Data Crystals at EVA

I just finished attending the EVA London conference this week and did a demonstration of my Data Crystals project. This is the formal abstract for the demonstration and writing it helped clear up some of my ideas about the Data Crystals project and digital fabrication of physical sculptures and installations.

 

Embodied Data and Digital Fabrication: Demonstration with Code and Materials
by Scott Kildall

1. INTRODUCTION

Data has tangible consequences in the real world. Accordingly, physical data-visualizations have the potential to engage with the actual effects of the data itself. A data-generated sculpture or art installation is something that people can move around, though or inside of. They experience the dimensionality of data with their own natural perceptual mechanisms. However, creating physical data visualizations presents unique material challenges since these objects exist in stasis, rather than in a virtual space with a guided UX design. In this demonstration, I will present my recent research into producing sculptures from data using my custom software code that creates files for digital fabrication machines.

2. WHAT DOES DATA LOOK LIKE?

The overarching question that guides my work is: what does data look like? Referencing architecture, my artwork such as Data Crystals (figure 2) executes codes that maps, stacks and assembles data “bricks” to form unique digital artifacts. The form of these objects are impossible to predict from the original data-mapping, and the clustering code will produce different variations each time it runs.

Other sculptures remove material through intense kinetic energy. Bad Data (figure 3) and Strewn Fields (figure 1) both use the waterjet machine to gouge data into physical material using a high- pressure stream of water. The material in this case — aluminum honeycomb panels and stone slabs — reacts in adverse ways as it splinters and deforms due to the violence of the machine.

2.1 Material Expression

Physical data-visualizations act on materials instead of pixels and so there is a dialogue between the data and its material expression. Data Crystals depict municipal data of San Francisco and have a otherworldly ghostly quality of stacked and intersecting cubes. The data gets served from a web portal and is situated in the urban architecture and so the 3D-printed bricks are an appropriate form of expression.

Bad Data captures data that is “bad” in the shallow sense of the word, rendering datasets such as Internet Data Breaches, Worldwide UFO Sightings or Mass Shootings in the United States. The water from the machine gouges and ruptures aluminum honeycomb material in unpredictable ways, similar to the way data tears apart our social fabric. This material is emblematic of the modern era, as aluminum began to be mass-refined at the end of the 19th century. These datasets exemplify conflicts of our times such as science/heresy and digital security/infiltration.

2.2 Frozen in Time

Once created, these sculptures cannot be endlessly altered like screen-based data visualizations. This challenges the artwork to work with fixed data or to consider the effect of capturing a specific moment.

For example, Strewn Fields is a data-visualization of meteorite impact data. When a large asteroid enters the earths atmosphere, it does so at high velocity of approximately 30,000km/hour. Before impact, it breaks up into thousands of small fragments, which are meteorites. Usually they hit our planet in the ocean or at remote locations. The intense energy 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. The static etching captures the act of impact, and survives as an antithetical gesture to the event itself. The actual remnants and debris (the meteorites) have been collected, sold and scattered and what remains is just a dataset, which I have translated into a physical form.

2.3 Formal Challenges to Sculpture

This sort of “data art” challenges the formal aspects of sculpture. Firstly, machine-generated artwork removes the artist’s hand from the work, building upon the legacy of algorithmic artwork by Sol Lewitt and others. Execution of this work is conducted by the stepper motor rather than by gestures of the artist.

Secondly, the input source of data are unknowable forms until they are actually rendered. The patterns are neither mathematic nor random, giving a certain quality of perceptual coherence to the work. Data Crystals: Crime Incidents has 30,000 data points. Using code-based clustering algorithms, it creates forms only recently possible with the combination of digital fabrication and large amounts of data.

3. CODE

My sculpture-generation tools are custom- developed in C++ using Open Frameworks, an open source toolkit. My code repositories are on GitHub: https://github.com/scottkildall. My own software bypasses any conventional modeling package. It can handle very complex geometry, and more importantly doesn’t have the “look” that a program such as Rhino/Grasshopper generates.

3.1 Direct-to-Machine

My process of data-translation is optimized for specific machines. Data Crystals generate STL files which most 3D printers can read. My code generates PostScript (.ps) files for the waterjet machine. The conversation with the machine itself is direct. During the production and iteration process, once I define the workflow, the refinements proceed quickly. It is optimized, like the machine that creates the artwork.

