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If there was a *book* about a blue hedgehog that spins himself into a featureless orb as he dashes through an island filled with strange and highly distinct biomes, each meticulously constructed to both let him both revel in the pleasure of moving as fast as possible yet threaten him with constant (but temporary and thus perhaps meaningless) death from inexplicably placed spikes, giant springs, and pitfalls, with giant floating golden rings representing the abstraction of wealth that can somehow buy happiness if enough of them are attained, and with all other living beings on the island encapsulated by robots designed to mimic the appearance of those living things while simultaneously entrapping them and forcing their minds to commit evil deeds as mindless drones for a distant and aloof lone overlord, you would probably think it was an ironic commentary on animal rights and the nature of selfhood and self-determination in a transhuman future world as written by a creative writing major who enjoys hallucinogens on a regular basis.

What happens with these genres is that they evolved over time from something simpler, gradually becoming worlds unto themselves with their own tropes, in-jokes, and semantic structures.  For people who follow along its evolution or are surrounded by the end products from an early age, it doesn't seem strange at all.  It's happend with rap, Noh Theater, hentai porn, action movies, and lolcats, among other things.  However, it seems that this development is especially intense in certain video games.  I think it takes someone translating the genre to a different medium (eg Scott Pilgrim vs The World) to show how strange it's become.  
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I wrote some software to merge multiple 3D video streams captured by the Kinect into a single 3D space. Objects from each video stream are superimposed as if they occupy the same physical space, with nearby objects from one video occluding more distant ones from another. Sometimes objects overlap, creating interesting mutant forms.

Next, I want to make 3D-merges of cats, dancers, silk aerialists, martial arts experts, that painting Nude Descending a Staircase, that scene from Alien, and much more...

Also, I want to take a moment to send some hate in the direction of WMG for blocking the original audio track on this video (KT Tunstall's Black Horse and the Cherry Tree, which was *perfect*), forcing me to re-edit the whole thing with a new song. They need to get with the internet age and realize that they shouldn't say no to awesome free advertising.
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I made some improvements to my program from yesterday.  Now I can control how multiple RGB/Depth images are merged together to create a virtual 3D sculpture I can walk through.  This stuff is seriously fun.

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I believe that consumer-level 3D cameras will have a huge impact on a variety of industries and will lead to the creation of many types of new products.  I've started to play around with the Kinect using the OpenKinect hack & open source codebase.  

For my first project I created a 3D sculpture tool.  In the video, parts of the sculpted image become updated when an object in that area moves closer to the camera than any other object has been in the past.  This lets you carve images in space by moving them closer to the camera.  This took a day of intense work -- I'm planning on making some upgrades to it over the next few days to make it even more interesting.

I also would love to shoot some more videos.  In particular, I want to do the following, though I'm totally up for experimenting and playing with different things:
- People doing acrobatics
- Dancing (especially couples dancing, like waltz)
- Recreating the painting Nude Descending a Staircase (nude or not-nude).  I need a better staircase than the one in my house
- A playful cat chasing things (preferably light or multicolored cat with short hair.  I don't think the camera would do as well with cats with long black hair)
- Moving the camera through lots of houseplants, or just one that is blowing in the wind.

Also, if anyone has a recommendation for a better Mac screencapture program, I'd love to hear it.  The one I downloaded last night hiccups and causes other issues.
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The sort of highly interactive art you see at Burning Man appears to be making inroads into the mainstream conservative art world.  

The New York Metropolitan Museum just finished displaying a piece of art that consisted of an evolving organic bamboo structure that viewers could climb through.  It's extremely immersive and in constant flux - the construction process is part of the art itself.

Read more here:

On an unrelated note, I found a report that said that the CIA secretly funded abstract expressionists in the 1950s to ensure that the US dominated not just the nuclear arms race but the battle for intellectual dominance in the art world as well.

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Now that I have a new car, I want to make it uniquely mine.  I've been playing around with various fractal designs for vinyl decals that I can apply to the side.

