Saturday, October 23, 2010

Holy crap, it's been a long time since I've posted!
Well, I have a fantastic excuse....

Kodiak Turbo Bonanza Sporrong Ristow, Christina's and my son, was born on September 28, 2010, at 2:15 AM! He is an awesome little fella!

Now even though it would be tempting to let this blog become all about Kodiak (since my life has pretty much become all about Kodiak!), I realize that it's likely that not everyone reading this blog will want to see nothing but Kodiak pictures from now on. So, for that reason I am going to keep the Kodiak profile reasonably low here. But never fear, baby-pic lovers, I have started a Flickr page devoted to this amazing young man; click here for all the latest and best pictures.

In other news.... well, actually there's not much other news.

When you hear that sleep and free time are suddenly very hard to come by after having a baby, well it's true! I have not spent more than 4 hours in the shop in the last 4 weeks. However, I did manage to put together a pretty kickass grant proposal for a new sculpture. I should hear about that grant sometime around the new year; I will hold off on posting the proposal and drawings until I hear yea or nay.

I'll try to post a little more frequently, now... but I can't guarantee it.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Every time there is a possibility of performing at a festival with my robots, or the Hand, or whatever, there is always a period of bargaining between me and the promoters of whatever event is in question. This bargaining can have varying levels of ferocity, but the bottom line is usually the same, which is that the promoters (despite the fact that their events typically bring in tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars) always have only a few grand for art. In other words, the money they have available to pay artists like myself is typically BARELY enough to cover everything.

Some time ago, I made a decision that I would actually SAVE money by owning my own truck. (I've touched on this topic briefly before...) I think in the long run, this has proven to be true. Especially when one considers the fact that there is no truck rental in Taos, and so a round-trip to Santa Fe or Albuquerque, usually eating up a whole day, is necessitated at either end of the trip.

Herman, my crane truck

has done the job for me thus far. But Herman has some limitations. He is slow, especially when loaded, and not tremendously comfortable.

My semi truck (not yet named)

has some severe limitations too, namely that it is not yet road-worthy, and I do not yet have a Commercial Drivers License, which I would need to drive it. But with some time and work and money, the semi could really be fantastic. This is a little photoshop of what the semi might look like when I am done with it....

I think about this crap a lot.

Here is a little chart that I made to help me decide which way to go on the truck issue...

The bottom line is that I will almost certainly just work on the semi slowly, as time and money allow, and use Herman in the meantime. Then one day, when the semi is ready to roll, I will decide what to do.

Of course there is another option, which is to play such hardball in the budget negotiating phase with these festivals that there would be enough money to have the projects professionally trucked. That would be safer. But if these festival promoters really have as little money as they say they do, it's not going to go that way anytime soon. After all, I am trying to make a living here. And if 40 or 50% of my budget goes to a trucker, I won't be paying any bills! And so why perform at all?

I welcome any comments on this pressing issue.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Lately, I cannot get enough of the Magnetic Fields' 3-part magnum opus, 69 Love Songs. The lyrics and melodies are so good, that I actually think I am becoming a better singer through singing them to myself all the time! The truth is that songs from this 3-album work make up about 95% of what I sing to KB, too! KB is already a fan of the Magnetic Fields!

Current favorite songs are:
• Long-Forgotten Fairy Tale
• Grand Canyon
• Reno Dakota
• Papa was a Rodeo
("Papa was a Rodeo" might be my all-time favorite... I sing it to KB ALL THE TIME.)

In other news, Christina's sculpture was a big hit at Burning Man.
The weather is beautiful. I'm riding my motorcycle. The shop is clean. The semi truck's radiator has been re-installed. The Hand is just about ready for El Paso.

And, last Sunday, KB hit term! That means that he or she could come out anytime, and be fine! WE ARE IN THE BIRTH WINDOW!!!


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

I finally got somethng creative done!

I have been working on this for an embarassingly long time. But yesterday I simply decided it was time to finish it, so I did.

It's a "data glove" or maybe more accurately an "input glove". It captures what each of my fingers does with five individual slide potentiometers, for controlling some other mechanical device.

That "other mechanical device" is not built yet. And the fact is that it could really be almost anything with five functions, like a mechanical hand or a four-legged robot with a flamethrower.


Taken on the same stormy day.
The Pasatiempo Article

Like I said, it was a little difficult to actually get to the Pasatiempo article through the newspaper's site, so here it is:

Page 1
Page 2
Page 3

Sorry that the navigation is a little caveman, but if you open those links in a new tab or new window, you can click back here for the next page.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Burning Mesa 2010, dude!

I have always wanted to use the Subjugator, my flame-throwing tracked robot, to set the MAN (the Burning MAN, dude!) on fire! Well, tonight I did!

Christina and I hosted "Burning Mesa 2010" this evening, a sort of orphans' Burning Man - an evening of bonfires, barbecue, and flame-throwing robots for all the Burning Man attendees from Taos who, for one reason or another, did not go this year. That group does of course include us, because of the little incoming KB. (KB, by the way, started as the initials for Kidney Bean, which is approximately the size of your unborn kid when he / she is about 6 weeks old. For some reason we liked the initials KB, and came up with a name that matched. And for the record, it is NOT Kevin Bacon, or Ka Boom, or Koala Bear!)

