Nocturnal Emissions


The Internet is so loaded with non-sequiters that it’s impairing our ability to enjoy the craziness that takes place in our own minds each night as we sleep.  I felt that my own sense of wonder had been seriously impaired and I decided to combat this by making an Internet Enabled Mash Up Dream Generator.

When you approach the box, attracted by the slowly pulsing blue button, the box lights up and begins to play a relaxing Nocturne.  You stare into the infinitely repeating blue LED void and descend into a dream state.  Press the pulsing button and it generates your dream!  The dreams are generated by taking important news headlines and pop cultural icon’s twitter feeds and then mashing them up and filtering them through lines of Beat Poet Allan Ginsberg’s signature work Howl.

Here’s an example.



This one says . . .

“Happy.  Free.  Confused.  Lonely.  At the same time.  (@TaylorSwift13) An Outsized Rapscalion let loose in postwar England! (@nytimesarts) Incomparable blind streets of shuddering cloud and lightning in the mind leaping toward poles of Canada & Paterson, Illuminating all the motionless world of time between.  (AG, Howl)”

Here’s a link to the instructable

And here’s a link to my movie on Vimeo.

Steve Hamilton Final Project: Post-Meridien Redux

Post-Meridien: Redux  (Internet Enabled Dream Generator)

My final project involves updating an artifact I created for a live performance/installation at the New Museum way back in 2001.  I’d commissioned a composer to write a nocturne and hired a violinist from the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra to perform it live for 4 hours while locked into a 4 by 4 by 8 foot tall black wooden box.  You could hear him playing from inside the box (there was no top so the sound came through pretty clearly) but you couldn’t see him.  There was a video feed to another part of the museum where you could see him playing but you couldn’t hear him.  The effect, although perhaps a little maddening, was also quite mysterious in the room with the big black box where the lights were kept low and twilight-y.  In the video he looked sort of sweaty and hot.  It was summer and the museum’s AC wasn’t working very well.  Plus he was locked up in a windowless black box, so there you have it.

Anyway, I found a small music box mechanism that played songs from 5 inch metal disks and I had one fabricated with the nocturne I’d commissioned on it and created this blue velvet lined wooden box and put a mirror on the floor and an inverted half silvered mirror on the top and ringed it with blue LEDs just under the half-silvered mirror.  The effect was of a bottomless series of blue LED rings and this small plunky music box music.  Back then I didn’t have the electrical chops to get the whole thing functioning and the piece has been collecting dust in my studio ever since.  Now that I’m developing some mad skillz with Arduino I decided to resurrect it and bring it to an even grander fruition than originally imagined.  Now it will not only play music and light up, still providing a deep, bottomless, LED lighted mystery, but it will start up only when approached and will have a pulsating blue button that when pressed will activate an internet-based algorithm that generates dreams and prints them out using a thermal ink receipt printer.  I know.  Right?

So how will I make this killer mod?  Well, here’s what I’m thinking I’ll need.

Starting with an Arduino Uno Microcontroller I’ll add . . .

Maxbotix Ultrasonic Rangefinder – LV-EZ1 [LV-EZ1] ID: 172 – $24.95 : Adafruit Industries, Unique & fun DIY electronics and kits


This will trigger the lights and music using the Arduino and some sort of transistor circuit that manages the auxiliary power source (because the Arduino alone can’t power all those LEDs and the music player) when somebody approaches the box.

I found this tutorial about managing large currents with a transistor . . .

The Arduino will be outfitted with . . .

Adafruit CC3000 WiFi Shield with Onboard Ceramic Antenna ID: 1491 – $39.95 : Adafruit Industries, Unique & fun DIY electronics and kits

Arduino Internet Shield


Adafruit CC3000 WiFi Breakout with Onboard Ceramic Antenna ID: 1469 – $34.95 : Adafruit Industries, Unique & fun DIY electronics and kits

Arduino Internet Breakout

I’m not really sure what the difference between a breakout and a shield is so I’m not sure which one of these I need.  Hopefully it’s the shield because the breakout is not currently available.  Becky please advise.  Anyway, this will provide the Arduino with Internet Access via Wifi and enable the handshake that lets it activate the internet algorithm dream generator code.

