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Why are desserts too sweet?  Why don't they put yellow masala curry mix, paprika, uncandied ginger, copious amounts of nutmeg, or pepper into cupcakes?  What happens if we alter the flour/egg balance?  We are here to answer these questions.  Like good scientists, we will create lots of different samples, and then taste them all.  

Last time we discovered some interesting things trying to make the darkest dark chocolate cupcakes we could.  This time, we're going to mess with spices.

This will be at a house in Pacifica, not my house.  The event will run roughly 7pm-11pm.  I can take carless people with me if thet take BART to my house.  

LMK if you're interested.
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Here are the results from our baking-very-dark-things adventure -- my attempt to create bittersweet desserts that aren't available in the market.

Recipe #1 -- a standard dark chocolate cupcake recipe (makes 6 cupcakes)

1/4 cup unsweetened chocolate powder (used Dagobah brand)
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 stick butter
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 whole egg
1/2 egg yolk
1/8 tsp vanilla

Recipe #2 -- modified version of recipe #1:

1/4 cup + 3 tablespoons (almost 1/2 cup) unsweetened chocolate powder (used Dagobah brand)
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 stick butter
4 tsp sugar (1/3 the original amount)
1/2 whole egg
1/2 egg yolk

Recipe #3 -- recipe 2 + a dash of Yellow Masala Curry powder.


Frosting #1 was whipping cream + a small amount of sugar + vanilla
Frosting #2 was whipping cream + a small amount of sugar + vanilla + unsweetend chocolate powder
Frosting #3 was whipping cream + a small amount of sugar + vanilla + ground nutmeg (1/2 nut for 6 cupcakes of frosting)


Recipe #1 -- the standard recipe -- was a bit on the sweet side but had great texture.
Recipe #2 -- the low-sugar, extra-chocolate recipe -- had a less sproingy texture due to lack of sugar, was a little doughy in terms of the flavor, had somewhat limited expression of the chocolate flavor despite the extra chocolate, but was at the right level of sweetness for me.
Recipe #3 -- the yellow Masala curry -- had the texture problems of Recipe #2 but had the best flavor.  It's proved once and for all that yellow curry belongs in cupcakes.  

Going forward, we are going to try modifying recipes #2 & #3 to add a bit of salt to enhance the chocolate flavor and another egg to help create a more spongey cupcake texture.  

Frosting #3 was the most interesting -- the intense nutmeg flavor only slightly cut by sugar added a strong kick to the frosting.  


Thanks to Aviva for providing the cooking mastery and to everyone else for helping.  


Baking Dark Things  Baking Dark Things  Baking Dark Things
Baking Dark Things

After baking, we played Bananagrams.  Look closely at the crossword on the lower left.  Someone's mind is a little dirty.

Baking Dark Things

Also, this is a Water Caltrop, a relative of the Water Chestnut.  The flavor is uninteresting, but the fruit looks like something out of Hades:

P1160846  Water Caltrop - the strangest fruit in the world

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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 want to make a lot more 3D sculptures with Kinect. Anyone want to help? I want to film:
- Acrobatics,
- Martial arts
- Basketball
- Silk dancing
- Dancing, specifically couples dancing
- Cats and dogs (short hair needed)
- People wandering through forests of large houseplants (you only need one)
- Fun tricks with pose matching and intersecting bodies (small groups needed).
- Re-enacting that birth scene from Alien...
- A large flag waving in the wind (must be close, not 20 feet up)
- Paper airplanes flying.
- (not)-Nude Descending a Staircase
- a 1-woman Busby Berkeley movie
- More stuff we'll probably think up as we start to play...
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 Lest I be getting lazy on a Friday night, I made a 3rd Kinect video.   Here is another fun thing you can do with your own software on a 3D camera:

By taking a 3D snapshot of the room with furniture in it, I can remove the furniture and then wander in the 3d "ghost" space left behind.
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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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I'd like to talk about a serious shortcoming of the medical system in treating a category of illnesses, and a simple, self-experimental approach that allows you to potentially treat these illnesses cheaply and easily.



"Diffuse Conditions" is a term I made up to describe health conditions that have numerous potential causes and numerous potential treatments.  These conditions include insomnia, allergies, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, and anxiety. 

