Aron Altmark Painted the Town Red, and It Was Good


On April 20, Aron Altmark Painted the Town of Birmingham, Alabama Red.  It was good.

From the videos I got from Aron, it was really good.  Since the first post about Aron’s IndieGogo funding campaign, I’ve been excited to post about what he did, and that it benefitted the American Red Cross, which is also excellent.  Light for Enjoyment AND helping people in the process is what I am all about lately.  Sometimes you just have to use photons for happiness.

I emailed Aron and asked him about this adventure, links and bolding are mine:

All of this was for Paint the Town Red, an annual digital arts festival that turns downtown Birmingham into a giant media canvas for digital artists. We had a projection-mapped dome with a silent rave in it, many small installations featuring local light artists, a projection-mapped Mini Cooper, fire dancers, trapeze artists, and of course my two large installations. I was the featured artist this year and flew in from LA to do the show.

My main work was a Kinect hack utilizing a video camera, depth sensor, and custom applications — this setup allowed any of the festival attendees to walk into a “stage” area and interact with their digital proxy, projected thirty feet high via a 10K HD projector. It was a bit of an interactive painting game (with a healthy does of DanceDanceRevolution), with realtime input of up to six users. In addition to this, about every half hour my good friend and amazingly talented dancer Erica Thornton put on a performance for the crowd. For the performances, I ran a different custom application that tracked Erica’s left and right hands and created particle systems based on speed and motion, with audio-reactive elements built in as well. Both applications were controlled by a custom UI on an iPad.

Of course, we also had a giant laser graffiti setup going — this one five stories high and about 100 feet wide using a 15K projector + 50mW laser pointer. The citizens of Birmingham came out and made their mark on the city, with messages ranging from the ever-present “Roll Tide” to “I Believe in Birmingham”. The entire event was put on to raise money for the Birmingham-Jefferson Chapter of the American Red Cross.

Aron, you’re awesome.  Let’s check out some videos!

The Multi-user Kinect station:

Paint The Town Red – Kinect Station Multi-User from aronaltmark on Vimeo.

The Single-user Kinect Station, with a dancer:

Paint The Town Red – Kinect Station from aronaltmark on Vimeo.

The Single-user Kinect station, again:

Paint The Town Red – Kinect Station from aronaltmark on Vimeo.

The 3 photos here and all of the videography in this post comes from AK Photo (, who is Asher Krell from Birmingham, Alabama.  Great work, AK!



Thanks to Aron for letting me know about the work!

LED Freerunning: Light Emitting Dudes

Meet the Light Emitting Dudes! Three freerunners from Bangkok, Sydney, and Frankfurt take on the streets of Bangkok in RGB suits and it is just awesome to behold. Despite the effortless grace of their movements, and the beautiful surreal images exposures of their suits moving through spacetime create, it is no easy feat. The international team shot for two weeks while constantly maintaining these first-gen LED freerunning acrobatic suits, and trying to avoid attention in guerrilla filming situations (apparently the suits attracted a lot of attention, who would have thought?).

But despite all of the challenges, Director Frank Sauer says,

The cool factor of looking like a general bad ass never wore off. I think a lot big kids dream of dressing up like superheroes and leaping around the city. That’s something I can cross off my bucket list, now. We had a great time together. In the end, it’s definitely worth it to create something new and unique in a way only you can.

Check out the fantastic video:

Light Emitting Dudes – LED Freerunning from Frank Sauer on Vimeo.’s Guide to Christmas Lights, Part Five: Christmas Lighting MATH!

Christmas Lighting MATH

It’s that time of year again – time for hanging those crazy little mini incandescents, C-6’s, and LED strands that you’ve added in (because they’re the “newest, brightest colors” [!!!]), and you’re digging out the cube taps and power strips.  You’re looking through drawers and cabinets for the little bags of spare lamps, fuses, and blinker lamps that you’ve stashed all year, or from last year.  Yeah, we know the drill.

