Saturday, June 29, 2013

Local Color XV -- second world problems

Beaver Causes Internet And Cellphone Outage In New Mexico

06/28/13 01:46 PM EDT AP
(via the HuffPost)

TAOS, N.M. -- Officials have finally identified the culprit behind a 20-hour Internet and cellphone outage last week in northern New Mexico -- an eager beaver.
CenturyLink spokesman David Gonzales told The Associated Press on Friday that a hungry beaver chewed through the fiber line last week. He says the biting evidence was discovered by contractors who worked to repair the outage.
Officials say more than 1,800 Internet users were affected by the blackout. The number of cellphone users without service during that time is still unknown.
CenturyLink owns a fiber-optic cable that runs from Taos to Interstate 25.
The cable carries wireless data for many residents around Taos County.

 I've had a few instances of bunny-driven internet outage, but they were all fairly local...

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Currents 2013

The third annual large scale installment of our only non-coyote/sunset art event (instantiated by the master impresarios of Parallel Studios, on a much smaller scale, in 2002) is drawing to a close at El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe. It is billed as an International New Media Festival and contains work loosely categorized as Installation, Single-channel/Animation, Multimedia Performance, Experimental Documentary, and Web-based. There were partnerships with other venues, galleries and schools, and a number of panel discussions, performances, and presentations. A full listing can be found here:

So...What is New Media then?

The go-to wikipedia has this, somewhat impenetrable, definition:
New media refers to on-demand access to content any time, anywhere, on any digital device, as well as interactive user feedback, creative participation. Another aspect of new media is the real-time generation of new, unregulated content.

Most technologies described as "new media" are digital, often having characteristics of being manipulated, networkable, dense, compressible, and interactive. Some examples may be the Internet, websites, computer multimedia, video games, CD-ROMS, and DVDs. New media does not include television programs, feature films, magazines, books, or paper-based publications unless they contain technologies that enable digital interactivity.
the main definitions come from:
Flew, T. (2002), New Media: An Introduction
Wardrip-Fruin & Montfort, ed (2003), The New Media Reader
In the context of the Currents' categories we have:
  • Installation -- Almost entirely multi-projection or multi-media video with sculptural elements. There was one example of non-digital art, but it did use an electric motor (counting an opening night performance/installation which used electricity only for illumination, there were two), and two more which used digital thingies but no video;
  • Performance -- Theatrical video with sound components, the one un-electric performance/installation on the opening night (plus the sans-digitalis sculptural installation which was mainly a performance as well), and one piece comprising a live performer with user input via video;
  • Single-channel -- Stuff you could see at home, i.e., good old movies, albeit often open ended and/or non-narrative, also including web-based applications.
Notice that there is some disjunction between Wiki and Currents, especially in the non-interactive Single-channel and non-digital Performance aspects. To my mind New Media should include Installation and Performance as conceptualized in the latter 20th century. Thus I would argue with the more narrow Wiki definition but not enough to open the can'o'worms required to edit it.

So lets just call this a Video show.

As such I was fairly disappointed.
Full disclosure: My entry to the show (a tip'o'th'hat to the exactly 100-year-old original New Media work) was declined because, while it was "interactive", it didn't even use electricity. None-the-less I helped install the show (if you liked the lighting, in some places, thanks), and will help dis-install it because, in the larger context of Art Santa Fe, these guys are Doing Gods Work.

Life is Short. Video is Long

While touring the show I began a discussion with a friend who will probably be writing the review-of-record (this posting is to establish a time-stamp on just who has plagiarized whom). She said (something on the order of), "I wish I had the artist(s) standing next to me to explain things." And herein lies the rub...

To appreciate any art one needs some background knowledge. By virtue of growing up in our culture this sort of knowledge is, nearly, innate when viewing, say, representational painting. Portraits and Landscapes automatically make sense, thus we can quickly move on to how much we like the treatment of the subjects. With a little more cultural inculcation one can even have the same appreciation for abstract painting, up to and including (for many of us) the Ab-Exers.