Diffuse conditions are hard to treat via the medical system.  Due to the economic, research, and procedural constraints of the medical system, patients are often steered toward a narrow set of potential treatments.  Moreover, these treatments are generally expensive drugs or procedures rather than simple practical advice.  In addition, because of the prescription system, patients are only able to try one potential treatment per doctor visit, and since diffuse conditions have many potential cures, that potentially means a lot of doctor visits to find one that works.  In addition, the diffuse conditions are sometimes bad enough to affect a patient's quality of life, but not bad enough to merit "medical attention".  Doctors are generally focused on fixing people when they are broken as opposed to tuning them for optimal function.  Basically, all this means that someone with a diffuse condition is likely to have a lot of difficulty finding a solution, and will end up spending a lot of money (either directly or via the tragedy of the commons system known as health insurance) trying to find a solution.  At this point, healthcare is already up to 17% of our GDP in America, so we need to figure out a cheaper approach.  I believe medical experts can be useful in treating diffuse conditions, but they need to empower patients to engage in a highly iterative cure discovery process. 

The solution, I believe, is to data-mine your own life.  This is a five-step process.
1. Get quantitative tools for measuring your performance.
2. Try various interventions. 
3. Track performance and interventions over time
4. Look for correlations to suggest ways you can improve your condition
5. Share your findings online so that others can see if your successful interventions work for them. 


I'm going to provide a personal example of this to show how it can be done: 

Sleep videos:

I've always had trouble with insomnia.  For a long time, I just ignored it as a fact of life.  In my early twenties, I decided to finally do something about it and get a sleep study.  I went to one of the best sleep clinics in the country (Stanford).  They found some minor issues (sleep apnea so mild that it could not be designated "mild sleep apnea") but nothing medically actionable.  Unfortunately, that gave me little to act on.  A sleep study requires you to sleep in a hospital with an unbelievably large amount of equipment attached to your head.  Sleep studies are so expensive that any given person is only likely to do one or two of them.  So unfortunately a sleep study is not a good way of determining anything useful.

I got the idea to use a cheap near-infrared video camera (Sony sells analog "nightshot" video cameras that can see in the dark) to do my own sleep study at home by doing time-lapse recordings of myself sleeping.  I ended up with fascinating videos like these, which show the range of strange things that happen during the third of our lives when we aren't conscious.

Here's what I learned and did about it:

- I move around a lot while I sleep.  Limb movements were documented on the sleep study.  They appeared to correlate either with my posture (specifically, lying on my back) or with dreaming.  The limb movements appeared to be impacting my quality of sleep as they appeared to often line up with or precede awakenings as seen on the sleep study.  By looking at several night, I was able to see that the limb movements most often appeared when I was dreaming, regardless of posture.  Also, as any good scientist knows, it's good to have a control group for comparison.  As a result, I taped myself sleeping next to three different people, and found that I moved around substantially more than any of them did.
- If I'm sharing a bed, it needs to be king-sized if I am to sleep well.  The video shows many instances of sleep-disturbance ping-pong, in which one person shifting causes the other person to shift, and that's in a king bed.  In a smaller bed, it's even worse. 
- If I'm sharing a bed, everyone needs their own quilt.  Quilt-sharing dramatically worsens sleep disturbance ping-pong. 
- Morning light dramatically lowers sleep quality.  The morning light stimulates production of hormones to help me wake up, but this is not useful if I'm going to bed many hours after sunset.  As a result, I started using heavy curtains to help myself get a full night's sleep. 
- I don't have Restless Leg Syndrome.  Based on the movements, I thought I might have it, so I got a doctor to prescribe the two most commonly used RLS medications.  Both of them made my sleep worse. 
- Posture interventions didn't change my quality of sleep.  It appears that I need to spend some time sleeping on my left side, my right side, and my back.  If I choose one particular posture to fall asleep in, I will spend most of the tail end of that night in the other two postures.  If I force myself into a particular posture (eg by wearing a shirt and stuffing a pillow into the back), I fight it intensely.  I think this may have to do with circulation; no part of my body likes to be compressed for long periods of time.  I dislike extended sitting when I'm awake.
- Anti-apnea technologies don't help reduce the movements.  CPAP is loud, messy, and obnoxious, and actually made the movements worse.