Have you ever noticed that many of the packages of Christmas lights that you buy say things like “do not plug more than X strands together at once,” where X is a number like 3 or 5, depending on several factors like lamp size and wire length?  Well, surprise, there is a good, solid reason for that!  Generally, that bit of instructions and the numbers associated with them has something to do with preventing you from burning your house down and killing you and your whole family while you sleep.  I mean, generally.  But who really reads those directions, right?

If you are smart and you like your family and house and nice stuff, I would advise following those directions.  First, let me show you, for example, how fast a Christmas tree turns a house into carbon rubble when it catches on fire from, for example, an electric short:

Pretty crazy, huh?  That’s why we follow directions.  The days of a stack of Edison plugs stuck together in an outlet that’s way overloaded need to be gone.  Be smart, and you’ll not have to worry about these kinds of scenarios.

Unfortunately I have to put the disclaimer in here that the information below is to be used at your own risk – will not be held responsible if you cause damage or death.  If you’re not a qualified electrician and have questions about something that a qualified electrician should be doing, don’t do it.

When trying to figure out how many strands of christmas lights to stick end to end together, it’s best to just follow the directions on the package.  Remember just a minute ago when I said “Generally, that bit of instructions and the numbers associated with them has something to do with preventing you from burning your house down and killing you and your whole family while you sleep” ?  This is the part of the story where that actually shows you that it’s easier to follow the directions than it is to burn your whole house down.  However, let’s just say you have limited information, or small combinations of variables like individual lamp voltage, individual lamp amperage, total strand wattage, or for some reason, wire gauge of the strand.  You can manipulate the good old Power Formula to give you the answers using some constants that you can kind of take for granted.  You know the power formula, right?  The “West Virginia Formula?”

Here are some things you can pretty much use at your own risk as constant numbers to help with the figurin’ of the math, when it comes up:

  • In the USA, which is where I live, the voltage at the wall outlet is gonna be somewhere between 110-120 volts.  For a constant standard number, you can use 120 volts as the line voltage at the wall when you’re calculating, it’s the upper limit.
  • Typically in your home, the wall outlets and circuits therein are going to be rated at either 15 amps or 20 amps.  The best way to figure out which each one is would be to go find that outlet in the breaker box and verify the circuit’s amperage rating on the breaker itself.  I just went and checked the breaker box here in my apartment, and all of the circuits in my place are 15 amp circuits.  I’m guessing that a lot of your homes are going to be on 15 amp breakers.
  • A large majority of christmas light strands are wired with 22 gauge (awg) wiring, which has a total ampacity rating of about 5 amps.  A strand of 150 incandescent mini lamps at 36 watts total is only pulling 0.3 amps.
  • If you can verify that all wiring from the load to the breaker is the proper gauge for maximum wattage use for a 20 amp circuit, that circuit will provide a maximum of 2400 watts.  The same circuit on a 15 amp breaker will give a maximum wattage of 1800 watts.  Please note – this is if all conditions, like all sections of wiring and multi-gang units, like power strips and cube taps.
  • For a reason that I have yet to figure out, light strands are calculated on this odd “minus two per fifty lamps” constant.  What I mean by that is the calculations on the entire strand of lights seem to be calculated by taking away 2 lamps per every 50.  For example, if you calculate all of the variables of your typical string of 150, you get numbers that are for 50 lamps, but the actual ratings are for 144 lamps, which is 6 less than 150, or 2 per every 50 lamps.  Weird, huh?

Let’s put some of this information to the test and figure out a challenge.  I just found a 150-lamp string of mini-incandescents.  I want to know how many amps this string will pull as a whole.  There are some things we know, but we don’t know amps.  Let’s manipulate that good ol’ Power Formula:

Easy, yeah?

Okay, here’s another one:
How many strands can I plug end to end, knowing that A) the wire on the strand of lights is probably 22 gauge, B) each strand of 150 draws about 0.3 amps, C) the 22 gauge wire in the strand is rated for about 5 amps, and D) there is a 3 amp fuse in line on each strand of 150 lights.  I plan to plug the business end of these into the wall, rated at 15 amps.