Waterproof Metal Pushbutton with Blue LED Ring [16mm Blue Momentary] ID: 481 – $4.95 : Adafruit Industries, Unique & fun DIY electronics and kits


This cool blue glowing button will be used to trigger the dream algorithm and will gently pulse all the time on the front of the box enticing people to approach it so the entire shebang gets activated.

Mini Thermal Receipt Printer Starter Pack ID: 600 – $61.95 : Adafruit Industries, Unique & fun DIY electronics and kits


This printer will print out the message algorithmically captured from the internet by the Arduino.

LoL Shield BLUE – A charlieplexed LED matrix kit for the Arduino [1.5] ID: 493 – $24.95 : Adafruit Industries, Unique & fun DIY electronics and kits


I don’t think I’ll use this for anything but I thought about the possibility of having the dreams scanned out Jenny Holzer style using this LED Matrix instead of the printer.  But I think I’ll probably use the receipt printer so people can take their dreams home with them like the fortunes from Chinese cookies.

I’m still thinking about the structure and content of the algorithm to generate the dreams but I’m thinking a part of it may pull lines from Allan Ginsberg’s Howl Part 1, a poem  which even today rings forth with an hallucinatory energy that seems not just dreamlike but totally revolutionary.  It’s fierce.  I’d like the dreams to be thought provoking, poetic, and possibly politically significant.

I’ve been doing some research and discovered . . .

An alarm clock that wakes you up with harsh truths scraped from the world wide web

A Robo Poem generator

Robopoem – Computer poetry: automatic poems and song lyrics

And some interesting articles on the history of chance and cutup concepts in poetry making  and music . . .

Aleatoricism – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Indeterminacy (music) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Cut-up technique – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Dissociated press – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Fortress of Studitude (Plushy Night Light by Steve Hamilton)

The Fortress of Studitude is named after Superman’s “Secret Citadel” up in the Arctic where he would escape from his day to day life as a Superhero (The Fortress of Solitude).  My Fortress of Studitude provides a lighted “reading chamber” attached to a plushy backrest where I can study late into the night without bright light keeping my sleeping wife Jocelyn awake.

The “Fortress” includes a switch which allows you to switch the reading light on, a dimmer to adjust the lighting (providing restful and respiteful mood lighting during the occasional movie viewing “energy reset”), and most importantly the ability to switch on the “disco party light mode” for when you’ve run out of X and you still want to “study like you just don’t care!”

I started with this plushy black velveteen backrest on sale at Bed, Bath and Beyond. Starting with the Bed, taking it way Beyond!

I created the hoops for the hood out of some plastic strips used for porch screens that Lowe’s had marked down from 3.97 to only 25 cents each (way better than the 9 dollar pieces of steel that I spent about 30 minutes unsuccessfully trying to drill a hole into).

I used T Bolts to connect the ribs to the wooden dowel I’d cut for support but the pressure exerted by the bent plastic strips caused them to pop out.
Another trip to Home Depot yielded these spiny screw end caps that take a threaded 1/4" bolt.
Another trip to Home Depot yielded these spiny screw end caps that take a threaded 1/4″ bolt.

I’m pretty sure there’s some sort of geometry that would have told me exactly how large to make the panels and also what the arc of the cut fabric should be to get it to make the perfect shroud but I think I was out sick that day and I missed the lesson.  I used one of my plastic ribs to eyeball and trace the arc.


It's important to maintain a positive attitude despite the slowly budding realization that you've bitten off a sewing project of epic proportions that's far beyond your capabilities.
It’s important to maintain a positive attitude despite the slowly budding realization that you’ve bitten off a sewing project of epic proportions that’s far beyond your capabilities.
I needed sleeves for the ribs to slide into.  These were tricky and made of a slippery fabric that came from Jocelyn's scrap bin.  I finished sewing the first wo panels together and installed the first sleeve around Midnight.  It worked!  The rib slid in with only minor difficulty.
I needed sleeves for the ribs to slide into. These were tricky and made of a slippery fabric that came from Jocelyn’s scrap bin. I finished sewing the first two panels together and completed the first sleeve around Midnight. It worked! The rib slid in with only minor difficulty.

