Magnetotron Featured on MAKE and Hackaday

So the folks at MAKE did an awesome profile of me and my Magnetotron, plus I just found out that Hackaday featured it as well. Very excited here in NYC.

BTW, if anyone's interested in the Magnetotron, I'm accepting offers for its sale. Email me - colombo.michael [at]
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Magnetotron World Debut

I performed with the Magnetotron, my cassette tape-based instrument, at the ITP NIME show at Cameo Gallery in Brooklyn on 12/11. Accompanying me on bass is Kevin Bleich, and Justin Storer on drums.

It was a great time - special thanks to my fellow musicians and the videographers Alex Kozovski, Roopa Vasudevan, and Rose Schlossberg.

Spines of Theses' Past

Spines of Theses' Past

Over the summer I worked at ITP, and one of the jobs I had was to help in scanning every single thesis in ITP's archive from the past thirty years.

Papers had to be taken out of folders, binders, and bindings.

Unfortunately some of the theses were professionally bound, which would have meant scanning each page individually rather than running them through the automatic tray.

I found a solution to this by cutting off the spines of every thesis on the bandsaw. I amassed quite the collection of spines so turned them into an art piece.

My Blue Sculpture

To those paying attention, I took a mixed media sculpture course in the fine arts department at NYU. It was a lovely time that got me out of my comfort zone. As a musician-turned-builder I never thought of design as a crucial component in my work. Since taking that class I've learned all about presentation and context that now informs my work.

Anyway, here a couple of pics from that course. The assignment was "something blue" so I raided my junk box for all that seemed to fit, then pieced it all together. I hope you enjoy.

blue sculpture

blue sculpture

Presenting the Magnetotron

As many of you know, I'm a big fan of old media, especially audio cassette tapes. This will be the realization of an idea I've had for a while, which is to make a musical instrument using tape. A rotating cylinder containing strips of tape with different tones on them will be played by tape heads attached to my fingers. Check out my NIME proposal on Prezi and this nifty hand-drawn pic of the concept.
magnetotron sketch
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Eight Games of Tetris at the Same Time

OctoTetrimino by PushTheOtherButton
A generative piece consisting of eight 2:00 games of Battle Tetris that are perfectly synched. The general strategy of the player dictates the rising and falling action of the piece.

Variable DC Power Supply

I completed this project for Eric Rosenthal's Basic Analog Circuits class. It was an exercise in point-to-point soldering, but after completion I decided to build an enclosure for it with a voltmeter I bought from Adafruit Industries.

You can also see a complete post and tutorial on my blog post at MAKE: Magazine

Retro-Reflective Flashlight Tag Variant

Flashlight Tag Timelapse
This is a variant of flashlight tag that I originally developed with Eszter Ozsvald for the Big Games class at ITP. It stemmed from the frustration of trying to play flashlight tag as a kid. There was no way to reliably verify that someone had been tagged. This changes that.
Flashlight Tag Armbands
We used iron-on retroreflective material to create velcro letters that stick to the players' arm bands. Each player picks out letters to spell a word and put it on his/her arm and then run off into the darkness before the game starts. Once the game starts, the object is to shine your flashlight on your opponent's word. If you can spot it and yell out their word, then they're out!
Explaining Flashlight Tag to Campers
I play-tested the game this past August with around 20 campers at Frost Valley YMCA in the Catskills. Not only did they enjoy playing it, but we even collectively came up with some interesting and successful game variants. I'm planning on presenting the game to the Northeast YMCA Directors' Conference in January (also being held at Frost Valley).

Modular Scrap Metal Percussion Instrument

The first assignment for my class "New Interfaces in Musical Expression" was to build an instrument in one week and perform a one-minute performance using it in class.

I based the instrument on a solid steel piece of aircraft surplus I picked up at the Pratt and Whitney Surplus Store. This piece made an appearance in another work of mine, the Fruit Powered Sound Generator. What can I say, its become a favorite.
Modular Scrap Metal Percussion Instrument
The piece has two rows of machined screw holes. I taped a contact mic to it and just started screwing in parts from my scrap metal bin. After some experimentation, I found that I was able to get a few tonal sounds, and some interesting percussive sounds from the instrument. I hooked the whole thing through a distortion to give it a bit more industrial grit, then a delay pedal set to a long delay time. It was fun to do, and could be interesting in the future because I could swap out parts depending on the type of sound I want.