Our good friend Peter Kolshorn made a kick-ass replica of the MAN, and for everyone's enjoyment, I used the Subjugator to BURN him!

We also had multiple bonfires, excellent food, fire-spinning, annoying techno music, and fireworks. The only stuff missing was the dust-storm whiteout, the awful porta-potties, and the 10,000 ravers keeping you up all night!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Multi-Topic Stream of Consciousness Blog Post

Sometimes it seems to me that I have a character flaw, which is to focus on the things that aren't working. I can tell you - that's a surefire avenue to depression. As many wise people, including the great Jack Kornfield, have rightly pointed out, it's not the external circumstances of your life that cause you pain or joy, it's the THOUGHTS you have about those circumstances...

After writing (and thinking) the other day about how frustrating my money situation is, I got a bit glum. But I can tell you, if I didn't give a shit about the fact that money is so tight, the actual circumstances of my financial situation wouldn't bother me a bit!

But there is a subtlety here that is important. To improve the situation, I MUST think about the situation. And so the answer is not to simply ignore it, but rather to intentionally have certain types of thoughts, instead of others. Solution-oriented, proactive thoughts tend to work better!


On that topic, I continue to brainstorm income generating solutions that would fit my life here in Taos. The ideal scenario would be one in which I could work 10 or 20 or 30 hours a week doing something creative and/or problem-solving in nature, and then use the internet to sell that product or service. Working through the internet would be good because then I would not have to deal directly with people, which can be time-consuming and unpredictable. Also, the internet reaches a lot more people than the Taos phone-book.

Gunsmithing is one possibility that came to mind. I am sure I would be very good at it, and I probably have most of the tools already. However, it's not really an interenet thing; in fact I might have to deal with republicans or gangsters.

I am also continuing to attempt to fix my CNC milling machine. So far, I am having no luck. If anyone wants to read the forum thread I have been running on this topic, click here. I am pretty sure I could come up with a way to make money with this thing, if I could get it working.... I keep trying.


Today Christina and I took the day off from improving the house, preparing for the baby, and working in the shop. Instead we drove to Abiquiu lake, not far from where Georgia O'Keefe hung out and painted. We sat around and read and went swimming with the dogs. Nice.

Oh, and does everybody know that Christina is pregnant, and we will be having a kiddo in about a month? (!!)


Not too long ago I posted a list of books I was ostensibly trying to read. However, I also confessed that I rarely finish the books I start. Well, I did not finish any of those, although there are a few that I am still imagining that I might get back to. But I do have a few new books that I am trying to read!

They are:

Wearable Robots: Biomechatronic Exoskeletons, by Jose . Pons. This is a very dense book, and the first book to focus exclusively on wearable robots. I am actually getting through it, slowly. Although a lot of the scientific equations and calculations are above my head, it's a great volume. Entire chapters are devoted to topics such as kinematics of the human body; cognitive human-robot interface technologies; and sensor, actuator, and power supply technologies. When I get around to building my man-amplifier, I will be glad I read this.

Mythology, by David Leeming. I just started this book about world mythologies, but it seems like a well-written, entertaining read. I picked it up at a used bookstore in Pasadena.

The Continuum Concept, by Jean Liedloff. I actually have not gotten this book yet; it is in the mail and I should receive it soon. From what I know, it discusses the some of the differences in the ways we Americans rear our children, and how it is done in the rest of the world. In certain South American countries, for example, children are often worn on backpacks while their parents continue life as usual, and the result is that children learn a tremendous amount and tend to successfully integrate into their culture much sooner than American children. Or something like that. Like I said, I haven't started it yet. But it sounds great to me!


Also, Christina and I got a pretty good writeup in the entertainment section of the Santa Fe New Mexican. Its a bit of a pain to read it on their site, because they make you sign up for a free trial or become a member, so I will upload it elsewhere, and post a link to it soon, here on this blog.


And lastly, I learned not too long ago that I have a giant (9mm) kidney stone lodged in my right ureter! AWESOME! I will post the entire heartwarming story soon...

Until then, drink lots of water, everyone!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


I took a bunch of pictures of the newly completed baby room, like this one....

But then once it was done, and we moved in the crib and all the other unbearably cute stuff, I decided to take a video!

Plus, a video gives a much better feel for the room in space.

I hope that I am not getting too precious about the kid and kids room.... but hey, it's only going to get worse!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Money: The Wound That Never Heals. *

Yes, it's true. I can build a walking robot.....

But I cannot seem to figure out how to earn an income in Taos.

As I go through my mental inventory of art projects and sculptures that I have wanted to build in the last few years, one thing becomes clear..... Which is that the most significant thing stopping me from actually building these ideas is a lack of funds. From a certain philosophical point of view, it seems a damn shame that projects such as these, which I think are interesting and worth building, should be arrested at the idea phase because they are too expensive to build.

I had a pretty good balance going on when I lived in LA. The movie industry afforded the possibility of a lifestyle in which I could work for a few months here and there, for anywhere between $40 and $50 an hour, and make enough money to not only pay my bills for the next few months, but actually build some art. I do not remember ever encountering a situation in LA in which I wanted to build a piece of art, but was unable to do so because of lack of funds.

