AIM-inspired Sequoia poems

This week we were tasked with creating our own poetic form. I went to Yosemite over Spring Break so I was thinking about Sequoias–I was kind of amazed when I found this Sequoia National Park guide from 1937 on Project Gutenberg. I was stuck on how to create a poetic form from this when separately, I was researching passcode and password best practices. I thought it might be funny to create passphrases with the Sequoia guide as a seed text (har har). I didn’t really like this, but realized that some of the guidelines for passcodes result in old-school AIM-y looking text. Instead, I decided to create screen names. I also figured this could be more easily generalized to any text.

I was amused, but I also wanted to play with the pronouncing library we used in class. I wondered if rhyming screen names might be interesting? Instead, I created some lame but sometimes funny conversations. One person/screen name character initiates the conversation, and the response is something random and generally long (an entire line). The response is a rhyme. This happens again but then the second character continues the rhyme, and then they switch roles.

My code is on github. My final program is and my final output is parksOutput.txt. I tested out the generalizability using the mushroom recipes text I used in a previous week, but this sometimes gave me errors. It would also be nice to create dynamic timestamps!

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?

encyclopedia of life poems

Since there’s a Magic the Gathering API, I was hoping to continue working with card text this week, but in a more robust way. But, for some reason I kept getting a handshake error. I googled it, and people suggested using the request library, which I gather is somewhat more secure. I downloaded the libraries, and adjusted my code, but I still couldn’t get it to work:

$ pip install requests
$ pip install requests[security]

Instead, I worked with the encyclopedia of life API. Since I’ve been doing work with plants and algae for Temporary Expert, I thought the material might be interesting to work with. Also, I thought my phosphorus poem worked quite nicely and I was curious to experiment more with scientific texts in a poetic form.

The algae page didn’t lend itself well to text manipulation–none of the descriptions included were particularly interesting. After developing a general structure using the bees results, I then made a more general program where you can pass through any (land) animal as a parameter. I tried passing in other living things but it seems like not all results include the same fields, and so the program returns errors. This sort of makes sense to me given my experience looking at the algae results.

Reframing technical scientific naming and language is quite compelling to me. Something I think I’ve neglecting in the past few assignments is the form on the page (screen). The Hartley and Morris readings compelled me to pay more attention to this. While I didn’t address meter head on, it was interesting to see the difference including different length words made. I settled on a sort of round (visually) form which meant there were often short, stressed words at the beginning and end. Maybe this is bad.

I don’t understand feet.

My code and some experiments are on github. My first program and output are the ‘bees’ files. The final, more generalized program is and the experiments from this are saved as animals.txt.

Macrophotography & algae updates

Daily practice: macrophotography

The daily task I chose was macrophotography which utilizes the amplification strategy, very literally. I did my best photographing my growing plants with a magnifying lens that was apparently left on the junk shelf. I don’t even know if I’m calling this the right thing because I know so little about photography… lol.

As time progressed I thought about the exponential growth which is central to humans’ relationships with earth’s resources, spelled out in Limits to Growth and elsewhere, and the relatively fast (but still so slow) growth of plants that (on the whole) sustain us.

This was also so, so fun. I researched a bit more about photography with microscopes. On day 6, so a bit late, I met with Eric Rosenthal to learn more about this. He was so helpful and the tools we introduced me to were so illuminating! He pointed me to software for focus layering, which seems very important if I’m to continue with photographing small and/or microscopic things. The depth of field on these lenses is just so limited. He also showed me I could 3D print a device to hook my iPhone to a microscope (as opposed to using more complicated equipment) to take more-microscopic photos this way.

I made these composites of each day.

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6

Day 7

This week I also got to see Trevor Paglen and Kate Crawford speak on AI and the increased concentration of capital & computing power in just a few entities (perhaps another exponential trend?). A photographer, Paglen noted the power imaging has in giving things and people power. It made me wonder how creating images of things we might not ordinarily see, or consider small or irrelevant, changes value and power dynamics.

A quote from my Reading and Writing Electronic Text reading also stood out, as a sort of meta-commentary (re: jazz and poetry): “The improviser can’t edit but must fall back on the most basic standard of all: is this interesting to me, right now?”

Other imaging experiments

From Eric’s advice, I created the following images from one small micro green (that I picked and then ate!!!! I felt a little bad) using the focus layering technique. What’s cool about Helicon is you can also create 3D renderings, which I tried. None were very effective since the leaf, stem, and root are all pretty flat. The root worked the best.

I also tried taking photos of plants through a small microscope Eric lent me that magnifies 60-120x and just my iPhone.

These reminded me of moons or like a tiny earth.


