Archive for the ‘Notable’ Category.

Electronic Controlled Flame Effects

Here are photos from the last night of the Electronic Controlled Flame Effects class I taught at the Crucible this past Thursday night. (by David Nichols, Tim Alexander and Lee Sonko)

Nice class, eh?

And here’s some videos. The last one is the most flame-tastic!

setting up for firing

Cuckoo flaming

Cupcake Poofer

more pressure poofs

local version:
local version:
local version:
local version:

Finished 2009 Taxes

I tried to wind my way through “H&R Block at Home Free Edition” but gave up when it kept asking inappropriate (and unanswerable) questions about my business and hobby. And it kept pissing me off how it would ask questions in a wonky order (IE for the sale of stock, it first asks about the sale on one page, then when I bought the stock, then another detail about about the sale on a third page)

I tried Free Tax USA at random off the IRS website and I liked it a lot. I’ll definitely try it again next year.

Taxes done! And with an hour and a half to spare. No problem.


Sorry I haven’t been blogging, I’ve been doing.

Teaching Kinetics 9-12pm and 1-4pm takes a lot out of you, especially when there are always some challenging kids in the group. Those 2 weeks are done. There will be another round shortly!

Tutoring twice a week to a 3rd grader and 4th grader. Last week we played Flash Card battles, it was cool. I’d hold up multiplication flash cards in my fist and throw punches at him from across the room. When he answered them, I’d throw myself back across the room. Then we’d switch sides. Yes kids, math can be fun ;-)

Doing a fabrication project for a company team building project. They got 80% through designing and building it with my help. Now I’m doing the other 80% to finish up.

Doing another fabrication project for a person at the Crucible: making a 2 stage foot pedal for his glass working torch

I haven’t told many about this but I’m STILL trying to get the SWARM robots back from Techkriti in Kanpur India after 7 freaking weeks. The local shipper, Airlift Global has been dragging their feet the whole time. I’ve been calling several times per week for most of these 7 weeks. On Friday I escalated it by writing to the Dean of Student Affairs and the Techkriti Festival Chairman. That seems to have gotten them going but the next step is to call my local federal official, Nancy Pelosi.

I’m still working with a local machine shop, helping to get their computers working well, hunting down viruses, wrangling giant Hurco CNC mills, fixing internets and intranets, and VoIPing.

Been hunting down a few more people to teach at the Crucible. I got some very impressive people responding to my call!

I’m making the lesson plan for a computer controlled flame effects class that’s starting in 2 weeks!

I’m still trying to source products and get a web site for the T. Pen.

While Charlotte and I are very good friends, we’re not dating any more. I’ve been looking for a relationship. I’ve been using OKCupid and enjoying it.

Been recovering from a hard drive crash. I don’t -think- I lost any data. But seriously, how do you tell? I’ve got hundreds of gigs to protect. Considering RAID 5 in software on Win XP Pro.

Been working on Vivoliths with Marnia. There’s an art show in June that we’re going to have them set up for! They’ll chirp kinda like crickets, light up as if they’re bioluminescent and react to people’s presence.

Been working on a mechanical heart art project with Schuyler. It’s going to beat in response to your body heat when you hold it in your hands or against your chest.


Teaching Kinetics at the Crucible

Last week I taught a week long session of both “Youth Extreme Gizmos” and “Youth Radical Robots” at the Crucible. They’re for 8-11 year olds and 12-17 year olds. Next week I’m doing another session.:-)


Worked a day last week at the Crucible for a corporate training event building part of a large crazy control panel. We didn’t finish it at the event so I’m being paid to finish building it. Cool.

I hooked up with an acquaintance on Monday night to modify a mechanism to work for an online video ad for a big client. The acquaintance was happy with my work. Cool.

I just took on a third tutoring student. 3rd grade reading. Pretty cool.

I was just asked to teach 2 sessions of  a week-long intensive classes at the Crucible starting next week, “Youth Radical Robots”. Cool.

