Cultural Integrity (at the Dethrone Hackathon)

Merging art, crafts, and technology with Art Hack Day

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There was a call-out recently asking for "hackers whose medium is art and artists whose medium is tech" and I thought, "wait... that's me!"

This was the start to my first ever hackathon and art installation exhibit.  All part of 'Dethrone'... [queue ominous music]

a mysterious planned gathering of creative techno weirdo types to do....what?   The site says:

"Art Hack Day: DETHRONE invites you to upend established order. On February 22–24, artists and hackers will converge at Gray Area to create an exhibit from scratch that questions contemporary mechanisms of power, challenges their legitimacy, and envisions new potentials for a world unyoked from colonial and patriarchal systems. Wielding technology in unexpected ways, artists carry with them the potential to not only hack code but also culture. Together, with interspecies dependence and interplanetary cooperation in mind, the people can rewrite the protocols to dethrone malignant rule."

As someone who has always wanted to use technology for cultural change and protest, I thought this would be pretty neat.  It was being held down the street from me at Gray Area - an abandoned movie theater from the 1950s cruising culture days (a-la American Graffiti) that has since been converted into a nifty arts and events space.  

I had my first trip there not long ago via Dorkbot and found it to be incredibly accessible.  That's the biggest checkpoint, cause so few spaces are in this town.  So we have...

Accessible - check!

Art - check!

Technology - check!

Social & Political Engagement - check!

Free to sign-up - check!

Sounded like it was worth a shot, even if the description was vague and I didn't know what else to expect.  Fortuntely, I was in for a very pleasant surprise ^_^

[To be continued...]

  • Day 3 (part 1): Perseverance

    CriptasticHacker03/10/2024 at 10:10 0 comments

    The big day was upon us, and I was determined to follow-through, despite the lack of sleep and gut health.  Julia was nice enough to come to my place again and help me load up the car.  Despite being sick, we actually had a pleasant drive down to Gray Area where she played me some German rap music and told me that San Francisco felt very different from New York because "You can see the sky" (lol).  I thought it was strange how being in one of the most densely populated cities in the world still didn't count as a real "city" to someone coming from the big apple.

    When we arrived at Gray Area I could tell Julia was in full panic mode, and doing her best to hide it.  I was calm as a cucumber, and knew we wouldn't have issues meeting the deadline.  While Julia's expertise was in time management, mine was in making sure all the materials were in place for a successful setup.  But the stakes were higher for her, and she wasn't anywhere near home, so I did my best to offer emotional support in my sickly state. 

    We began gathering our materials together to make our journey to the 24th St. bus stop where we would temporarily install Cultural Integrity.  The plan was to set it up for a few minutes, takes photos and videos, and then bring everything back to Gray Area and set it all up over again to display an indoor installation for the gallery opening. 

    There was a buzz of excitement as all the projects were coming to completion.  Andre was setting up the spotlights on the hydraulic lift, we got a legit bar tender setup with fancy menus, extra hands on deck for floor cable management, 4K monitor tripod setups, and a fancy illuminated card holder for our exhibit description.  When asked if many people were coming, and Wane said, "We sold 170 tickets. It's gonna be a party."  

                                          (snippet from the ticket link on the website)

    At this point I began realizing what the Art Hack Day organizers were supplying - not maker tools (that's easy to get) but an audience!  And a top tier quality gallery opening with the mood set perfectly (insert chef's kiss gesture), including lighting, ambiance, and drinks to go with it!  As someone who's organized more that a few shows in my day, I was truly impressed with the professionalism and the "hey, they really know what they're doing" vibes.  The anticipation for the 7pm opening was definitely building

                                  (Things are actually starting to look like an art show!)

    I ran into an attendee name Sky who I thought had dropped out of the hackathon (I didn't see her around after the first night).  It turned out she still liked Julia and I's project concept.  We gathered all the materials and a couple other folks: Vincent, the pro-photographer, and Amy, who was our star actor.  They were super helpful and excited to be a part of the installation.  It was sweet to see this team effort, which easily shattered my misconception of hackathon's being an ultra-competitive dog-eat-dog affair.