Finally a good explanation of different types of algae, and the associated confusion:

The internal cell structure of algae varies greatly. Microalgae lack complex multicellular structures that are found in seaweeds. The cyanobacteria or blue-green algae have a prokaryotic cell structure and closely resemble bacteria. Eukaryotic algal cells have a nucleus and usually one or more chloroplasts; they also have mitochondria, Golgi bodies, endoplasmic reticulum, and other typical eukaryotic organelles. Despite the difficulty in presenting a clear definition for algae, thousands of books, scores of scientific journals, and numerous internet websites are dedicated solely to compiling our knowledge of algae”

By a string of connections I was put in touch with Lauren, who is doing research on algae biofuels. She directed me to the Algae Handbook (e-book) (quoted above), which thankfully is available online from the NYU library, and UTEX , UT Austin’s Algae culture collection. I asked about the potential of algae to mitigate phosphorus and nitrogen runoff, and she thought one easy use of algae was to clean up waste water from hydroponics facilities. When it comes to algae blooms as a result of of other runoff, she pointed to the difficulty, expense, and risks of introducing new organisms into an open environment. She shared a bit about her own and other’s ongoing research. She also gave very useful direction for beginning to grow algae on the ITP floor, and so much more information to think about and sift through.

This last piece was incredibly timely, since I just started working with Sara, a student in Stefani’s BioDesigning the Future of Food class who is also interested in growing algae. Using some of the research materials Lauren sent along, we will reconvene to order algae strains before spring break, and begin our process after we get back.

I think it might be very interesting to do similar macrophotography while growing algae!! And perhaps underwater?

Towers of Power: prototype components

Scanning frequencies

The perl scanning script required Net::Telnet, which we realized when we finally specified the command. We defined a csv file with the frequencies we want to scan–then by specifying the path to the file and running the code below, the gqrx scan script finds the frequency with the most activity and records when the signal strength surpasses a certain level. We allowed more noise in gqrx than we defined in gqrx-scan (so a recording is harder to trigger). Still, we noticed that we occasionally just get recordings of static. Also, moving the SDR seems to affect the levels.

$ perl gqrx-scan –type file –pause 2 –delaylevel=-34 –delaytime 5 –record –monitor


Used the virtualenv instructions from surveillance & society class last semester. I think Twilio’s documentation might be out of date. I started following their instructions at the requirements.txt section.

Started sample code for simply sending an SMS and experimented with triggers that Twilio already had examples for (sends administrators a text when you hit an error page). To demonstrate how our app would function, we want to try to send a text when a file is saved (to the pi, or to the server, for example).

Prototype progress

We think a fully working prototype will incorporate all of these elements:

SDR with Raspberry pi -> scan with gqrx scan -> digital speech decoder -> output file -> incron job  -> if new file, then trigger twilio

We are working to get as many of these components working on Raspberry Pi as possible, to be able to demonstrate how it would work.

Magic mushroom dictionaries

I decided to continue working with the same texts from last week because I was dissatisfied with their ultimate form. I thought it might be interesting to pick out words based on their length, which would allow me a lot of control over the line length and rhythm. My very ambitious goal was to create a dictionary of magic cards by scraping the Magic the Gathering card database site using cards “multiverseid” as the input argument. Working with the beautifulsoup library became enough of a headache that I decided to put this off for later–especially since we’ll be working more with getting text off the web this week and class. I also then discovered MTG has an API.

At first I created my dictionaries so that the word was the key and the length of the word was the value, but after struggling to pull out keys based off of values, I realized it would be much easier if my dictionary was flipped, so that word length was the key. Figuring this out made the process much easier. I sort of lost track of the structure of my text when I was putting it back together, but I enjoyed the unintentional output.

Happy mistakes

order. the said classes the placed spell. one when juicier top slowly flying pay made cooking Tap little cards. him with pressed may gravy, Return the from pasture all dipped cards. way half covered You bacon, played You more drying. the spiced itself for will minutes all crumbs player him when pepper, you scales cards. the with covered any sound,

r e v e a l t h e t h e n f l a n n e l t h e a d d i n g
d a m a g e A d d b e s t t h r o u g h A d d t a s t e .
t a r g e t p u t w h e n l e a v i n g d o , p l a c e .
t a r g e t t o p B a k e f i f t e e n t h e b e f o r e
t a r g e t t w o p i n t s p i c i n g Y o u R e m o v e
G r e e n , t h e W h e n f i l l i n g a l l f r i e d .
c a r d s . a n y w i t h g l a s s e s a n d B e f o r e
d a m a g e h i s d i s h p i e c e s , a l l l a y e r s
l o o k e d A d d s o m e s t e w p a n w a y p e p p e r
n u m b e r y o u s o u p p r o c e s s m a y s l o w l y