The SWARM robots are still in India after a month of wrangling with locals. For the last 2 weeks I have made it a ritual to call every night and ask “Ok, who is now blaming who for sitting on who’s hands today? And how can we get things moving?” Uncool.

SWARM was just asked by Velocity Circus to do a gig in San Diego on April 21st. That’s good because it’s a gig. That’s bad because I have to guarantee the orbs will be back. It took 9 days to get the orbs from San Francisco to Kanpur. So far it’s taken 32 days and they are still sitting in the same spot we left them. Serious potential for Cool AND Uncool.

In more pleasant news, I’ve been wrangling with the computer system of a local machine shop for the last 10 days, getting paid to remove viruses, diagnose DSL problems, install software and the like. Just yesterday, I believe we had a major victory, defeating the slow DSL service. An AT&T tech was here for 3 hours and he found that our line from the telephone box to the office was poorly balanced so he switched to a different line. Only time will tell if this sporadic problem was really fixed. It’s totally cool hanging out with the machine shop guys and hearing about the totally exciting projects they’re working on… like a motorcycle that doesn’t… darn it, I’m not sure if I can talk about it!

In tutoring news, yesterday I taught a 9 year old how to pay for pizza. You wouldn’t think this would be rough but oh my this was a horror. I’m tutoring this 4th grader and for the second session in a row he was really bad. He grumbled, mumbled, fought, threw papers, swore, drummed on the desk, ran around the room, bitched AND moaned.  So Delphino, the completely awesome staffer at the YMCA helped me convince him to do a little math. In 1.5 hours we successfully did 1 math problem. “You and 3 friends agree to split a pizza. The pizza man is at the door and he wants his $12 dollars. How much should each person chip in?” We had to work in earnest on the answer for 10 minutes, but he got it! Cool.

SWARM at Techkriti, Kanpur India!

Along with 3 friends, I am will be presenting SWARM at the Techkriti Annual Technology and Entreprenurship Festival February 11-14th, 2010 in Kanpur India!

Dr Jonathan Foote, Marnia Johnston, Niladri Bora and I will be exhibiting SWARM throughout the entire festival. On February 13th we will present our talk.

We are greatly honored to be in company with the other speakers at the event. The program shows these other speakers:

  • Douglas D. Osheroff – Nobel Laureate, Physics
  • Oliver Smithies – Nobel Laureate, Medicine
  • Paul Shuch – Executive Director Emeritus of The SETI League
  • Professor Rolf-Dieter Heuer – Director General of CERN
  • Bernhard Schölkopf – Director, Max Planck Institute of Biological Cybernetics
  • Dr. Ashish Gupta – Managing Director – Investment Advisor at Helion Venture Partners
  • Jaya Prakash Narayan – Former IAS and Social Activist
  • Dr. John G. Baker – Goddards Space Flight Center, NASA
  • Dr. Nikolaos Mavridis – Assistant Professor, UAEU & PHD, MIT Media Lab
  • Graham Sparey-Taylor – Head, Nos Gwawr II
  • Neeraj Kayal – Gödel Prize and Distinguished Alumnus Award
  • Shantanu Srivastava – Managing Director & CEO, Ishan International Pvt. Ltd.
  • Ken Lemons – Creator of Musical DNA

Techkriti Main PageTechkriti talks

Techkriti OrbSWARM

From the main “Talks” page

“When a person talks about his work, he is talking about a love affair”.
– Alfred Kazin

Be witness to lectures that are sure to blow your mind away. From Nobel laureates who climbed steep rungs to the very zenith of success to business wizards who have literally accomplished Mission Impossible, these talks have them all. This year we have talks with both a technial and an entreprenuerial flavour. From Turing award winners to “desi-innovators” with a rags-to-riches story, Techkriti ’10 has it all. The talks form the essence of the festival where the triumph of the human mind is celebrated. So no matter what keeps each one of us ticking, let us all come together to assimilate the distilled essence of the roads to success.