Flexible Venn Diagram Crowdsources Comparative Relationships

Flexible Venn Diagram
Flexible Venn Diagram
Flexible Venn Diagram

This was a quick project, borne out of a piece of scrap MDF left over from someone's laser cutter project. The circles were joined just so to make a venn diagram, and sized perfectly for post-it notes. The idea came as soon as I picked the piece up. As you can see, over the three weeks it remained up on the ITP floor it was used quite a bit, often with quite hilarious results.

Lamp Painted Honda Glacier Blue

Lamp Painted to Match my Honda
Since my wife and I moved back to New York City after a two year stint in upstate New York, we quickly found it difficult and impractical to hang on to our 2008 Honda CRV with the Glacier Blue finish.

The car, which brought us on an epic cross-country trip in 2009 (during which I proposed to her in Albuquerque) was recently sold. But I plum forgot to give the buyer my touch-up paint kit.

During an aimless drive through Putnam County once, I salvaged an interesting looking lamp with a dated color scheme - natural wood and brass. I just got around to revamping it with the chrome and glacier blue theme of the Honda. It's fitting that it should bear the colors of the vehicle with which it was discovered. I'm quite pleased.

How To Build a Loft Bed

When my wife and I moved back to NYC last year, our new apartment was still packed to the gills despite some significant downsizing. Since we moved into a turn-of-the-century brownstone in Brooklyn with high ceilings, a loft bed with plenty of storage space seemed ideal. After our wedding, we promised to treat ourselves to a brand new queen-sized tempurpedic mattress.

The hunt was on, but after some local inquiries, we discovered that major furniture stores simply don't carry queen-sized loft beds. They can be special-ordered, but only at great expense. The more I looked at pictures online of loft beds, the more confident I was that I could design and build one myself. Soon I found myself designing what would become the largest and heaviest object I had ever built (and one that had to be sturdy enough to hold two adults and three cats for several hours at a time).

I erred on the safe side, and overbuilt the heck out of it. I planned on using 2x6's and 2x4s for the framing, and plywood for the mattress platform, and put together with bolts, nuts, and washers.

My father and grandfather both spent time as draftsmen at some point in their careers, so I suddenly found myself with a board set up with graph paper, meticulously laying the bed out to scale in three dimensions.

The construction itself took a lot more time and effort than I anticipated (this is always the case), especially hoisting the heavy bedframe up onto its 5.5 foot tall legs.
2011-07-02 21.51.25

In the end it worked out wonderfully - sturdy, clean, with about 160 cubic feet of storage space!
2011-07-02 21.51.02

This past month we moved yet again, so I broke the bed down into pieces the movers could handle. Since our new place has lower ceilings, and we've downsized even more in the past year, I chopped the legs down to a more reasonable height. It still has plenty of space underneath, but climbing into bed isn't as much of an ordeal.

Enjoy this stop motion video I took of the bed's reconstruction. It was hot as the dickens while I was doing it, and I was a bit reticent about putting a video up of me in shorts and an undershirt. But then I read this article about ITP students vs. MIT Media Lab students and figured f*ck it. Enjoy!

The song accompanying the video above is called "Green Thumb" written by the lovely Ann Courtney (now frontwoman of the band Mother Feather). I helped arrange and engineer this tune in 2005.
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I Circuit Bent the Hangout Feature In Google+

I'm definitely a big fan of Google+ so far, and yesterday a group of friends and I decided to use it's "Hangout" video chat feature. We thought it would be fun to keep adding more users to find the breaking point.

I think it was after getting 9 people simultaneously video-chatting that the app froze on my Macbook. I refreshed it, and this is what I saw and heard - a tableau of blank faces with soundtrack that sounded like R2D2 with a head cold. I did not know software could be circuit bent, or unintentionally datamoshed. I recorded the sound with my cell phone and did a screen shot of the page, so this fairly accurately recreates what was going on. Enjoy!

