Category Archives: Activities

Opposable Thumbs Episode 1

The excellent Rob Ray and I have started a podcast called Opposable Thumbs. I used to organize art events with Rob in Chicago some years ago, and I’ve been itching to work with him again ever since he escaped to LA.

OT is a biweekly creative exercise where Rob and I invite a guest to set some sort of design challenge. Next, the three of us each make something based on that prompt, then Skype in to talk about our successes and failures. The first episode is out now! Here’s a preview of my project:


Prompt: Paper Clip & 2×4

In this episode I create a diegetic prototype that recruits material “flaws” (such as the knot above) to act as touch sensors. The paperclip or other wire is embedded in the wood and attached to two pins on the Arduino. Add a 1M resistor or greater and use the source code below. Right now we’re just blinking an LED, but that’s how all great things start… Please download, remix, and send me photos or video of your implementation!


Raspberry Pi + Thermal Printer


I’m looking at doing some experimentation with thermal printing, using the same type of device that prints point-of-sale receipts. I found the Adafruit tutorials to be a little incomplete, so here’s how I got my printer up and running.

  1. Download the full version of Raspbian Jessie (Lite will not work).
  2. Open the terminal and type   tar xzvf /path/to/your/file/ (the file is too big to unzip by double-clicking in OSX).
  3. Use ApplePi-Baker to transfer the .img to an SD card (I couldn’t get the official terminal method to work).
  4. Boot up the Pi and follow these instructions.
  5. Connect the printer to a 5V power source. I could only get it to work with a 10A supply, which is rated far above the 2A that the Adafruit tutorial calls for. You can test the printer by holding down the button near the power LED and then turning on the power.
  6. Wire up the printer data lines to the Pi’s GPIO pins. If you use a Pi rev1 like I did, you want pins 6, 8, and 10. Note that the RX and TX lines cross between the Pi and the printer.
  7. If you get a permissions error at the end of the Adafruit tutorial, open the terminal and type  sudo usermod -a -G lpadmin pi (source).
  8. Finish up with these steps for network printing (optional).


Sterling Silver at Shapeways

I’m working on a new version of Controlled Feeding Status that will be cast in sterling silver! First test “print” just arrived and is looking hot. Next up: soldering and refinishing.

CAA 2017, NYC

I’ll be delivering a paper on Saturday, February 18, as part of a panel called Making Objects Speak: Speculative Design, Critical Making, and the Internet of Things.

Call for papers @ FATE 2017

fate2017FATE (Foundations in Art: Theory and Education) 16th Biennial Conference
Hosted by the KCAI (Kansas City Art Institute) Foundations Department
April 6-8, 2017

FATE is a national association dedicated to the promotion of excellence in the development and teaching of college-level foundation courses. A full list of sessions for the 2017 conference can be found here.

With the conference theme “To the Core and Beyond” in mind, session chairs Tom Burtonwood (The School of the Art Institute of Chicago) and Taylor Hokanson (Columbia College Chicago) seek abstracts from educators who promote digital fabrication in foundations level courses and beyond. This session invites papers addressing best practices for introducing, integrating and establishing digital fabrication into the art and design foundations curriculum, especially research that addresses experimental materials and collapses boundaries between disciplines. We aim to facilitate debate around a set of tools that is growing more common in our field. How have a few years of access to the technology changed how and what you teach on the subject?

Possible topics to explore:

  • Do you regard 3D printing technology/processes as equivalent to or fundamentally different from more familiar shop resources?
  • How do you address a potentially steep learning curve while avoiding easy introductory projects (keychains, etc.)?
  • What software/hardware do you use and why?
  • Where do you fall along the professional equipment/DIY tool spectrum?
  • Have you had the technology long enough for students to get four years of access? What effect did this have on their work?

To apply, please fill out this form, then email the following to and by Friday, July 15.

  • CV
  • paper title
  • paper abstract (200 words max)
  • name, contact information & cv of any co-presenter (if applicable)

Seeed GPRS v2 in Hong Kong?

It’s the classic new media problem: you’ve got a cool show abroad, but will all your technology still work over there? I need to determine whether this board and this SIM card will be compatible in Hong Kong. This page suggests that 2G (a limit presented by the board) is still available in Hong Kong, and that the 900 band is still active. I suppose my fallback will be purchasing SIM cards when I arrive, but I’d like to avoid that. It may be cheaper, however, so maybe I’ll try both.

ThreeYearContract accepted @ ISEA Hong Kong


The title says it all! Track the project progress here if you want all the code/schematics. Here’s more info about the show.

Adding IR LEDs to an RPi Noir Cam (WIP)

A little research online seems to indicate the potential for IR LEDs to damage eyesight. Perhaps this is the tinfoil hat squad talking, but I don’t want to take chances with my kid’s eyesight. Thus, we need to wire/program the pi so that it only flips the IR array on during active recording.

A little poking around revealed that the status of the camera (“ready” or “halted”) is held at /var/www/status_mjpeg.txt . I created a simple python script in the same directory called

Lastly, edit /etc/rc.local  with nano to include  python /var/www/  somewhere before exit 0 . That will cause the script to run on startup.

Next up: connect pin 7 to a transistor so that it can control an IR array!


Multimeter Usage for Artists

Somehow I’ve managed to make it ~15 years without really understanding the multiple lead ports found on a standard multimeter. At a bare minimum you’ll see COM, V/Ω, and A. COM is the easy one, as this is always attached to the black lead. I’ve always used my meter to sense voltage and/or resistance, so I’ve never connected the red lead to A.

I learned my lesson today when I grabbed a random meter from the lab at school. Someone had been noodling with the lead attachment, so COM and A were connected. When I tried to test AC voltage coming out of the wall, I got a big spark and fried the extension cord I was testing. This happened even though I had the dial set to the correct AC range.

So what happened? I found it difficult to track down the answer online, but I finally came up with this page. Near the bottom you’ll see an image that describes what I did:


Sensing current (A) requires that the meter provide no or very low resistance. Makes sense – if the meter introduced resistance, you wouldn’t get an accurate current reading. This feature can also be dangerous; turn the dial back to V/Ω, but forget to use the correct lead ports, and you’ll short the circuit through the meter. Many meters have safety features to help remind you not to do this, but cheap meters lack these fail safes. Fair warning!

6040 Progress

Just pushed some big updates to Github, where I’m tracking the process of getting a Chinese 6040 mill up and running. Check it out and participate if you’re interested.