And now I am in New Mexico, where I have a wonderful shop, and the time and space to build things, but no money. And what's worse than no money is no prospects (currently) for making any money. At some point in the last year or so I was faced with a situation where I needed to earn a few hundred dollars, and I realized that I have no idea how to make a few hundred dollars in Taos.

I could stage a robot show.... but that doesn't really make money, even in a city. I could run off to LA for a while, and do some effects work.... but that is really very inconvenient, especially now with a baby on the way. I could try to get a job in town, but with the wages that they pay in New Mexico, that is a very poor approach to making an income. I could try to book the Hand of Man somewhere... but that would not be in Taos, and that is a pretty poor way to make money too.

If I am smart enough to build a robot, I should probably be smart enough to come up with a way to make a living. But I do not want to run a business.... at least not the kind of business that takes over your life. From what I have seen, businesses become so demanding of people's time that they have no time for anything else. That would really defeat the purpose, which is to use up as little time as possible to make enough money to fund the building of art and the paying of the bills, thereby leaving time to actually make the art.

I have an excellent shop, and excellent skills, and no idea what to do with them.

Building art for sale increasingly looks like a dead end. I have not given up on it, and I would absolutely love to be proved wrong. But my god, I have shown my sculptures so many times, for sale at prices that barely cover my time and materials, and they don't sell. Maybe my sculpture is ahead of its time. Or maybe its just bad. Either way, trying to fund the making of art by selling art seems like a no-win situation, for me at least. A gallerist or agent who believed in me might help.

Yes, there is a movie industry here in New Mexico. And yes, I did join the union, as required, so that I could work here. But those two months working on Thor were filled with the most demeaning, mind-numbing work I have performed since I worked for Disney twelve years ago. I quit Disney after six days. I should have quit Thor but I couldn't afford to. I will go back to work in the New Mexico movie union if I have to, but only as a last resort. And by the way, that work is not in Taos. Spending weeks at a time in Santa Fe, away from my family, is really not all that different from spending weeks at a time in LA.

•I could convert people's old vehicles to electric. Maybe there's a market for that.
•I could come up with some kind of little product that people need, and sell it on the internet. Generally speaking, this seems like a good direction to go in, but... I need to figure out what that product is.
•I could make little art-things and try to sell them on Etsy.
•I could learn Solidworks and try to become a mechanical designer for hire... but that would almost certainly not be in Taos.
•I could try to sell the Hand of Man on eBay for $100,000. That money would go a long way, and to some readers that might sound like a lot of money to ask for such a sculpture... But you can bet that if I had an art agent or gallerist on my side, the Hand would be on the market for several times that price (and would be more likely to sell!)

When I moved here, I thought the money thing would just work out. It's always worked out for me before.... But I failed to take into account the facts that there was demand for my skills in California which does not exist here, and there is money in California too.

I have to apply my brain to this problem of making money. I have to solve this problem.

*The title of this post was also the title of a robot show I performed in LA many years ago.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

I guess it's official.... I'm a bit scattered.

Christina called it first. I'm having a hard time knowing where to really put my energies, and meantime, I am putting them all over the place.

But in my defense, there are so many things to do! And I certainly am not slowing down these days.

Let's see....
Hot tub: fixed.
Motorcycle: fixed (and ridden for the first time in a while..... fun!)
Christina's project: fixed, adjusted, and out the door.
Friend's playa bicycle: fixed.
Hand of Man: Improvements for El Paso begun.
Website: Process of total re-vamp finally begun.
CNC Mill: Several hours put in, but frustrating lack of improvement.
Baby room: Almost done... This is what has been eating up MOST of my time... but it should be totally done within a few days. I promise I will post a picture. It looks awesome.

I have been thinking about Man Amplifiers, or ExoSuits, again these days. If you don't know what I am talking about, they are essentially "wearable robots." The first real one was called Hardiman, built by GE, but never functional. The coolest one these days is probably the Sarcos XOS exoskeleton... but it is not self-contained. And of course the one that most people know is the cargo-loader suit from Aliens:

I have wanted to build one of these since I was in college.... since before they were cool! (I actually have what I think is a pretty good business idea which centers around these types of suits, but I think I would need a million-dollar investment to get it off the ground!)

Some number of years ago (during the Borg2 experiment) I proposed building a somewhat simplified version of such a thing for Burning Man, but once again, I was denied funding. Here is the drawing that I included with that grant proposal:

And HERE is the proposal itself.

Looking back on it over five years later, it really seems like a pretty good proposal. As is the case with the Hand of Man, the idea of making this device available to anyone who wanted to use it was central to the concept, and is, I think, the main thing differentiating it from the man-amplifier / exosuits being made today. A wearable robot for the masses!

Anyway, I actually still want to build one. I've done some designs of some leg mechanisms which I think could actually work. Legs are way cooler than tires, and cooler even than tracks. Sometimes I think I should just get to work on it, and stop pussyfooting around. One hurdle standing in my way is successful and low-cost implementation of servo hydraulics, but with some help from a friend of mine, I might be close to overcoming that problem soon. I think I would go with an ultralight aircraft two-stroke engine powering a hydraulic system.

I have not yet done any drawings of the overall conception of my latest (walking) concept, just drawings of the legs.

