What We’re Reading This Week

Today we present to you a roundup of articles and posts from around the web on topics of importance to us or just good reads that we’ve enjoyed recently. We hope to make this a regular feature at The Hacktory. Let us know what you’ve been reading too.


Why Apple’s Swift Language Will Instantly Remake Computer Programming

Cade Metz for Wired Magazine

Part of Swift’s edge is that it’s built for the average programmer. It’s designed for coding even the simplest of mobile apps, and with a rather clever tool Apple calls “Playgrounds,” it offers an unusually effective way of teaching yourself to code. 


Tracking The Bizarre Edits That Congress Makes To Wikipedia

Eric Limer for Gizmodo

The elected representatives you chose to represent you in the legislative branch of the United States of America aren’t just making modifications to national law. They’re also editing the Wikipedia pages for “Horse head mask” and “Step Up 3D.” Or at least their staffers are. And thanks to @congressedits, you can keep tabs on it.


Where Are The Women In Makerspaces? 

Georgia Guthrie (The Hacktory’s Director) for Make Magazine

If you’ve been to your local hackerspace/makerspace and noticed there weren’t many women, did you stop to wonder why? Unfortunately a common reaction is to think, “I guess women just aren’t into hacking or building stuff.” 


The Internet with a Human Face

Maciej Cegłowski for Idle Words

The cloud promises us complete liberation from the mundane world of hardware and infrastructure. It invites us to soar into an astral plane of pure computation, freed from the weary bonds of earth. What the cloud is is a big collection of buildings and computers that we actually know very little about, run by a large American company notorious for being pretty terrible to its workers.


NSA considers you a target for deep surveillance

Cory Doctorow for Boing Boing

The NSA says it only banks the communications of “targeted” individuals. Guess what? If you follow a search-engine link to articles about Tor and Tails, you’ve been targeted.


Secrets Of The Creative Brain

Nancy Andreason for The Atlantic

A neuroscientist’s take on where creativity and genius come from. Confirmation that intelligence doesn’t automatically result in genius, and creativity and genius are very closely aligned with symptoms of mental illness.


The Putter: A Meditative Video On The Art Of Making Scissors

Christopher Jobson for This Is Colossal

The film’s subject, Cliff Denton, is one of the world’s last “putters” (literally “a putter togetherer of scissors”) who works at Ernest Wright & Sons in Sheffield, a company that has been hand-making scissors and shears for 112 years.

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Guest post: Artist-In-Resident Jacob Rivkin

Today’s post comes from current Unknown Territory Artist-In-Resident Jacob Rivkin.

My work primarily focuses on issues of how we interact with the landscape. One of the main questions I came into the Unknown Territory Residency at the Hacktory with was how do we develop our collective understanding of place through experiential and metaphorical explorations. Is it through what and how we eat? Is it through our experience of different weather systems and terrains? Is it through the stories passed from family members about historical passages from one location to another?

To address these questions the staff, mentors, and fellow artists at the Hacktory have led me to explore integrating real time data from both sensors and online into my sculptural work. Harvesting data like wind speed and tide charts from data online, or comparing a current GPS location to an internal list of coordinates both seemed like something that required years of experience with coding. Fortunately, the reality is I can, and will develop these skills here. The opportunity to have access to both the resources and the knowledge base here to guide and push me to new directions with my work is tremendous. In each class we gain technical skills and the historical context for why and how these advancements came about. The fellow artists I have met here have been equally inspiring, each of us coming from distinct and unique backgrounds.

I’m looking forward to the work and ideas that we will all will continue to make and develop over the next five months!

Sketches of sculptures that use Arduino

Rivkin composite

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Guest post: Artist-In-Resident Salem Collo-Julin

Today’s blog post comes from current Unknown Territory Artist-In-Resident Salem Collo-Julin.-Lee T.

When applying for one of the Unknown Territory Artist-In-Resident spots, I was excited at the prospect of learning some basics in coding and the chance to figure out if any of these tools are useful for me. I’m not always sure that thinking of what I do in the world as art is useful, so in some ways I feel that campaigning for myself as an artist-in-residence anywhere is a long shot. The Hacktory folks accepted my proposal, regardless of the findings from the critique panel in my head, and now one of my jobs is to learn, use this knowledge, and build something new.