Well, I checked the package, and the package said not to plug more than five strands together, for a total of no more than 210 watts.

Technically, if I multiply the 36 watt strands together in total, so five total strands, that equals 180 watts.  A 6th strand added would give me 216 watts.  216 watts, which draws 1.8 amps, is well under the 3 amp fuse rating.  So what’s the right answer?

The right answer is what the package said, in this case.  The package said no more than five strands end to end.  Sure, you could plug together that extra strand, because even with adding that sixth strand, the total amperage is only 1.8 amps, which is still 1.2 amps under the 3 amp fuse rating.  However, when something goes wrong and you burn down your house, your neighbor’s house, and your other neighbor’s house, what is going to happen when you get sued is that the fire inspector is going to somehow find that sixth strand plugged in, and the box told you that you were only supposed to plug five strands together.

See how this works?  This is purely legal.  When you go outside of the package’s advisory, you thereby null and void any warranty, even though technically the product could handle it.  It’s a slippery slope.  You have to be careful.

Okay, here’s another one:
Let’s say I have a 12 gauge heavy duty extension cable to which I will plug a 15 amp power strip with a circuit breaker.  How many strands of christmas lights can I plug into that power strip and still be okay, technically speaking?

We know a few things here – the 12 gauge heavy duty cable is rated at 20 amps.  However, our power strip is only rated for 15 amps, so that brings our total load down to 15 amps.  The weakest rating in the group is where to place your limit.  So if you were to be completely ridiculous and stupid and plug another extension cable between that power strip and the heavy duty extension cable that was, say, a 16 gauge cable (rated at 13 amps), then the system is knocked down to 13 amps.  Epic fail can happen really quickly here, so pay attention to what you’re doing.

Since we can’t plug more than five strands end to end, we can use the power strip to plug in several sets of five as groups of five.  Make sense?  My power strip is rated for 15 amps, so I need to figure out if I can plug a strand of five strands into each of the six female outlets on the power strip.  Math time!

Let’s go a step further – how many of these power strips with six strings of five strands of christmas lights can we plug into the wall in one 2-gang outlet?

This really depends on the load rating on the specific circuit you’re plugging your christmas lights into, as well as how many other branch circuits are connected to that specific circuit breaker.  What I mean is that sometimes several outlets in your home or garage can be running to one circuit breaker.  That sucks, sure, but it happens, and it happens a lot.  My condo, for example, has a total of 12 2-gang Edison outlets on the walls, and a total of five circuit breakers controlling them all.  One of the circuit breakers in my condo has four branch circuits – on a 15 amp circuit breaker.  That means that over four 2-gang outlets in my apartment I can only plug a total of 15 amps’ worth of devices.  That kinda sucks.

You need to be able to know the rating of your circuit breaker in order to be able to answer the question above.  Go open your circuit breaker panel or fuse box and check what the rating is on the circuit you plan to use.  Check out these images below – a 15 amp and 20 amp breaker, and a 15 amp and 20 amp screw-type fuse:

Breakers – notice the rating number painted on the actual switch itself:

Fuses – again, notice the rating number (15 and 20, for 15 amp and 20 amp):

Remember from above, a 15 amp breaker or fuse is only rated for 1800 watts, and a 20 amp breaker or fuse is rated for 2400 watts.  So could I plug in two of my power strip rigs into a 15 amp breaker or fuse?

The answer is no, no you cannot.  Each of the power strips has six strands of five strings of lights end to end, for a total wattage of 1080 watts, drawing 9 amps.  Two of them into one circuit that had nothing else plugged into it totals 2160 watts at 18 amps, which is definitely too much for a 15 amp circuit breaker or fuse.  However, if the circuit was a 20 amp rated circuit, 2160 watts at 18 amps (or two of the power strips with six strands of five strings of lights at 9 amps each) would be close to the limit, but acceptable.  The biggest thing that people forget to check is the existing loads on a branched circuit – like a fridge, appliance, radio, or what-have-you, that pushes the circuit to the point of tripping the protection (breaker or fuse).