Here's one concept (photoshopped):

Today I did a small test piece using some scrap vinyl lying around Techshop.  The scrap vinyl was gold, and despite not being a fan of the color gold in general, I found it actually looks quite good against the reddish purple of my car.  Note that the reflection of the other car in the photo makes the 8" test piece look way bigger:


I'm going to decide on a final color when I have the full catalog of options in my hands.  I'll definitely need help adhering the full-size version, so If you have any interest in helping me, I'd totally appreciate it, and I'll teach you as much as I can about working with vinyl.
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I have completed my projects for Balsa Man.  They are the culmination of more than four hours of work (which, at the 1/16 scale of Balsa Man, is equivalent to over 64 hours of work on an actual burningman project!) 

The first project is the epic 24 inch construction, Cruder Awakening. 

"Cruder Awakening" - Balsa Man 2010  "Cruder Awakening" - Balsa Man 2010  "Cruder Awakening" - Balsa Man 2010
"Cruder Awakening" - Balsa Man 2010  "Cruder Awakening" - Balsa Man 2010

Coincidentally, it bears a certain resemblance to the most impressive project anyone ever did at Burning Man:

My second project, Infinite City, is meant to explore the nature of human existence in a world that is very finite yet infinite at the same time. 
Technological possibilities offer an unbound dream of future progress, yet all-too-real resource constraints force us to confront our own limitations.  In addition, as we navigate this mirror-like maze of possibilities and limitations, we often go on long journeys and travel to distant places, both physical and conceptual, only to find a reflection of ourselves.  Ultimately, can humanity escape from our increasingly self-created hypercomplex fractured prison of self-reflective function?  Only time will tell.  Don't believe everything you read in an art blurb.

"Infinite City" - Balsa Man 2010  "Infinite City" - Balsa Man 2010
"Infinite City" - Balsa Man 2010

Come to Balsa Man!  It'll be fun!  It's this evening pre-sunset at an unnamed beach in San Francisco!  Call me for exact location. 
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I was never quite happy with the "studio" portraits I had taken of my laser-cut wood spirals.

Today I finally got around to doing a photo session with the spirals in a natural setting -- Golden Gate Park.

It was a bit tricky to work with the relatively harsh lighting from direct sunlight on a clear day, but I got some good shots out of it:

Laser-cut wood spirals in nature  Laser-cut wood spirals in nature
Laser-cut wood spirals in nature  Laser-cut wood spirals in nature
Laser-cut wood spirals in nature  Laser-cut wood spirals in nature
Laser-cut wood spirals in nature  Laser-cut wood spirals in nature
Laser-cut wood spirals in nature  Laser-cut wood spirals in nature

See them all on flickr

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I recently found out about Jen Stark while browsing for some unrelated material.  Jen creates fascinating landscapes out of construction paper that are evocative of both natural geology and man-made excavations. 

Strangely, she hand-cuts all the paper.  Someone needs to buy her access to a laser cutter so she can create her art 10x more quickly.

The blog where I found it

Artist's homepage

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The Koosh is now installed semi-permanently in the 140B conference room at HackerDojo, a software focused hackerspace in Mountain View. This is way better than having it hide in the darkness in some storage locker.

See how full it hangs in the air, unfettered by the pressures of hard objects and large bodies of water!

Installing the koosh in hackerdojo  Installing the koosh in hackerdojo
Installing the koosh in hackerdojo  Installing the koosh in hackerdojo

Full set of Koosh pictures on flickr
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Most of you probably know I'm a huge fan of the creative possibilities of thermal infrared movies.  (My weekend of fun)

Here's something I found last night that makes good (and creepy) artistic use of thermal infrared imaging:

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After lots of repetitive manual labor (completed to the tune of Catch-22, various TED talks, and This American Life), I finally finished constructing what I believe to be the world's largest koosh ball. Originally meant for the Ephemerisle festival, it will now instead make an appearance at The Floating Festival That is Not Ephemerisle.

Made from 276 pool noodles purchased for a dollar each at local Dollar Trees, it could theoretically support close to 1500 pounds, but it's hard enough for even one person to climb to the top and stay stable:

Playing with the world's largest koosh

Thanks to Dave, Chris, Steve, and Jocelyn for helping me test it out!

Update:  Here's a video!

