Tuesday, 15 January 2008 - 10:01pm

Making laser-cut snowflake ornaments

This is the first in hopefully a number of posts about various crafty things I’ve made and will make. I’ve mostly been someone who just thinks and writes in my life, i.e., a boring academic. Minus the music playing, of course. But high school and college were filled with the reading of books and sometimes-intriguing, often dulling research papers. Sure I performed experiments, which are a craft of their own, as any STS researcher can tell you. But they didn’t, couldn’t, involve the creativity that shows itself when you try to make things on your own.

Of course I’m making a caricature of myself here, but it’ll have to do.

Anyway, on to the SNOWFLAKES!

I wanted to make something a little bit different for presents this past holiday. Gift cards are no good if you want to get something thoughtful. And being a poor grad student left me with little dough to be able to spend on some things people really wanted. So I decided to make something, to create an item that could be useful for just about anyone: a christmas tree ornament.

I love the snow, and I love snowflakes. Especially when they gather together into piles and piles and feet of snow, covering the trees with white fluff (or slush, depending on the temperature). Snowflakes seemed to be the obvious thing to make, especially since I wanted to use…


These things are awesome. They fulfill my childhood dreams of a hyper-, mega-, super- future, filled with lasers that do all of our bidding. And these things exist! I got to use them when I was at the Media Lab, and I still have the ability to cut things with them when I’m in town.

Now is not a good time to get into how much stuff a laser cutter could cut if a laser cutter could cut stuff. But can also be quite green, as you can cut plywood, instead of non-biodegradable items such as plastics and acrylics. You first need to create an outline of what you want to cut. Not being the best drafter in the world, but knowing how to trace, I found some snowflakes online, and using the pen tool in Illustrator, and the selection tool in photoshop, I created some pretty interesting outlines. I like how my unsteady hand, and the imperfections of the selection tool made outlines that aren’t perfect, that have a little wave, non-perfect corners, and asymmetries.

ornament one

ornament two

ornament three

ornament four

I then cut the ornaments out from 1/8” thick plywood and strung them up with some thread. I painted them with winter-appropriate blue acrylic paint on both sides…and I think the colors turned out well! Connected two or three of them together, through the holes of one of the snowflakes, is a good way to make a mobile-like ornament as well.






Here are the pdf files for the ornaments: ornament one, ornament two, ornament three, ornament four. I’ve decided to license these designs under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 license, which basically means you can use them free of charge for non-commercial purposes, and make changes to them and share them, as long as you use the same license. The ornaments should print out at a good size without any scaling, but since it’s all vector art, feel free to change the size to whatever you might want.

Definitely let me know if you like what you see, or if you end up using them in your own projects!

Tuesday, 8 January 2008 - 10:14pm

New Year's Resolutions

New Year's Resolutions

I have too many of them. And some of them come from others, not me.

I have motivations for them on the back—but you can only see them if you are psychic. Try, really. I dare you.

Maybe I’ll put these in a readable form at some point.

Monday, 7 January 2008 - 11:35pm

Pedagogy and Theater of the Oppressed Conference

I just found out yesterday that there is a conference (in Omaha, NE, nonetheless) about both Pedagogy and Theater of the Oppressed …and that it’s taking place this May. And there are three workshops that are with Augusto Boal and his son, Julian. And one of the workshops is on legislative theater, one of the methods that I am most interested in when it comes to participatory planning and design situations.

If there were ever a conference that I should go to, it’s this one. It’s unlikely I’m going to get the chance again to get such concentrated study in a topic that I have little knowledge about, and that is difficult to pick up and experience on my own (since, by definition, it’s community focused). Of course funding is always a question, but at least there is a call for proposals that might be pertinent…but not much time to construct something, however.


Can I also say how awesome the MIT Press Bookstore in Cambridge is? I went there today, while I was on campus meeting with a friend, to do my usual aimless browsing in their stacks of gorgeous volumes and tomes. But what I especially love about the store, coming from a graduate student, is the hurt and sale book section, where fairly recent titles are available for half off or more. And I was able to snag a copy of The Deliberative Practitioner (once I had reminded myself of the title by going to the full-price urban planning section) for only $12. Part of me feels bad getting a book for this cheap since I will (probably) one day be writing books like this, but it’s really hard to justify some of the costs for academic books on a meager stipend. I really think there is something to providing lots of your work for free in an open manner (and this includes books), especially when the work is funded by taxpayers in the first place. Not that in the future I wouldn’t want to provide a book for sale as well; I just think there should be multiple ways of getting at the work, and at varying price points. A la Radiohead.

But this might just be the idealistic talk of a young’n at work.

Sunday, 6 January 2008 - 7:10am

Post for the new year

Resolutions…I has them. But they will have to wait a while to be unveiled.

It is a bit late to be making a new year’s post, but true to my current-academic form, I’m missing the deadline.

I’ve been reading some books over the break.