However, Video Installation has a much shorter and diverse history. Most of us don't have the background to appreciate the advances made by a particular piece. (...I am going to be gracious and assume that the artist's themselves know that which they are advancing...).

A corollary of the innate knowledge argument is that we quickly recognize whether we are going to get something out of spending time with an Old Media work. It has a Hook which makes us willing to invest. I will gladly spend minutes standing, or better sitting, in front of Monet's Water Lilies (yeah, yeah, that's just me) or Dali's The Persistence of Memory. And I was once able to spend long periods with Duchamp's Large Glass -- back when I could remember the various after-market commentaries on the Green Box Notes.

So the trouble with New Media then is two fold. To start with, we are not sure what we are looking at; and then, it takes time to figure it out. Some work has a visceral hook and many of us may be willing to invest a moment or two more.  But it often takes longer. Much longer.

Truisms, Not

Video Art has its roots in the 1960s and much of it was originally driven by the hallucinations, culturally and visually, of the period. A number of pieces in the Currents show hark back to this with psychedelic feedback, ever expanding mandalas, and fractally twirling multiple-images. This generally makes me nauseous philosophically, and sometimes physically.

Quite a number of others take a stab at New Media with multiple Old Medias, using many screens, son-et-lumiere, or, often, all of the above. Gratuitously. Many of these installations had headphones, which could easily be ignored, for the son part. Some did not.

There are also projections onto or into stuff. One onto an existing painting. I'm not really clear on why.

There was one swarm driven piece where ants crawled to your outline over a background-still of the ground. OK. Good. I wonder if I could introduce you the 2001 Swarm Development Group?

Then a new human-interface comprised of a 3x6 foot sheet of stretchy material onto which a pattern was projected. When you pushed on the material a piano played. It had one degree of freedom for about 20 sqft of interface. The (probably synthesized) piano sounded quite nice if you like noodle-music.

Another new interface used a head-mounted EEG sensor to control a video projection. Ostensibly. I was not able to get it out of a tight loop alternating a blurry ocean rescue with a slow aerial track of the Manhattan skyline that always stopped just before I could pick out the hotel where I last stayed.

And one video-game installation which purported to produce a psycho-analysis. I could not get myself out of the second room.

Those last two disappointments can certainly be credited to my lack of inner complexity.

But on to the truisms..these were both important absolutes when first established however they now need updating:

The Medium is -- not the entire -- Message
The Personal is -- not always -- the Political

Much of the content, as such, in the show fails in this update phase. Come on folks. We need to move on.

Also: In the interim between leaving school and being canonized, Post Modern jargon doesn't help your cause.

I attended two of the Panels:


Art and the Legacy of Artificial Life

This panel discussion was peopled by friends and was right up my alley so I prepared a manifesto in order to be argumentative. Fortunately all it took was a pointed question to get them to (mostly) agree that the system's behavior, rather than its artifacts, are what is of real interest. Maybe I get a point for being conciliatory. One the other hand, none of the panelists has spoken to me since.

New Media: Arts & Sciences

Presented by the 1st Mile Institute's Scientists/Artists Research Collaboration program, this was a series of video and in-person (plus two skype-presences) talks. Out of 18 video/talks there were: one artist-naturalist who is observing the sky in ways not quite done before, Heliotown; two holographers who use sciency tools to examine the nature of light and perception; and one art/science duo who made a juicy data set it into a pretty swell web page, Wind Map. Otherwise it was cool-visualizations that might have once seen an artistic hand or cool-technology that artists might want to use sometime. So, for the most part, no real collaborations were used in the making of this event.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013



my voice-phone metadata for the last year:

nothing to see here
move along

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Artistic Rendering

Artists use external systems, anything from simple tools to complex human interactions, to bring their ideas into the world. When using a system we provide inputs, turn a crank of some kind, look at what comes out the other end, and then try to intuit its actual behavior. When the behavior is desirable we want to control it to some purpose.  In the Arts this purpose is usually to produce -- render -- a tangible product such as a print, film scene, or musical interlude.

