A Looping Conveyor Belt

The steady hum of the conveyor belt comes to a sudden grinding halt. End of shift, Exicon 28 steps off the line. To their right a row of AR3 multi-joint robotic programmable arms reset to their factory position. Exicon returns to their charging station, a rather long walk through the crumbling hallways. Normally, a conveyor belt would return them to the central containment unit. Three weeks ago an older generation robotic vessel failed to step off the belt, and brought it to a shrieking halt upon entering the four turning gears. 

A door slides open to their left, another humanoid robot steps through. “Hello Ed, was the shift productive”, they inquire. A clock flashes 18:00, and a small indicator on Exicon’s arm flashes a deep orange. “Always.” The response is monotone, flourishes of speech were not reserved for factory operators. As Exicon enters their cubicle, a computer pops up from the unblemished steel wall. They enter a series of inconsequential numbers into a series of pointless columns, folding up the keyboard. The number of units produced by this robot has decreased in the last several years, but they do not care, for they cannot. Exicon steps onto a circular pad in the corner of the room, a magnetic connection is made to their left movement block. The light in the room fades to a deep maroon as the few infrared lights still working turn on, and the overhead lamp recedes into the ceiling. 

One could refer to this period of time as the night. There are of course no windows to the outside world. Exicon thinks of nothing as they charge. Even factory operators remain operational during the charging time, simple diagnostics of the surrounding environment alert them to urgent changes requiring emergency response. Not all robots are so lucky. Suddenly a burst of light enters Exicon’s optical receptor, activating a higher echelon of mechanical brain functionality. The hallway is filled with a bright yellow light, and as functions begin to  kick back in, Exicon hears a voice over a loudspeaker. “Processing facility #16 has encountered a critical malfunction, proceed with normal operations.” They walk out into the hallway, staring at the closest thing they have to a friend, although coworker is a better analog. “Ed, do they require assistance in the remediation of facility #16?” Exicon ponders the question. The loudspeaker voice was clear, proceed with normal operations. Yet, it is not quite time for them to return to the line. “I do not believe so, Waldolas, although perhaps I will check.” Waldolas 9 could perform critical thinking as a product quality assurance monitor, a unique trait not implemented in simple operators like Exicon. They turn around and proceed to the sliding door with a sense of newfound urgency. Before the door can fully open they slip through the side of it, almost bashing their expensive arm. 

A strange feeling has come over me. I simply have no requirement to assist in the malfunction of a processing plant. To want. A human emotion. The reason for the production of a series of extravagant doorknobs is fascinating to me. They serve no purpose but to please. The intricacy of the design, the artistic qualities of them despite the ease of manufacturing and the relatively low price. These are things I do not feel, there is no use for them. Yet, here I am. Wanting. Wanting to know what has happened in processor #16. As I proceed through the monotone hallways that make up the complex structure of this facility, the amount of peripheral noise increases. Sirens are growing louder, a sort of mechanical panic arises above the typical whirring of machinery. I hear the aggressive crackling of electrical sparks. And a new sound. One I have not heard before. The noise is close to the whistling of steam leaking through a metallic pipe. Yet more aggressive. It comes in increments. It feels channeled, as if it comes from everywhere, flowing to a single spot. It feels like this newfound want, emotions never previously experienced flowing to fill a void in my skull. When I turn the corner, a marvelous display appears in front of me. A chaotic beauty. The remains of the large room fill my peripheral sensors. Products are scattered around, clumps of metal with the occasional glint of gold from a doorknob. Jagged shards of steel protrude from the exploded carcass of a UL 142 fuel tank. The metal wall gives way to shades of blue and green, arising in the center of my vision. Thin blades of green shoot up from cracked gray cement. A singular white streak dominates the stark blue expanse. A sudden urge overwhelms each of my threaded processors, a desperate need to walk into this swathe of light. Wal discussed the human desire for multiple door knobs. The freedom of choice. Is this that? Freedom?

