Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Home Depot Sponsorship

Thanks to a generous donation from Stephani Shaw at Home Depot, we now have storage shelves, paint and hardware for our Kinetic Sculpture project.

The Kinetic Sculpture Project room has moved to Fine Arts 004 to make space for tables and shelves. My "office" is now a design and build lab!

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Summer Day

This is my faculty advisor (Jill)'s favorite poem. For me, it says everything we're after with The Upcycle: the Earth stuff, the higher education stuff...everything.

I hope you enjoy it.

The Summer Day

Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Zero to Hero

"Zero to Hero" is a favorite phrase among my friends who are entrepreneurs. But what does it mean?
It means that you start with nothing but an idea - a light bulb moment that illuminates a vision that you have for the world; that something that does not exist yet should exist.
You share your excitement about that idea with others, and if you're lucky, that excitement is infectious. You build support. Perhaps a little money comes in, and some willing hands to build a dream, and some incredibly creative people who take your idea far beyond anything you could have imagined.
And that is what is happening before my eyes, here on the UMBC campus. We have zero storage space or space in which to build (none that is heated or secure, anyway). We have occupied the overhang space on the south side of the Fine Arts building. The hundred or so bottles that we have collected, and the bin we were using, disappeared today. Back to zero.
But we have the support of the Breaking Ground initiative, and a quadricycle, and barrels for flotation, and more brilliant ideas. So we will show up this weekend to build, whether we have "permission" or bottles or not. We will claim our space.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Surrey has arrived

Thanks to the efforts of Kirby Kelbaugh, we purchased a used Surrey (also known as a quadricycle that   four people can pedal, but can carry at least six people). Kirby traveled to Ocean City to pick up the cycle at Dandy Don's bike rentals. Here he is on a test drive at UMBC a few minutes after we unloaded the Surrey from the truck:
Next step: we need at least four peddlers to get up the hill and test this machine on Hilltop circle!
On Monday the UMBC Baja Team will join us to talk about modifications and attaching flotation.
Other tasks - stripping off any unnecessary components, and learning how to change a flat tire on this thing.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Visit to the Baltimore Bike Experience

   Mai and I traveled to downtown Baltimore today to visit the Baltimore Bike Experience (
   The B'More Bike Experience occupies a large storage area in Digital Harbor High School ( I was struck by the number of bicycles and the well organized piles of bike parts that they had. MICA grad Andy Dahl (MFA 2014) co-directs the program with  the help of Nima Shahidi as co director/facilitator and three teachers from Digital Harbor. As Andy noted, "Nothing is wasted." They fix up bikes and sell them, or use the frames to build bike racks, or bring broken parts to scrap metal dealers. Students who have put in enough hours also receive a repaired bike for free. One of their students has been offered a job as a bike mechanic at the Race Pace bike shop a few block down Key Highway from the school. 
   Andy and Nima are inspiring to watch - Andy circles everyone up to summarize what they learned the previous week and what they plan to do this afternoon. Nima challenges everyone to a visual/mechanical puzzle. Pointing to a bicycle hanging from a bicycle repair stand, Nima asks the students, "This frame was donated to us after the owner claimed it was defective and was given a new one by the manufacturer. Can anyone see what is wrong with it?" After a few seconds, a student notes that the "drop out" is broken. Nima turns to the group: "Everybody understand what a drop out is? Right, that piece broke off - supposedly when the owner tried to place the bike in his car - but we can harvest a lot of good parts from the this frame and make it into a bike rack." Nima and Andy then list the number of tasks that need to be done, and they let students choose. Mai and I sort through a box of chains, gears, and cranks to see which can be salvaged and stored in the parts bins. If it hadn't been raining outside, we would have taken some of the bikes out for a ride. I will look forward to another visit when the weather is clear.

   The program operates from 3pm to 6pm every Wednesday. Andy noted that if he had more funding, he would expand the program to multiple afternoons. I would like to see this happen; when I was in graduate school in Dr. Gil Noam's course on after school programs (Harvard Graduate School of Education, 2002), it was estimated that only 10% of the expressed need for after school programming was being met. Funding and space are major obstacles. For more information on after school education, please visit the Program in Education, Afterschool and Resiliency (PEAR) at

Monday, October 13, 2014

October reflections

1. What have I learned from the assigned readings and videos that we can include in our

The content we’ve covered has raised a critical awareness of the impact we have individually and collectively on our Earth. I’m left in awe of our planet’s elasticity. The force of our world must be represented in our design, evoking a deeper appreciation for its majesty and central role in our survival. For me, that means the difference between simply using plastic water bottles as a representation for our waste, and allowing them to become a medium for a broader, more abstract message.