At it's Latin roots the word render means to give or put. This made its way into English meaning as:
  1. Transmit to another (render a verdict);
  2. Create an image (render the model);
  3. Cover a surface (render stucco);
  4. Extract by melting (render lard).
The purpose of most (all?) human activity is to transmit ideas or goods and services, and artistic activity brings the first definition to the fore. In the Media Arts the second definition applies directly to the activity of using a computer to make an end product. However, I submit that this usage, more often than not, devolves to one or both of the last two senses, either covering, resulting in a thin facade, or melting, resulting in schmaltz.

There was an Alternative

In the late 1960s Jack Burnham hypothesized something he called Systems Art (for a start see my Cybernetic Serendipity entry). His ideas were quickly absorbed and diluted in the Conceptual Art wave leaving us with two divergent online definitions of Systems Art.

Wikipedia says:
In systems art the concept and ideas of process related systems and systems theory [c.f Cybernetics] are involved in the work [and] take precedence over traditional aesthetic object related and material concerns. (now a defunct link, but from the Grove Dictionary of Art via the Wayback Machine) says:
[Systems art is a] Term loosely applied to art produced by means of a systematic or highly organized approach to an image or concept.

The latter refers to what are called Generative Systems, into which the products of artistic rendering usually fall. The system produces a product and we don't really much care what happens inside the black box. It's all about the Form of what is produced.

The former is more interested in the system's behavior and provenance. What is interesting is the Function of the system itself. In the 1960s interesting behavior was not easy to produce, but in the 2010s we have the capability to create much more complex systems. Systems which have lives of their own.

An Aesthetics of Function rather than Form

With an Aesthetics of Function we consider the qualities of the system's behavior, and by extension into second-order-cybernetics, the quality of the relationship of the observer to the observed -- the artist-viewer's relationship with the art-system.

While there are systems which have no inputs, the entire Universe might be an example, we are more interested in those with the structure described above, where by providing appropriate inputs we can mold the outputs in certain ways:

Input - Process - Output

For artificial systems this requires input sensors, internal cross connections, and output actuators. This usually invokes Art and Technology, by which we usually mean Electronic Technology, which in this century usually means Computer Technology. And this is the medium at the heart of "interactive" New Media art.

I put "interactive" in quotes because it is usually a mis-applied description. Most "interactive" art is better described, at a somewhat lower level of function, as "responsive". In order to clarify this I propose the following continuum of system function and behavior.


A doorbell responds by ringing when we push the button. The old fashioned ding-dong type might even be described as interactive because the button push causes the ding and the release causes the dong, giving us some modicum of control over the proceedings. But the same inputs always produce the same outputs.


Learning to use a tool or play a musical instrument is interactive in the sense that we have to experiment to find the capabilities and interfaces that allow us to use the system. While the ding-dong-bell may fit this description, its state-space -- the number of different conditions it might be in -- is very small and easily explored.  Playing a piano requires the manipulation of a much larger set of states with varying inputs and outputs. The user and the system form a feedback loop which ultimately produces the output, but only the user changes his/her behavior.


If the system changes its behavior as we use it -- generally we like it better when the changes benefit our intentions but it could also be an obstinate SOB -- it is adapting. To do this it needs a large state-space which changes over time and this requires memory. Pushing the interactive tool analogy rather harder than it should be, tuning a guitar while learning to play it might be considered to be adaptive on the part of the guitar. The unfortunate thing is that there are very few examples of adaptive behavior in the arts. Some video games or those films in which one can vote for various outcomes might fit the bill.


If both the system and the user adapt to each other in order to render a result we have the start of collaboration.  I know of no complete examples of this in the artificial art-world.

This set of way-points is ordered by increasing autonomy and independence of control. Responsive systems have very little control over their behavior whereas a collaborative system ideally shares control equally.  Another way to put it is that they are increasingly lifelike. Or Artificial Life Like.

