, cisterns, manhole chambers, reservoirs as a large-scale sculpture, printed in panels. It was kindly pointed out to me by the Autodesk Creative Projects team that this is unfeasible. I quickly realized the truth of this: 3D prints are expensive, time-consuming to clean and fragile. Divide the sculptural part of the project into several small parts.

(2) People are interested in the sewer system. Someone said, “I want to know if you take a dump at Nob Hill, where does the poop go?” It’s universal. Everyone poops, even the Queen of England and even Batman. It’s funny, it’s gross, it’s entirely human. This could be accessible to everyone.

(3) Making visible the invisible or revealing what’s in plain sight. The cisterns in San Francisco are one example. Those brick circles that you see in various intersections are actually 75,000 gallon underground cisterns. Work on a couple of discrete urban mapping projects.

(4) Think about focusing on making a beautiful and informative 3D map / data-visualization of just 1 square mile of San Francisco infrastructure. Hone on one area of the city.

(5) Complex systems can be modeled virtually. Over the last couple weeks, I’ve been running code tests, talking to many people in city government and building out an entire water modeling systems in C++ using OpenFrameworks. It’s been slow, deliberate and arduous. Balance the physical models with a complex virtual one.

I’m still not sure exactly where this project is heading, which is to be expected at this stage. For now, I’m mining data and acting as a detective. In the meantime, here is the trailer for Chinatown, which gives away the entire plot in 3 minutes.


First three Data Crystals

My first three Data Crystals are finished! I “mined” these from the San Francisco Open Data portal. My custom software culls through the data and clusters it into a 3D-printable form.

Each one involves different clustering algorithms. All of these start with geo-located data (x,y) with either time/space on the z-axis.

Here they are! And I’d love to do more (though a lot of work was involved)

Incidents of Crime
This shows the crime incidents in San Francisco over a 3-month period with over 35,000 data points (the crystal took about 5 hours to “mine”).  Each incident is single cube. Less series crimes such as drug possession are represented as small cubes and more severe a crimes such as kidnapping are larger ones. It turns out that crime happens everywhere, which is why this is a densely-packed shape.


Construction Permits
This shows current the development pipeline — the construction permits in San Francisco. Work that affects just a single unit are smaller cubes and larger cubes correspond the larger developments. The upper left side of the crystal is the south side of the city — there is a lot of activity in the Mission and Excelsior districts, as you would expect. The arm on the upper right is West Portal.  The nose towards the bottom is some skyscraper construction downtown. 



Civic Art Collection
This Data Crystal is generated from the San Francisco Civic Art Collection. Each cube is the same size, since it doesn’t feel right to make one art piece larger than another. The high top is City Hall, and the part extending below is some of the spaces downtown. The tail on the end is the artwork at San Francisco Airport.