3.2 London Layering

In my demonstration, I will use various open data from London. I focus not on data that I want to to acquire, but rather, data that I can acquire. I will demonstrate a custom build of Data Crystals which shows multiple layers of municipal data, and I will run clustering algorithms to create several Data Crystals for the City of London.

 

Figure 1: Strewn Fields (2016)
by Scott Kildall
Waterjet-etched stone

Figure 2:
Data Crystals: Crime Incidents (2014)
by Scott Kildall
3D-print mounted on wood

Figure 3:
Bad Data: U.S. Mass Shootings (2015)
by Scott Kildall
Waterjet-etched aluminum honeycomb panel

Playing with the e-mail scammers

When someone sends you an email scam, think of it as an opportunity for fun. They stopped replying to my emails after several responses.

Here is the exchange:

—–

Goodday,
Good Day,
How is everything with you? I picked interest in your artwork and decided to write you. I will like to know if your artwork can be purchased and shipped internationally?. I can email the artwork of interest and payment will be completed in full once you confirm my purchase order with a quotation.
Kindly let me know when you are in office and ready to take my artwork order also let me know if you accept either Visa Card or Master Card for payment furthermore you can email me your recently updated website or art price list in your response.
Best Regards
Yoshida

Hi Yoshida,

Thank you for contacting me.

I’m curious which artwork you are interested in, I have available:

(1) Shoe-gazing — a 96-hour performance art video of me looking at my shoes. Audio track is optional.

(2) MDMA Buttplug — I think the title says it all. Leave it to your imagination.

(3) The Salmonella Experience — A crowdsourced experiment on Mechanical Turk, where I send people salmonella-infested eggs, which they ingest and document over a 4-day period.

Sincerely,
Scott Kildall

Hi Scott,
Good to hear from you please can you email me the cost of three available pieces

Thanks
Yoshida

Hi Yoshida,

Which one do you like best from my list?

That is the most important question. Price is secondary.

Best,
Scott

(3) The Salmonella Experience — A crowdsourced experiment on Mechanical Turk, where I send people salmonella-infested eggs, which they ingest and document over a 4-day period.

Thanks,
Yoshida

Hi Yoshida,

Thank you for choosing The Salmonella Experience.

I had thought that MDMA Buttplug would be more to your liking, for some reason. I do want to give you one last chance to reconsider. For, once we go down a financial path, then we cannot turn back and choose another artwork.

So, are you sure about The Salmonella Experience?

Question: What attracted you to this project over the other ones that were available?

Thank you,
Scott Kildall

<no response after this one…>

A friend of mine pointed me to this TED talk by James Veitch. So, obviously I’m not the first:

Self-guided Khlong Tour

When you get to a new place, get lost. Wander in space, wander in time. I adhere to the words of Rebecca Solnit in A Field Guide to Getting Lost and often find myself in the moment in a new city.

I finally had some free time at the American Arts Incubator program and set out the other day to the Thonburi district to see one of the temples. Here, I would have been amongst tourists snapping digital photos. Instead, I got distracted myself on a self-guided Khlong Tour.

 The khlongs are the canals in Bangkok, a city which used to be called the Venice of the East. Centuries ago, they were used for transportation, irrigation and flood relief. But, this was before concrete and pavement redefined the city.

Floods are now a huge problem as the rainwater has little place to go except into storm drains which quickly overflow. The stormwater drains often ends up into the khlongs.

 

The khlongs do have mechanisms to contain the water, which appear to be mini-dams that can be raised to open into the Chao Phraya. This stormwater, which is not clean water at all then flows out to the sea.

The khlongs are mostly stagnant and filled with garbage. Of course, they could be beautiful waterways and a source of community pride. Garbage cleanup would help, but ultimately a better drainage system would be needed.

Water needs to flow to be healthy. I’m not at all trained in civil engineering projects, but this seems pretty basic. We control the water and confine it and its health suffers.

Strangely, there is still a lot of fish in these mucky waters, which I believe is mostly catfish. And where there is edible fish, people will try to catch them, despite the health risks.

I saw many little things. Here are “soi dogs” (not those kinds!), but since Soi is the Thai word for street, these are street dogs or strays. They are skinny, though not malnourished. Mostly, they seem to want love. Don’t we all?