After sewing most of the night I cut the last panel early Monday morning.  I’ve mapped out my circuit with a physical switch and a little laser cut plexiglass panel.  Now it’s time to get started on the electronics.  Yikes!  Running out of time.


Although a little bit of "seamstress exposure" can be nice, "Tailor's Crack" is an eyesore that should be avoided at all costs.  My stretch blue Ex Officio boxer briefs hold steady at the hips despite my jeans slipping down a bit.  Close call!
Although a little flash from my seamstress wife can be nice on occasion, “Tailor’s Crack” is an eyesore that should be avoided at all costs. My stretchy blue Ex Officio boxer briefs hold steady at the hips despite my jeans slipping down a bit. Close call!

Worked on the electronics this afternoon and am considering some modifications.  After IDEO class I got back on the textile tip and put the final touches on the infrastructure.  As of 11pm Monday night the base of “The Fortress” is complete.

Jocelyn takes the fortress for a test drive.  There's a bit of a gap at the bottom because I ran out of fabric.  I'm going to add a black "skirt" to fill the gap.
Jocelyn takes the fortress for a test drive. There’s a bit of a gap at the bottom because I ran out of fabric. I’m going to add a black “skirt” to fill the gap.

The last bit was to hand stitch the structure onto the plushy backrest.  I was planning to trim the sides to the length of the curved braces but I actually liked the way the fabric bunched adding to the “Victorianly decadent” feeling overall.


Acellerama-ding-dong Night Light

Hmmm.  I took my sewed up sparkle skirt cardboard that was working perfectly last week in class apart before taking a stab at re-assembling it with alligator clips and adding an LED.  I knew this circuit would be perfect for one of the versions of a plush night light which would work with motion activated LEDs packed into a plushy foam lined tin can dragged behind your bicycle to create the noisiest bike night light ever.

I wanted to start from scratch in order to get practice with this.  I got everything hooked up and with the original code from last week I was getting the numbers to change when running the test.


Sort of a mess on the dining room table but luckily Jocelyn had already gone up to bed.

This was particularly helpful because I was using her fancy deco era (or maybe it’s Victorian?) magnifying glass to see what I was connecting too.  It worked really well!



I then reloaded the sparkle skirt code from the website and I got an error PIN 6 not defined.  I went back to the code from our original LED testing and I copied a line of code from it that defined Pin 6 but then I got an error that “lsm was not declared in this scope”.  I tried deleting lines of code that had lsm to see if I’d get a different error but there were lsm lines throughout so that was a bust.  I tried reloading it and I tried going back to the code from our neopixel experiments and copying some pieces of that in but it still wouldn’t work.

I’m stuck because I don’t know what LSM means or does so I have to do more research.

I made this excellent drawing of my two ideas for a Plush Tin Can Night Light Lamp which conceptually contained at least two redundancies in it.  So I parsed out and embraced one redundancy in each of these pieces I plan to make for next week.


Plush Tin Can Night Light

A plushy sewn insert protects the delicate motion sensing LED electronics inside an empty Bustelo coffee can.  The can is either dragged by a rope behind your bike or slid onto one of those detachable fenders you can get for you bike.  The bouncing of the can causes the LED to flash brightly and frantically and sporadically making sure you’re super visible at night.  If you drag it by the rope you get the added benefit of a loud obnoxious sound making you even easier to spot out on the NYC streets.

The plushy’s on the inside!

Bike Fender

Plush Lamp Night Light

A cushy pillow has LEDs built in that provide reading light for bedtime.  When you doze off while reading the beginners guide to programming in processing and your cheek touches one of two touch capacitive cloth inserts flanking your head it switches the unit from reading mode to comfortable mood lighting mode for a restful ease into your evening REM sleep.

