phiffer.org

Dan Phiffer Dan Phiffer builds websites, makes art, and teaches in NYC

Occupy.here at FEAST Brooklyn

The recent absence of regular posting here has mainly been due to project overload on my part. For the last week I’ve been focusing on my activist wifi project, Occupy.here. On Saturday I participated in FEAST Brooklyn, a kind of science fair exposition for community art projects. The way it works is everyone who attends pays $20 for a banquet dinner and a vote for which project of ten should be funded. I did not receive funding, but I got a lot of great feedback and my first round of user testing with about a dozen people trying the project out.

I was satisfied to see the technology performing flawlessly. As far as I know, everyone who tried to was able to join the wifi network and participate in the online forum. I still consider myself a newbie to wifi hacking and programming in Lua, but I’ve mustered enough stability to start paying more attention to interaction design and social dynamics. Seeing how people used the software in practice was really interesting. It seems obvious in retrospect, but presenting an anonymous message forum to such a festive audience yielded an uncomplicated gregarious kind of conversation.

While the forum’s conversation didn’t cover politics or the Occupy movement, the invisible backchannel aspect of it was compelling. The first, most active, message thread was about the food at the event. Apparently the cheese was a big hit, although sadly I wasn’t able to try it myself. This thread included the forum’s first hash tag, #CheeseRevolution, and a long string of emoji burgers. In another thread an attendee complained they’d come to the event without a date, boldly listing a phone number that presumably belongs to the lonely author. I was amused to see the AOL-era “ASL” (age/sex/location) inquiry and “Anyone got any weed?” It was silly and fun, and felt entirely appropriate to the event.

How the discussion is framed in a broader social context is very important. In the deployment at FEAST, users were offered an open architecture without many cues about which topics of conversation the forum is meant to support. The next iteration will feature a more prominent introduction to the Occupy.here platform and host an archive of essays and media about the Occupy movement from a variety of sources.

I’m interested to see what effect, if any, these changes have on the subject and character of conversations. I wonder if deemphasizing the message forum might preclude conversation altogether, favoring a passive mode of media consumption. I’ll gather some usage data to see how many users browse without participating.

Users identified themselves about 50% of the time, half posting under the default handle “Anonymous” and half adopting first names or two letter initials. For my next round of testing I’m going to adjust the interface where users select their usernames, perhaps not offering a default option. I’m still committed to supporting anonymity, despite the challenges it creates in reaching higher level discussions. I do think it’s possible and perhaps making all users uniquely identifiable might contribute toward discussions with slightly more substance.

Probably the most important factor for user behavior is the physical (and social) context the wifi router appears in. This coming Saturday I’ll be showing Occupy.here at the Activist Technology Demo Day event at Eyebeam. I’m guessing the audience will be more oriented toward technology and activism. The location of the venue, in Chelsea rather than Greenpoint, will also have some bearing on the next round of users. That’s a lot of variables changing at once, but I’ll be sure to post my decidedly non-scientific findings next week.

Dead of Winter Works documentary

For the last few days I’ve been preoccupied with preparing an installation I made with Future Archaeology, just barely getting it ready in time for the opening. I’ll write about that project in future posts, but I thought I should share this magnificent documentation of a project we did one year ago in the same gallery, Splatterpool artspace.

I recall being fairly inarticulate the night we did our group interview in the gallery, so my part in the video is a non-speaking one, but the other members of the group did a fine job of explaining our project Ohm Ω. I think Tom, in particular, has a knack for describing what it is we’re doing with our collaborations.

Video

The Future Archaeology part starts about 15 minutes in.

See also: a longer video of the Ohm Ω performance

Thinking about 2012

The 1st of January is as arbitrary as any day to designate a new year. Reading the Wikipedia article on the Gregorian calendar outlines some of the competing times to round out a new year — in March, May, September, December, as well as January — even when limiting oneself to the history of Europe.

But here I am, reflecting on the year ahead. Here is a short list of specific resolutions I’ve set out for myself:

  1. Read more books
  2. Write more blog posts
  3. Take more photos, take a photography course at ICP
  4. Work through my Instapaper queue (currently at 1,219 unread articles!)
  5. Focus on finishing and polishing my existing projects
  6. Favor those projects that help me keep in touch with friends and family

It’s in the interest of this last resolution that I’m setting aside the book I’ve recently started to start reading The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone, which was recommended by my friend James. I like the idea of synchronizing my reading with friends for the sake of discussion. In case you might be interested in doing the same, I’ve added my Goodreads profile to my list of networks in the sidebar (heads up to RSS feed subscribers, there’s a sidebar you can’t see from there!).

I suppose I’ve taken some inspiration from Woody Gothrie’s 1942 “New Years Rulin’s”, many of which I also aspire to for the coming year:

  1. Work more and better
  2. Work by a schedule
  3. Wash teeth if any
  4. Shave
  5. Take bath
  6. Eat good — fruit, vegetables, milk
  7. Drink very scant if any
  8. Write a song a day
  9. Wear clean clothes — look good
  10. Shine shoes
  11. Change socks
  12. Change bed clothes often
  13. Read lots of good books
  14. Listen to radio a lot
  15. Learn people better
  16. Keep rancho clean
  17. Don’t get lonesome
  18. Stay glad
  19. Keep hoping machine running
  20. Dream good
  21. Bank all extra money
  22. Save dough
  23. Have company but don’t waste time
  24. Send Mary and kids money
  25. Play and sing good
  26. Dance better
  27. Help win war — beat Fascism
  28. Love Mama
  29. Love Papa
  30. Love Pete
  31. Love everybody
  32. Make up your mind
  33. Wake up and fight