Vintage Macintosh Mouse Case Mod

Vintage Macintosh Mouse Case Mod
When I was a kid I had one of the first Macintosh computers (you remember, the ones that looked like big cinder blocks.) To this day I love the classic styling of the original mac mouse. I happened to still have one, and recently modded it to accept USB compatible optical components while being virtually indistinguishable from its original design. I'm happy to say it works perfectly, and now I'm the envy of all my local geeks and hipsters.
Vintage Macintosh Mouse Case Mod
Vintage Macintosh Mouse Case Mod
The first attempt at the mod was with this microsoft optical mouse. I had it on hand, and it looked like I could hack it to make it fit. Though in order to do this, I had to saw off the front part of the MS PC Board that contained the buttons and scroll wheel.
Vintage Macintosh Mouse Case Mod
Vintage Macintosh Mouse Case Mod
This didn't seem to be a problem at first, because there were no other essential components in the part I was planning on cutting off. Also, I would only be needing one button since I wasn't interested in modifying the external functionality of the mouse (some people have tried this with IMHO hideous results).
I tested the IC with some wire probes, and found which pins controlled the left-click. My plan was to break these out and fabricate a new mount for the button. This would've been fairly labor-intensive, not to mention that because of space constraints, it would put the button smack on top of the IC.
Vintage Macintosh Mouse Case Mod
I fiddled around with the configuration and tried drawing up a jig to make it work, but decided to scrap the idea and shelved the project for a while.
Vintage Macintosh Mouse Case Mod
When I decided to come back to it, I tossed the Microsoft mouse and went for a Macintosh ProMouse instead. When I opened it up I could tell right away it was going to be easier. The PCB fit into the vintage mouse with just some minimal trimming, and the click button was mounted smack in the middle. It was even the same make and similar type switch as the old mouse. You could tell these two mice were part of the same lineage. It was actually a bit eerie.
Vintage Macintosh Mouse Case Mod
Vintage Macintosh Mouse Case Mod
Vintage Macintosh Mouse Case Mod
I traced out the footprint of the ProMouse and cut the silhouette out of the vintage mouse with a dremel. I popped it into the spot with epoxy, waited for it to dry, then sanded the whole bottom flush.
Vintage Macintosh Mouse Case Mod
Through trial and error, I mocked up a button assembly that would mate well with the switch on the ProMouse's PCB. Once I found a hot-glue prototype I was happy with, I took it apart and reglued with JB Weld.
Vintage Macintosh Mouse Case Mod
The last step was splicing open the rubber piece the cord fits into. Once done, I hot glued the new USB cord in place.
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Building a Telepresence Rig at ITP

For the next two months I'll be working at NYU's ITP as shop and equipment room staff. It's a great gig because I can be within my grad school community, and even get some of my own work done when there's not much going on.

But sometimes I'm asked to do an odd project, and the other day I was given a fun task - rig up a telepresence station in an afternoon. We had the camera already to go, so this was a pure construction job.

Full-time staff member Marlon and I slapped together a bunch of speed rail onto a chair, and secured it from beneath by sandwiching some flat plates together.

All in all it was a quick but satisfying build. The 360 degree, remote controlled camera floated at head height in the chair, and the addition of a Domo head made it seem like it was just another day at the office for Bob.

Afternoon Project: Telepresence System

Afternoon Project: Telepresence System

Scrapwood Box, String, and Text: "Provenance"

A couple of months I covered the construction of a scrapwood box I've been using to keep materials in. The hacked together look made it an oddity amongst my other functional furniture pieces I've made before.

It occurred to me to turn it into a piece of artwork because I've been investigating this connection between the inherent intrigue in an apparatus that's idiosyncratically constructed for something purely functional or whimsical. Exposing the parts, accentuating ugliness, has been something I've been pushing more and more in my work.

To go even a step further with this, I catalogued the story of every single piece of wood I used in the box. It turns out they fell into groupings because they were scrap pieces from several different projects I've worked on. I mapped all of the pieces into short descriptions on paper by tacking strings from each piece to it's corresponding story. Thus when looking at the piece, one can learn the provenance of each component that went into it.


The Best Way to Store Rolls of Tape

Whether it's Duct, Gaff, Packing, Electrical, Masking, Painter's, or any other tape roll under the sun, the easiest way to keep them is on a loop of rope with a clasp or carabiner on one end.

The best way to store rolls of tape

Just like using the right tool for the job, using the right tape is also essential. There are folks who are in the cult of duct tape, but frankly, it's comparatively expensive and in many cases there's a tape that can do a better job. Keep them all together in the way I've shown, and get familiar with which one is right for the job.

I learned this little trick when I worked briefly in film production. I didn't see it being used anywhere outside that field, until I met my classmate Luis Violante. I asked him where he learned to do that and he said "oh...when I worked in production." Go figure.

"Fruit Powered" Sound Sculpture

This was constructed from an obscure piece of aeronautical hardware I procured at the Pratt and Whitney Surplus Store in Hartford CT. I snaked stainless steel wire from it to act as resonators. Then at key points I installed piezo transducers. At the center the stainless steel wires stab into a banana and a pear. The whole works sits atop a speaker that the transducers constantly feed back.