The narrow khlongs had small bridges to various houses. They were just…there, a neglected feature of this urban space. No tourists were in sight.

What was most certainly a lost cat sign.

And a hole in a corrugated steel fence with an offering in it.

Street art, like in every city.

 Why would a tourist come here when the temple was prettier? Still, I made the right choice. I noticed more in my walk than I would have in a temple. At tourist sites, you are supposed to look at certain things but when you wander through the landscape, your gaze is free.

 

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!

Equitybot goes to Vienna

EquityBot resumes its world tour (Utrecht, Vancouver, Bilbao, Amsterdam, San Francisco, Columbus) with a group show in Vienna.

MOOD SWINGS – On Mood Politics, Sentiment Data, Market Sentiments and Other Sentiment Agencies

Curated by Sabine Winkler

 

dates and times
Mar 31 to May 28, Tue to Sun 13-20:00

Press Tour: Wed, Mar 29, 10:00
Opening: Thu, Mar 30, 19:00

abstract
It is moods rather than facts that are determining perceptions, decisions and courses of action to an ever greater degree. Mood data, in turn is a sought-after subject for analysis; emotions are being quantified and simulated. The exhibition “Mood Swings – On mood politics, sentiment data, market sentiments and other sentiment agencies”, curated by Sabine Winkler, focuses on the significance and radius of sentiment in politics, business, technology, media and art.

Artists:
Antoine Catala (FRA)*, Xavier Cha (USA), Florian Göttke (GER/NLD), Femke Herregraven (NLD), Hertog Nadler (NLD/ISR)*, Micah Hesse (USA)*, Francis Hunger (GER), Scott Kildall (USA), Barbora Kleinhamplová (CZE), Tom Molloy (IRL), Barbara Musil (AUT), Bego M. Santiago (ESP)*, Ruben van de Ven (NLD)*, Christina Werner (AUT)
*Q21/MQ Artist-in-Residence

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.

Views from 9000 feet

9000 feet in the air gives you entirely different perspective on the world. Last Sunday, I had the opportunity to fly in a single-engine Cessna with my old friend, Gary. His plane was from the 1970s and had similar instrumentation as my dad’s plane from the same era.

My father, coincidentally also named Gary, loved flying. When I was a kid, he took me up in his plane for countless hours. It’s been about 35 years since I’ve been in a small plane like this. It was comforting, loud, fun and magical.

Although I have no interest in being a pilot, I certainly appreciated the view. Moving slowly (130 mph) at 9000 feet, gives the opportunity to see the landscape at a slower pace and at such a low altitude, I saw dimensionality in the terrain unlike I’ve seen in a long time.

The folds of the hills, the washouts from snow melt and the various waterways fascinated me. The odd manmade structures and dirt access roads punctuated the depopulated desert terrain

I saw the acequias — community-owned irrigation canals for family farms, which delineated the parcels of land. As they say, water is life. There area has no agribusiness here, just family farms, often growing alfalfa on the side in addition to a day job.

I gazed at the results of the San Juana-Chama Project — which linked to the Abiquiu Dam that feeds the Colorado River through Rio Chama and into the Rio Grande so that Santa Fe and Albuquerque can have drinking and water.

The most fantastic sight was the Rio Grand Gorge near Taos. Here you can see how the Earth got split apart by tectonic forces. Rather than carving its own path, the Rio Grande trickles through the gorge because its the easiest way for the water to flow.

After a couple hours and a lunch stop, we landed back on the ground. I was again bound by gravity as I drove back to Santa Fe, along the highway that earlier that day I had seen from the sky.

Santa Fe River Walk

When you get to a new place, take a long walk. This is essential to ground yourself in that space. Rebecca Solnit writes about it; Guy Debord speaks of diverting the stream of capitalism with it; Richard Long incorporates it into his art practice.

Just after unpacking at a new art residency Water Rights at the Santa Fe Art Institute, I went on a walk up the Santa Fe River with two of my fellow residents, Christina Catanese and Megan Heeres.

Santa Fe is a new place with new people. Before jumping into studio practice, which can be a crutch for compulsive art-making, I wanted to engage with the physical environment. At the residency, the purpose will be to open the mind and the art practice.

We started at Frenchy’s Field and walked up the riverbed itself towards downtown.We walked, talked and observed.