Return Add make stalks, for rolled
itself two Chop vinegar its minced
enters the fire flannel Add pepper
grave. any with pudding may washed
itself the salt portion are rolled
Search set some butter, you water.
Simoon any half garlic; the butter
itself his with vinegar may slowly
player any into people, you onions
itself and into stewpan the using,

Final Poems

While testing my results and sorting out the issues I had with my words and arrays, I became concerned about the uniformity of the output poems. In order to vary the line structure and make them more interesting, I ended up employing different rules to different lines. Something I’ve lost by completely disregarding the structure of sentences is the sense of complete thoughts. I wonder if there’s a way to grammatical parts of speech to have more control over this?

My code is on github and below are a few variations:

filled you when Vinegar her number
add Search Vise spoils card, some
things her pan, people, you Badham
after mind parchment teaspoonful other Add
Reveal top thin stewpan the rains,
add Cursed moat little dies, Trim
player Add with parsley the stalks
dip player from Season life. half
target any over flannel its butter
serve Then parchment circulation cost. the

Draw of add grated to dried
the player. you onion. Mana salt,
five of the taste, 4. serve
layer, bomb, mushrooms teaspoonful gold. hand
mana in and unless am ounce
and evincar may Remove each heavy
Name to the 1893. of them,
hot Destroy way butter card salad
seen If The Agaric of dozen
rains, cards mushrooms immediately card. ring

your to the pepper of white
the upkeep, two mushrooms best olive
Tap: is and Lenten to dozen
muscat deals mushrooms teaspoonful exile Tap:
life of you layers to dish,
and Destroy the mushrooms Grim added
cast as the broken 3, Baked
put doesn’t do, perfectly your round
come of and batter of blade
slowly other thickness preparation cards seen


Understanding algae

My inquiries landed me on algae-based solution, but I and Marina (who rightly pointed this out after my presentation)  wondered “what are the differences between algae and micro algae, run-off algae species and the ones we eat in smoothies?” There are thousands of kinds of algae, and cyanobacteria, green-blue, and red algae are all referred to as algae.


I learned many seaweeds are also algae, including kelp, which is “formed by brown macroalgae of the order Laminariales” [wikipedia] Stefani also pointed me to this New Yorker article on the many, varied benefits of kelp.

And kelp forests are beautiful! I had no idea this was at the center of the kelp broth I love in vegetarian ramens. I’m working on sorting out these varied subcategories of algae and connecting to people that might help.

Growing things @ITP

The BioDesigning the Future of Food class at ITP has created space for growing microgreens on the floor. I thought since my line of inquiry led me to examining our food system, it made sense to take advantage of the opportunity to learn more about the methods they’re using to grow food on the floor. I talked to Stefani and got a bin! There were two options for lights: blue-red LEDs and UV light. It was interesting to see the spectrum of light being used compared with other science I’ve seen about optimum lighting for plants.

Documentation from the LED Panel box

My final set up includes 4 kinds of microgreens split between two sides of the bin. My hope is to develop an experiment where one side receives some treatment and the other side is the control.

I also want to grow algae which Stefani seems fine with, although I need to do more research. I’ve found a few sites with basic instructions and others that provide more robust support. I wonder what kind of opportunities there may be for combining the two?

Limits to growth: other directions and connections

While exciting, it seems like growing food and algae on the floor is only as important as the connection back to our limits to growth, and food’s central role in many of the systems that push on earth’s planetary boundaries.

  • The role of capitalism/invisible hand/neoliberal world order
  • Technological advancement & theoretically limitless growth
  • Marina recommended the book Inventing the future. Reading the first chapter, I thought it was interesting to think of the Rolling Jubilee as “crisis response,” which in a way also goes back to discussions we had at the beginning of class regarding adaptation to mitigation.
  • She also pushed me to think of metaphors related to algae (oxygen use, giving and suffocating life). Maybe I can use my experiments on the floor to look at death?
  • Another art strategy she suggested was parafiction (which I love). Many stories could be told about the future. I wonder about the possibility of AR/VR to overlay worlds and realities.
  • I loved Mary Mattingly’s manifesto. The non-violent economic and ecological orders really resonate. How to we compel ourselves and others to use our capital in here in high-income countries to consume responsibly, or within our means. The momentum feels overwhelming.

Final updates

For the final Marco, Dorothy and I going to work on demodulating frequencies that use APCO Project 25. We’d like to see if we can decipher (1) whether communication is occurring and potentially (2) the information being transmitted. We’re not sure if communications might be encrypted but this itself might be useful information. If we have time we’d also like to build a tool that could send relevant information gleaned to affected parties.