Standing waves appear on the floor surrounding the piece and viewers' position and footsteps alter the resulting drone.

Welding for the First Time

This semester I've had the privilege of studying sculpture in a studio setting with Beverly Semmes and her students at NYU's Barney Building. A perk of being in the class has been gaining access to the school's wood and metal shop.

Today I met Gustavo Velasquez, a sculptor and professor at the Steinhardt School. He taught me the ins and outs of the shop, as well as how to use all the equipment safely. He seemed relieved when I told him I had experience in building and fabrication - he just needed to fill in some gaps.

Luckily, the bulk of my time with him was spent in learning how to MIG weld - something I've never done before. From what I learned, timing is everything in this craft. Make a zig zag bead at just the right pace, and you've got yourself a good weld. Varying the rate at which the welding rod comes out makes a big difference.

One of the strangest things to get used to was that moment between flipping the welding hood down and actually beginning to weld. Until that bright tip glowed, I was essentially blind. Like Luke Skywalker, I had to "use the force" and trust I was hitting the right spot, making sure to line it up properly beforehand.

He set me up to get some practice in, and I must say that while my welds were still sloppy, they held up well. It's only a matter of time and practice before I really get the hang of it. Here's the first piece I did:
My first Welding Project

Making Candles from Scrap Wax

Some of you may remember how my wife Melody and I had to scrape through 4 days without electricity last winter when we lived in our cottage.

Of course we busted out every last candle in the house and used up nearly all of them too! As you know, sometimes candles come in a nice little all-encompassing jar that catches and burns nearly all the wax. Then there are others that don't have receptacles, and can end up making an unholy mess, terminating their lives as frozen, gelatinous blobs that get tossed in the trash.

I've hung on to all that leftover wax and recently melted it all down to make a new candle with it!

Here's the scrap wax I started with.
Making a Candle from Scrap Wax

Then I put it all in a standard aluminum can and set it on the stove to melt.
Making a Candle from Scrap Wax

I hung a piece of cotton string in the liquid wax.
Making a Candle from Scrap Wax

When it had solidified (this takes several hours) I cut the can open with a hacksaw.
Making a Candle from Scrap Wax

Now I have a beautiful, fragrant, candle!
Making a Candle from Scrap Wax

The Bounce Announce Automated Musical Instrument

This project completed as my final project for both Physical Computing and Introduction to Computational Media at ITP.

Briefly, ping pong balls roll down 4 individual tracks, and are launched at the bottom by solenoids. The solenoids are triggered rhythmically by an Arduino.

The ping pong balls bounce sequentially onto carefully placed musical instruments. On the instruments are several piezo-electric transducers that send serial data to Processing, which responds with a visualization scheme projected from above.

Here's a video documentation of the project. Enjoy!

Hacking Together a Scrapwood Box

I just can't stand to throw my scrapwood in the trash. Unfortunately, it tends to pile up after a while, and I'm forced to think of new ways to use it. As you may know, in the past I made scrapwood shelves that seemed to be a success, so this time I tried my hand at making a scrapwood box for holding some of my materials.

I had been using a cardboard box that was slowly disintegrating, so this was definitely a step up. Like scrapwood projects I've done before, I set myself some ground rules. I used all pieces of wood as I found them in my scrap bucket, no additional cuts were allowed, and the only fasteners I used were screws and nails.

It's great to not only have created something new, sturdy, and unique, but due to the scrapwood's involvement in prior projects, the box itself becomes a chronology of my own work. I can point to the black bottom and remember that it used to be part of my workbench, then became a TV stand, and finally was dismantled, with the tabletop becoming my drafting board.

Other pieces have stories too, and I'm reminded of them whenever I dig around in this box now.

Enjoy this time-lapse video of the build. The backing track is "A Scene Unseen" by Kinetic.


Apparatus As Art

While at NYU's ITP program, I'm given the opportunity to take classes outside my own program.

Given my recent penchant for construction and assemblage, I decided to enroll in a sculpture studio course at NYU's Steinhardt School.

Being in the mix with fine arts students has resulted in some interesting results and revelations.

For a recent assignment, I made a sculpture with a kinetic element, and asked the class to ignore the apparatus controlling the "artwork", as this was intended to be concealed in a final iteration.

During the crit the apparatus was all they could think about.