And, in unrelated news, I really want a Scamp or, better yet, a Trillium trailer. They are so goddamn cool! But yikes, are they expensive!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Oh, and add "Learn Solidworks" to that list. Possibly income-generating.
So yeah, it sort of never ends....

Back from Denver and things have slowed down a little, but only a little.

On my plate now: (some of which I will certainly get done before KB arrives [KB is our baby's initials] and some of which I almost certainly will not)
•Finish the baby room..... I have gotten a lot done on it in the last two days and it's looking great, but there is still plenty to do. I will post a picture tomorrow, or sometime soon. (I'm insomniac blogging now so I can't snap a pic!)
•Make a few repairs to one of the jets and some improvements to a few of the commutators on Christina's Burning Man project. The project leaves for the playa on Tuesday, so this project won't wait. Here is one of the commutators, incomplete: (Gotta have at lease one pic in every post, right?)

•Repair a friends playa bicycle. Also urgent.
•Make about seven stainless steel frames for my friend, the talented artist Robert Drummond. (That is one of my frames holding the glass piece in the picture at that link.) Seven or eight months ago, when my cash flow was even worse than it is now (which is saying something!) Robert advanced me the fee for building these. Now, with KB on the way, I better build them soon, or I never will!
•Get my hot tub running again. Goddamn that fucking hot tub, and goddamn how I miss it! That thing is so high maintenance... I could do a whole blog post on the history of how many different ways it has broken... but I fuckin' love to sit in it! Although it might seem frivolous, it is near the top of my list.
•Make a slew of improvements and repairs to the Hand Of Man before it appears in El Paso in October. A certain percentage of these repairs/improvements are necessary.... we'll see if I do anything more than the bare necessitites.
•Get my ancient CNC milling machine running! HA! It's only taken me seven years to not even get close with this thing.... getting it going before KB arrives should be no problem!! But hey, the damn thing is supposedly a good machine, it has a 22 position tool changer, and I have recently made a connection through an online forum with a guy who has been running this SAME machine for 30 years, and he thinks he can help...
•Re-install the radiator in my semi-truck. I want to do this before winter, at least...
•Re-build the boom extend hydraulic cylinder in Hermans crane... Again! Is there anything more fun than repairing something twice, because you didn't get it right the first time? I don't think so.
•Get my website completely re-done. Yeah, that's gonna happen soon.
•And, start to compile a list of business ideas / income generating ideas. You may notice that none of the aforementioned tasks will actually generate any income. I grew up with money, and so I have no idea how to make it. It's really a skill that I lack. However, I have finally come to the point in my life where I am going to at least TRY to LEARN the skill of THINKING in terms of income. For the most part, right now, I just think in terms of art. But hey, I ain't rich, and I am not being bankrolled by the Medicis, so something has got to give... Maybe a new website, or a list, will help!

At least there's no time to be bored. Being bored is the worst. When you're bored, you're boring.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Denver went great.

Click over to the Hand Blog for more details.....

Now it is back to building the baby room!

It's crazy to think, but Christina and I will have another little person with us, 24/7, starting in 5 to 7 weeks! Scary!

I find myself wanting to get all kinds of things done before then, knowing that there won't be much time for a while afterwards..... But I am sure that I will get only a small percentage of all that done... For now I just sing to the baby in the morning and get to work!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Wow, the last few days have pretty much been: "Work on the Hand until unable to continue, shower, eat, sleep, repeat."

I am exhausted.

But the revamp of the Hand is actually pretty much done, and appears to be very successful. (Of course this weekend's show in Denver will be the real acid test....)

Tomorrow: Load onto truck.
Thursday: Drive.
Friday: Set up in Denver.
Saturday and Sunday: Play with Hand, try to ignore high-decibel mainstream hippie/country music.
Monday: tear-down.
Tuesday: Drive home, collapse.

My mom came out to Taos and co-threw a baby shower for us on Sunday (thanks Mom!). It was actually a lot of fun. We got a ton of black baby clothes, and lots of stuff with skulls on it! HAHA! Our kid will probably end up liking pink, and being an investment banker!!! HA!
Our friend Sam Lambie took some great pictures, which can be seen here.

I think this is my favorite one, with Christina holding up the "Question Authority" onesie!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Things are so busy these days for Christina and me.... I just haven't had time to blog in the last few days. I have been working non-stop on the Hand refurbish, and Christina has been working non-stop on her Burning Man project, Caged Pulse Jets. I am also helping on her project, working on my trucks, and working on the baby room, as well as preparing for a baby shower this weekend and tracking down a king-sized mattress (baby demands it!), and Christina steps away from her project only attend to the demands of growing our baby (which appears to be quite a lot of work!)

Anyway, like I said.... BUSY.

A little over a week ago, we took down our big two-person sculpture show at the Taos Center for the Arts. As promised, here are a few pix of the show while it was up...

Here we see my "gallery-robot", HD6LAW, in the foreground, along with some of my smaller sculptures, including the new "Smashy Von Hammersmark", at right. The tree-like piece at far left is Christina's.

Here we see two more of Christina's kinetic pieces, "9 Beating Hearts" and "Venus Flytrap."

Here is my recent self-portrait, "Temporary Blindness."

And here are three pieces of automotive bodywork, crumpled and disfigured by the Hand of Man, and contextualized by large printed images of the Hand at work.