Here are some more pictures of how it came together:

Playing with the world's largest koosh Assembly instructions
Playing with the world's largest koosh Playing with the world's largest koosh
Playing with the world's largest koosh Playing with the world's largest koosh
Playing with the world's largest koosh The Iwo Jima moment
Launched! Playing with the world's largest koosh
Playing with the world's largest koosh Playing with the world's largest koosh
Playing with the world's largest koosh Playing with the world's largest koosh

See more at the Flickr group

It's not too far off from my original concept photoshopping:  The coloring is definitely better. 

Climbable floating 9 ft dandelion made of pool noodles

For more info on construction, read the older entries here.
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Half a koosh

Here's the "bottom" half:

Half a koosh  Half a koosh

And the inside:

Inside the koosh

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I finished the koosh core yesterday.  Now I just have to fill it up with noodles.

It's so simple, really.  Here's how each of the 12 modules is filled up with noodles: 


First, the noodles have to be prepped.  I worked really hard to get per-noodle work down to the absolute minimum. 
The prep for each noodle takes around 30 seconds and ensures the noodles stay in place by securely attaching a string to one end.

Construction process for koosh strands  Construction process for koosh strands

It's good that it only takes 30 seconds because I have to do it 276 times.  I do not handle repetitive manual labor very well.  I have to fight utter boredom with a good audiobook.  I dug my own grave on this one by thinking up this project. :-)

The noodles are then stuffed into the holes according to my coloring diagram. 

Construction process for koosh strands  Construction process for koosh strands
Construction process for koosh strands

Here's a more interesting-looking module.  In order to ensure that the noodles bow out at the appropriate angle, the bundle of noodles is tightened together using a ratcheting tie-down, which provides the temporary compression necessary to attach a giant 48" zip tie.  Once the zip tie is on, the ratcheting tie-down is removed. 

Construction process for koosh strands  Construction process for koosh strands

Finally, the string attached to each noodle is threaded with wooden dowels to ensure that someone playing with the koosh can't yank a noodle out. 

Construction process for koosh strands

Here's a few hours' work:

Construction process for koosh strands  Construction process for koosh strands
Construction process for koosh strands  Construction process for koosh strands
Construction process for koosh strands

There's now a giant unfinished mass of project dominating my living room.  It sits there behind my head as I type, ever-present, waiting to taunt me again with its massive unfinished-ness. 

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I had been working on and off on the dandelion / koosh project, but recently I've had the urge to just get it done.  So for some reason I'm blogging about it instead of doing it.  Oh right:
(1) If you want to help me finish it today or tomorrow night, I'd love the help
(2) If you have a truck, van, or other large vehicle (or a zipcar account that would let you borrow said vehicle for a few hours) I'd be very interested in using the vehicle to transport the koosh for a test run at a swimming pool, Golden Gate Park, or some other such place. 

Here's how it's been coming along:

I have the core completely done.  Each pentagonal piece of the dodecahedral core will have 23 pool noodles attached and secured to it.  That way, the koosh can be broken to 12 pieces for easy transport and can be assembled on-site in around an hour with 60 zipties.  It turns out that, with a tensile strength of 75 pounds and low elasticity, zip ties are actually a source of structural integrity in large numbers. 

Koosh core assembled  Koosh core assembled

Here's what the construction process looks like:

The core is shaped like a dodecahedron.  Each piece of the core is assembled from 3 pentagonal pieces, which are laser cut from 3/16" Lauan plywood and then glued together in a stack:

Laser-cutting koosh core  Koosh core pieces

The three pieces are slightly different sizes so that
(1) The edges of the pentagon are at the right angle to interface flat against the neighboring pentagon. 

(2) The holes for the pool noodles are angled in the direction that the pool noodle needs to go.

Assembled koosh core section  Assembled koosh core section

The pieces are painted with exterior primer and deck paint to add some amount of waterproofing.  Painting them got a hell of a lot faster once I realized this little hack with a paint roller, which happened to be just the right size:

Time-saving painting technique for koosh core  Time-saving painting technique for koosh core
P1140976  P1140978

The pieces are then pulled together using slit pieces of vinyl tubing as spacers and zip ties attached to screw eyes as a source of compression:

Assembly of koosh core  Assembly of koosh core
Assembly of koosh core  Assembly of koosh core

I modeled the final appearance of the koosh with a small model.  Now it's assembly time:

Model for pool noodle arrangement  276 pool noodles
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I'm about to buy the rest of the pool noodles required to finish the koosh project for Ephemerisle.  Due to a lack of red and yellow noodles, I was thinking of changing the design to mix in some blue noodles as well.  Sometimes constraints lead to creativity.