I'll reserve that day's piece for another blog post, but will show you the apparatus from it alongside two similar constructions from other projects. These were never intended to be artworks, but it seems that my most successful "art" comes when it is unintended as such.
Apparatus as Art

Fishing with Rare Earth Magnets

For Fun and Profit
Fishing with Rare Earth Magnets
In the Shop Vac.

Hardware Hacking for Zevs' "Hip to be Square"

Recently I completed a hardware hacking gig for the French street artist Zevs. He wanted to take an old school Sony Dream Machine clock radio and enable it to play "Hip to be Square" by Huey Lewis and the News at a greatly reduced speed. The piece premiered along with several other works last night at Gallery De Buck in New York City, as part of Zevs' "Liquidated Version" exhibition (running through April 7th).

I was excited to work on this project because it combined my skills as a musician, hardware hacking, fabrication, and electronics.

The piece needed to look exactly like a standard Sony Clock Radio, except for two small buttons in the back to control an mp3 player and FM transmitter. The big challenge was to neatly fit all the hardware into the enclosure and make the design robust enough that the piece could withstand travel and continuous use both in the gallery and by a potential buyer.

I considered saving space by using discrete electronics and circuit boards, but decided to forego this in favor of off-the-shelf components. I did this because I was working on a deadline, and was more confident in the fabrication skills it would take to make space in the enclosure than my electronics expertise.

It turns out the space was much tighter than I thought, so I had to remove a considerable amount of material with the Dremel. There was a lot of plastic in the trash by the end of this, and part of this process left a circuit board floating with no support, so I had to fabricate a new one and glue it to a sidewall.
Hardware Hacking for Zevs' "Hip to Be Square"

With this done I set about fitting in the components. I took the buttons from a similar clock and mounted them to the on/off switches of the mp3 player and FM transmitter, then drilled out holes for the buttons and LED indicators on the back plate of the clock.
Hardware Hacking for Zevs' "Hip to Be Square"
Hardware Hacking for Zevs' "Hip to Be Square"
Hardware Hacking for Zevs' "Hip to Be Square"

After mocking up and testing the electronics, with separate transformers for the clock, mp3 player, and FM transmitter, I carefully epoxied all the pieces in with JB Weld.
Hardware Hacking for Zevs' "Hip to be Square"
Hardware Hacking for Zevs' "Hip to Be Square"

To make everything fit, I had to do a lot of chores like making a custom USB cable to power the mp3 player, and hardwiring the power cord to the circuit board on the FM transmitter.
Hardware Hacking for Zevs' "Hip to Be Square"

I'm proud to say the artist was pleased with the results, and he called the piece the "cornerstone" of the exhibition.

More shots from the exhibition:
Zevs' Exhibition Opening at Gallery De Buck
Zevs' Exhibition Opening at Gallery De Buck
Zevs' Exhibition Opening at Gallery De Buck

Custom Ukulele and Alto Horn Stands

One thing I learned from my poppa about playing music was that if one wants to practice often, one needs an instrument that's readily accessible. He'd always keep his acoustic guitar next to the couch and play during commercials while he watched TV. Sometimes if he was really getting into something, the mute button would stay on for even longer.

Lately with my life's focus switching more to fabrication, art, and technology, music has taken quite a backseat. In fact, several days can go by now without me so much as touching a musical instrument.

Remember my Dad's tried and true technique, I decided to build stands for two of the instruments I'm most interested in right now: the ukulele, and the alto horn.

I welcomed the challenge of this build, but my main reason for undertaking was purely practical - ukulele and alto horn stands are a bit hard to come by.

So I rummaged through my junk boxes and found some parts that looked promising. The materials laid out below are CDs, an old outdoor lighting timer unit, desklamp hood, piece of stage PA hardware, brass streetlamp finial, part from a floodlight mount, and a cheap, old cymbal stand.

Alto Horn and Ukulele Stand

I ended up using most of these parts in the build, plus some others. Most notably, a 1950s era Ludwig Speed King kick drum pedal to hold the uke up at an angle.

Alto Horn and Ukulele Stand

Alto Horn and Ukulele Stand

Making a Mouthpiece Fit My Horn

Recently I made an exquisite trade through Craig's list - 5 beat up student violins and a student model trumpet, in exchange for a 90 year old Alto Horn. Since acquiring it I've played it a whole lot.

Playing the alto horn

The problem was, the mouthpiece that came with it was for a mellophone, which has a shaft size that's too small for the alto horn. I set about increasing the shaft size instead of holding it together with scotch tape.

