Category Archives: Projects

OpenKnit build underway

Dieter Kirkwood and I are building an OpenKnit this summer with financial support from Columbia College Chicago.  OpenKnit is an awesome open-source project with a really generous instigator, so we’ve been emailing back and forth with project leader Gerard in Madrid to get things off the ground.  We’ll be converting the BOM for Americans, making design improvements, and having a good time.  All the data we generate will be redistributed online.

Fun fact!  Gerard initially got a takedown notice for the video above because his project documentation included visible commercial logos.  He contested and the video was restored.  Fight the power!

SHKB v3 tech notes

Older versions of SHKB were dependent on a hacked keyboard logic circuit.  For this rebuild I moved to an Arduino Leonardo.  Programming behaviors from scratch gave me much more control.  What’s more, the Leonardo is automatically identified by the computer as a keyboard, and there are plenty of related libraries to get you started.  With this build I also moved to actual heavy duty switches as opposed to embedding strips of copper in my silicone casts.  We’ll see how long they last…


The third major rebuild of SHKB is based on the ITU E.161 international keypad standard.  This allowed me to shrink the overall size of the device while still maintaining its monolithic aspect.  In addition to A-Z, v3 can make a space, and exclamation point and a smiley.

P.B.D.B. tech notes

The P.B.D.B. figurine is a solid aluminum cast that I had laying around from my foundry days.  I used it as a capacitive sensor so that I wouldn’t have to mount a big ugly button on the belly.  The sounds come from an Adafruit WAV shield, and the water is moved via windshield washer pump.  I was amazed by how much current those things draw – I had to put a 5A power supply in the box to get it running.


Palimpsest, 2013
Digital prints
Dimensions variable

Our generation is characterized by a growing, worldwide paranoia about the security of our personal data. Indeed, governments and corporations are already using technology to examine and predict our behavior. We can debate the legality such intrusions, but the fact that we each leave a trail of information in our wake cannot be argued or avoided. Though digital technology makes such tracking faster and more accurate, older technologies have been revealing our data to prying eyes for thousands of years.

The original term “palimpsest” refers to ancient documents that contain multiple texts. Due to the scarcity of Medieval writing surfaces, a parchment might be washed and reused many times. In some cases, the erased text is still legible and of greater interest than the more recent writing.

Palimpsest is a robotic device that scans old typewriter rollers for accidental text. It works like a printer in reverse; when connected to a computer via USB, Palimpsest inputs, rather than outputs, formerly hidden words and phrases. The first roller in the Palimpsest series was found in a dumpster, and contains phrases like “EACH DEPARTMENT”, “OFFICE SKILLS” and “PLASTIC BACK BONES”. No individual is revealed through the investigation of the roller. Instead, Palimpsest collects and displays information about the former relationship between a group of people and a piece of now obsolete technology.

This project is partially supported by an Individual Artists Program Grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events and Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.


I made this piece for a show called Little Man Pee Pool Party, curated by Paul Nudd.  Each work in the show was inspired by the Maneken PisPBDB responds when touched, squirting water and playing one of four sound effects.  Uh, it’s about man’s inhumanity to man or something.

SHKB v3 @ AIC Curriculum Fair, Chicago

SHKB v3 on display at the Art Institute of Chicago.  The teachers of the curriculum fair were a surprisingly relaxed bunch, and were less interested in the practice of bashing than most audiences.  That said, I did have some great conversations about possible applications for SHKB in special-needs classrooms.  Another teacher also turned me on to TAB – an approach I’ll be evaluating as I keep working on the foundations curriculum at Columbia College.


Palimpsest @ TEI 2014, Munich, Germany

I exhibited Palimpsest on the “arts track” at the 8th International Conference on Tangible, Embedded and Embodied Interaction in Munich, Germany. The show took place in the law building at LMU. I got to see some great projects, like 3D printed motion tracking of traditional Japanese swordplay and open-source emotion-modeling soft robotics. Also sausage.

About Controlled Feeding Status

Controlled Feeding Status
Nutraloaf recipe, metal, glass, polypropylene, velvet

Controlled Feeding Status is comprised of two objects.  The first, a set of 3D printed flatware, sits on a velvet cushion inside a glass vitrine.  The second is a recipe for Nutraloaf, a completely tasteless food product that is used as a behavior modification tool in some American prisons.  In 1999, inmates at TAMMS Correctional Center argued that Nutraloaf constituted cruel and unusual punishment.  Judges on the case noted that while a calorically restricted diet is prohibited, Nutraloaf is nutritious and therefor legal (if unappetizing).

Before the advent of pottery, no human lacking healthy teeth could survive into adulthood.  Cooking pots softened food, and allowed those with poor dentition to persist and reproduce.  When chopsticks arrived 900 years ago, the average Chinese jaw adopted an overbite that would spread worldwide with the popularization of the fork.  It seems that no assistive tool can be introduced without reinforcing or creating some unintended frailty in the body (more…).

Spices, originally used to slow food spoilage, now serve a sensual purpose.  Salt, once so valuable that soldiers received it as payment, is now so common that modern eaters must work to avoid it [1].  Contemporary cuisine repositions food as mental, rather than tangible, sustenance.  This inversion of function is so complete that many first-world consumers find their physical health threatened by an overabundance of things to eat (more…).

Rube Goldberg, like so many artists of his era, responded to global crises with dark humor.  Emergencies such as war or hunger are too stark to face head-on, and can often be more effectively discussed through absurdity.  In his Pulitzer Prize winning cartoon from 1948, Goldberg depicts a family whose house is built upon a teetering atomic bomb.  Similarly, Controlled Feeding Status points to the dysfunction of consumption by interrupting the most basic tool with which we engage that system.

Additional sources:
[1] Kurlansky, Mark. Salt: A World History. New York: Penguin, 2003. 12. Print.