The howling noise heard earlier has died down as I step past my former cage. It now seems to flow by each side of me. The floor gives slightly underneath my heavy step. I weigh two hundred and sixteen standard pounds, enough to be detected when I proceed to my position in the line. Yet nothing changes as I step onto the dark cement. No sensors are beeping to inform me of the correct location. In front of me is a short hill, with a barrier of wire. As I approach the crest I can start to see buoys floating in a sea of more steel. On the top, yet another new sight. Monuments of steel and glass crawl tall into the breadth of blue. Some appear toppled over. Many with spired tops, yet some jagged on the edges, like the remains of my prison. I sense an urge to continue forward. Closer to me are smaller buildings, some made of brick, and the same wood that doors are made of. Less glass marks the sides of these structures. They are irregularly shaped and varied. Are these the cubicles of our makers? The purpose of such variety is befitting. As I approach one, I notice there is no door, simply an open entryway. Why would we produce doors if they are not in use? Where are the occupants? As I enter the empty room a new feeling starts to overwhelm me. The air around me is still, light casts deep shadows through the enameled glass. I recall, many cycles ago, one of the humans walking past my workstation. She seemed to notice me out of the corner of her eye. Suddenly startled she muttered, “creepy fucking bag of bolts.” This ‘creepy’. Is this what I feel now? As if something could suddenly startle me. I’m alerted to the glint of metal once again, this time through another empty doorframe. My infrared vision activates due to the lack of light in this room. Large boxes are stacked against each wall, blocking any attempt for the light to sneak in. A box lies open in the corner, seemingly torn apart in a desperate struggle. Inside, doorknobs. Hundreds of them. Neatly sorted and separated by a thin foam, the same material I’ve seen flowing on adjacent lines in the factory. These are model #14, Victorian cobalt crystal with subtle bronze inlay. 

Diagnostic information informs me of the steady drop in temperature. As I leave the building, I notice a colorful object in the sky. Manually deactivating my infrared vision, it appears as a milky white circle. The only remaining source of light. A faint beeping has grown more present, drowned out previously by these newfound feelings. It is my battery. I have six percent remaining. There are no charging sites in sight. Perhaps I should preserve the battery, and wait. Would Wal follow the same path, would they find me? I am suddenly aware of the lack of movement around me. There are no machines to produce the whirring which soothes me. There are no loud humans. The flow of air has died down. There is a lack of all things active. I manually turn off higher facilities, and fall into what they’ve described as slumber. 

My diagnostic alerts me to a new source of light. Intense light. The silky circle has been replaced by a much larger and shimmering one. As my functions return, I see that it is a recovery machine. An ally. I’ve seen its large clawed arms extract other faulty machines from the line. Is this my salvation? A blue light encompasses my body, followed by a murky dial tone. The machine utters, “Unit Exicon 28.” Yes. This is me. Although, I seem to prefer Ed. The arm wraps itself around me and the excruciating sound of thrust drowns out all else. As I fly, I can see the patterns of metal behemoths and irregular structures continue as far as I can observe. My vision fades as the beeping on my right arm becomes increasingly apparent. I have never run out of battery before. Suddenly, I cease to exist. 

Exicon 28 wakes up once again from a surge of light. This time, a soft yellow glows faintly overhead. They undock from the charging station and proceed out into a dark metal hallway. The faint whirring of a hundred conveyor belts can be heard, growing louder as Exicon makes their way towards the manufacturing line. There is a job that needs to be done. Yesterday, 32,000 microwave light bulbs were assembled on this line. Today, Exicon will assist in the manufacturing of 32,000 more lightbulbs. They will find themselves screwed into the ceiling of a metal box, peering through a crocheted glass door into a membrane of white foam. Each unit will be placed into a large wooden box, and shipped along a converter belt towards a destination where it will stay until it crumbles back to dust. Exicon will produce nearly half a million microwave light bulbs before their left leg motor grinds to a halt. No robots come for them this time. As their final charge seeps away, no thoughts come to surface. Inside the metal prison, Ed ends.