                    (Look at this suspicious art gang walking the streets of Mission!)

    We marched down the street with all the materials looking like quite the goofy class trip.  And once we got to the bus stop, it was nothing short of chaos.  Even at 3pm, the 14, 14R, and 49 buses were pulling in every couple of minutes, loading and unloading lots of passengers.  People in the Mission give zero shits for privatization of public space (which is awesome),...

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  • Day 2 (part 4): I Don't Have The Stomach For It

    CriptasticHacker03/10/2024 at 10:09 0 comments

    Julia was off to get a good nights sleep, but my night was far from over.

    While I knew I could rush through things with a bit of soldering and blobs of hot glue, I wanted to make a project I could be proud of, something professional worth the namesack of my shop and the tools at my disposal.

    (Arduino Uno and Nano - "that's no moon..look at the size of that thing!")

    My first decision was to axe the giant Arduino Uno board Julia had provided, and use a nice cute little Arduino Nano.  They are largely compatible, since they both have the same microcontroller (Atmega328), just in different form factors.  A smaller microcontroller board would be easier to mount at the bus stop and it would also be easier (and faster) to make a case for.

    Which brings me to the other unnecessary "nice to have" I did - modeling and printing 3D cases for everything.  Yes, this was kiiiind of insane to start at 1 a.m., but it made me happy :P

     I'm still in my "honeymoon phase" of 3D printing, and love jumping at the opportunity to make quality cases for things. Additionally, it served some sensible benefits: mounting holes to match on-site demands, a bit of weatherproofing, durability, and easier to remove glue backing.  I also made the design specific for routing and securing wires, to avoid the pitfalls of tugging and fumbling which may lead to re-soldering needs or other major headaches.

    (3D modeling the parts in Tinkercad.  A quick late night mockup with space for wire routing). 

    Since Julia and I were planning to put the installation into a public bus stop, as well as showcasing it at Gray Area, I decided make tear down and build-up as easy as possible.  After all, we would only get one day, and one shot at this. So I wanted to make sure everything ran smoothly.

    I designed a case that would incorporate an Arduino Nano and the ultrasonic sensor first.  This would also ease the wiring job for me, since the two devices would be in close proximity to each other.

    (First print was a success on my old faithful Ender 3 Pro.  Gotta love that smooth PEI :)

    Next, I modeled the FET controller.  Julia seemed to be delighted to learn about "metal oxide field effect transistors" and how they are commonly used as solid state switches.  When I talked about it, she seemed to have one of those neat 'A-Ha!' (not the band...) paradigm shift moments of what electronics are capable of!  Very cool.

    I love these little NFET breakout modules for breadboards that are everywhere.  They are almost as nice as my custom boards (heh), only they are capable of switching an absurd amount of current.

    (One of the better Arduino module breakout boards making the rounds of online shops.  These D4184s support a continuous output of 10A!).

    (The NFET board wired into the 3D printed case)

    I printed off both cases simultaneously, since I have multiple 3D printers (living the high life!)  While that was going on, I finished off the barrel jack soldering for our (deliberately annoying) anti-homeless lights.

    The cases turned out quite well, with no major issues. Pretty nice for a first pass on everything in the middle of the night!

    (Everything wired into the 3D cases. Just a few dabs of hot glue so wires can be tugged on without breaking).

    After that, I finished printing off a couple of articles on hostile architecture as well as the SF mayor's anti-homeless antics, to add more context and visual interest to the uncomfortable half of the installation. It was about 4a.m. when I finally laid down for much-needed sleep.

    (I felt like I found the perfect picture for our mayor with devil horns, heh.)

    Unfortunately, I woke up about an hour later feeling really, really, bad...