I need to tell you all – if you have aluminum wiring in your house, none of this stuff applies to you, as aluminum wiring is dangerous and scary. Call an electrician to have that replaced.

Generally, some good rules and practices to abide by when doing electricity math with christmas lights:

  • if there are instructions on the packaging relating to how many strands you can plug in end to end, follow it.
  • if you plug something in and it trips a breaker or blows a fuse, something is wrong – fix it before proceeding.
  • never overload a circuit, ever.
  • if you don’t know the answer, get in touch with a qualified professional who can help you figure the answer.

Be safe out there, folks!  Safety first, they’re just christmas lights after all!

day 33: starry night

Thanks, Elcosh Images, Aubuchon Hardware, Fuel FixHome Depot, and Power Stream!

Aron Altmark Rocks’s Mobile Art Show

You see, Aron Altmark is a young guy I know – a lighting designer, student, and artist.  Aron is doing something right now that a pretty small handful of really talented young people are doing.  Aron is turning light, art, and his big geek brain into something that he can feel good about – and he’s involving the public in his exploits so that the world can see how great it is to be a geek.

It’s a shame – there are fewer true “geeks” in the world right now, and today’s college-age people as a majority are becoming less geekified.  What’s with that, people?

Aron just turned’s “Mobile Art Show” into an interactive piece of art.  The Mobile Art Show is a pretty cool thing that The Daily City is doing around Orlando.  Think of it as a portable studio so that artists can sell their work – a U-Haul bobtail truck, parked in different places in the city.  Aron thought totally differently than the norm on this – instead of thinking inside the box[truck], Aron decided to literally go outside the box – turning the truck’s exterior into a projection surface for his real-time “Laser Graffiti.”  Aron’s work is an interactive light projection that tracks the movement of a laser on a surface.  That’s right.  What did you do today?

Aron’s work is forging himself a place in the future – this is what happens when you apply yourself.  Aron, we’re expecting pretty big stuff outta you, kid!  Great work.  I wanna see you conquer OpenFrameworks and Processing.

Check out the rest of Aron’s work on his Picasa account.  Thanks, Aron!

The Harbin Ice Festival in the Heilongjiang Province, China

I posted about this last year when I was becoming informed about it, and I am still in awe as to its beauty.  The Harbin Ice Festival in China is quite an amazing thing to see – one of these years I will get to see it in person, I have told myself.  These talented ice carvers are exactly that – talented.  I had the absolute pleasure to hang out with an old friend back in October who had a bunch of the Harbin ice carvers in his employ, and watching them work together is like watching a team that was born to make magic from ice.

Check out these quick minute-long videos:

One of my favorite photoblogs, Boston Globe’s Big Picture, had a bunch of just amazing images of this year’s festival – I grabbed a few, but you have to check out the rest of them.  Images below:








A Larson Scanner Project – I Almost Forgot Halloween Was Here!

Would you believe I got to sleep in today?  Also, WHY was I not told that HALLOWEEN is already here?!  I have to come up with yet another tasteless costume commentary on life, news, and celebrity deaths!

Oh, the tasteless fun…


But nonetheless JUST as exciting, HALLOWEEN LIGHTING PROJECT TIME!  How many times of year do geeks and nerds like us get to add the element of light to the inside of a pumpkin?  Not enough, says this observer.  I got news of a cool post at one of my favorite DIY blogs, Evil Mad Scientist Labs, who has created the Larson Scanner Kit for your pumpkins and everything else you need a series of scanning red LEDs to make better.  Glen A. Larson was the guy who invented the red scanning LED idea for the Knight Rider and Battlestar Galactica series – properties master indeed!

Evil Mad Scientist Labs makes use of the ATtiny2313 microcontroller chip for power efficiency, and has improved upon their original design for a Larson Scanner kit.  Nice work, fellas!


All photos from oskay’s photostream on Flickr.