Here is the full text of our biography

OrbSWARM – Semiautonomous Robots
SWARM is a fleet of semiautonomous rolling orbs. They were created to move, sing, dance, illuminate and interact with one another and those around them. SWARM is a large-scale collaborative project featuring members of several San Francisco based art and engineering groups including members of the Flaming Lotus Girls, the Sunflower Robots Project, members of the robotics, kinetic art, and Linux/open source communities. The group is particularly proud of its non-hierarchical collaboration style, allowing those with varied interests and expertise to work together. All SWARM designs and code are open-source and freely available to help and inspire other artists and engineers.

Niladri Bora joined Swarm in May 2007. He wrote code for the aggregator and the SPU and also did part of the custom machining for SWARM. Before SWARM he apprenticed at the Omnicircus. He was born and raised in Assam in north-eastern India but has been living in the Bay Area since 1999. He finds it ironic that he moved across the globe from one of the most earthquake-prone areas in India to the most earthquake-prone area in the Unites States. He is a graduate in Mechanical Engineering from Gauhati University but has worked in the software industry for most of his professional life. He is interested in electronics, programming and all aspects of robot fabrication.

Jonathan T. Foote received a BS (Electrical Engineering) degree in 1985 and a ME (Electrical) degree in 1986, both from Cornell University. From 1986 to 1988 he worked as a development engineer for Teradyne, Inc. in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1993 he received a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from Brown University, where he also received a Brown Presidential Teaching Award and an Outstanding Research Award from Sigma Xi. He did postdoctoral research at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom from 1993 to 1996, and was a 1997 Fulbright Fellow at the Institute of Systems Science in Singapore. From 1997 to 2005 he was a Senior Research Scientist at FX Palo Alto Laboratory, Inc. Currently he is a freelance consultant. Dr. Foote has published more than 60 technical papers in the areas of signal processing and remote interaction, as well as 34 US patents. Dr. Foote was responsible for much of the electronic design on SWARM as well as microcontroller programming.

Marnia Johnston is a sculptor living in San Mateo, CA. She is an interdisciplinary instigator collaborating with engineers, synthetic biologists, programmers and tinkerers, In her most recent collaboration she conducted a workshop with graduate students, artists, biologists, programmers and roboticists. She recently co-curated the show Multispecies Salon II with Dr. Eben Kirksey at the California College of the Arts, in conjunction with the American Anthropological Association, supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

Johnston’s sculptures and drawings have been exhibited widely in California, most recently in the Consilience of Art & Science exhibition at the Pence Gallery in Davis, California, and at San Jose’s ZeroOne Biennial event, SubZero. She has also had work shown in New York, Connecticut, Georgia, Massachusetts, North Carolina and abroad. Her work can be found in the permanent collection of the Icheon World Ceramic Center and has been recognized by the World Ceramic Biennial, South Korea with a diploma of honor and a medal of honor. She has also been recognized by the Marin Society of Artists with an award of merit.

Born in California, Johnston holds a BFA from San Jose State University and MFA from the California College of the Arts (CCA). She continues to sculpt out of her studio in San Francisco, CA.

Lee Sonko is a machine artist, entrepreneur and one of the founding members of SWARM. He is a faculty member in the Kinetics and Electronics Department at The Crucible in Oakland California and a member of the the San Francisco based Flaming Lotus Girls art group. Lee has partipated in SWARM from inception, proposal, design, fabrication, re-fabrication (as is always the case), administration, organization. Some other projects that Lee has made significant contributions to include The Serpent Mother, a 170′ long fire breathing skeletal serpent built with the Flaming Lotus Girls and Colossus, an impossibly agile 25 ton kinetic sculpture built with Zachary Coffin. He has also designed various microelectronics projects for professional and recreational use.

Lee has presented on art and technology before numerous audiences including Google IO, Robogames, The Coachella Music Festival, Hacker Dojo, Maker Faire, Burning Man, The Head-Royce School, Yuri’s Night, and Noisebridge.