Coursework, notes, and progress while attending NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP)

Project proposal progress & 360 images

Our algae cultures arrived!

The instructions indicated that the tubes should be slightly unscrewed to allow gas exchange, that they should be kept in light but not direct sunlight, and at room temperature.

I sort of panicked but from what I’ve read, it seems like cultures like this are somewhat resilient. The detailed advice online corroborates the notes includes in the package, which made me feel better. I may have linked to this article on growing spirulina before, but I keep referring back to it. There’s less but some instructions on how to grow these less-often home-grown varieties. Getting started is definitely overwhelming, which makes me wonder how hard it would be to create an easier way to farm algae at home. I came across this kickstarter video from a while back but it didn’t seem to address my main concern (contamination), still didn’t look very easy, and didn’t look at all appetizing.

To go forward it sounds like we’ll need (at least):

  1. Some kind of container: I got a fish tank for free but I’m not actually sure this will end up working
  2. Dechlorinated, filtered water
  3. Fertilizer
  4. Heater (spirulina, at least, grows at 80-90 degree Fahrenheit)
  5. Thermometer
  6. Something to maintain the alkalinity of the solution (again, for spirulina, pH should be 10.5)
  7. pH sensor
  8. Light source: I saw suggested that traditional grow lights probably won’t work that well but I wonder if we could just use sunlight
  9. An air pump to move the water around, slowly

It seems like we should be regularly checking the specimens with a microscope as well.

More imaging experiments

Over spring break I travelled to Yosemite which was amazing but limited my ability to photograph my microgreens. However, in northern California there are very big trees, and I wondered if their massiveness might be captured with a 360 photo that could be experienced in VR. Photographing small plants that grow in as little as 10 days versus photographing sequoias that grow over thousands of years made me consider the lifecyles of large and small things on earth. Limits to growth when it comes to individual species are quite different. Of course when I was researching limits to growth, limits to human growth was implicit!

In my opinion 360 is really the most fun when you get to play with scale, which allows a perspective from an otherwise unknowable angle. So, after I got back, I put the theta in my microgreen bin also.

From California:

From my microgreen bin:

These are a lot of fun on a phone!

Intelligence, systems, & perspective

Northern California is beautiful, and the immensity of the landscape gives the impression that a tiny human couldn’t possibly have an affect on such an awesome earth. But at the same time, the California drought is affecting sequoias, and many are dying. Scientists were surprised to find the seedlings seem to be getting enough water while the monarchs suffer. I was reminded of the radiolab episode with Suzanne Simard and it just makes sense that decisions are being made by the trees. I thought about the intelligence of networks of trees, grandparents role in human evolution, and the probable wisdom of very old trees.

I happened to read Yuval Harari’s thoughts on biotechnology and AI in transforming the human race to something indistinguishable from us today. While Harari takes a more agnostic view on technology, this made me think of Zizek in Examined Life: we are ecological engineers engineering ourselves, potentially out of existence. Is the individual disintegrating? Did the individual ever exist or are we all sums of interdependent systems that form a whole: the human race as a whole, perhaps in the same way we might conceptualize the intelligence of a forest as whole, one consciousness? Is it the whole the biosphere?

Do we need rapid technological advancement to solve the problems at hand; or, do we need to shift to a more conservative approach in order to preserve (for lack of more exact language) an old wilderness or way of life?

New stuff:

  • The Suess effect: a change in the ratio of the atmospheric concentrations of heavy isotopes of carbon (13C and 14C) by the admixture of large amounts of fossil-fuel derived CO2, which is depleted in 13CO2 and contains no 14CO2
  • Blue carbon is the carbon captured by the world’s oceans and coastal ecosystems. The carbon captured by living organisms in oceans is stored in the form of biomass and sediments from mangroves, salt marshes, seagrasses and potentially algae. Seagrasses, I learned, are also detrimentally affected by eutrophication.
  • The bessemer process: a steel-making process, now largely superseded, in which carbon, silicon, and other impurities are removed from molten pig iron by oxidation in a blast of air in a special tilting retort (featured in the Studio Swine Can City video)

[Preliminary] Proposal

Can I create a visual and gustatory experience using algae that upends people’s perceptions about their rate of consumption in relation to the growth & death of other living things, and gives them a visceral understanding of their body in relation to the food systems that sustain human life?

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