Sleeping pills:

I also did an evaluation of just about every type of sleeping pill I could get my hands on, and rated how effective they were at getting me to sleep and how much of a "hangover" effect they have the next day.  I evaluated them via self reports, and sometimes with the videos, for how much they affected my sleep quality.  Your results may vary.  Here's what I found:

- Most over-the-counter sleeping pills (Tylenol PM, Nytol, Sominex, Benadryl) are bad.  They tend to be based on the antihistamine Diphenhydramine HCl.  While they are great at getting me to sleep, they worsen apnea (probably by relaxing the throat muscles too much) and they seem to make me stupider the next day.  I was excited when earlier this year, a study came out showing that my "it makes you stupider" observation isn't just anecdotal. 
- Alcohol (even a single drink) is a bad sleeping pill. 

- Valerian was okay (decent effectiveness but some hangover), as was Lunesta. 
- Melatonin was best for everyday use, and it's available over the counter.  Your body produces it naturally, and you're probably already deficient in it if you are around bright lights before you go to sleep.  I found 1mg was sufficient to do the trick.  At >= 3 mg, I started to have some hangover effect the next day and some habituation issues (making it harder to go to bed the next night without it).  However, at 1mg, I had very little hangover.  I now tend to take it if I haven't been able to fall asleep after 45min.
- Ambien is useful as a "nuclear option" when I'm taking a transatlantic flight or on a packed overnight bus.  It has some hangover, but it's shockingly effective.  It has the bonus effect of helping reset your circadian rhythm to a new time zone if you take it at the bedtime you desire for the new time zone.  Ambien has been known to have some substantial side effects, like sleepwalking, in certain people.   In addition, before putting you to sleep it provides you with a feeling not unlike drinking an entire six-pack of beer in one sitting.  I wouldn't be surprised if it eventually ended up as an illegal drug. 


Quantitative interventions

While the above research yielded a lot of gains, I was able to learn even more when I started using automatic sleep-tracking technologies like the Zeo.  Zeo uses an EEG headband to monitor your brainwaves.  It can determine if you're awake, dreaming, in light sleep, or in deep sleep, by looking at them.  From there, it comes up with derivative measures like sleep latency (how long it takes to fall asleep) and sleep efficiency.  It also has an adaptive alarm so that you can be woken up at the end of a sleep cycle instead of mid-dream.  It's accuracy isn't perfect, but it's fairly good.  (When I'm awake, it registers me as awake at least 90% of the time).  Because Zeo only takes data in 2-minute increments, it cannot notice short awakenings.  Hopefully, the next version will have an accelerometer or a bone conduction microphone to detect apnea, limb movements, and snoring.

In addition to the Zeo's data, I manually wrote down how happy, focused, and stressed I was each day, as well as a detailed 2-sentence description of what I did.  From there, I derived several more quantitative measurements, like whether I exercised, if I slept alone, if I had sex etc.  Then I dumped it all in a big spreadsheet and looked for correlations between measures of sleep quality and my activities.  Several useful correlations popped out.

Here's a subset of what I found after gathering four months of data:

One issue that has always bugged me is sleep latency -- the amount of time it takes me to get to sleep.  Here's what was correlated with lower sleep latency:

- Get exercise
(though don't do it too late in the day).  I had heavy exercise on 66% of the low latency nights vs 42% of the high latency nights.
- Going to bed earlier.  This is counterintuitive, as I'd expect myself to be more tired later in the night.   (Average 1:16am bedtime for low latency nights vs, 2:04am for high latency)  From personal experience, I know sleep latency gets much longer again if I go to bed before midnight.  There's basically an ideal window.
- Don’t have intense new social connections in the evening   I'm not about to make my life more boring to sleep better, but I can be more proactive about exercising or taking melatonin to help myself sleep.   (10% of low latency nights had intense new social connections, whereas 38% of high latency nights did.  The same applies to arguing at night.
- Don’t sleep alone  Having someone sleep next to me helped me get to sleep faster. 
(52% of low latency nights were with a partner, while 28% of high latency nights with partner)  Just make sure the bed is big enough!
- Have evening sex 
The effect was astonishing.  (22% of low latency nights had evening sex, vs 0% of high latency nights)  Even morning/afternoon sex has an impact (31% of low latency nights had morning/afternoon sex vs 22% of high latency nights)


