November 2010

Thanksgiving Worst Side Dishes: Egoism and Selfishness


A pompous male turkey at Farm Sanctuary, in upstate NY.

As has become customary, Thanksgiving was spent at my sister’s house / wildlife sanctuary in the woods of Ithaca, NY. Recovering patients this year included a crippled raccoon and three flying squirrels that had been kidnapped and mauled by a cat. The latter would often escape their cage and jump around the kitchen from person to person, until they were finally recaptured.

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Syyner Eric Gradman Gets Kinect’d

Prolific Maker and Syyner Eric Gradman got his hands on a Kinect CV unit and within hours was “making art”, as he calls it. I always smile when Syyn Labs creators say that sort of thing. As another Syyner Dan Busby once said: “Some of us were trained in art formally, but the rest of us had to learn it on the streets…”. With a history of robotics and computer vision (not to mention fire spinning, circus performing, and professional whistling) Eric has quickly learned the joy of ‘making art’.

Describing one his first custom Kinect project, Illuminous, Eric says: “Remember that scene at the end of the matrix where glowing green symbols traced across an agent’s body? Well, this is just like that, but in realtime. What you’re looking at here is a particle system, where YOU are the source of the particles. Particles (seen on screen as dots) spring into being on the surface of your body. They then traverse the contours of your body until they reach an edge, at which point they’re flung into space and disappear. All this is possible because the Kinect lets me reconstruct the 3d geometry of whatever it sees.” More details here…

The Kinect also adds a new way of interacting with old projects: “Standard Gravity is an existing project of mine that until today pure image thresholding to determine where people are standing. I bought a new Kinect sensor this afternoon, and immediately set about adapting this code to use the new sensor.” More details here…

What will Eric come up with next? Keep in touch with him on Twitter at and the rest of the Syyn crew at

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Science Meets Design Under the Manhattan Bridge

If the 20s were all about parties, the 30s are so far all about soirées. Don’t get me wrong, I still love a good hedonistic gathering, devoid of anything other than youthful celebration, but as I enter the second year of my 30s I crave a little more substantive return on my time and energy expenditure.

Enter the soirée. More than just a motley mish-mash of bobbing heads and grinding bodies, I’ve begun to take pride in organizing, smaller, more intimate gatherings. Whether it’s bringing together a few people that you think should meet, or creating a focused theme, it brings me great excitement to consider all of the possible serendipity that can emerge from the unpredictable encounters.

And so, as is customary on my NYC trips, I planned to organize a little soirée. This time I wanted to focus on making some good east coast connections for Syyn Labs, and so my favorite social roboticist and fellow Syyner, Heather Knight, introduced me to a Canadian data viz expert called Jer Thorpe. Jer is in town for a few months on business and rents a large, beautiful loft in Dumbo. More importantly he is a social character and was more than happy to host an informal, Sunday night soirée themed around ‘Science Meets Design’.

With only a day or two notice, we collectively invited around 20 interesting characters for cheese and wine at Jer’s warehouse space. As we entered the building, 4 people covered in paint exploded through the door, yelling “Paint fight on the roof!”. We slid past the dripping nut cases and deeper into the building, down corridors that faintly smelled like garbage while admiring the rugged, not-quite-legal charm that only a gritty warehouse like this can possess.

Jer led us into his loft which had an unparalleled view of the east river, and as people gathered, there were more than a few people who no one knew.

“Kevin invited us!” They said and then as an answer to our confused look: “You know, Kevin Balktick from unit 500. This is his place, right?”

And so it seemed like they’d ended up in the wrong place but as it turned out, the next door neighbor was having a party too. And guess what, it was a bunch of event engineers and creative types celebrating a recent project called the Lost Horizon Night Market that included installations inside a bunch of parked box cars. So we just opened our doors and combined our parties and everyone left with a whole bunch of new friends.

Aaah, the joy of the unpredictable, alive and well in NYC!

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Sunset Dualism on the Brooklyn Waterfront

I arrived in NYC late last night, welcomed by my wonderfully eccentric friend David Friedlander, founder of the LucidNYC monthly salons.

Today we went for a sunset walk up to Dumbo, via the scenic waterfront of Brooklyn Heights. As always, our conversation turned to consciousness and techniques for achieving contentedness within – and furthermore what is needed to propagate well being throughout the world.