    I stumbled over to the bathroom and lifted the toilet seat up. I started vomiting something awful, and could feel everything in my stomach wanting to escape. Almost like it...

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  • Day 2 (part 3): Spray Cans, Ultrasonics, and Mischief

    CriptasticHacker03/06/2024 at 09:16 0 comments

    Once we got back to my apartment, the fatigue began to set in. It had been a long day already, with nonstop running around.  I asked Julia if she could wait for a few minutes while I rested.  She was totally understanding and didn't give me a hard time about it I all. 

    I spent 10 minutes with my head in a pillow, wishing so much for a little nap.  The rest felt nice, but I knew there was no chance for sleep yet.  Boy, would I be right about that. 

    After the brief downtime, Julia came into my workbench area so we could decide what to do about the (deliberately annoying) detection white LEDs we wanted to use.  

    "Do you think you could get working code tonight using the ultrasonic sensor?"

    'Yeah, that won't be a problem,' Julia said.  I cautiously admired her confidence, knowing these can be a pain sometimes.

    (The HC-SR05 ultrasonic sensor that we used.  These are extremely popular for distance detection, and are commonly employed in robotics projects).

    I dug out my bag of HC-SR05 sensors (I always like to have extras) and began soldering the necessary 2.1mm barrel jacks and other wiring.  I fished out a super long, 10 foot cord with a matching connector from my wire recycling bin.  Being able to find these parts at breakneck speed brought me a special kind of satisfaction.  My tedious labelling labors were finally paying off :)  Anyone who has spent the hours and hours digging in parts bins at local makerspaces knows what I mean!

    (This is the messiest "hell wire" box I have - and even it is organized! :)

    I chugged a few glasses of my special fresh pressed juice pretending I was a Popeye cartoon, and then collected the few last tools.  I grabbed some 1/4" plywood from my woodshop area for a strudier back support to the throne.  Julia agreed that it was a good call (I loved how she was down for improving the project, keeping our goal in mind while being open to on-the-fly changes).  I picked up my staple gun and zip ties to throw into our collective tool bag. 

    Julia also helped by climbing the world's most rickety, janky ladder to take down the security camera I had in my garage.  

    "Do you want me to hold the ladder for you?"

    'Oh, nah.  I'll be fine.'  

    I didn't argue, even though it looked dangerous as heck.  Julia is as independent as they come.  Plus, I thought, she's very tall and doesn't need to climb to the top rung.

    We made our way back to Gray Area - this time it was late at night so I could park directly in front, VIP valet style, in the loading space!  This felt incredibly satisfying. 

    Once inside, we began cutting up the foam board for the throne frame.  I suggested using my special motorized "zipsnip" cardboard cutter tool, which worked great for the long strips.  But Julia was eager to bust out her pocket blade to stab into the poor foam and dissect it like fresh fish.  She was disturbingly good at this.  She also had a clear carpenters triangle (in metric!!) and breezed through the diagonal cutting angles like a boss.

    We took the foam pieces outside to paint.  This was, I think, my favorite part of the entire event :)  Two new friends, hanging out on the sidewalk in front of Gray Area at midnight, imitating graffiti artists for a guerrilla installation project.  It was Mission as heck, and a whole lotta fun as we joked around and struck stylish poses for the camera :)

    (Video of me and Julia spray painting together outside Gray Area)

    We left the paint outside to dry.  I got a little talking-to for bringing the wet paint fumes in previously, which made Julia slightly nervous.  There was something funny about our "Straight-A-Student" meets "Class Clown" dynamic that made her bouts of disapproval ever so entertaining to me :P  It's good to get in a little trouble once-in-a-while, yknow?

    While the...

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  • Day 2 (part 2) Rap Music & "Shopping"

    CriptasticHacker03/04/2024 at 08:36 0 comments

    Julia and I rushed over to TAP plastics, hoping to get our acrylic sheet before closing. On the car ride over, I opened my CD case and asked Julia,

    "is there any music thatyou'd like to hear?"