As I mentioned earlier, the show was well-received and the opening was great, although nothing sold. At some point in the near future I intend to put these images (and a few more), along with copies of the very favorable local press coverage we received, into a little "package" and send it out to a few more galleries and see if we can get the work seen a little more widely.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Well I woke up this morning feeling physically damaged and emotionally defeated by yesterday's significant challenges.

But you know, there is a lesson here. It's a lesson that I have "learned" many times before, and yet have apparently not learned yet. Two clich├ęs come to mind: 1) "Work smarter, not harder", and 2) "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and somehow expecting the outcome to be different". Yes, it's true... I have spent many days single-mindedly focused on a demanding task, only to be frustrated and physically spent (or worse) at the end of the day and the next day. So why should I expect anything different?

There are several relevant aspects to this situation, (one of which is "why am I so compelled to work on such a large scale?) but ultimately this is a question of attitude. Let me share a little of my (not so mature) thought process yesterday... I was thinking things like: "I don't have the money for new tires", "I don't have the money to buy the right tool to do this job" (buying the right tool would be an example of "working smarter, not harder), and "there's no one here to help me with this, so I have to keep beating myself up doing it alone."

But what is all that, if not a bunch of feeling sorry for myself, and complaining? And is there really a difference between feeling sorry for oneself and complaining? If we look at every difficult situation with the goal of "how can I best ameliorate these challenging circumstances?", is there ever a scenario when complaining is the best course of action? Uhh, no. And yet so many of us do it. I know I do. For some reason, likely psychological and likely stemming from childhood, it is comfortable to feel sorry for oneself. It is easier than getting up off your ass and doing something proactive to better your situation.

Earlier on this blog, I complained about not having access to someone with electronics skills. But right around that same time, I contacted a friend, Mikey Sklar, who lives about five hours south of Taos, and began a conversation about some of my electronics needs. For some reason it took me a few years to do that. It was more comfortable to complain about it. I could have put up signs in town, too, asking for electronics help, but I did not. It woud be interesting to see where that would have gotten me.....

Oh, and also, I went online today and bought the right tool to finish up the tire job!

Anyway, feeling sorry for oneself is a dead-end proposition. I'd like to excise it from my life. Maybe writing about it here will help.

My struggles yesterday did give rise, however, to an idea for a piece of art.... Imagine a lone figure, small and in the lower corner of the frame, holding a wrench, and looking up at an enormous and incomprehensible agglomeration of machinery which is somehow not working... springs shooting out and oil dripping everywhere... It's kind of a cool image, especially if the machinery were rendered in a sort of menacing way. Given my thoughts over the course of the day (encapsulated above) I am not certain it's sending the right psychological or philosophical message... but it's open to a lot of different interpretations.

So there!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Wow, today kind of sucked!

I decided quite some time ago that it makes more sense for me to have my own big truck than rent one. But wow, working on them is either A) expensive or B) a pain in the ass.

As all you faithful blog readers know, I am taking the Hand of Man to Denver in a little less than two weeks. Herman, my Chevy Kodiak crane truck, will be doing the dirty work of hauling it there and back. This is Herman:

But Herman needs new tires. Four of them. At $250 - $300 each. And new batteries. Three of them. At $125 each. That's a lot of money. I did not actually realize until recently how bad the tire situation was, so the $1000 expenditure on tires was sort of a surprise.

Well, I realized a few days ago that the tires on my International cabover semi truck will fit Herman, and there are eight of them, and they are in good shape. Here is the International:

So I tried to swap the tires from the semi to Herman today. And that is where the sucking started. Basically it was an all-day job, and I did not even finish.

This is how I had to loosen the lug nuts: (Giant breaker bar that I had to jump up and down on)

With all that jumping up and down on a muddy metal tube (oh, did I mention it was raining and really muddy?) I sort of hurt my knee. See, more sucking! Ahh, old age!

And here is what no one tells you.... (well, no one told me.. but now I am telling you!) ..... The studs on the left side of these trucks are REVERSE THREAD!! I jumped up and down on that damn breaker bar for about an hour, inadvertently tightening the damn nuts, before I figured that one out! And then, once you get all the nuts and the outer wheels off, you have to remove the studs with a special socket to get the inner wheels off!! That is the part I never got done today.

After all that jumping around in the mud, I was exhausted. So instead of more physically demanding labor, I installed the power supply board that I got off eBay into my ancient dinosaur of a CNC mill. I was pretty excited to see the mill power up for the first time in years, and then quickly thereafter pretty disappointed to find out that it is stuck in some error mode that I cannot seem to free it from. Awesome!

Well, hey, tomorrow is another day.

If anyone reading this has to change their semi truck tires anytime soon, I would like to politely encourage them to consider paying someone else to do it. Maybe I should be renting trucks after all!!

Friday, July 30, 2010

So, one or two posts ago I said I was going to start "clearing out the mental inventory" of projects that I've thought about doing recently. The obvious place to start is with my art grant proposal for this year's Burning Man. My proposal, which was rejected for funding, was called "Eat the World."

This project arose out of the idea that the main ways that we humans interact physically with the world around us is through our hands and our mouths. The "Hand of Man" pretty much covered the "hand" end of things, and "Eat the World" was conceived to explore and extrapolate the ways in which we use our mouths to "consume" the world.