First I covered the mouthpiece shaft with a liberal amount of JB-WELD. Initially I thought it would be possible to sand it down by hand to a cylindrical shape, but this proved to be difficult.

Thickening the Alto Horn (Mellophone) Mouthpiece Shaft

My next idea was to sand while it was turning, as on a lathe. This required finding just the right size bolt and nut to secure the mouthpiece, but once done I was able to mount it in my hand drill. which I then mounted in my bench vise.

Thickening the Alto Horn (Mellophone) Mouthpiece Shaft

Then it was just a matter of sanding it down while the drill ran. I'm quite happy with the results, and glad I didn't have to go out and buy a new mouthpiece.

Thickening the Alto Horn (Mellophone) Mouthpiece Shaft

Repairing a Vintage Hohner Harmonica Case

My Grandfather bought a Hohner Chromonika while serving in World War II (ironically, a German brand). When I was a child I had my own little blues harp, and seeing that I had an interest in it, he gave me his harmonica, in a lovely finger-jointed wood box.

Being a child at the time, I was a bit rough on the whole kit, and the box ended up broken with a couple of the pieces lost. I took the time recently to fabricate new finger-jointed pieces, and attach a new pair of hinges. Here's how the build went:


The Harmonica Case and the blank I cut from scrap stock.


I used the dremel to cut out the finger joints, after scrolling the existing joints on the box. Some adjustments were necessary to get a tight fit.


The joints were attached with wood glue, and clamped for drying.


I jacked these hinges off a box that I hardly use. They're pretty weathered, and a decent fit.



I'm happy with the results, and glad I was able to try this detail work with the dremel.

Sneak Peak of "Bounce Announce"

This is video taken by Jason Stephens at ITP this evening. The Bounce Announce project has legs, and it's taking it's first steps toward ping-pong musical madness. Enjoy this clip.


Workshop Tour

After a feverish build session on the "Bounce Announce" project, I trashed the workshop and re-organized in the aftermath. This is probably the cleanest it's going to get for months, so I decided to document it.

The "Bounce Announce" instrument will be completed by Sunday, at which time I will post video of it in action. If you'd like to see it (and lots of other awesome projects) live, make sure to go to the ITP Winter Show.
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"Bounce Announce" Visualization Element

I've decided to take the Bounce Announce project and add visualization to it utilizing piezo sensors and processing. Every instrument will have a piezo trigger attached to it, that will be processed by Arduino and fed to a Processing visualization sketch.

On a projected backdrop, the effect should appear to be differently colored expanding concentric circles that originate from each impact point.

bounce announce visualization

Hooking an Electric Fence into an LCD Monitor

I found this half-dismantled LCD monitor o the junk shelf, and grabbed it because it looked pretty. After reading up on LCDs a bit, I had the notion that sending voltage through it might make for some interesting effects.

Since I've moved out of the country and don't have any use for my electric fence controller anymore, I hooked the thing up to the LCD and backlit. Just look at the trippy results.


"What's New at ITP" at the 10th annual Dust or Magic Conference

I had such a great time at Dust or Magic this year, and was so glad to be able to show the attendees what is being done at ITP in the field of Children's Interactive Media. A video of my talk is below.


My Thoughts About Facebook (For the Naysayers)

I've gotten rewarding freelance work through facebook referrals. I learned about, and conversed with, my future classmates over the summer before graduate school began this past September. Facebook gives me a way (and a reason) to communicate in a casual manner with folks I wouldn't otherwise keep in touch with. It's a great way to warm up a prospective client without resorting to a "pitch letter".

Facebook is a "take it or leave it" communication network. If I receive an unwanted email from someone I know, I'll either feel obligated to respond to it (which wastes everyone's time) or ignore it (which causes resentment). Facebook transfers the power from the sender to the receiver, making everyone benefit. If a status update starts an interesting thread, then YAY! If not, no big deal.

Facebook helps me realize which social groups are interested in what things. For instance, if I post an update about food, there's a nearly universal response. If I post about hacking my 1st gen Macintosh mouse to accept USB, I'll probably get comments mostly from other people in my (super geeky) graduate and a smattering of other friends.

Facebook creates connections I didn't know existed, and organizes my contacts into a system that makes sense. I've always been amazed at the handful of times when I've discovered that friends from completely different social circles have a friend in common with each other. You know, the whole "six degrees, small world after all" stuff. It's great!