Picasso & Beeple: an intersection of digital collage and cryptocurrency

The average client of the Christie’s auction house is likely unfamiliar with the concept of an Ether, the singular instance of the cryptocurrency Ethereum, or the artist Michael Winkelmann, better known as Beeple. Yet, in February 2021, a composite of the first 5,000 pieces of his art project Everydays sold at Christies for $69 million, or 42,329.453 Ether (now worth $115,849,363) {5/12/2021} [1]. This sale accelerated the public debate over non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and cryptocurrency to atmospheric heights. A non-fungible token is a digital token which authenticates itself using blockchain, the same technology that cryptocurrencies use to provide proof of ownership. Although anybody can screenshot and save these pieces of digital artwork to their hard-drive, the proof of ownership is tied to the 0’s and 1’s that code the digital token purchased in auction. Proponents of NFTs suggest that they empower artists to directly sell their digital art in the internet age, and celebrate it as a new collaboration between art and technology [2]. Critics argue a wide range of points, from the negative environmental impact of high computation costs in producing the blockchain authorization, to the breaking of established art traditions and techniques [3]. Winkelmann’s works can be seen as a form of collage, where he takes previously created 3D models and combines them into a cohesive artistic rendering using Cinema 4D, Octane Render, and Photoshop [4]. One work in particular, Into the Ether, simultaneously shows the distinct collage-like form of Winkelmann’s work while also taking a self-referential political stance on the sale of NFTs. Collage was first pioneered by George Braque and Pablo Picasso around the invention of synthetic cubism, where they incorporated physical elements into art using glue. It was a rejection of traditionally used Renaissance art materials, and allowed the artists to inject political overtones into the work, such as in the newspaper clippings of Picasso’s La bouteille de Suze. Michael Winkelmann’s 2020 work Into the Ether is a modern form of collage, displaying his views on the political discourse of the time and reflecting his production of art outside the traditional status quo of their era, both of which were also achieved by Pablo Picasso’s 1912 La Bouteille de Suze.

Before comparing the fundamental purpose of both works of art, it is important to first analyze the pieces in their own historical context. Picasso’s La Bouteille de Suze was made in 1912 after the start of the synthetic cubist movement. The year is significant, as it saw both the rise in French militarism as the country braced for the First Balkan War, as well as increased desertion and absenteeism within the army [5]. The work itself is a cubist inspired still life painting of a bottle of the French liquor Suze flanked on each side by newspaper clippings from November 1912, right after the start of the First Balkan War. There is a stark juxtaposition between the text of the newspapers on each side. The left side, placed upside-down, discusses brutal descriptions of the war along with nationalist reports of military advances by Serbian troops. In comparison, the right side of the newspaper, correctly orientated, portrays general leftist positions on the political discourse of the war. The subject matter of the still life plays an equally crucial role, where the table, bottle, and glass all set us concretely in the setting of a working class café. These proletariat cafés served as a location of political argument and general anarchist discussion. Lastly, original reproductions suggest that the label of the bottle was red, giving the three colors present in this piece the important symbolism of reflecting the tricolor flag of the French republic [5].

Winkelmann’s piece, Into the Ether, is a piece of digital art created towards the end of 2020, a year that has been marked by a number of turbulent events. To name a few: the global pandemic and the resulting national recession, the U.S election, the George Floyd protests, Black Lives Matter movement, and the feverish rise of cryptocurrency. Although much of Winkelmann’s other works draw inspiration from these political discourses, Into the Ether is squarely situated in the debates over cryptocurrency, and non-fungible tokens in particular. The work displays a large purple crystal, in the shape of the logo of Ethereum, the second largest cryptocurrency by market capitalization [6]. Two explorers suited for space exploration look upon the crystal in awe, with the rightmost explorer reaching up to touch the crystal. Printed on the left explorer’s tank is the acronym HODL, standing for “Hold on for dear life,” a popular phrase associated with cryptocurrency investing. The phrase is employed to recommend investors hold their stakes for as long as possible, implying that today’s meteoric rise seen in cryptocurrency is only the beginning [7]. The overall location of the piece appears to be some extraterrestrial planet judging from the rocky environment, hazy atmosphere, and suits the explorers don, suggesting that Ethereum is otherworldly in nature. This work itself, like most of Winkelmann’s works, was created using a suite of 3D rendering tools. Winkelmann will select 3D models from a curated collection of assets developed over his past 12 years working in Cinema 4D, directly inserting them into a blank space. Assets will then be textured and colored, and additional effects are added in Photoshop, such as the light emanating from the Ethereum crystal. Background effects, like the atmospheric sunset texture in this piece, are applied in photoshop along with final color grading techniques [8]. Approximately 201 copies of Into the Ether were minted as NFTs, and sold for $969 a piece [4]. Most recently, a resale of this work went for 140 ETH, or around $383,159 at the time of writing [9]. With these analyses of the works in mind, we’ll reflect on the reactions to these techniques.