I can’t help but see humans as fallible bags of meat. Sad but true. Well meaning as they often may be, we just keep making a mess of things. Wars, religious turmoil, environmental destruction – All around are the symptoms of our cancerous existence wrought on ourselves, each other and the planet at large. But I like to think we’re trying to get better 😉

How do we get better? Lead by example? Sure! Spread the good word? Sure! But even if successful, how can we ensure we don’t just keep repeating the same destructive loops as history has shown? I like to think we have more knowledge and abilities at our fingertips than ever, but is it possible to really make significant change – and stick to it? And what is technologies role in helping us live a more happy, present life? Perhaps we, aware of the limits of our own perception, have been creating this extra sense for ourselves to mitigate our own fallibility?

David does not agree: past, present and future – all we’ve ever had is this present moment. This is all there is and as soon as you think it should be different you’re propagating the problem. You’re being dualistic and dualism is always problematic.

“You sound like Kurzweil, and like him, your frustration with the world is the frustration with yourself.”

I understand his theory, that we need to find the solution within, and try to share our experiences with others, as a means to perhaps lead them towards their own defining experiences.

But I refute the assumption that technology has no part to play. Better communication and facilitating the spread of ideas more than ever before are just a few of the benefits. The word itself, while just a representation of the real meaning – is a tool we created to more effectively spreading ideas.

Sure technology might not he all the answers, but it’s a great tool we have in our arsenal, not to be denied.

“Where do you write all your ideas and experiences down, David?” I asked as we parted ways.

On my blog.” he replies 😉

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The Lesson of the Corn

In my haste to cleanup before leaving the farm, I dropped the corn. In my earlier days as a child and young adult I would have probably been angry, either with the corn, or more likely with myself.

But these days, especially after becoming more aware of my blind reactions through Vipassana mediation, not only do I not cast blame, but instead smile to myself and admire the beautiful piece of floor art I created.

Gallery worthy!

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Rather Ingenious Art: A Tool to Deceive and Slaughter (2009) – Caleb Larsen


My cousin Gilles brought this to my attention when he asked: How can a static sculpture be dynamic?

“You can buy it (right now) on eBay. This (unique) gloss black cube is designed to be plugged in and given an internet connection by its new owner. Upon being plugged in, it will immediately attempt to resell itself on ebay… and IF the artwork succeeds in selling itself, the collector must ship it to the next purchaser… AND pay the artist 15% of the appreciated value. The buyer’s agreement is long but amusing.”
From the FAQ…
Q: If I were to buy this, how long could I expect to own it before it sells itself again?

A: It is hard to say. Like any commodity it is subject to demand. It could be moments or years. The perpetual state of uncertainty and the instability of ownership are primary components of the work.

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A Crisp Morning on the Farm

Each month I drive about four hours north of LA, past Fresno and through a little town called North Fork. Hidden just beyond the town, where the Fire Station is also it’s library, is an organic farm that I was lucky enough to encounter in early 2010. Volunteers, also known as WWOOFers (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), come to the farm to help plant, harvest and provide general maintenance to the family that lives there.

When the intensity of LA life builds, i find it deeply therapeutic to get a little slice of nature in order to balance it out. Inevitably, after a few days of quietness, the mind calms down and I feel my creativity become more focused.

Some mornings are grey and cold – but today was bright and sun lit as I walked at 7:45am to meet the WWOOFers for the morning brief. What would it be today? Harvesting tomatoes? Gathering leafy greens? Stocking the community store in North Fork?

Whatever the morning’s tasks entail, it will no doubt be rewarded with a grand home cooked meal and an afternoon of solitude and writing. While the world hustles, I know I’m missing out on business opportunities, sexy parties and other social events, and at the same time I’m missing out on nothing; as long as I am fully aware in the present moment then I am a complete being, content and balanced.

Weeding the carrots? What a perfect way to start the day.

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Grey Skies over the Sierras


…robe and slippers necessary! Below: The cliff side tree outside my studio…
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Syyn Labs Presents: A Night of Syyn


Syyn Labs invites you to join us at our new warehouse space near downtown LA for a night of interactive art, DJs and VJs. We’ll be going from 9pm until late – drinks provided. More details at


Invite your friends via our Facebook event and we hope to see you here on the 6th!


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