In case you’re about to TL;DR, the basic gist of my project thus far is to figure out how to make a device that helps humans to read and navigate the emotional landscape before them. A compass, a whispering confidante, a bloodhound not for things or beings but for the general emotional atmosphere of any particular room, neighborhood, or part of the world. Such a device could be used for extreme measures of good (helping folks on the autism spectrum figure out what other people are meaning/saying) or extreme measures of stupid evil (i.e. Science Fiction about predictive criminal behavior; social engineering, “the science of emotional marketing”, blech, blah, gross). Is this doable? So far my research points to “no” in that people’s reactions and states of mind are frequently unpredictable and based in non-quantifiable experiences that they have had. But Lee, Georgia, and my fellow brilliant Artists-in-Residence think I should shoot for some small portion of this and see what I can come up with.

During the last few months, have you felt like you were on a roller coaster ride that you did not wait in line for? In positive and negative ways, I can relate. Coming into the residency, I have already had that year. Thankfully, this residency time has given me two very important things –

    A group of folks that are interested in my project, are all motivated and smart, and want us all to succeed together
    A place to go to learn computer finagling where there aren’t a bunch of people staring at you, vaguely sneering, making fun of you when you don’t know what something is.

I’m not quite sure yet what form this project will take as we draw closer to December, and an exhibition, but I can already see the benefit that coding will have on the mounds of research and conversations I’m engaged in around the concept of emotional landscapes. Processing is funny –it’s like talking to a cat – a dumb set of rules to communicate with something that isn’t really listening back. I’d like to write a program that eats up your stuff at the moment just before you hit “save” or “send”. I’ll call it “Emotional Land Scrape”. Or not – I’m sure there’s already something out there that acts in this fashion. And this is one of the great things about the tech world in general – there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel, and everyone is at peace with that!

As I was writing this blog post, I received an invite to donate to a fundraising campaign for an art festival. One of the gifts offered for those who donate $90 or more is a Bullshit Detector wristwatch-style device built by one of my heroes, the artist/performer/human bullshit detector Joey Skaggs. I’ve also found several devices that chart feelings based on a neurotransmitter worn on the head, etc.

Obviously my instincts are shared by others. I really don’t care about being the first to make any one thing and I intend to keep my process and research findings open so that others may use them. We’ll see how it all goes down!

ON another note – here’s some links of inspiration, 4 around art/tech and an intro to Mr. Skaggs. See you on project night.

Things Who Flinch

Transborder Immigrant Tool

Ricardo Dominguez


Joey Skaggs

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Guest Post: Unknown Territory Artist-In-Resident Michael Kiley

Today’s blog post comes from Artist-In-Resident, composer and sound designer Michael Kiley.-Lee T.

A month ago I was introduced to something called poetic computation, or, the writing of computer code for artistic purposes. I used to believe that I would never be able to understand how to write code or create a program, and more importantly, that I would never want to. However, my artistic practice has recently run into the wall that is programing, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. This shift in my thinking was brought on by my acceptance into the Artist In Residence (AIR) program at The Hacktory, run by Lee Tusman and Georgia Guthrie. I applied to the program wanting to know more about the code that went into making my first two soundwalk pieces: The Empty Air and Animina. As a result I am learning how to code in an application called Processing, a programming language geared towards artists.

After our first meeting (there are 5 other AIRs) I said to myself; “This residency is going to change my life,” and here’s why: I am adding value to my artistic practice. As a sound designer, composer, performer and voice teacher, I possess a wealth of highly specialized skills. Unfortunately, this does not always mean that my skills are valued. I am underpaid for my work (sometimes less then $10 an hour), and am forced to take on more jobs then I am capable of. Sound designers are the lowest paid designers on most theatrical productions, and are also allotted the least amount of the budget to spend on a project. My theory around this is that sound is the only design element that is not visual, and we inherently have a difficult time discussing, budgeting and valuing things that we cannot see or hold in our hands. Coding has value. We can read it. It makes concrete things occur. People get paid to write it, and get paid well. It is my hope that by adding coding to the skill set of my artistic practice, I can increase the value of what I do. It will also open me up to more diverse employment opportunities.

The other Artists In Residence are all amazing and inspiring. I have never been more excited by a group of people than I am by my fellow residents. Each one of them has a practice that is radically different than mine, and they are all super passionate and articulate about their work. I’m seriously honored to be included in this group and their ideas have already changed how I think about making work. The sheer fact that this residency exists is making me work hard. If there is one combination of events that makes me thrive it is the opportunity to work hard toward something that does not have a tangible goal, and a support network to do it. I have no idea where learning how to write code will take me, but it will be somewhere I have never dreamed of. I would NEVER have started doing this if it weren’t for Lee and Georgia getting me in a room with the above group of people and telling me: “You can do this.” Do you realize how rare that is for an artist to hear? It is because of their belief in me that I feel I will not fail at this. So far, Processing has taught me how to make things that look like this: KileyProcessing By the end of July I hope to have manipulated sound using code. By December I hope to write my own program. And that feels amazing.