    "You just have old people music, right?'" she said. She wasn't wrong -__-  Gotta appreciate that New York blunt-ness.

    I put on some Run DMC, Tougher Than Leather (1988):

    [ "Well my name is DMC, the all-time great (great)
    I bust the most rhymes in New York state (state)!" ]

    We were driving around Van Ness at this point, windows down, amp cranked, on a surprisingly sunny day.

    "This is so California!" Julia said.

    'Waddya mean?  We're listening to RUN-DMC!'

    "I mean, driving around with the windows down, playing music..."

    Her completely innocent comments prompted a mini-lecture about the importance of east and west coast rap differences.  As well as some 2pac songs later :)

    We arrived at TAP in time.  Julia hopped out while I waited in the car, saving time by not unloading my wheelchair. She came back with a thin, 1/8" piece of gray acrylic. Certainly good enough!  It was $60, so I handed her $30 in cash ("you use cash?" says Julia).  We drove down to Gray Area and I scored a perfect parking spot in front of the US Bank on 23rd and Mission.

    When we arrived back to Gray Area, the place was buzzing with makers.  It was really cool to be around that energy, so much motion and creativity in the air:

    It was one project in particular though, that I have to credit with getting me truly excited and pumped for this event: Caroline Herman's creative altar to Elizabeth Holmes:

    Caroline finished her project far ahead of everyone else. It served as a fountain of inspiration to me. This satirical take on the disgraced Silicon Valley entrepreneur-would-be scammer was complete with love notes, poetry, a guest book, and even printouts of court transcripts- brilliant and hilarious!

    Julia and I sat down at the laptop to knock out our first deadline: the description.  I thought it was such a strange way to approach art - naming it before the project was just getting off the ground. Fortunately, we had a solid concept and were working well together.

    Julia and I had this really cool "brain sync" moment where words and ideas just flowed together seamlessly for the description.  I've spent hours debating with musicians over a single lyric in a song before.  Yet here we were, trading off words, sentences, and grammatical bits with ease. Somehow, even with both our perfectionist artistic tendencies, we operated on such complementary wavelengths.  That we could be mostly strangers, but flow so well under stressful circumstances, was really friggin' cool!

    We came up with the text:  

    "Structural Integrity

    Who is our city built for? Our art installation, Structural Integrity, points attention to the challenges forced our community by exaggerating the duality of public accommodations. One seat is inviting and comfortable, while it's antithetical made features painful spikes and other repelling technologies currently employed against the unhoused population. The emotional and tactile impact of Structural Integrity seeks to foster fresh discussions by exposing the juxtaposition of pain and pleasure in public space."

    Julia got some duct tape to strap the three pillows together that we found in the space (thanks to Andre).  While she was doing this, I was peeling through my copies of the San Francisco Street Sheet- a wonderful local newspaper dedicated to homeless stories and social issues, which has been in print since 1989.  I also had some copies of the San Mateo Daily Journal, which proved very useful for taking jabs at Wall Street :P

    Just then, we were approached by a photographer named Vincent.

    "Can I photograph you two?" he asked.

    'Sure' Julia said.

    He began snapping shots of us assembling our project.


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  • Day 2 (part 1) - Fabric, Access, Workshop and LEDs!

    CriptasticHacker03/03/2024 at 06:24 0 comments

    The big hacker day was upon us and the gears were in motion!  

    Julia jumped into action during morning solo hacker time.  She went to the Mission Fabric Outlet store to find our throne-worthy textiles, as well as coordinating with a participant named Danielle to borrow their sewing machine.

                      (the go-to place for great fabric in the Mission San Francisco!)

                                               (The gorgeous fabric Julia picked out!)