A redesigned phiffer.org

I’ve been tinkering with a new design for this site for a few months and have finally gotten to the point where it feels polished enough to start using. It’s not a huge departure from what was here before, but I’ve made some structural changes to how the WordPress theme works that should make it easier for me to maintain and improve. The old theme was ambitious, I invented my own object-oriented template system that shunned the well established conventions of making WordPress themes. This is all fine and good when a site first launches, but over time I forgot how all the parts fit together and was left puzzled by my earlier choices. This new theme is much more straightforward, no PHP fanciness this time around.

phiffer.org header

I did indulge a bit in some front-end fanciness though. You may notice there’s a new header element that gradually changes in response to your mouse movement. The gradations of green squares correspond to regions of the page, but rotated 90 degrees. If you move your mouse up or down you’ll see changes in the header, only your mouse movements show up horizontal instead of vertical. So the more you browse below the fold, the more visual changes will appear in the header toward the center and right. All this is private to your browser (and saved, per-browser, using something called JavaScript localStorage), I’m not sending any of the mouse movement data to the server.

Aside from that I’ve mostly just trimmed back some text in the sidebar, added a new archives interface in the footer, and beefed up my links to projects and friends. It’s still a work in progress, but with a bit more fit and finish I could see releasing the theme for others to use.

Ohm Ω at Splatterpool gallery

Here is some video documentation of Ohm Ω, a performance drawing piece I helped create with the Future Archaeology crew at Splatterpool gallery. It was very experimental, in the sense that we had no idea how it would come together until it was up on the wall. And I think it came together very nicely, the audience really got into participating toward the end!

Shoot w/o card: On, Review time: Hold, Auto power off: Off

Here is some video documentation of my photo performance in November for Bushwick BETA Spaces. The piece uses three digital SLR cameras with their flash memory cards removed. It is still possible to take photos, but the resulting images can only be seen on the camera’s preview screen. They’re lost as soon as the next shot is taken.

The Here & Now

Well, it certainly has been a while since I posted here. I’ve enjoyed my blog vacation, but I will break my silence to write a little bit about an art show I’m involved in next Sunday.

It’s a group show of some friends and myself, working under the moniker Future Archaeology. We are interested in a pretty wide variety of things, the 6 of us, but we’ve found common ground in this idea of creating a kind of archaeology for the future, an imagined dystopia (this word is probably debatable) of hybridized artificial life. Much like science fiction writing is often a projection of the time it was written, I see Future Archaeology as being about the group’s shared anxiety about technologies losing track of their connection to human needs, about our collective displacement of the ecological basis for life.

Our projects thus far have been about molding simple electronic circuits into artificial insects. This show will be different than previous iterations (see: Canopy Assemblage, Chrysalis). We will have documentation on hand that gives some context for what the group has been working on, but primarily the show is about presenting our individual art practices in a way that isn’t so tightly bound to the group’s constructed narrative. The show is a momentary consideration of the ephemeral present tense, whether it’s literally what’s happening here & now or explores a more abstract treatment of the idea.

The project I’ll be showing involves photography and a simple obstruction (read: gimmick). During the run of the one-day-only exhibition I will be taking pictures with a set of three digital SLR cameras. The obstruction is that I’ve removed the flash memory from each camera, creating a very limited window for viewing each image in the preview screen of the camera itself. At any given moment two cameras will present a screen-based diptych in the gallery space while I’m out taking the next shot to replace the older of the two images. I will spend the day shooting photos and will have no lasting artifact.

Shoot w/o card: On, Review time: Hold, Auto power off: Off

The piece has a kind of unwieldy name that tries to explain precisely what’s going on in the camera’s settings: Shoot w/o card: On, Review time: Hold, Auto power off: Off. I like the directness of the title, but I hope it doesn’t give the impression I’m mainly interested in a kind of mechanical exercise. I’m attempting to provoke a specific kind of reaction in viewers. In denying the longevity of the image, I’m hoping that one might come to appreciate more fully what is happening in the immediate place and time. These are photos deeply rooted in the brief span between their creation and destruction. I will attempt to elevate the sense that our shared circumstances are fleeting and precious. My central challenge will be to work effectively with the small screen size, to create images that might tweak — if even briefly — the relationship to one’s surroundings.

Anyway, come see it happen! It will be part of the Bushwick BETA Spaces festival on Sunday November 14th, from noon until 7pm. Our space is on Grattan Street, very close to the Morgan Ave L train stop. You can find more information on our website.

Events for June 5-6, 2010

This weekend is going to be busy! I’m participating in Bushwick Open Studios (with two shows!) and I’m also teaching a session at ITP Camp.

Rising Currents at MoMAmoma.org

We recently launched a sub-site for the Rising Currents exhibition at MoMA:

MoMA and P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center joined forces to address one of the most urgent challenges facing the nation’s largest city: sea-level rise resulting from global climate change. Though the national debate on infrastructure is currently focused on “shovel-ready” projects that will stimulate the economy, we now have an important opportunity to foster new research and fresh thinking about the use of New York City’s harbor and coastline.

These smaller exhibitions don’t usually get their own sub-sites, but it was fairly easy to customize a category view within the existing MoMA blog. A slightly-altered version of the site is also available on kiosks in the exhibition space.

Link