Eventually, Facebook will no doubt become a historic "document" with countless future benefits. I can imagine retiring someday and going through the archives for source material when writing my memoirs or biography. All sorts of other applications will surely coalesce - ethnographies, trend-tracking...all kinds of stuff.

I (and quite a few other people) probably update my status around once every other day. Imagine if you started emailing everyone in your address book every other day. You'd be labeled a spammer so quickly your head would spin.

Facebook serves a purpose, however flawed it may be (500,000,000 is a lot to manage).

It's a series of tubes.

Test Audio/Video for the "Bounce Announce" Audio Installation

I'll soon be building a sound installation consisting of several hundred (ping pong?) balls in a series of hopper assemblages. At the bottom of each hopper will be a feed tube with solenoids at the end. The solenoids will be triggered by Arduino, and pop out the ping pong balls at prescribed times.

The ping pong balls will bounce sequentially onto carefully placed musical instruments on the floor below, before finally coming to a rest in a cushioned collection area.

The Arduino will be communicating via midi on the computer, and following instructions from a pre-conceived score written specifically for the installation.

Video below is of balls bouncing onto different combinations of instruments, to give an idea of the "Bounce Announce" setup.

Below this is audio I captured from the above video, in layered form, to give an idea of the possibilities of the installation. The final product will hopefully be much wider in scope, with perhaps a dozen solenoids with corresponding instrument arrays.

Bounce Announce Test 1 by PushTheOtherButton

Scrap Wood Shelves Featured in Stop Motion Animation

Last week, my classmate Will Jennings and I created this whimsical stop motion video at ITP using my scrapwood shelves, and their assorted corresponding knick-knacks. We created it using IStopMotion, which is a fantastic program if you're looking to do that sort of thing. Enjoy!

Pez ZomBie from William Jennings on Vimeo.

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Tapescape and Tapelake - 2 Cassette-Based Robots Meet for the First Time

At Maker Faire last week, my booth had the TapeScape robot on display (which I made with Ilan Schifter - made almost completely out of a tape deck, broadcasting the sound from the "scape" of "tape" it would roll over), prompting several people to mention that there was a very similar robot inside the Queens Hall of Science.

I had to check it out for myself, and had the pleasure of meeting Dan Perrone. His project is not only very similar to TapeScape in it's design and action, but has quite a similar name: TapeLake.

It turns out that we developed our projects independently of each other, but came to similar conclusions, and are both Brooklyn residents. As Dan said "We're all the same fleas on different dogs."

See video below of our encounter:


Maker Faire Day 2 - Moonisphere is Too Big to Fail

Recycled Cardboard Moonisphere Under Construction

After a sweltering day building the Moonisphere on day one, so far we have merely a Moonicircle, but fear not! We were able to do a lot of prep work in the shade, cutting massive amounts of cardboard into appropriately sized strips to lay down.

Once the framework is made, we'll cut slots with a jigsaw, and fit it all together like an old-fashioned barn raising.

The crew from the New York Hall of Science has been great at redirecting all of their waste cardboard to our pile, and there will be plenty of cardboard from wolphram-alpha swag integrated into the Moonisphere.

If you find yourself passing by our tent, give a hand in constructing a wicked cool piece of temporary art! We're right by the 3d printers at Maker Faire, all day today.

Moonisphere Rising

Contrary to popular belief, the moon (at least for one weekend) is not made of cheese...

Makings of the Moonisphere

The Moonisphere build begins today at Maker Faire.

Wedding Ring Geek Out

At ITP I have already met many kindred spirits, one of whom is Nelson Ramon, a longboarding, computer hacking, Colombian uber-geek. This is a photo of him, doing what he does:
Nelson Ramon
He congratulated me on my recent wedding, and it turns out that he also got hitched just a couple of months ago. So of course, we compared wedding rings. I explained that mine was hand-hammered out of titanium by a local artist and New School professor, Paul DeBlassie. But I knew I had been bested when he showed me his white gold ring, also handmade, but with his anniversary engraved on the inside in binary!!! I definitely lost that geek fight, but am proud to have been there. Congratulations Ramon!
Colombo - Nelson Ring Comparison

Fantasy Project - Junk Pedal Scrambler!

Lots of guitarists collect effects pedals, and lots of effects pedals end up being set aside, never to be seen again in a guitarist's rigs. This invention aims to take advantage of that trend. It consists of a series of effects loops that are cycled through sequentially, with each loop having controls for clean/effected blend, and on/off - each loop can contain one or more effects pedals, the rate at which they cycle through can be varied by a knob, and the overall blend between clean signal and effected signal can also be adjusted.