    Looking over the items "we will provide" spreadsheet from Art Hack Day, it became clear that I would be bringing most of my apartment to Gray Area.  There was no soldering or programming equipment, 3D printers, drills, or anything like that.  It puzzled me, because I could swear I'd seen pictures of that stuff in other hackathons online (I found out later that they would be providing something different - and special).  But no matter, I am very proud of my home workshop and honestly, much more comfortable with my own tools ('comfortable' is my healthy way of describing it - 'insanely attached' is probably more accurate :P)

    I made arrangements with one of the organizers to help me with moving my belongings to Gray Area.  Rebecca didn't have much (or any) experience in helping people with disabilities, which was a bit frustrating at first.  We had a phone call a couple days prior and after a while I told her "I'm sorry, but I didn't sign up to this event to be a disability educator."  I think people don't realize how exhausting that role is (I perform it nearly every day), and forget that they can also do their own research and spend time on these things.

    No one knows how to do this stuff, because disability access, history, culture or education are not taught in American public schools.  A fact I lament frequently.  In fact, I had a mini-conversation with some of the attendees about it.

    "It's hard being the spokesperson for your own minority group.  And the pressure that comes with that," I said.

    "I'm usually the first person in a wheelchair people have ever had a conversation with..."

    Amy, Vidya, and Julia all agreed, "yeah, it's my first time too."

    ...does anyone ever wonder why that is?

    For her part, Rebecca was understanding and certainly willing to learn and lend a hand, which I appreciated.  I sent her a document I found online for how to make temporary events accessible.  It's pretty neat!

    There's also another really cool guide website here.

    I wasn't looking forward to the accessibility coordination efforts with time-strained organizers to bring my things over.  So it was to my amazement when Julia offered to come to my place and help me move things(!)  She was so nice, and this warmed my heart.  I took a big sigh of relief and went through our "to bring" list while she rode the bus over.  Fortunately, I live only about 10 minutes away from Gray Area :) 

    When Julia arrived we got sidetracked almost immediately, geeking out over my workspace.  I probably looked like one of those birds puffing up its feathers the way I was beaming with pride over my home shop.

    I've spent years planning and building it out, but few people that come over know what the heck it all is!  Julia immediately recognized the method to my madness asking,

     "Is there anything you haven't customized?"

    I showed her my 3D printed scissors holder, my compartment closet, wire organizing / recycling bin, microscope, 3D printers, and other fun tools :)

    (Magnetic 3D printed scissors holder - one of many custom designs around my apartment)


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  • Day 1 (Part 2): Night Owl

    CriptasticHacker03/02/2024 at 06:20 0 comments

    Now that we were getting out of the concept realm and into the real world tangible stuff, my anxieties began to relieve a bit.  It was time to take some measurements !

    I rolled over to the nearest bus stop, and took out my midnight measuring tape and camera:

    Bus stops are spooky places late at night.  But one thing I noticed kinda stunned me...the backing glass was gone!  How can anyone lean back in these already uncomfortable seats?

    Julia and I planned to use this backing glass to support our "throne" comfy seat, as well as some headlines and lights for the unfomfortable seat.  It was truly ironic that SFMTA's efforts to make bus stops as uncomfortable as possible was thwarting our art project exposing the uncomfortableness of bus stops - agh!

    I went around afterwards looking at other bus stops - and it was the same everywhere :(

    Fortunately, I could still grab measurements for the 3D printed spikes we planned to mount.  Julia suggested "about 20cm" - bless her metric heart, that made me so happy, haha.  And she was right!  

    "It should be easy" she said. I quipped that it was unfair that she had 3D printing knowledge so that I could not gain late night sympathy points for the hours of labor this would take! [sarcasm].  She has a Bambu P1P at home, so she sees through my shennanigans :P

    With measurements taken, I went home and made the model.  It was pretty easy in Tinkercad since they have a round-tipped dome preset shape.  Super handy.

    After that I exported to slicer, then the SD card, and then fired up the 3D printer (Ender 3 S1 Pro, baby!) for some test prints.  All looked passable - I hardly optimized settings for a 48-hour hackathon.  I decided to make some in red, black, and silver (silk PLA):

    The quality is a bit meh because it was printed too fast near the tops, and probably not enough walls.  But it would match the grungy outdoor aesthetic better, anyway :P  With this done, I turned in for the night on Day 1.  It was nearly 3am and Day 2 would be the real project day!