In much the same way as the Hand of Man makes use of an ergonomic "controller" (glove) to mimic the user's hand motions and then duplicate those motions in the large mechanical hand, this piece would invite the user to step into a "harness" which would capture the user's arm, head, and jaw motions, and translate those into the movements of the larger sculpture. Through the use of simplistic arms and hands on the large sculpture, the user could "feed" objects to himself and devour them.

One interesting aspect of this piece, with regard to the experience of the user, is that the user is actually situated INSIDE the head of the piece. This means that whatever movements the user might make with his or her head would be translated into movements of the large sculpture's "head", thereby taking the user for a "ride" of sorts. Basically, the user would be going for a ride that her or she was controlling in real time with the motions of his or her own head. I think that would be really fun, and weird.

This basic concept of capturing the movements of a single operator and translating those movements to a larger machine is really quite fascinating to me. It plays a central role in several of my other sculptural ideas, as will be seen. I think that the idea of putting the individual in the central controlling role of their own experience, and using machinery to make that experience more exciting, or intense, or dangerous than anything they might normally experience, is a really compelling one. It's really compelling to me, anyway.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Oh, screw it. I'll post a few pix of the Hand retrofit, even though this isn't technically the Hand blog. Rebuilding the Hand is the only thing I am doing these days worth taking pictures of (wait, that's not actually true.... I am also building the baby room... and building custom commutators for Christina's pulse jet project... and just took down our big art show.... and...)

Here is the Hand in a sort of exploded state. The pinkie and the thumb, which were ripped off the Hand the last time it was used, are in the foreground.

There are MANY steps that must happen to each joint during this retrofit. Here I am reaming the pivot "ears" to a larger size.

Here is the first finished finger joint. I just finished it yesterday. It is MUCH stronger than the previous design.

Christina and I put up a joint show of our sculptures here in Taos about a month ago. It was pretty fun, and the opening was fairly well attended. Nothing sold... I am not too surprised about that. We took down the show yesterday and I took some great pix before it came down. I will post those soon.

Friday, July 23, 2010

I usually try to keep my blog posts confined to a single topic, but this one might be a bit of a free-form ramble.

One of the "resources" that I miss the very most from urban life is COMMUNITY. Now don't get me wrong.... there is a lot of "community" here in Taos, and by that I mean good people who are willing to help out in a pinch, or share a laugh at a barbecue or whatever. The kind of community that I miss is a group of like-minded individuals, with similar goals, aspirations, visions, and skills, and the inclination to hang out and shoot the shit about all that aforementioned stuff. What I am really saying here is that I miss hanging out with other mechanical/kinetic/metal artists.

There are many benefits that come with being part of a community of like-minded artists. Through casual communication, one finds out about possible exhibitions, shows, and other money-making opportunities. Being part of such a community can help in the birth of new ideas, not only through admiration of others' work, but also in opposition to it, or just through the exchange of ideas through conversation. And being part of such a community can also be of great benefit when actual help is required... like skilled help on a project, help moving something heavy, or help with a skill or sub-specialty that you do not possess.

In California, both during my time living in San Francisco and in Los Angeles, I was part of such communitites. There are various ways in which getting things accomplished artistically is immensely harder here in rural New Mexico, due to the lack of such a community. I do not want to come across as a complainer, but it is really quite frustrating to read about art projects (often Burning Man related) happening in Seattle or Oakland which are able to make use of ten or twenty skilled volunteers, when out here in Taos, we are lucky if we can rustle up one.

One resource I had consistent access to in California, which I desperately miss, is access to an artistically minded person with electronics skills. Electronics is one area of expertise that frequently comes into play in the kinds of artistic projects I would like to take on, but which I have never learned. Now of course one option is to learn it myself, but there really is something to be said for "division of labor". After all, it is one of the principles by which the ancient Sumerians were able to move from hunting and gathering to the first actual civilization! Plus, there is not even someone to teach me here! And there are no classes either (something else that one finds easily in cities these days).

Another resource missing here is easy access to money. This is a pretty big topic in and of itself, but it does tie in to the difficulties finding skilled help that one encounters in a place like this. It is my opinion that folks who live in cities generally tend to have actual jobs which often pay well enough that the basic needs of food and rent and utilities are taken care of. A person with such a job then finds that evenings and weekends are "free time", and if such a person has an artistic bent or a desire to "be a part" of something, then that person is an excellent candidate to become associated in some way with an art project or group of some sort. Here in poor Taos, most people are engaged in a near-constant struggle to make enough money to pay the rent and buy food. There is not much "free time." There are of course a certain number of people for whom their whole lives are "free time," but those are not the folks you want helping on your projects.

The foregoing theory is really just that - a theory. But it does conform very well to the realities that I have experienced living in the various places that I have.

-Slight shift of topics-

I have spent much of the last year in what I would refer to as an "artistic lull." I have had a hard time coming up with any sculptural idea that I thought was actually worth building.

As I have begun to slowly come out of this lull, a "lack of ideas" has gradually been replaced with a succession of ideas that seem at first glance to be "too ambitious."

But the reality is that they are only "too ambitious" because I lack either the money, or the electronics skill, to bring them to reality.