Digging through the data more, I discovered other interesting things. 
Exercise turns out to be good for a lot of things:

- Earlier to sleep (1:37 vs 1:52)
- Increased total sleep (436 vs 400 min  (+36min))
- Reduced sleep latency (22 min vs 25 min (-3min))
- Increased REM sleep (153 vs 137 min (+16min))
- Happier, more engaged, less stress that day (6.9 vs 6.1, 6.5 vs 5.9, 3.3 vs 4.0 on 1-10 scale)
- Happiness/engagement/stress benefits even carry over to next day (6.6 vs 6.3, 6.4 vs 6.1, 3.5 vs 3.8)

This is one of the things that encouraged me to start getting daily exercise.


Correlation vs causation:

As any good scientist knows, correlation does not imply causation.  In regular terms, if two things tend to happen together, it doesn't mean one directly causes the other.  There could be a third thing that causes both of them.  Thus, doing one may not cause the other.

For example, the correlation between having a sleeping partner and shorter sleep latency could be explained for many reasons.  When I have a sleeping partner, I'm more likely to have sex before bed, spend evenings out, cuddle before bed, and not work or browse the internet late at night.  Any of those could be the actual cause.  However, doing that kind of multivariate analysis requires a lot more data, as, for example, there are only a handful of nights where I had sex before bed but no sleeping partner.  I could run a controlled experiment, but at some point I have to stop being a scientist and live my life.  "No sex tonight honey, I need more data for the control group" is a great way to ruin a relationship. :-)  In the end it's good enough to know that being in a healthy relationship helps me sleep better, regardless of the mechanism.


Application to other areas:

As I mentioned in the beginning. this technique of personal data mining does not just apply to sleep; it can be used against things like irritable bowel syndrome.  I tracked what I ate every day for a month, and noted if I had gas or diarrhea.  From there I could correlate the consumption of various foods with digestive issues.  By avoiding those foods, I've substantially reduced instances of IBS. 



Overall, by paying personal attention to numerous factors and making use of some self-tracking technologies, I was able to make lots of improvement to my quality of sleep.  While medical advice and technology was useful, the ultimate evaluation of the effectiveness of everything was up to me.  I had to be willing to self-track a variety of things, including things that had no known connection to sleep, and vary my life to include different behaviors.  Most of the interventions I tried didn't work, and what worked for me may not work for you.  

I think if these approaches are going to be adopted broadly, a few things need to happen:

- Patients' relationships with medical professionals need to change.  Patients need to become active partners in solving health conditions.  This means that interactions with medical professionals need to be longer and more frequent, perhaps with automatic sharing of health data between visits.  Given the cost of medical degrees and the way doctor visits are billed, it likely won't be doctors that would be doing this.  Insurance probably won't pay for it anyway. 
- Data collection needs to be super easy.  Techniques for automating data collection are great, and any manual data collection should be available via a wide variety of methods so that everyone has a method they find easy -- eg a phone app, text messaging, paper forms that can be scanned or photographed to extract the data, websites etc. 
- Wikis and social networks need to make the sharing of potential remedies easy.  Sites like CureTogether do a good job of giving people a space to share potential remedies.  Voting systems help ensure that suggested remedies aren't totally off base, and these potential remedies are really just meant as raw material for experimentation so it doesn't matter if many of them don't work.  With experimentation, you'll find the ones that work for you. 
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I already self-track numerous metrics, such as weight, body fat %, cholesterol, sleep, stress, and happiness.  However, the Life Extension Conference helped me realize that there are far more things that I should track.  Here's why:

- You might discover that you are abnormally low or high in a particular metric, and this knowledge will allow you to quickly and cheaply take corrective action that will improve your quality of life or prevent you from developing a disease.
- Although it is useful to know how well you stand relative to the rest of the people your age and gender, knowing how you are doing relative to a past version of yourself is also very helpful as it can indicate some physiological change that has taken place.  For example, the PSA test, which tests for evidence of prostate cancer, is notoriously inaccurate, but it has been found that a significant increase in PSA over time is much more predictive.
- Frequently collecting data on a particular metric allows you to do self-experimentation to see what affects that particular metric.  The more frequent the testing, the more we are able to learn about ourselves.  The self-experimentation approach is especially good when trying to deal with diffuse conditions that have a range of possible causes, such as insomnia, allergies, anxiety, and depression.