I really want to make a prototype of this, but do not have the skills to do it. Here's a mock-up.
Junk Pedal Scrambler

On a Rocketship to WhoKnowsWhere

On September 4th I was married to my lovely gal, Melody - twas an amazing DIY wedding with mismatched dinnerware, handmade papergoods, and an ass-kicking crowdsourced band. Once all the photos and video are in I will dedicate an entire post to it.

I am keeping a project blog of my work at ITP here if any of you are interested.

3 days later, I started grad school at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program. My first class was a lecture hosted by the founder of ITP, Red Burns. Our first speaking guest was legendary performance artist Vito Acconci, who spoke right after I found out I was chosen to be in the first group for the following week's presentation, which would be a "reaction" to Vito's talk.

I became intensely close with the members of my group, and over 50 hours of work within one week's time, we conceived and presented this piece: a 40x50 foot sheet of clear plastic was pulled over the entire audience, and text of some of our most personal and controversial opinions were rear-projected onto the sheet. With the screen being wavy and up-close, the audience had to cooperate with each other in order to decipher what was written, and in so doing have a moment in the present with each other. Following this, we asked each audience member to write down a personal/controversial sentence of their own and stick it to the sheet. The sheet was pulled off and onto the stage, where I read several of the audiences' sentences aloud. Then we bunched up the sheet and carried it off stage. Afterwards Red said "this group set the bar very high." I must admit we were unsure whether this would be pulled off, but in the end it worked wonderfully. Pic by Becky Kazansky by and video by Matthew Rader below:


My Studio in the Throes of Music Production

As some of you may know, I am a musician when I'm not being a geek. I played for many years in New York City with lots of different groups, mainly the band Kinetic.

I was recently hired to write and compose music for a video game that's in development, so it was time to convert what is normally my hacker studio into my music studio.

I work fast and messy, so here are some pics of my 20 hour audio tirade. Funny how after all that, you can still see tools and materials poking out of the shadows...

The Studio in the Throes of Production
The Studio in the Throes of Production
The Studio in the Throes of Production
The Studio in the Throes of Production
The Studio in the Throes of Production
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Mighty Cat Scratching Post

Mister Blackie Tests the Scratching Post
I've been a cat owner for a while, and (through research and patience) have found the solution to keeping feline friends from ripping apart my couch.

Half the battle is in giving your cats a sturdy scratching post - nice and tall so they can stretch out, bottom heavy so it won't tip over, and made of something they can dig into, like sisal hemp.

I saw the opportunity to build these when visiting the Tilly Foster Farm in Brewster NY, where they happened to be demoing a host of antique farm equipment engines. One of the exhibits was a working 2 horsepower dragsaw, slicing cookies off a giant tree limb. The owner was letting people take the cookies for free, so I helped myself to two.

These became the bases for my mammoth scratching posts.

First I drilled out and cut a nice big circular hole in the center using my jigsaw.
Mighty Cat Scratching Post

Then I traced an identical circular piece out of plywood, with which I could attach the actual post (2x4s with the corners cut, then wrapped and stapled with 1/2" sisal rope) with screws. Once done, I drilled some nice beefy screws diagonally into the piece of tree limb to keep it steady, making sure to countersink the screws and fill in all the gaps with my homemade wood filler (screened sawdust and wood glue).
Mighty Cat Scratching Post

Next I thought up a novel way to make the tops of the post look nice, because they had just the end strand of the sisal stapled to the top - not too aesthetically pleasing and not too pleasant for cats either. So I found a smaller branch that was the same diameter, and cut it to size, making sure to make a crevice for the sisal to sit (first sketched out with a sharpie, then routed out with a spade bit and a rasp bit)
Mighty Cat Scratching Post
Mighty Cat Scratching Post

Liked it so much I built another!
Mighty Cat Scratching Post

Frankenstein Guitar Amplifier Build

I'm moving from the country to the city soon, and have been making a steady attempt to consolidate and downsize beforehand.

I've had several dead and dying guitar amplifiers in my workshop for quite some time, and I had ruminated enough on how I was going to hack them all together into something unique. So, check out the pic and video of it below, and be sure to read the
instructable for some more detail about how this was all done.

Frankenstein Guitar Amp Build

Frankenstein Guitar Amp Build - More DIY How To Projects
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