    [To be continued...]

  • Day 1: ​Arriving (late), Selecting a Concept, and Forming the SuperDuo!

    CriptasticHacker03/01/2024 at 11:09 0 comments

    Everyone respected my hacker alias and called me 'crip' when I arrived...even got a nametag: "Crip Lishus" - hellyeah!  (Given names are so boring and prescribed.  It's nice to reinvent ourselves and our identity to match what we like and how we are.)  It's meant to be one word, but it said first and last name so...

    I had some stuff come up (back pain) that made me a little late to the first day of the event.  The invite said "6pm sharp" but man oh man, nobody is "sharp" for anything in SF!  However, I found out later I missed some pretty important details (woops).  I had assumed that groups would be evenly divided among participants, with all of us spaced out at different tables.  So I'd say 5-6 people a project was what it looked like.  

    This gave me some concerns, as I wasn't sure how many people would want to do a political message.  From some of our chats at the table, it seemed folks were more interested in an experimental kind of message.  Stuff that was more casual in its approach to the title "Dethroned" and less literal in a socio-political sense. 

    There were also ideas going around for homages to the kings and queens of silicon valley culture - the Overlords of Big Tech, as it were.  I thought it was a strange idea, honoring say, Mark Zuckerberg with a statue covered in toilet paper.  But, as I would learn later, the artist brain works in some cool and mysterious ways - and I actually loved what people came up with at the show.

    Fortunately, one person on a similar vibe spoke up in their introduction.  When asked the prompt, "What does 'Dethrone' mean to you?" she answered,

    '...Smashing the Patriarchy!'  

    Immediately, I knew who I wanted my teammate to be :P

    (Julia (pronounced "You-lee-uh"), striking a pose as we spray paint our throne outside Gray Area)

    That first intro and discussion winded around different concepts, and someone brought up the idea of doing art in the community.  I loved that.  It felt strange being in this seperate space, apart from the vibrant world of the Mission right outside.  The Mission is world-famous for its art: Murals fill the streets here, music pours from our of cafes and cars, and it seems everyone has something to say and a unique life experience to share.  I wanted to be a part of that, and to share whatever we would create. 

    The vibe wasn't ideal at first though, as the doors at the front were kept closed for security (I heard there was a stalking scare earlier), and every time I went outside to unmask and drink a soda or something, a little dog was yapping at me like crazy.  This poor fuzzy guy was just terrified of my wheelchair and no amount of pets and calming speak would change his mind.

    One concept floating around was making a bench.  Something to highlight modern architecture and the uncomfortableness of seats in public space.  My original suggestion was a super fancy bench with plants, calming music, and a blue / purple color motif to create a pleasant kind of mini vacation outside  An example of what could be possible in a caring, better world. 

    Julia (my soon-to-be-teammate) was into something actually uncomfortable though, admitting she was drawn to the more critical lense of politics.  Then she mentioned an artist (maybe thinking of James Hughes?) that had made deliberately uncomfortable furniture as a sort of protest against hostile architecture:

    Voila!  Put 2:2 together and the concept for 'Cultural Integrity' was born :) 

    However, no one had commited to it yet.  New ideas were popping up and I was the only person pushing for the outdoor "field trip" art idea.  The Mission was my comfort zone, although (understandably) most everyone else wanted to stay inside the nice space where the food, drinks, and security was.

    After a while of discussion roundabout, I realized...

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Julia Daser wrote 03/12/2024 at 23:09 point

(meanwhile waiting impatiently for you to post more blogs :))) )

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Julia Daser wrote 03/12/2024 at 23:08 point

Thanks so much for documenting our project so passionately - I had THE BEST time working with you and can't wait to collaborate again! (This time in NYC hehe :) )

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