At the head of the trail was a poem kiosk with laminated sheets of poetry and a little shelf full of rocks. The riverbed here was dry and sandy.

We began walking in the bed itself. Christina is a trained hydrologist and Megan knows much about plants.I know a little bit about geology after my Strewn Fields project.

At the start of the walk, we encountered a collection of heart-shaped rocks, obviously put here by humans. I love this organically-generated “land art”.

We wondered why these large rocks were stacked this way. Was it for humans? Or for the river? Christina later determined that it was to control the river flow, as future steps required tricky traversals.

Here I am with a backpack full of branches that I collected. Im specifically intrigued by the Salt Cedar, which is an invasive species that was brought to the area many years ago as a wind break for agriculture. Ooops, as is often the case, the introduction of a new species created more problems than it solved. The salt cedar is a water-sucker and consumes the areas most precious resource.

Here is the “rock penitentiary” maybe these rocks were bad and had to be put behind fencing.

And here is a rock that escaped. Fly away, be free!

Under a bridge, we found a rope swing. Wheeee!

As we traversed further, the salt cedar thinned out and we saw various grasses along the banks of the (dry) river.

And I found my own heart-shaped rock. A beautiful specimen, which looks like two geological samples that were grafted together.

We took a side path and disturbed two birds of prey who had been feasting on this treat.

Around the mid-point of the walk, we started seeing icy formations.

I love these alluring crystalline structures surrounding various stones.

And the ground was damp. We noticed various animal prints. What was this? I still do not know. The front foot matches the hind foot, which seems like an odd walking pattern.

Finally, we began to see actual water with this miniature waterfall.

As we approached downtown, there was more and more human-generated waste.

And one shoe? Who loses a single shoe?

At the end of the walk was a patch of rainbow in the sky.

Movies about Water

A few days ago, I asked on Facebook:

What’s your favorite movie about water? We’re doing a Monday movie night at the Water Rights residency and I’m taking suggestions. Narrative or documentary, but not exceedingly lengthy.

78 responses! Here is the list, in order of posting, which has less than 78 because there were duplicates:

Blue Planet
SlingShot
Chinatown
Milagro Bean Field War
Riding Giants
Step Into Liquid
Deliverance
One Water
Jaws
Dune
Waterworld
Force 10 from Navarone
Knife in the Water
The Abyss
Darwins Nightmare
Marvelous Resources
Dripping Water (Joyce Wieland, Michael Snow)
Into Blue
Sharknado
Even the Rain
Salween Spring (Travis Winn)
Glass-memory of Water (Leighton Pierce)
Old Man And The Sea.
Flow
Gasland
Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea
Water Warriors!
The Swimmer!
Peter Hutton (various films)
Erin Brockovich
Paddle to the Sea
H20 Film (Ralph Steiner)
Titanic
Splash
Point Break
Patagonia Rising
Step Into Liquid
Civil Action
Trouble the Water
Like Water for Chocolate
Guy Sherwin’s black and white film of his daughter watering shadows. Prelude – 1996, 12 mins
Moana
The Same River Twice
The Illustrated Man
Whale Rider
The Gods Must Be Crazy
The Big Blue
The Dry Summer
Joe Versus the Volcano
Watermark
Water & Power: A California Heist
The Finest Hours
The Woman in the Dunes
Total Recall (first one)
Tears
“Water Wrackets” by Peter Greenaway
“Watersmith” by Will Hindle
My Winnipeg

Music Box Village

Last week, I visited the Music Box Village in New Orleans. This is a true DIY space where artists, fabricators and more have built “houses” that make sounds/music/noise in various ways. Together, skilled musicians (which does not include me) can make an orchestra of cacophonous music.

John Cage would have loved this space. Any sort of noise even silence is music, as people witnessed with his 4’33” composition. I’ve always loved this idea, the very fact that the tension between performance and non-performance can be music. At this site, the structures become the instruments. Anyone can play them. They are rusty, brittle, gentle and beautiful at the same time.

I’ve gone to many, many DIY spaces. I’ve even helped build some of them, such as The Shipyard, which was a mass of shipping containers that I helped weld, wire and cut in 2001. But all of these felt self-serving, creating a community of those that we included and those, who were somehow excluded because they didn’t speak the proper cultural language of metal-working and whiskey-drinking.