NeoPixel “Switch” Up

Fun with the NeoPixels

I didn’t get too fancy with the NeoPixels but I did try to get all of mine connected in series.  Unfortunately I could only get the first one to work after hooking all that up.  I double checked all the connections and everything seemed lined up correctly.  + to + and – to – and all the arrows pointing in a row.  I decided it must be a jumper wire so I unhooked the three additional NeoPix that I’d connected to the functioning one and began connecting them out one at a time (note to self this is probably a good practice for the future) and when I didn’t get that 2nd one to light up I began swapping jumpers.


I totally lucked out that the first one I tried seemed to be faulty.  This is the second jumper wire I’ve discovered like this and I’m wondering if with the multimeter I could test the wires for continuity.  (I set the jumpers aside but tied them in a loose knot so I know not to use them unless I figure out how to fix them.)


I began switching numbers around and was able to figure out what all the parameters did.  First it displays each specified color at the brightness determined on the scale of 0 to 255 for a time determined by the 4th number in each series.  When I made the number smaller the delay was a shorter time.  (Not sure what unit of time this number represents.  I assumed it was milliseconds but it seem longer than this.)


I was confused by the difference between rainbow and rainbow cycle.  I changed the parameters and deleted one and then the other line.  It seems like the cycle is a longer smoother thing.  The number which follows seems to make it happen faster or slower.

I decided to try adding the switch to my device so I could turn it on and off while I was rewriting code without plugging and unplugging the USB cable.  The switch worked but I got this error message on my computer.


I’m not sure why adding a switch would cause the whole system to draw more power.  I noticed that in the Getting Started with Arduino book there’s a resister included in the switch circuit.  Maybe that’s why?  Need to find out more about this.


Tin Can/Lamp Steve H.

TinCanMovieRevised             IMG_0763

Concept:  A Tin Can Lamp embodying three primary functions of “lamp-dom”, Light, Heat, and Illumination.  The light is an obvious by-product of the electrical excitation of the bulb filament.  Heat is a less recognized output of this process and indicative of the energy waste inherent in incandescent light bulbs (soon to be outlawed for this very reason).  This wasted energy typically evaporates unnoticed however the design of this lamp captures the energy as movement, the rising heat providing motive force via the fins cut into the top of the inner can.  This rotational movement in turn facilitates the third elemental function of Illumination via the message “Free Your Mind” animated through letters cut into the inner can and which are read through slots cut into the wall of the outer can.  The principal is borrowed from the Zoetrope, an early mechanical animation device that takes advantage of human persistence of vision to create the illusion of motion from a sequence of still images, and which was the precursor to the modern film projector.  By incorporating the Zoetrope I pay homage in two ways to my filmmaking career by referencing the film projection apparatus as well as my first film internship at Francis Ford Coppola’s Zoetrope Studios in San Francisco.  As the first project created in pursuit of my MFA in Product Design which paves the way to a new future the piece symbolically extinguishes the lights on my former career in film as the message implores me to seek new challenges.

Structure:  The lamp includes a large tomato can acquired from the 7th Avenue pizza deli, a smaller tin which contained butter cookies, a scrap wood base, a porcelain flush mount bulb socket salvaged from the ceiling of my garbage alcove at home, a repurposed two prong lamp cord, plug, bulb, and a harp from a box of miscellaneous lamp parts that my wife keeps in the basement.  All parts are salvaged and repurposed to remain structurally and ethically consistent with the inherently recycled nature of the assigned “tin can” material.


Research:  An internet search of Tin Can Lamp yields hundreds of examples, many of them beautiful, ornate, and highly functional.  Given the ubiquity of these artifacts I sought rather than to add my own ornamental and/or functional element to the oeuvre, to focus on essence and meaning as the primary function of my design.  I researched the manufacture of tin cans, their history, and discussed the essence of lighting and lamps with several classmates.  Professor Andrew Schloss who happened upon our conversation about lamps revealed that he had spent many years designing lighting for Artemide and lamented the fact that they so often neglected the light in favor of the form of the thing (the lamp) itself.  As he lost himself in this lament and excitedly discussed the nature of lighting he blurted out “lighting is 3D plus magic”.  I really liked this idea and in thinking of “magical” applications of light I remembered the Zoetrope and the magical way it used light to reproduce reality in an entirely new manner and that this led eventually cinema.