So what is worth tracking?   Here's my first cut at things I might want to check periodically:

Physical performance:

Cardiovascular fitness:

- One of the biggest indicators of cardiovascular health is something called VO2Max, which is the maximum rate of uptake of oxygen by your lungs.  Actual VO2Max testing requires a doctor and lots of specialized equipment.  However, there is a way of indirectly testing VO2Max that's very simple, very accurate, and just about free.  It's called a beep test or shuttle run, depending on which side of the Atlantic you grew up on.  You basically run between two cones 20m apart at a particular rate, and the rate gradually increases until you can't make it in time.  


- I'm tempted to measure my performance on a particularly hard song on Dance Dance Revolution, but perhaps something simple, boring, and technology-free like the Hexagon Drill would be better, especially if I want to be able to do the same test in 20 years.

Strength & Power:

- Max # of pull ups.   (In high school I could do 1-3, now I can do 12-14. :-) )
- Max bench press for some # of repetitions.  
- Standing long jump
- Standing vertical jump


- I could do the sit & reach...  (ah, memories of high school)
- This site also recommends a trunk rotation test and groin flexibility test

Physical health:

- Body composition (body fat %, water %, total weight).  My current scale has decent but probably somewhat inaccurate measurement of this.  
- Glucose levels fasting and after eating a high-carb meal.  This is easy to measure.
- Sleep quality (sleep latency, time in each sleep stage etc.  Technologies like Zeo and FitBit allow for some measure of this.  

I can also order specific tests for levels of various minerals, fats, and other components.  While these tests are somewhat expensive, I really can get by doing them every 1-5 years, with possibly more frequent tests around things I'm trying to change.  The way my health insurance works (high deductible, low monthly premiums) I would order these tests myself from sites like and (their testing and supplements business is way more respected than their monthly magazine).  


The above table, and the decisions of what to take, took a couple of hours of research.  Doing all the tests I want to do will take about $500, and I estimate that I'll spend a fraction of that each subsequent year.  I'm still not sure about the food antibody IgG vs IgE tests -- I have heard that some of them are highly inaccurate.  

Mental performance:

This is a tricky one.  There are so many possible things to measure, some of which are extremely difficult to quantify repeatably.  In addition, while I like the automatic data gathering of computer software, anything I use has to still be available in 20 years so that I have consistent methods of measurement.

I could use a brain training suite not to train my brain (only a subset of the tests appear to generalize to other situations) but to periodically test it.  The best brain software appears to be the web-hosted, but I'm worried that the tests may change over time (the site brags that they're making changes and improvements *all the time*).  In addition, the service costs around $80 a year, which is a lot if I only use it a couple of times a year to assess mental performance.  I started looking for desktop software and quickly realized that the low/mid end desktop software market died several years ago.  There's very little, and most of it is crap.  One alternative would be to get iphone/ipad software.  (I'm imagining myself 20 years from now, turning on some ancient hardware to run some games.)  However, getting access to the performance data will be an issue.  

In terms of specific things to test, it would be interesting to cover:
- Working memory
- VIsual attention and tracking
- Ability to focus with distractions
- Multitasking
- Visual/Spatial processing
- Audio processing
- Logic
- Mental flexibility (Boggle?)
- Face recognition (lots of these exist)
* Idea generation / creativity (Ability to plan and prioritize short and long term goals simultaneously)
* Organization
* Self-awareness of emotional states
* Emotional processing
* Recognition of social cues
* Reading comprehension
* Performance under stress
* Willpower 

The eight starred items do not appear to be easily testable in an automated way with the software I've found.  There are a couple of ways of measuring willpower, such as resisting a particular temptation or enduring a painful but harmless sensation.  

Any suggestions on brain testing technique (or any of the things I'm considering, for that matter) are highly appreciated.

Also, if you're interested in doing a testing/discussion group with me (these things are more fun with friends anyway), let me know.
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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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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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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. 

mattbell: (Default)
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
mattbell: (Default)
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.


mattbell: (Default)
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)


mattbell: (Default)

February 2011

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