The Music Box Village felt different. I watched some of the founders present the project at the INST-INT Conference the day before and they spoke about community engagement and pairing collaborators from different socioeconomic backgrounds, skills and ages to build the houses. Their approach was organic and they finally secured a more permanent home which has metalworking facilities.

I can’t help but be inundated with the banality of architecture. Houses pretty much look alike, entirely functional and rectilinear. Our commerce spaces are branded box stores adorning cities and suburbs. As humans, we are molded by our physical environment. Our eyes conform to corners. Our minds become less imaginative as a result.

One of my favorite artists who works with architectures is Krzysztof Wodiczko who worked for many decades projecting iconography onto buildings in order to subvert the function of the building, the war memorial and the political body.

He writes: “Dominant culture in all its forms and aesthetic practices remains in gross contradiction to the lived experience, communicative needs and rights of most of society, whose labour is its sole base”

We have so much more to offer in terms of human imagination and creativity than the buildings that surround us and are institutions of capital. I left my tour of the Music Box Village feeling rejuvenated. Then I promptly went to airport to catch I flight back home, engaging with the odd transitional space where air travel happens.

 

 

 

 

 

Orientation Week at American Arts Incubator

The first week in 2017 was orientation week for the American Arts Incubator program. I met the four other artists and soon associated their names with the respective exchange countries: Elaine Cheung (Russia), Michael Kuetemeyer (Cambodia), Nathan Ober (Colombia), and Balam Soto (Guatemala)

My exchange country will be Thailand, where I’ll be staying in the multilayered metropolis of Bangkok for 28 days in May/June timeframe

Thailand sounds exciting and of course it is. However, I’m approaching this not as a tourist, but rather as an arts ambassador. The issue that I’ll be addressing in my exchange is environmental health and specifically water pollution in the Chao Phraya River. This is especially relevant to Thailand, which has underground rapid industrialization in the last couple of decades with environmental regulations lagging behind.

In Bangkok, I will engage in a dialogue of community data-collection and mapping though DIY science with a focus on water pollution, resulting in data-visualization installations and sculptures.

My time will be split about 80/20 on leading public workshops and creating my own artwork.

This ties into my current area of focus: creating physical data-visualizations such as the sculptures of the water infrastructure of San Francisco as well as relates to my longstanding history of working in art and education at institutions such as the Exploratorium.

I learned many things this week, including, but not limited to: better patience for long meetings, organizational models for workshop engagement, the Drupal blogging platform, art-budgeting in a foreign country and organizational techniques.

But most of all, I learned that I have an amazing organization, ZERO1, that will be supporting my work there as well as a cohort of four other artists I can learn from. Trust.

For more information and updates, please join the American Arts Incubator Facebook page.

Three (fiction) books about autism

I’m fascinated by fiction books about high-functioning autism, despite the fact that I have no significant relationships to people with the condition.

speed-of-dark
Each of the three books: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, The Rosie Effect and The Speed of Dark tell narratives from the 1st-person point-of-view of someone who is high-functioning autistic (Asperger’s syndrome in at least 2 of the books) and fits in and out of society. They are all beautiful, wonderful stories, which portray characters who are loving, kind and at times confused.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAReading is a solitary act, reflecting in this case, the life of the characters, who inhabit their own world. Each novel lulls me into an interior space of imagination, and because there is a spectrum of behavior. I wonder where in the gray area do each of us stand?

And it’s while reading these books, I want to change my perception of the world to be more of that of an autistic mind with an amazing ability to focus and pattern-match, taking the world as a series of literals and interpreting things as-they-are-said rather then as-they-are-implied.

These three books are all great. I’d recommend reading each them.

 

Some books for 2017

The bookstore is one site where my mind expands. Many of my phone photos from 2016 are of books that I saw, which sparked something. They include themes of mapping, sculptural art, self-improvement and science-fiction.

20160325_134304 20160325_134933 20160325_161811 20160325_163811 20160325_164301 20160325_170521 20160325_171318 20160325_171423 20160325_171820 20160325_173703 20160618_204539 20160618_204854 20160618_205054 20160618_205145 20160618_205251 20160618_205407 20160618_210014 20160814_185634 20160814_185740 20160814_190038

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.

Display at Your Own Risk by Owen Mundy

I get a lot of press for my artwork. These articles often gloss over the nuances, distilling the essence of a story.