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Guest Post: Marcel W. Foster

Today’s guest blog post comes to us from Marcel W. Foster, one of the 6 new Unknown Territory Artist-In-Residents.

A group of six geeks. Six geeks who all have unique and impressive experiences working in the arts and engaging technologies:

    wiring “old” technologies to do new things (e.g., cassette players with arduinos)
    conversations about the actual brain wavelengths emitted during communications and various technologies that empirically measure this
    fermentation and sculpture
    Coding wearable fabric designs
    GPS-triggered apps that amplify sound experiences based on your location

And the list goes on.

I applied to be a Hacktory residency so that I could do what I love most: to creatively play with science. It’s comforting to know that in this city alone there are at least five others working in the same vein but in different disciplines; and get as excited as me when contemplating the interface of choreography, systems logic, and software coding. One month in feels like a kind of curated tree house club where we come to share stories on topics that only we could get excited about. In addition to this is the awesome resource of simply working and sitting at the Department of Making and Doing. I come here now instead of the coffee shop (1) because it’s free (2) because it has endless scientific tools and accoutrements that excite me just by looking at them (3) because after feeling so isolated as a choreography/science geek for years on end–it feels pretty damn validating to finally be a part of a tree house club of like-minded people.

In about two hours I’ll be presenting an informal workshop on “immersive games,” along with my partner-in-crime Don Xu of Philadelphia Game Lab. Our goal is to get other so-called art geeks in the room, play some sample games, and then give us feedback on the game we’re developing (here‘s a draft one trailer of the beta version, titled GPSBodies). It’s awesome to have a platform to openly and informally present our “blueprint” thoughts and get feedback so early in the process. What’s more–it’s awesome to know that really anyone is allowed in the tree house so long as they want to be there.

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Guest Post: Artist-In-Resident Tara Webb

This week we are featuring blog posts from our 6 Philly-based Unknown Territory Artist-In-Residents. Our second post comes from Tara Webb.-Lee T.

As a costume designer and theater tech, I see knowing how to work with sewing machines, looms, and even knitting needles as a technical skill. In my experience costume or fashion design is often considered a ‘soft’ technology, it’s easily dismissed as being technically uncomplicated. (Typically, costume designers even get paid much less in the industry than say, lighting, sound or video designers.) But I believe the construction and manufacture of clothing can be mathematical, chemical and I daresay, even a scientific design process. I like to ask my students if they can tell me how many equations might have gone into the design of a tshirt or a pair of jeans they might be wearing in class on any given day. I’ll admit, costume design was an easy place for me to land in the technical theater world, which was still largely a male-dominated industry when I was figuring those things out. I was lucky enough to have grown up with and worked around a lot of supportive computer nerds, however, so I have a parallel interest in not just the artistic design processes of art and tech, but also the technical aspects. All that to say, this first month at the Hacktory has been a long awaited convergence for me.

The use of technology in art is brain melting and exhilarating and I am still figuring out where I fit in in terms of what is practical and where it can be used in costumes. When I went to The Last Hope in New York in 2008 – the DIY world, Craft and Make, Myth Busting, 2600, science and technology were evolving and mingling. Hackers were making LED sex toys, cleaning bicycles with electrodes, picking locks, tracking movement with tiny cameras, everyone had badges with RFIDS and of course, there were costumed LARPers wandering around and tables where you could make blinky throwies. I thought to myself “How did I miss all this over the last 20 years?” and “Why didn’t I get into this sooner?”. Now I see all this processing and circuitry I’m learning about as an evolutionary drop in the bucket in some grand installation project that’s been swirling round my subconscious. I don’t even know if it will be a practical thing to wear in the end, but I’m enjoying the chaos of the upload of information into my brain. I keep thinking of Neal Stephenson’s “In the Beginning…was the Command Line”. What kind of car is this and did I know I’d be driving a hoverbus? Or maybe it’s really a submarine with Davinci wings? While perhaps not directly related to what do for day to day art making, it is nevertheless fascinating to be learning a new vocabulary and not unlike learning to write in some arcane poetic algorithm from my future self.