One concept that has struck a chord with me recently, and that I have seen written in a few places, is summed up in Paul Arden's book as this: Do not covet your ideas. Give away everything you know and more will come back to you.

This seems like a pretty weird idea, at first, because if you just share your ideas, someone else will steal them, right? Well maybe. But maybe not. Or maybe it doesn't matter. Or maybe, like Arden says, it's vital to get the ideas out, so that new ones can come in. Or maybe if you share your ideas through a blog, at least there is written evidence that they were your ideas first!!

Anyway, what I am getting at is that I have decided to begin to use this blog to describe some of my sculptural ideas (you remember, the ones that I do not have the money or electronics know-how to actually complete right now). Maybe by doing this, I will find someone who wants to fund one of them, or someone who wants to collaborate by contributing their electonics skills, or I will somehow encourage the flow of even more ideas, or something else good will happen! Who knows! Anyway, I've got nothing to lose.

While I have been thinking about all this mumbo-jumbo, I have been working on the Hand Of Man. It's getting a pretty major retrofit in time for the Mile High Music Festival in Denver in August. I think that I will post a write-up about that, along with some pictures, on the Hand blog.

I'll end with a quote from the Swans......

"I want power, because it feels good."

I have always loved that quote. Could there have been a Swans if there was not a Nietzsche first? I don't think so. I interpret that quote as having to do with self-actualization, rather than any kind of political or force-based power. Nietzsche's concept of "will to power", often misinterpreted as having something to do with force, really has to do with "becoming who you are." Suffice to say that an artist is much more likely to really fulfill the "will to power," as Nietzsche saw it, than a politician or a soldier ever would be.

I will start to talk about some of my as-yet unfulfiled art ideas in upcoming posts.

If you actually got this far, thanks for reading!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

On the topic of what are the differences between living in the country and living in the city, this is something that I have thought about quite a lot. However, I think it's fair to say that my thoughts on the matter are extremely particular to my personal situation. They apply somewhat to Christina as well, and by extension, may apply to people who lead similar lives to us, and face similar challenges. Who knows, maybe my postulations are more universal than I think....

Like I said, I have spent a lot of time thinking about this topic, and I have decided that the big difference is RESOURCES. This is an intentionally vague and broad-ranging term. If you think about it, "what-you-have-access-to" (or resources), whether that be materially, culturally, socially, environmentally, professionally, etc, is dramatically different in a rural setting or an urban setting.

There are resources out in the country that simply are not available in a city. And there are resources in a city that just can't be found in a place like Taos.

Clean air is a resource here. So is cheap land, cheap rent, cheap space. Wanna build a house by yourself with minimal involvement of the government? You can do that in a place like this. Beautiful views, and a relaxed lifestyle? Yes, we have those here. Do you want access to a rich native American culture and a history of interaction between that culture and the cultures of Spanish and white European settlers? That may not be available in too many other rural settings, but it IS available in northern New Mexico.

On the other hand, do you want access to a wide variety of cheap materials (metal, industrial surplus, electronics, etc)? Not here; try a city. (You can mail order almost anything you want these days, of course, and thank god for that. But I've probably paid over $1000 in shipping in the last year alone.) How about creative jobs with high pay? Sorry... maybe in California. How about cutting edge, experimental culture? No. Christina and I do our best to bring a little of that here to Taos, and we do get recognized for our efforts from time to time, but truly edgy culture does not exist here, and probably is lacking in most rural American areas.

In Buddhism, there is a saying that all suffering comes from attachment. In other words, the only reason we suffer is because we have attachment to a thing, or an outcome, or a person, or whatever, and the suffering comes whenever the reality does not match up with the attachment we have.

It has become clear to me, over time, that I have attachment to the idea of being able to access some of the kinds of resources one finds in a city, and, true to the Buddhist truth, this has caused me a fair bit of suffering. The problem is that I am not ready to give up my attachment to those resources.

I have been working on this "resources" post for days now. It's not finished; I have more to say on this topic. But I think that it's time to post it before it gets too long.

Here are a few pix from yesterday.... Christina and I took the dogs to the river. The Rio Grande is definitely one of our resources.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

I very rarely finish books, but here is a list of books I have started recently, and have at least vague aspirations of finishing:

The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology, by Jack Kornfield. Jack Kornfield is an amazing American Buddhist teacher. I found him first through the work of Joe Frank, who is one of my absolute favorite artists of any kind, and who is not exactly a Buddhist. Do yourself a favor and look up Joe Frank. And Jack Kornfield, if you are into Buddhism.

The Department of Mad Scientists: How DARPA Is Remaking Our World, from the Internet to Artificial Limbs by Micahel Belfiore. I haven't gotten too far into this one, but DARPA is pretty fascinating.

The Mind and Art of Henry Miller, by William A. Gordon. This is a pretty dated book on Miller, written during his lifetime, but seems pretty good. It notes interesting connections between Miller and Nietzsche, and Miller and Anarchism. I got it at the Henry Miller Memorial Library in Big Sur when we were there last week. That is a very cool little place, definitely worth visiting if you are in the neighborhood.

Catching The Big Fish, by David Lynch. According to the text on the cover-flap of this book, David Lynch (the film guy) promises to discuss the way that he develops his creative and artistic ideas, at least partially through transcendental meditation. It sounds really promising, but so far the book does not seem to be about that so much as about Lynch's ideas about film in general. But I haven't finished it yet, so I'll just shut up about it now.