The Musical Analog

Musical production provides better examples of my categories, and in general, has made more progress with both humans and their instruments. Gordon Mumma's Hornpipe (1967), for waldhorn, valvehorn & cybersonics, is an early example of an interactive and adaptive system of performer, instrument, and space.  George Lewis's player algorithms, e.g., "Rainbow Family" (1984), for soloists with multiple interactive computer systems, which he described in such terms as (from my memory of a talk he gave at Mills College in October, 1984), "This guy is sort of a backup player where this other guy really likes to play lead," ventured into the collaborative.

In music we might consider a symphony orchestra to be, ideally, responsive to exactly the requirements of the score and conductor. In reality of course the conductor and players interact and adapt to each other. But in the extreme, consider Stockhausen's use of computers to render his compositions such that he had complete (well, almost) control over all the parameters of pitch, timbre, and time.

A string quartet provides a better example of interaction. Traditionally there is a detailed score under which each player has some autonomy of interpretation, and the ensemble as a whole must interact to produce the result.

A group composition, for instance a popular band developing a song, may cover the ground from interaction to collaboration but probably displays more of the features of adaptation. Each player makes a 'riff' off of the suggested material and all of these inputs are adapted to each other resulting in a more-or-less fixed end product.

A free jazz ensemble -- when they actually listen to each other -- is an example of a collaborative system. Each player makes an equal contribution while interacting with and adapting to the other players.


Learning to use any system is interactive in the sense that we need to probe it and learn from its responses. In this process we are adaptive, so the system as a whole exhibits that property.  However the external system may not learn anything about us. When the system passively adapts in some form we have a master-slave relationship, but also the beginning of a dialog. When the system experiments with us -- hopefully benignly -- and we adapt in turn, then we have at last the beginnings of a true collaboration.

This should be the goal of Artificial Life in the Arts.

Monday, June 17, 2013

More Fire

It looks like the Santa Fe fires, Tres Lagunas and Thompson Ridge, are mostly under control. There are two lightning-starts further up in the Pecos Wilderness to the north and east, Jaroso (on Pecos Baldy) and White's Peak (14 miles Southwest of Cimarron, NM) which seem to be in let-it-burn mode because they are very remote and no structures are threatened. Plus the Silver fire just northeast of Silver City which is still very active. You can see all these on this map:
For some reason InciWeb and NMfireInfo have just ignored White's Peak and are not updating Jaroso very clearly, so that map is the best I can find.

Also here's an interesting video produced by the Colorado Springs Fire Department which shows how they are protecting homes in the path of the Black Forest fire which has whacked over 480 structures and 14,000 acres so far:

Since this blog is a Google production and the video is not on UTub the point and click integration is minimal, so you will just have to follow the link...The Inter-tube-world is now in a three-way polarization war (MicroSlop vs GooglePlex vs Awpple) being fought via the proxies of difficult cross linking and non-integration. But that's Our Modern Life.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Fire News

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley'd & thunder'd

With the sound of a Sikorski chopper headed to Pecos in the background here's some information about our first round of summer fires here in lovely downtown Northern New Mexico...

We have two incidents, each well into a week long. To the West of Santa Fe in the Jemez mountains, the Thompson Ridge fire is at about 4500 acres and moving East towards the Valdes Caldera where the Los Conches fire did its damage two years ago. Just North of Pecos, NM to the East in the Sangres, the Tres Lagunas fire is pushing 8700 acres moving mostly uphill to the North. One can find the latest information, updated once or twice a day, at which also features a twitter sidebar that often links to newer postings. The forest service also maintains a Google Earth map of incidents throughout the entire country at: But here's the latest maps that I've found posted:

Thompson Ridge from June 3 at 20:51:
For reference here's the Google Map of about the same area,
centered at 35 53 00N 106 36 30W:

View Larger Map

Tres Lagunas from Jun 3 at 21:07, heat map:
and fire progression:
And again, for reference here's the Google Map of about the same area,
centered at 35 43 00N 105 39 00W:

View Larger Map

Hopefully the left hand will not meet up with the right hand.