Prototyping:  Initially I intended to create a single can system that rotated and projected a message on the surrounding walls.  I created a cardboard model with 1/4” thick lettering and discovered that the projected shadows were illegible at any distance.  A second model with very thin lettering cutouts provided a focused projection but only if the lettering was placed about 20 to 30 inches from the light source.  This would only be possible if I constructed a large ring out of several flattened cans so I rejected this method and turned my attention towards a direct view of the message rather than a projected view.

IMG_0759 IMG_0749 IMG_0752 IMG_0746

I reversed my original model (the projection required the letters to be backwards in order to appear correctly on the wall) and I built a larger outer “can” from paper that had slits through which to view the lettering one at a time as the inner tin rotated.

I cut several fins into the plastic lid from a coffee can to test the rotational force of the rising heat.  I filed the screw on the top of the harp to a sharp point upon which to balance the lid and the reduced contact area also greatly reduced the friction.


The plastic finned lid didn’t rotate however and I felt this was because the cardboard and tape model was too imbalanced and imprecise.  I had to move on to a metal version in order to truly test the phenomenon.  The 10oz coffee can standard proved to be too small to fit over the hips of the harp so I had to find another tin that was one size larger in diameter.  I procured a cookie tin that had the disadvantage of being very short and therefore much less vertically stable than the coffee can was during my preliminary balance testing, but I decided to move ahead as it otherwise fit the model.  I tried to carve the letters out with an auger bit and the flexi shaft.  It was really unwieldy trying to cut and in fact I blew a big hole into the side of the tin so I opted for the drill through pinhole method of lettering that you see in the final prototype.


The fins were cut using a jewelers saw (thanks to Heath for coaching me with this and for sacrificing several of his sawblades to towards my education!) and I also used the saw to cut the slot in the side of the outer can.  After a bit of sizing and drilling into the base the assembly was put together.


Unfortunately the heat from the 100 watt lightbulb didn’t create emough motive force to make the tin rotate (although it is enough to quickly heat the tins so as to cause pain if you touch them).  I attribute the lack of rotation to a combination of excessive weight and a lack of balance which creates an “uphill” push for one section of the rotation and am convinced that a balanced model with a deeper can will rotate from the rising heat (while creating even more scalding hot tin).  This prototype offered enough manual functionality to test the rotational revelation of the message and to photograph the above GIF simulation of the system’s functionality.  As you can see the message is sequentially revealed but two significant design flaws also became evident.  I need to cut the top fins in the opposite orientation as the heat risen motion as is will reveal the letters backwards.  The other is that this structure, while it provides the desired illumination and it is revealed sequentially through the slot in the side, it inadvertantly subverts the use of persistence of vision in favor of a mechanically revealed sequence of letters.  Not so magic after all.

Hello World! from Steve Hamilton


I grew up in Southern California where I once refused to go to a private school my mom tried to send me because the uniform included corduroy pants.  After studying Literature and Philosophy at Santa Clara University I moved to San Francisco and then after deciding I wanted to work on New York Indie Style movies I moved here in 1990 and began a career as a Film Editor under the mentorship of NY Indie Film Icon Hal Hartley and as a sound designer on several movies for currently very “un” indy Ang Lee.  I started making sound and video art about 15 years ago and I’m relatively obsessed with a variety of bleak existential narratives.

After 20 years of film editing I thought it was time for a change and when thinking hard about what I would have done with my life if I’d not been a filmmaker I remembered the pants.  I’ve been obsessed my entire life with the tiny details that make life interesting, fun, functional and beautiful.  I also feel like maybe there’s more to life than filling it with media so I’ve decided to engage more fully in the physical world and this design program is the place.

You can look at my artwork at this blog here  . . .

And you can see some of the movies I worked on at this IMDB link

I love hats.