Here's the original planned design, with the red and yellow noodles randomly mixed together.

Partial assembly of koosh in photoshop

Here's the new design I'm contemplating -- it's based on splitting up the 12 dodecahedral faces of the frame that holds the noodles into two identical six-face regions, one red and one yellow, with a blue boundary between the two.  Imagine long pool noodles of the designated colors springing out from the sphere.

Potential coloring for kooshPotential coloring for kooshPotential coloring for koosh

I tried to create a more realistic model of the koosh, but the program I downloaded (3D Brush) crashed too frequently, so I gave up before adding the blue section.


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The Dandelion (giant koosh) project has turned out to be more difficult than anticipated.  I ended up trying a variety of different techniques for putting the giant koosh together before finding one that works well and is reasonably fast.  The trouble with having to assemble over 200 noodles is that anything that has to be done once per noodle will have to be repeated over 200 times, so an assembly step that adds a minute per noodle will add three hours to the total effort. 

There were some other constraints that made the design difficult
- It has to be disassemblable.  Not many vehicles can accommodate a 9 ft wide spherical object.
- It has to be able to be assembled from the outside... lots of designs work fine until you have to attach the last module.
- It has to stand up to people jumping on it, pulling on the noodles, and causing other trouble. 

I've settled (for now) on a dodecahedral design, with 12 modules that will fit together to create the giant koosh ball.

Here's one module, with a closeup of the ratchet strap and lasercut board that push the noodles out to an appropriate angle.

Giant koosh assembly -- one module of 12.  How each module is held together

By photographing it at a few angles and photoshopping it together, I can get a sense for the size and density of the full object.  Note that this is NOT the intended final appearance -- it only shows 4 of 12 modules, and the final version will have the current empty spots filled in.  It's an ugly photoshopping, but I was prioritizing speed over appearance.

It turns out the project will take more noodles than I originally thought.  My original plan was 120-144, and it just looks too sparse with that few noodles.  The new one will have 220-300.

120 is too sparse... this would have been 1/8 of the koosh:
Low-density option (1/8 of total koosh)
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I built a rough scale model of one of the Ephemerisle art projects I've been doing.  Yesterday my project partner [ profile] papertygre  and I tested out the gameplay.

The model is on a pile of foam that allows us to simulate tilting of the platform on the water.  We're moving our weight around to tilt the platform  and influence the movement of the ball -- I'm trying to get it into the white holes, while she's trying to get it into the purple holes.  Since our weights differ substantially, she's wearing a backpack with a heavy weight in it to balance us out:

Ephemerisle tilt game platform mockup  Ephemerisle tilt game platform mockup

And a video of gameplay:

The full size version will be a floating square platform 8ft in size.   We're planning on building out several different "skins", different games that can be attached to the same floating platform.  If you're interested in building your own skin, let us know.
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I spent almost all of Maker Faire behind a booth this year, but it was fun to interact with the various attendees.

At my Maker Faire booth  At my Maker Faire booth

In addition to the lasercut wood spirals, I brought a few laser-cut paper Hilbert curves for people to play with. 

At my Maker Faire booth

Every now and then I would invite people to pull one of the Hilbert curves apart.  Because the Hilbert curve is an intricate, long, space-filling curve, a small Hilbert curve can be stretched to quite a length. 

This ~9 year old kid gave a savant-style mathematical definition of a Hilbert curve, so I let him pull the first one apart:

Pulling apart Hilbert curves

At the end of the day, we pulled apart the remaining ones, including the two big ones:

Pulling apart Hilbert curves  Pulling apart Hilbert curves
Pulling apart Hilbert curves

This is unrelated, but was also from maker faire -- a veritable ocean of paella:
Ocean of paella


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