2. What have I learned from our site visits, photographs & videos that can inform our design?

Visiting the Baltimore Foundery was an experience that enlightened and inspired. In a practical sense, I learned the names of various tools and their applications: the difference between a drill press and a miter saw, for example. I also learned about the work that they’re engaged in, and how it relates back to my own interests. As always, the site visits have reminded me of the interconnectedness of all things. This relates back to our design in a more abstract way, when discussing the thematic elements and how to communicate a vision of sustainability that speaks to its interdisciplinary nature.

3. What have I learned from the kinetic sculpture web site and KSR blog that can inform our design?

The KSR website and others have grounded my thoughts in the practical realities of creating a sculpture that will make it through the race. Having our resident engineer visit the group was particularly insightful, and the axioms he spoke to, “the more wheels you have, the more points of contact you have with the ground, the more trouble you can run into”. That’s very the kind of common-sense driven engineering that pulls me back toward what can actually be executed.

4. What have I learned about the importance of building partnerships in our community?

The more we progress, the more I realize how many people we will need to be involved in order for us to be proud of what we put out. I’ve put much of my time into thinking about what groups to engage, from artists to engineers, in order to ensure our project’s success.

5. What have I learned about the design process (about developing a design in collaboration)

An Aristotelian quote comes to mind, “How many a dispute could have been deflated into a single paragraph if the disputants had dared to define their terms!" It’s not that there are any ‘arguments’ during our process, but rather that the best outcomes come from each participant engaging in a carefully edited thoughtfulness, so that questions and answers are understood as they were intended. Allowing for this process to flourish is something I think often about.

6. How can I draw from all of the above in order to “tell our story” (describe our project) to a wider audience?

I think the most appealing way to describe KSR and our class’s involvement is by allowing everyone to see their own interests in our process. Like anything that is truly interdisciplinary, it is our job to articulate the ways of knowing in a way that is inclusionary, and broad enough to inspire all. In terms of engaging folks, I think about it in similar terms of The Garden, allowing people to self-select based on their own inherent talents and passions, challenging our creativity to find the link back to our project. If we are able to do that, then I think we have succeeded.

7. How is our work interdisciplinary? Has there been any “transfer” of understanding from an
artistic perspective to an engineering perspective, for example?

There has been a clear shift through the semester in our process: individuals on either end of the spectrum have demonstrated more thoughtfulness toward considerations that may not have to do with their inherent interests, and in my opinion this has led to more productive work. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Design Idea #4: Mountains of Plastic Trash and the Plastic Bottle Infographic

I know that is not an appealing name, but after watching a "Story of Stuff" episode about plastic water bottles at we brainstormed a new design that has more to do with downcycling (plastic ending up in a landfill in a foreign country) than upcycling (finding new uses for plastic bottles).
Our design process progressed from reviewing the design parameters (the official race rules and the how to build section of the Baltimore Kinetic site) to a simpler but sturdier four wheel design. We briefly considered welding two tandem bicycles side by side, but Gabriel suggested that we modify and old four person pedal car called a "Surry."it looks something like this:
We discussed the Lorax again, and the need to build awareness about mindless consumption of bottled water as well as mindless disposal of plastic bottles. Two key images emerged from our design discussion: the mountains of plastic bottles in landfills, and the need for a bottle infographic depicting the amount of resources (including petroleum and water) used to manufacture and transport plastic water bottles. 
It is fascinating to listen to the artistic challenges of making "a mountain of plastic" into an aesthetic whole with symbolic value; how to create a large water bottle graphic on each side of the pedal car; and how to depict as a whole the lifecycle of the typical plastic water bottle. Where to put the information? Won't words and numbers get in the way of artistic images? How to mount the artwork to the chassis in a way that won't be dislodged when we splash into the Baltimore harbor? how will this thing float, anyway? Stay tuned for more…
Adventures of the Kinetic Sculpture Racing team!