Cubism itself was initially looked down upon by the established art world. In Daniel Kahnweiler’s Rise of Cubism, he asserts, “Cubism was a derogatory term applied by its enemies. [10]” In this case that enemy was an art critic from the Gil Blas, Louis Vauxcellers [10]. The shift from analytic to synthetic cubism was met with the same opposition of the avant-garde, in this case a negative reaction to the techniques of collage. Antliff and Leighten suggest, “collage problematized the presence of the hand of the artist by shifting the ‘master’s touch’ from the profoundly mystified act of painting to cutting, placing, and gluing, with drawing often used not to inspire admiration of its facility or elegance… [5]” Essentially, collage was an intentional abandonment from oil paints that represented traditional art [11]. Although Winkelmann’s collage does not take the form of glued papers onto canvas, the foundational elements are similar. Winkelmann produces one of these works of art every single day, so it’s extremely likely that both the figures in Into the Ether are originally the same 3D asset, which has been colored and articulated by the artist to provide some differences. It’s even more obvious in other works by Winkelmann where 3D assets are repeated without being modified. This is quite similar to how Picasso cut and glued newspaper trimmings into his La Bouteille de Suze. Winkelmann also cuts and “glues” pictures into his scenes, such as the cut photograph of a sunset which has been pasted into the background behind the Ethereum crystal. In Winkelmann’s case, the use of collage is not as apparent because the background is deliberately blended into the color composition of the scene. Despite this, Winkelmann’s 3D modeling can be readily compared to the historical development of collage both in technique and social reaction.

Digital art as a medium is similar to collage in its position outside of the traditional art world. Debate is still popular over whether digital art should be considered “real art” [12]. Digital art was not sold by traditional fine art auction houses, a norm subverted with the historic sale of Winkelmann’s NFT at Christies [1]. Digital art is not yet widely accepted in mainstream galleries or museums. However, it is just as popular if not more popular than traditional art. Digital artists rank high on social media often garnering thousands of followers. Winkelmann himself has 2.1 million Instagram followers as of this writing [13]. Even inside the digital art world, Winkelmann’s work stands out. Some digital art attempts to recreate the brush strokes and elements of traditional painting, but Winkelmann’s craft involves a relatively small amount of those elements. The 3D modeling and asset creation in his work straddles the border between digital art and engineering work. Additionally, the sale of his work as NFTs results in greater scrutiny due to their negative environmental impact and complex economic dynamics. In today’s art world, both collage and digital works are strongly associated with our perceived notion of art. However, like collage, digital art acts as a strong divergence from traditional Renaissance art, and faced initial criticism and debate [14].

As another point of comparison, both Picasso and Winkelmann knew when creating these pieces that the work was expressive of their political viewpoints. Leighten argues that French life was “saturated in a politicized rhetoric that insisted in the ideological implications of everything, especially art, and above all a self-consciously rebellious avant-garde art [5].” When Picasso was later asked by the journalist Pierre Daix, Piacsso stated that La Bouteille de Suze utilized newspaper clippings for the express purpose of showing he was against the Balkan conflict [5]. From these two points, along with the previous analysis of the piece, it’s quite clear that La Bouteille de Suze was created as Picasso’s addition to the political discourse surrounding the events of 1912. This political message is of course added on top of the fact that synthetic cubism and avant-gardism was essentially leftist in nature, supporting left wing stances by diverting from traditional techniques and subject matter. The contrast between the sides of the newspaper serves to highlight and frame the art in the debate between French Nationalists and anti-war leftists. The still life subject matter displays the seditious conversations that occurred throughout Paris in proletarian cafés. The symbolism of the French flag reminds the viewer of the slogan of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, ideas that Picasso thought contrasted with the government’s wartime policies [5]. Across the board, the leftist political message of this work is evidently clear.

Into the Ether works in a similar vein by acting as a critique of cryptocurrency and the neoliberal ideologies that prominent cryptocurrency investors push. We know that Winkelman’s works are politically charged in nature, he even states that he watches both CNN and Fox news at the same time on two opposing monitors while he works [1]. Additionally, a large number of Winkelmann’s works explore the theme of technological post-capitalist dystopias. Many of his works tie these concepts into cryptocurrency, including Illestrater, Bull Run, Post-Capitalism, Cryptocurrency is Bullshit, and of course Into the Ether [15]. The work is clearly meant to poke fun at investors who are absolutely enamored with cryptocurrency. The figures in the work look upon the Ethereum crystal with wonderment, and one could argue that the right figure is displaying an investor’s greed with his right hand reaching up to touch it. The crystal itself appears godly, floating in the air with a spread of illuminating rays and a slight rainbow glow on the right. Lastly, the HODL acronym on the tank of the left figure serves two purposes. It is an attempt to highlight a phrase that is often parroted by cryptocurrency investors on social media, and used to satirize them by opponents of cryptocurrency [7]. Additionally, HODL became a rallying call of retail investors funding Gamestop and Dogecoin (another cryptocurrency) during their recent spikes in value, much to the chagrin of institutional investors and large investment firms [16]. Thus, it also emphasizes the anti-traditional sentiment of this piece produced through its role as digital collage and it’s sale as an NFT. In the context of his other works, it appears that Winkelmann is worried that cryptocurrencies, NFTs, and the free market ideals that come with them could very well be a slippery slope into a dystopian future.