It's Not How Good You Are, Its How Good You Want to Be: The World's Best Selling Book by Paul Arden. This is a little gem of a book, from what I can tell. It's basically a collection of advice about how to succeed in just about any artistic pursuit. Got it at the SF MOMA.

SolidWorks 2009 Tutorial
by David C. Planchard and Marie P. Planchard. I am going to attempt to teach myself Solidworks. The driest book on the list, I suppose.

The last book I can actually remember finishing was
Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West, by Hampton Sides. Wow, that was a good book. Even though it is somewhere around 500 pages long, I could not put it down. It's about the area where we live, but my brother, who lives in NYC, read it on my recommendation and he couldn't put it down either. Extremely readable.
I'm not sure if this is true for everyone, (or maybe just for artists) but I tend to feel that I spend about 25% of my time thinking that I have too little going on in my life, and the other 75% thinking that I have too much going on. (I am sure that the preceding statement will become meaningless, or at least WRONG, once we have a little kid running around!)

I absolutely prefer the times when I have too much going on, and now is one of those times. It's ironic, actually, that I have to take 1-3 days right now to completely chill out, because of my back injury. But the truth is that I have so much to do in the self-promotion / blogging / computer-work department that I will fill my "down-time" easily.

One of the big things on my plate right now is fixing the Hand of Man. The Hand had an incredibly active first year of life, which culminated in the somewhat disastrous Fire Arts Festival in Oakland last August. A combination of factors led to a rather catastrophic "multiple fracture" during a performance on the second evening of the four-night festival. The thumb and pinkie of the Hand were both ripped off, unleashing a spurt of hydraulic fluid that sprayed people and equipment fifty feet away! After letting the Hand sit in the dirt for almost a year, I am finally getting to the business of repairing it. This is what it looks like now: (note the lack of a pinkie and thumb)

So, if concert-promoter AEG and I can resolve our stalemate about event insurance (I think I will write a separate post about that issue next), then the Hand will perform again just about exactly one year after its tragic near-demise in Oakland. That will be at the Mile High Music Festival in Denver, Colorado, on August 14th and 15th.

Now I just have to recover from my sacroiliac joint dislocation, and spend a month and a few thousand dollars fixing it! Piece of cake!!
Sometimes I will hear about someone I know who does not pace themselves, and burns out. It's pretty easy to say... "Oh, he (or she) doesn't know how to pace themselves... no wonder they got sick...." or something like that.

Well, a few days ago I did exactly the same thing. I got it in my head to re-organize a section of the workshop, and spent about three days moving and lifting impossibly heavy things around by myself, for 10 or 12 hours a day. Then my back started to hurt. Then it hurt more. Then.... BANG! My sacroiliac joint gave out! I know it's that joint because it happened to me once before. All I can say is: "extremely painful." Oh wait... I can say more! "Debilitating."

Well, anyway, at least I can blog now!

I just turned forty last week, and I think that "slowing down" or "pacing yourself" is probably one of those things you just have to get used to as you get a little older... like "memory loss" and "hair loss". Well at least I have had twenty f*cking years to get used to hair loss!

Friday, July 9, 2010

There are a lot of amazing and crazy things about Christina being pregnant (I mean, when I look at her, I am looking at two people! Talk about mind-bending!)

One thing I find myself thinking about is how much we will do for our little kid. It does, in fact, cast a new light on the way one thinks about one's own parents.

One of the first real concrete examples of this, and something that drives the idea home, is the fact that we are building a baby room in the house. It's the first real construction we have done on the INSIDE of the house since it was finished. (There are, by the way, lots of good pictures of the house over on the first blog) But in any case, here is how the construction is progressing at this point....

I'm actually on a little loft-building kick, it seems. Just today I banged out a storage loft in the shop, which will help keep things organized.

Oh, and by the way, the title for this blog is a direct quote from Nietzsche. It is something that I believe whole-heartedly, and try to live up to. More on Nietzsche, and Henry Miller, later....
Well, I have decided to start another blog. I really enjoyed my first blog, Robots in the Dust. It was a great way to document the weird and productive life that Christina and I live, both for ourselves and the rest of the world. Facebook pretty much sucks for this kind of thing, and I can't seem to keep a regular website going, so here I am, back at Blogger.

This will be a "general-purpose" blog. A journal of sorts. A record of the strange life we lead. A place to let the world know what Christina and I are doing, building, working on, thinking about, reading, aspiring to, and where we are going.

Some themes that I expect will emerge through this blog are....
• Having a kid and what that means.... (yep, that's right.... Christina and I are expecting a little munchkin in October! I am pretty damn excited.... and weirdly NOT nervous...)
• The challenges of trying to make art, and make a life at the same time.
• The pros and cons of rural life, as compared to urban life. I have lived them both, and there are substantial differences!

I'll start off, in the first few posts, with a slapped-together attempt at a recap of some of the things we have been up to recently, including our recent trip to Big Sur, our currently running gallery show, the new baby room we are building, etc etc.

Thank you for tuning in. I will try to keep you all entertained!
I'll sign out of this first post with what might be the best picture ever taken of Christina and me, shot by our friend LadyBee....

So stay tuned, kids!