Well-written academic articles about my artwork is what thrills me the most.

Such is the case, with Owen Mundy’s article, Display at Your Own Risk, which looks at 3D printing, copyright and photogrammetry in art.

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The work, he is referring to, in our case is Chess with Mustaches, which is detailed here.

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What Mundy hones in on is that our original Duchamp Chess set is not like ‘ripping’ music from physical media to a computer, but rather a “hand” tracing from a set of photographs to create a 3D model. It is essentially a translation rather than a crude copy.

These are the sorts of comparisons and nuances that garner my appreciation.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

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

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Likewise, this flagstone was a total fail.

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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.

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

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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.

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This is a slate. Nice results!

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And a few more, with mixed results.

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

Strewn Field Map @ SETI

I’ve been an artist-in-residence at SETIthe Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence — for several weeks now. Many think of SETI as people who listen for signals from advanced alien life in the deep desert.

Of course, this isn’t even close to the full story. SETI is also doing amazing work in the field of planetary science: the stuff in our solar system

Why would SETI scientists be playing in our astronomical backyard in the quest for extraterrestrial life? …a couple of reasons:

(1) there is a decent chance of microbial life in our solar system, which certainly counts as “extraterrestrial” life, though not as exciting as an advanced alien species.

(2) if we understand how life began on Earth, then we can apply that knowledge to determine how life might originate on other planets.

Planetary data is ripe with amazing possibilities. My current artistic focus is to write custom software code which translates datasets into physical sculptures and installations. My first foray is meteorite impact data from SETI.

The scientist I am currently working with is Dr. Peter Jenniskens, who is one of the world’s experts on meteors and meteorites. And, as I have discovered, he is also interested in the artistic possibilities.

seti_peter_in_front_of_signThe 2008 TC3 asteroid was discovered on October 6th, 2008, heading right for Earth. Calculations were made to determine its approximate impact, which ended up being in Sudan just 19 hours later. The event was significant — it’s the first time we’ve been able to calculate the location of a “small body” impact with Earth. For all it’s importance, 2008 TC3 deserves a much better name. After all, even Lance Armstrong has an asteroid named after him.

2008TC3-groundpath-rev
Dr. Jenniskens was not only near the impact zone the next day, on October 7th but also led an expedition to map and collect the meteorite fragments. He worked with nearly 100 students at the University of Khartoum to find, geolocate and weigh everything they could find.

It is very unusual to be able to get an accurate strewn field map like this. Usually fresh meteorites hit the ocean or areas that are difficult to collect meteorites for various reasons.

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I work at the Creative Workshops at Autodesk, and have access to their 3D printers. I printed out a model of the 2008 TC3 asteroid, at least one possible physical mapping of the asteroid that approximates its shape. Dr. Jenniskens got a gift of plastic that day.seti_peter_with_meteorHe later showed me the fragments of one of the meteorites. The crust has an amazing texture, which looks like baked clay. Inside, it looks like a regular rock, well at least to my untrained eyes.seti_scott_n_meteroitesOnto the datasets! Peter Jenniskens provided me which had the geolocation + mass of 639 meteorites that his team found. It is now my job to do something with this amazing information.

With my Bad Data series, I wrote custom software that translates the datasets into a map of vector shapes which I then cut, etch, mill or work with somehow on a CNC machine — laser-cutter, water-jet, Shopbot, etc.

I applied similar code to this dataset, creating this map. The larger circles correspond to more mass. It even looks like an impact, with the smaller fragments being shed off before the bulk of the extraterrestrial rocks hit our planet.

strewn_field_15scaled_no_notationIt will be a slog of testing with various materials before I get a final result that I’m happy with. I love this part — the back n’ forth playing with data and materials to get a final aesthetic result that is pleasing.

But, I did manage to squeeze out some tests on wood and have this result. It’s promising.

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PARISOMA art panel reportback

Sometimes I’m an art ambassador to the tech community in San Francisco.

Last week, I was on a panel of artists and non-profit educators called “How Technology is Revolutionizing the World of Art” as part of PARISOMA — a co-working space in San Francisco. This included colleagues: Matt Ganucheau, Danille Siembieda and Barry Threw.