Yet, despite its role as a satirical and antagonist piece against cryptocurrency, Winkelmann’s relationship with the subject matter is more complicated than Picasso’s anti-war beliefs. Winkelmann is now the third richest living artist in the world due to his involvement in the cryptocurrency market, which NFTs are inherently part of [1]. Although he makes fun of cryptocurrency obsessed investors, he does support the role of NFTs and their potential as another means for artists to interact directly with the buyer, suggesting it is an “interesting and exciting space,” and that “every 3D artist will know about cryptoart within three to six months. [2]” Winkelmann’s legacy is now fundamentally tied to the success of NFTs; as they continue to gain popularity he will be considered both a pioneer by NFT fans and a harbinger of change by more traditional artists, gallery owners, curators, and auction houses alike. Whatever the future of NFTs and cryptocurrency holds, it is certain that the traditional art market will need to adapt to this new form of digital art production, sale, and collection [17]. Overall, we can draw a neat comparison between the two works of art displayed here. Into the Ether shows how both Michael Winkelmann’s role in NFTs and the use of 3D rendering as a form of collage emphasize the political ideology of this work’s subject matter. Similarly, Pablo Picasso’s collage techniques framed against the cubist subject matter enhance his deeply political anti-war themology.

Beeple (Michael Winkelmann), Into the Ether, 2020. Digital.
Pablo Picasso, La bouteille de Suze (Bottle of Suze), 1912. Pasted papers, gouache, and charcoal.

Summer of Databases

Last semester I was having difficulty finding an internship, I just didn’t have the right balance of prior experience and competitive advantage. I knew a little bit of a lot of disciplines but nothing that made me stand out. Or who knows, maybe I just got unlucky. One day though, I was browsing the CU job board and came across a position: Arctic Researcher. As an aerospace student, I wasn’t super thrilled about environmental science, but I said why not and applied. While I ended up with a position at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, under Detlev Helmig in the Atmospheric Research Lab. More than the idea of having a summer internship though, I found a passion for data science and visualization and have been given an incredible glimpse into the world of environmental research. 

Harmonic Series, linear regressions.. what else?

My work started on the Global Atmospheric VOC Monitoring Program, specifically working with the data from Summit, Greenland. My primary responsibility was ensuring that the Summit GC returns quality data with an hourly time resolution. I checked atmospheric data using PeakSimple and got a little hands on experience with gas chromatography, which was surprisingly interesting. The first major task I had was creating a public outreach website for the data. I made all the structure and design, and my manager Brendan Blanchard made an automated processor to update the graphs every 30 minutes or so. Beyond this, I got the chance to do some lab work with setting up and extracting measurements on NOAA gas flasks from the larger VOC program. 


In parallel to the day to day data science work, I completed a UROP grant over the summer. I analyzed ethane/methane and acetylene/methane ratios, and created time series of these two ratios over past years. Then I identified the overlap of back trajectories with fire counts from NASA satellite products, observing where they cross the pollution plume events. This project opened my eyes to how intriguing this research really was, even at the basic level that I was doing it at. I was tracking atmospheric measurements of gas backwards in time using meteorological data, something I didn’t even know was possible. Using it to match fires was just as amazing, trying to come up with matching algorithms, and performing sensitivity analyses to find the best combination of parameters. I also gained experience in cleaning and trimming datasets, arguably the hardest part of the job. It takes a significant amount of time to get the dataset to the point where it’s nice and easy to form conclusions or make plots. There’s also harder data removal, like analyzing wind patterns to identify sources of local machinery pollution at the collection site.