Also, here’s a picture of the my soft-circuit monster in overalls. His name is Garfoil.-Tara Webb

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Guest post: Artist-In-Resident Max Lawrence

Our 6 Philly-based Unknown Territory Artist-In-Residents have been hard at work for the past 2 months. They are taking workshops, learning to code, and working toward building a larger art and technology project to present publicly in an exhibition in December. Our residents are all accomplished artists that want to expand their knowledge of and exploration of new technology. In the next week we’ll have guest blog posts from all of our artist-in-residents. The first comes from musician and artist Max Lawrence.-Lee T.

Max Lawrence face

Its difficult to contain my enthusiasm for the opportunity the Hacktory has given me.

The Hacktory has really put together an excellent group of artists for this residency. The residents have quickly become a critical part of my learning process. The diversity of our artistic backgrounds has generated a large combined foundation of fundamentals skills for us to draw on. That, in conjunction with our individual project goals , allows us to cover a broad range of interests in our own explorations. Ultimately, though, the Hacktory’s ethos of communication without pretension is what has facilitated this super awesome exchange I’ve been experiencing.

The first challenge for me has been taking a computer coding class online. Its a completely new way of learning for me. Though initially intimidating , as well as incredibly skeptical , my reservation have quickly faded away. The course is excellent in its approachability as well as incorporation of excellent examples of artists utilizing coding successfully , exposing me to a better comprehension of the fine art of computer coding. It has also exposed a major whole in my understanding of basic Trigonometry functions. Geez….

It has been made apparent by taking this class that my ability to solve mathematical equations has absolutely nothing to do with my comprehension of mathematical equations. So enter the Twins, Sine and Cosine… and their parents Angle and Radian. Mostly a battle of attrition, my resolve has been unshakable and Processing 2.0 is allowing for me to explore the relationships between visual and aural arts like never before. It’s incredibly gratifying. I have included some sketchbook pages and code explorations. -Max Lawrence

Spiro deconstruct

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Intro To Processing begins Tuesday July 8

Several weeks ago we had a sell-out session for Intro To Programming For Artists, Musicians and Other Creatives! And now we are excited to host Intro To Processing beginning this Tuesday July 8.

Processing is an MIT-designed, free and open source programming language with a huge community of artists and musicians based around it. It is built on top of Java and is designed to be a “first programming language” but also a powerful one. Our class is a beginner-friendly tutorial and a great first step for artists interested in learning to program and explore what creative coding can do. No previous programming experience is required. In 3 sessions, we’ll review the basics of creating a program from scratch, do hands-on exercises, and be building our own programs and projects much quicker than you’d think possible.

Processing is used to create projected stage designs for dance and music performances; to generate images for music videos and film; to export images for posters, magazines, and books; and to create interactive installations in galleries, in museums, and on the street.

Our class will be taught by Tim Bieniosek, who teaches at The Hacktory and at Philadelphia University’s Digital Innovation Design program. Our last Processing classes in the fall were also taught by Tim and sold out. We currently have several spots available in Tuesday’s intro workshop. If you haven’t yet signed up, don’t miss it! Tickets can be purchased here.

-image by Andreas Schlegel
Processing example

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Immersive Game Night Wednesday July 2

Join the Hacktory Wed July 2nd, 7-9pm to learn, engage, and most importantly play with games. This two-hour free session will begin with a brief 101 on “immersive gaming” and then jump into two interactive and participatory games for you to play and dialogue about. Then learn about a new Philly game being developed for Philly Tech Week 2015 by collaborators Don Xu of Philadelphia Game Lab and Choreographer Marcel W. Foster, current Artist-In-Resident at The Hacktory, and have your say on what would make this game awesome.

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Intro To 21st Century Fabrication!

We have a great workshop coming up Tuesday June 10, 7-9PM, Intro To 21st Century Fabrication. Taught by The Hacktory’s expert Eric Manganaro, this single session class is an introductory workshop overview of how to go from idea to digital design to digitally fabricating a physical object prototype.

We’ll review a complete digital workflow. This class will provide an overview of tools and the process to creating your work. We’ll start with an introduction to tools like Google Sketchup, Adobe Illustrator, Autodesk123d, and sourcing from Thingaverse and Google3D. We’ll review fabrication techniques including the VersaCamm Vinyl Cutter, the CNControlled Laser Cutter (and engraver) as well as 3D printing.

The class is $25. Sign up here.
Hacktory logo lasercut

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