I talk at these sorts of events fairly often, addressing a tech crowd who is art-curious. This forces me out of my comfort zone. I know the art world well, but the tech world of start-up lingo and social entrepreneurship is slightly unfamiliar. I do think art-technology discourse is essential, especially in SF in these times, so I do my part.

PARISOMA is faithfully trying to stir up conversation. This is so appreciated, especially since it would be easy to exclude artists from the “tech conversation”.

Oh, the naming problem: How Technology is Revolutionizing the World of Art. This presumes that technology is now changing the world of art. Let’s not forget our history. (New) technology has been turning the art world on its head for decades,  and for centuries, it has been influencing art-making in overt and subtle ways.

Projects such as E.A.T. (Experiments in Art and Technology) were talking about this very issue 35-40 years ago. I won’t get into the manyfold examples here, but the research is out there and easy to find.

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…and the over-use of the word “revolution” is well-documented. It’s a disservice to actual revolution: the overturning of a political state. Language is important. Point being that art and technology have been intertwined for a very long time. It is not happening just now, nor is it a sudden turn of events that is redefining art.

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However, the positive things from the dialogue were immense. A few key observations:

(1) The attendance for this panel in a tech venue was much higher than in an art venue (~100 people on a Wed night). Why is this? Why does the tech community garner more bodies? Is it because there is some flavor of “networking” involved? This happens at art events as well, so I don’t get it.

(2) Art jargon alienates the wider community. Tech folks get intimidated by art galleries and the language describing the works. At one point I brought this up and saw a sea of faces that were nodding. This is a thing that everyone seems to feel. I suppose the art dialogue is in my comfort zone, so I don’t think about the barriers it creates.

(3) Techies have a bad reputation for driving up prices, displacing old-time residents of San Francisco and hopping on corporate buses to work in the Peninsula. But, here was an audience of 80-100 people who wanted to integrate art somehow into their culture. Techies aren’t all bad!

The take-home message is that we should build bridges between the art folks and the technology folks…somehow. I don’t have the answers, but do feel like there are slow inroads being made by just having the conversations.

This video is a bit long (1 hour +), but for those of you who are curious, here it is. Thanks everyone.

 

Art in Space: the First Art Exhibition in Space

Art in Space is the first art exhibition in space, which was created in conjunction with Autodesk’s Pier 9 Creative Workshops and Planet Labs, a company which dispatches many fast-orbiting imaging satellites that document rapid changes on the Earth’s surface.

For this exhibition, they selected several Pier 9 artists to create artwork, which were then etched onto the satellites panels. Though certainly not the first artwork in space*, this is the first exhibition of art in space. And, if you consider that several satellites are constantly orbiting Earth on opposite sides of the planet, this would be the largest art exhibition ever.

My contribution is an artwork called: Hello, World! It is the first algorithmically-generated artwork sent to space and also the first art data visualization in space. The artwork was deployed on August 19th, 2015 on the satellite: Dove 0C47. The artwork will circle the Earth for 18 months until its satellite orbit decays and it burns up in our atmosphere.

 

The left side of the satellite panel depicts the population of each city, represented by squares proportional to the population size. The graphics on the right side represent the carbon footprint of each city with circles proportional to carbon emissions. By comparing the two, one can make correlations between national policies and effects on the atmosphere. For example, even though Tokyo is the most populated city on earth, its carbon emissions per capita is very low, making its carbon footprint much smaller in size, than Houston, Shanghai or Riyadh, which have disproportionately large footprints.

The etched panel resembles a constellation of interconnected activity and inverts the viewpoint of the sky with that of the earth. It is from this “satellite eye,” that we can see ourselves and the effect of humans on the planet. The poetic gesture of the artwork burning up as the satellite re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere, serves as reminder about the fragile nature of Earth.

Also consider this: the Art in Space exhibition is something you can neither see nor is it lasting. After only 18 months, the satellite, as well as the artwork vaporizes. I thought of this as an opportunity to work with ephemerality and sculpture. And, this is the first time I have had the chance for a natural destruction of my work. Everything dies and we need to approach life with care.

A few people have asked me where did my title come from? Anyone who has written any software code is familiar with the phrase: “Hello, World!” This is the first test program that any instructional has you write. It shows the basic syntax for constructing a working program, which is helpful since all computer programs embody different language constructions. By making this test code work, you also have verified that your development environment is working properly.