The RTL-SDR tutorial I found before last class ended up being a pretty good one for pointing us in the right direction. We’re not using SDRSharp but we found this pretty detailed tutorial for how to use digital speech decoder (DSD) using GQRX. They also have a github. We were able to get as far as piping audio over UDP. After installing DSD, alsa-oss, and socat, you can display and set the port audio devices for dsd (we used 5 because this was our default; in the tutorial he used 11):

$ ./dsd -a

$ ./dsd -i pa:5 -o pa:5

Then we could get hex output, using this command:

$ socat stdout udp-listen:7355 | xxd

I think piping in audio through dsd is just a matter of changing the command to which the audio is getting piped, but when I tried this with a signal gqrx froze (example code below is saving output to a .wav file). I wonder if it will be a problem doing this in real time? Still, right now I think we are just trying to get enough P25 signal to play with. Another question I have is whether the mode we’re using to record/pipe audio will matter once we pass it through DSD?

$ socat stdout udp-listen:7355 | ./dsd -i – -w dsd_output.wav

We are using a linux laptop while we figure these pieces out. In an ideal deployment we also don’t want a human to have to listen constantly, so Dhruv pointed us to gqrx-scan to automate this piece, which will allow us to record and hopefully automate a response as much as possible when there is a signal. Assuming this all goes smoothly, we will create a prototype using Raspberry Pi that we could sell/deploy to various areas.

Frequencies for testing P25 decoding

NYC, National

Tap: Mushrooms

This week for our assignment on cut-ups, I decided to mash up the text of about 30 Magic the Gathering Artifact, Enchantment, and Instant cards and the recipes from Student’s Hand-book of Mushrooms of America, Edible and Poisonous by Thomas Taylor. I picked arguably the best cards from these categories from the Magic Card database, because of their language around spell-casting. I thought they would work well with recipes since both are essentially instructions.

I think I had spells on the mind because of the hexes witches have been placing on Trump, MTG because a friend recently gave away his entire collection, and I just loved all the sounds of all the mushroom names from this book while searching through Gutenberg and wanted to find a way to incorporate something about them. Even though I selected specific text to begin with by cutting and pasting, I struggled to cut down the text to what I wanted. I don’t think I’m quite there (mushroom language or structure-wise) but I was pleased by how couldron-y some of the products were.

Before cutting down lines and reducing length more intelligently I was getting a lot of text as output. There was something very nice about the repetition in a later version, but I refined this a bit more before settling on the final code. Right now I am picking out every other line I create, and there’s probably a better way to do this. My source text and final code are here. Each time it runs you get something a bit different. I thought this one was okay.

Limits to Growth Proposal: Algae Brewer


I met with NYU professor David Kanter last week and had a very helpful discussion. His work is focused on the nitrogen cycle, but nitrogen and phosphorus have a close relationship given their role as fertilizers. One important difference is nitrogen is renewable and phosphorus is not. He pointed me to the Planetary Boundaries update supplementary materials to learn more about how the boundaries are defined–but apparently for nitrogen they were set somewhat arbitrarily initially and have since been tested and adjusted.

He suggested a number of areas where change or improvement could reduce nutrient pollution and carbon emissions. I included these in my final presentation, but they are broadly split between consumer behavior changes and technological advances in farming. We discussed the benefits of individual changes versus focuses on larger systemic change, but really it comes down to: individual change (vegetarianism, for example) is important but not sufficient.

It was good for me to return back to the original idea of limits to growth (30-year update) to link the research I’d done about phosphorus back to the big picture–how we’re unsustainably exhausting many planetary boundaries.

I heard back from another expert and sent along some questions, but haven’t yet heard back. In the meantime, I’ve come across many other algae projects, articles, and companies [and their sustainability assessments]. I am meeting with Stefani Bardin this week to discuss ways I can experiment with algae to test out my project idea.

My article citations have also been updated.

Some useful & some abandoned sketches

Waste systems 

While my project proposal went in a different direction, I’ve generally been very curious about how we might better capture and recycle waste. I came across a project where someone went to great lengths to install a waste recycling system in their home: by adding many small red worms to a biosolids tank they were able to produce soil. I wonder if something like this could be more easily installed in homes with septic tanks? There were also several projects out of Maker Faire Africa a few years ago that focused on human waste repurposing.

One contact that Kanter suggsted was Will Brownlie at the Center for Ecology and Hydrology in England. I haven’t yet contacted him but his thesis work was on “Assessing the role of domestic phosphorus emissions in the human phosphorus footprint” so he would likely be a useful expert if I continue to work in this direction.

I also learned that NYC has a biosolids management program.