Solar Blossoms in Austin – SunFlowers, An Electric Garden

I’ve not been to Austin a lot – a few times for working and visiting – but this is the kind of project I would want to see if I lived there.  Meet the SunFlowers, a photovoltaic sculpture garden that collects solar energy and turns it into night time light:

sunflower solar

A blurb from Good Mag on the project:

Comprised of 15 flower-shaped photovoltaic solar panels that line a pedestrian and bike path on the greenbelt between a retail lot and highway I-35, SunFlowers was unveiled on July 30. In such close proximity to a prominent highway, the 30-foot structures are, as Harries/Héder put it, “a highly visible metaphor for the energy-conscious city of Austin.” But because each one is a working solar collector, the art piece is both emblematic and functional.

The energy that the panels collect during the day is used, come nightfall, to power SunFlowers’ stunning blue LEDs, which illuminate the path below for bike-riders and walkers, and generally beautifying the area. An extra 15 kilowatts generated each day is fed back into the grid and used offset the costs of operation and maintenance.

What do you think of this installation? I’m actually a fan of projects like this – projects that use technology like solar tech and repurpose it in a dual role as art and civil lighting interest me.  The developer paid a large part of the project, and a grant was given for the materials.

Some information on the project from Mags Harries and Lajos Heder’s website – the creators of the SunFlowers project:

Location:      Austin, TX
Client:            Catellus Development Co.
Size:                30′ x 1000′ x 16′
Materials:     Photovoltaic solar collector panels, welded steel frames and stems, landforms and plantings
Budget:         $595,000:
$470,000 from the Developer
$75,000 from Austin Energy rebate
$50,000 grant from Applied Materials Inc.

The 15 SunFlowers that form the Electric Garden are sculptural solar collectors that generate solar energy for lighting at night. The additional 15 kilowatts of energy that they produce is fed into the electrical grid for credit, which will fund the maintenance and operating costs for the project. During the day they provide shade for a pedestrian/bicycle path and at night the LED’s in the SunFlowers’ stamens glow with blue light.
SunFlowers was initiated as a buffer to mask the loading docks at the edge of the Mueller Development from the I-35 highway.

To date, this is the largest public art project in the City of Austin.  SunFlowers is both an icon for the sustainable, LEED certified Mueller Development and a highly visible metaphor for the energy conscious City of Austin.

The custom-made solar collector panels have a blue crystalline surface and appear like a garden of huge flowers facing the northbound traffic on I-35.

More images of the project:


sunflower austin

sunflower model



Thanks, Good and Core77!

Tel Aviv Tunnels, Meet Bar & Shay

Israel’s second largest city Tel Aviv has a series of underground walking tunnels that were a great place for artists Bar & Shay to unleash their latest work.  The artists altered the public lighting  in the tunnels to something a little more colorful.  From Wooster Collective, the tunnels with their normal lighting:

tel aviv tunnel

Now, the Bar & Shay alterations, which they stated were inspired by Dorothy and The Wizard of Oz:

bar and shay tel aviv

tel aviv bar and shay

Not a lot of info is available about this installation (yet), but the images are stunning!  This makes me want to start altering stuff around here!

Coleman and Their 4-Panel LED Camping Lantern


I’m a huge fan of camping – I know I’ve mentioned it before.  I’m looking forward to going back to Dallas and hitting the Possum Kingdom Lake area with my buddies ASAP.  Those of us who camp a fair amount know that the company Coleman has a large market share of the consumer camping market, with their gas mantle lanterns, camping fuel, stoves, tents, and all of that other little stuff that seems to propagate at any department store wth a “camping” or “sporting goods” section.

I just read an article about a relatively omni-directional LED camping lantern from Coleman – a carryable lantern with 24 white LEDs at 5mm each, a 30 hour run time, and four sections that detach to provide four also portable LED sections.  The lantern takes 8 D-cell batteries, and the removable sections all have NiCD batteries inside.

It’s running around $70 bucks ($69.99 on Amazon) – I don’t remember how much my Coleman mantle lantern cost me back in the day, but I wonder what my good friend Ru would do without that extra Coleman Camping Fuel around to set things ablaze.

camping lantern