And some various web sites about various things.

And making some objects.

And there will be more.

Much more.

Sunday, 9 December 2007 - 11:51pm

Enabling iScrobbling of internet tracks

If you’re like me, and use iScrobbler for, you might have noticed that the program doesn’t scrobble tracks that you listen to from the internet over m3u files. There is, however, a simple fix for this. Note that you have do this every time you download a new version of iScrobbler, as we’re going to modify files within the application itself.

The usual warnings about no warranty for harm you might to do your system apply :-)

You also probably need the OS X developer tools installed, which are a hefty download, or are available on your Tiger install DVD.

Okay, so here is what we do:

  1. Quit iScrobbler if running
  2. Find your iScrobbler application
  3. ctrl-click and select “Show Package Contents”.
  4. Navigate to “Contents/Resources/Scripts”
  5. Double-click “iTunesGetCurrentTrackInfo.scpt” to open it in Script Editor. The file is likely a binary applescript file, so you have to have the Script Editor application for this to work.
  6. Navigate a ways down in the file until you see the line “if trackClass is file track or trackClass is audio CD track then” (see the following image)
    iScrobbler Before Edit
  7. Edit that line so that it reads “if trackClass is file track or trackClass is audio CD track or trackClass is URL track then” (we’re adding ‘or trackClass is URL track’ after the words ‘audio CD track’ and before the word ‘then’); see the following photo:
    iScrobbler After Edit
  8. Save the file, quit Script Editor, and start iScrobbler again. You should now see your internet tracks being scrobbled! I don’t know how this affects scrobbling streams, so your mileage might vary.

Drop me an e-mail if you have any questions; I’ll try and help out the best I can, but I can’t promise anything.

Friday, 7 December 2007 - 7:17am

Fluid Networking for Activists

A bit of a teaser about a current project of mine…

I’m working on a mobile phone application that allows activists to surreptitiously pass messages amongst Bluetooth-enabled phones. It came out of concerns I had watching events in Lebanon last summer, and Burma and Pakistan this fall, where the networking infrastructure was destroyed or shut down, eliminating regular communication channels. The project was also a response to currently-prevalent network views of reality, suggesting ways in which we can view the world as much more fluid and lacking-in-structure, using that to our advantage.

I don’t have enough time right now to go into all of my conceptual thoughts about the project. But you can look at a paper written for my networking class for some of my present ideas. Since the paper was written for a CS class it doesn’t have all of the theoretical work that I would present had it been written for a different audience. (It’s also not the best thing I’ve ever written, but that goes without saying!)

But here are some screen shots of early versions of the user interface. I hope to release a stable version of the code within the next month or so, and provide links to the source. If anyone is interested in working on the project with me, drop me a line.

Opening Screen

Form Entry

Wednesday, 28 November 2007 - 2:16am

Briefly returning, Way-Post-Thesis Edition

I actually do plan on posting more on this blog in the coming weeks, but for the moment I just wanted to post a short update. I’m now at Cornell in the Information Sciences PhD program. I finished my master’s thesis at the MIT Media Lab in August just a couple days before I had to start at Cornell. The text of my thesis is now available, entitled Encouraging the Expression of the Unspeakable: Influence and Agency in a Robotic Creature (warning: it’s a 65MB file!).

I’ll be writing more on different topics soon, as well as making my own theme for the blog and updating some of my projects on zeitkunst.

Update: I’ve enabled browsing of the code, source text, models, figures, etc. from my thesis in the MSThesis subversion repository. Look in the Creature subdirectory for the python code used in the simulation and actual robot, Electronics subdirectory for circuit board schematics and board firmware, Modeling for blender models that were used in early explorations, and Thesis for the source latex files used in the thesis. I hope there isn’t too much that is incriminating in there! :-)

Update 2: The abstract for my thesis is now indexed in LABS: Leonardo ABstracts Service.

Thursday, 28 June 2007 - 8:53pm

Early video of syngvab

I’m in the throes of finishing my thesis with the proverbial too-much-too-do. I’ve got code to finishing writing, PCBs to finish laying out, parts to order, things to cut. Oh, and also the actual thesis to write.

But I’ve made a quick video of some of the early tests with the latest version of the thesis object, syngvab. There is a lot more to do with movement and interaction, but this will give you a taste of how things are developing:

I presented some of this work at a graduate student symposium at the recent Creativity and Cognition conference in Washington, DC. It was a great time and I got to meet some wonderful fellow students!

But now, back to writing code…

Sunday, 10 June 2007 - 6:08am

Keeping me sane...

…during my thesis is the innanity of lolcats:

schrödinger's lolcat

from i can has cheezburger?

Also incredibly amusing: lolcode

Stupid, perhaps. But oh so funny.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007 - 9:22pm

Variations 10b mention

Thanks to Cati for mentioning my project, Variations 10b, in a posting of hers about a video of a John Cage performance!