“Hello, World!” C implementation.

/* Hello World program */
#include<stdio.h>
main() {
    printf("Hello World");
}

And here is the full a video that explains more about the Art in Space exhibition.

 

* There has been plenty of other art in space, and more recent projects such as my collaboration with Nathaniel Stern for Tweets in Space (2012) and Trevor Paglen’s The Last Pictures.

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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Thanks to the AMAZING volunteers on this day.

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

Joining SETI as an artist-in-residence

The SETI Institute just announced their new cohort of artists-in-residents for 2016 and I couldn’t be happier to be joining this amazing organization for a long-term (up to 2 years!) stint.

This includes a crew of other amazing artists: Dario Robleto (Conceptual Artist, Houston), Rachel Sussman (Photographer, Artist, Writer, New York), George Bolster (Filmmaker, Artist, New York), Jen Bervin (Visual Artist, Writer, Brooklyn), David Neumann (Choreographer, New York). The SETI Air program is spearheaded by Charles Lindsay (artist) and Denise Markonish (curator at MASS MoCA). I first met Charles at ISEA 2012 in Albuquerque, New Mexico when we were on the same panel around space-related artwork.

On January 13, 2016, at 7pm, in San Francisco’s Millennium Tower, SETI Institute President and CEO Bill Diamond will formally welcome the incoming artists and our new institutional partners, as well as patrons and friends of the program. This event is invitational and seating is limited.

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So, what will I be working on?

Well, this follows on the heels of a number of artwork related to space such as Tweets in Space (in collaboration with Nathaniel Stern), Uncertain LocationBlack Hole Series and Moon v Earth, which were meditations of metaphors of space and potential.

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Roughly speaking, I will be researching, mapping and creating installations of asteroids, meteor and meteorite data and working with scientists such as Peter Jenniskens, who is an expert on meteorite showers. These will be physical data-visualizations — installation, sculptures, etc, which follow my interests in digital fabrication and code with projects such as Water Works.

What specifically fascinates me is the potential between outer space and the earth, is the metaphor of both danger and possibility from above. These range from numerous spiritual interpretations to practical ones such as the extinction of the human race to the possibility that organic material from other planets being carried to our solar system. Despite appearances to the contrary Earth is not only a fragile ecosystem but also once that could easily be transformed from outside.

And already I have begun mapping some meteor showers with my custom 3D software, working with in collaboration with Dr. Jenniskens and a dataset of ~230,000 meteors over Northern California in the last few years. This makes the data-space-geek in me very happy.

Stay subscribed for more.

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And I will heed Carl Sagan’s words: “Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere.”

EquityBot World Tour

Art projects are like birthing little kids. You have grand aspirations but never know how they’re going to turn out. And no matter, what, you love them.

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It’s been a busy year for EquityBot. I didn’t expect at all last year that my stock-trading algorithm Twitterbot would resonate with curators, thinkers and  general audience so well. I’ve been very pleased with how well this “child” of mine has been doing.

This year, from August-December, it has been exhibited in 5 different venues, in 4 countries. They include MemFest 2015 (Bilbao), ISEA 2015, (Vancouver), MoneyLab 2, Economies of Dissent (Amsterdam) and Bay Area Digitalists (San Francisco).

Of course, it helps the narrative that EquityBot is doing incredibly well, with a return rate (as of December 4th) of 19.5%. I don’t have the exact figures, but the S&P for this time period, according to my calculations, is the neighborhood of -1.3%.

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The challenge with this networked art piece is how to display it. I settled on making a short video, with the assistance of a close friend, Mark Woloschuk. This does a great job of explaining how the project works.

And, accompanying it is a visual display of vinyl stickers, printed on the vinyl sticker machine at the Creative Workshops at Autodesk Pier 9, where I once had a residency and now work (part-time).

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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.

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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.

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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, 3DPrint.com and The Atlantic, and this was soon followed up by Boing Boing and later 3ders.com, 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.

 

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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?

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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.

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 cw_duchamp_pieces

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.

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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.

Gulp.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

   cwm_knight

Scott Kildall’s website is: www.kildall.com
Twitter: @kildall

Bryan Cera’s website is: http://bryancera.com
Twitter: @BryanJCera

BOOM! WaterWorks

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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

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

 

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

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

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

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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).

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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.