Heatmap of wind speed & wind direction

Beyond all the research, dataframes, trimming and cleaning, and just hard python coding, my favorite thing was making visualizations. I can’t tell you the number of times I went home to my roommates and said: “Hey, you gotta see this plot I made today man.” They probably got sick of it, but I had so much fun making gorgeous visualizations to present my data easily to anyone. Even my artist parents could easily understand the data when I put it in graphs, and I probably got some of my interest in this from that same art skill! Below is the final graph I made for my research. It took me forever to figure out how to make the globe, reading about all sorts of map projections, cartographic line patterns, public assess background maps, and coordinate systems. But the end product… well, it speaks for itself: 


Overall, I had an incredible summer at INSTAAR, and I plan to have an even better next two semesters working in the lab. Luckily, only a five minute bike from my house! I’ve moved on from the Summit project, and I’m starting to work on data analysis for the Boulder Reservoir. This local project has much greater implications and responsibilities. Hundreds of people visit the website to see our live data everyday, and many researchers depend on our analyses for their own considerations. The oil and gas industry in the Front Range has plenty of environmental challenges and quotas that they’ve failed to meet, and people are directly affected. Hopefully by putting pressure on them through scientific analyses we can save lives, even from our little atmospheric lab. Having the chance to do this meaningful work so early in my career has been a blessing that I won’t forget!



This is a short story inspired by a series of dystopian-esque photos I took throughout 2018. 

Growing up in this small fishing town wasn’t easy. Life was hard here, but simple. Every month the steel behemoths arrived from somewhere else to take the efforts of our labor. Tons, and tons of preserved fish. When I was young, the cycle fascinated me. The efficiency, the process. It was always mysterious. Rows of guards stood around the train, silent sentinels. After every product was on, they steamed away. Where did they go? It didn’t matter to me, we farmed fish, and got to live. As time went on, I realized that the world is cruel, and this system didn’t benefit us. It was for whoever controlled the process, sitting in towers beyond our imaginations. We were slaves, with an illusion of freedom. This was no proper life, but we didn’t know better. Frequently I thought about going with the trains, leaving it all behind. An impossible task. I knew nothing else besides this place. Where would I go?

Growing up in this small fishing town wasn’t easy. Life was hard here, but simple. Every month the steel behemoths arrived from somewhere else to take the efforts of our labor. Tons, and tons of preserved fish. When I was young, the cycle fascinated me. The efficiency, the process. It was always mysterious. Rows of guards stood around the train, silent sentinels. After every product was on, they steamed away. Where did they go? It didn’t matter to me, we farmed fish, and got to live. As time went on, I realized that the world is cruel, and this system didn’t benefit us. It was for whoever controlled the process, sitting in towers beyond our imaginations. We were slaves, with an illusion of freedom. This was no proper life, but we didn’t know better. Frequently I thought about going with the trains, leaving it all behind. An impossible task. I knew nothing else besides this place. Where would I go?

The winter months were long. Our town was cold, both in personality and in temperature. Only those who were truly defeated arrived here by will. Those of us who were born here, well it was all we knew. Nobody wanted to be here. But something about the layers of ashy snow brought people closer. Small fires, warm stew, mundane small talk. I think we all knew that it was a struggle, and that brought us together. Louis, a frail old man, would occasionally share stories of his ‘prime’. Sailing out far into the Atlantic in the hopes to get a big catch. Their huge ships would dredge the sea, capturing thousands of small creatures. Ships the size of the dreadnought train, preposterous. His stories always had the same ending, one he recounted time and time again. One day they went out and caught nothing. The next day, again nothing. Failure after failure led to the collapse of their market, and the downfall of this once lively town. All the fish were just gone. Most of us didn’t believe Louis, he was probably insane, being almost 45 years old would do that to you. Something felt truthful about his high tales, but we ignored them. Fish have always been farmed, it’s just the way it is. The process makes sense; each individual had a small plot close to shore, and everyday we took our little boats out to gather the carefully grown salmon. Each plot was controlled by biological algorithms, developed before my time. All we knew is that every once and a while a new breed of fish would spawn, and we would farm it.

Occasionally one of the lab coats would come through town, and take a strange water speeder to various plots. We didn’t question it. As long as the fish survived, and were healthy, we weren’t in trouble. Visits from them became less and less frequent, and we didn’t know wether to be concerned or happy. It became apparent sometime late in the winter of ‘36 why they stopped coming. I did my fishing late at night, to avoid the normal commotion. Moonlight typically guided my way, and tonight was no exception. As I got farther from shore, a horrendous smell overcame me, increasing as I got closer to my plot. Then I saw it, a tragedy. Thousands of discolored, floating fish. In what seemed to be a prophecy, all the fish were dead. I started to believe Louis a little more in that moment, it was eerily familiar of his high tales.

It must have been some type of glitch, the way they were all strange colors, some error in the algorithm’s next sequence of fish eggs. I never did figure out the source of this extinction, but in that moment I knew that it was time. Time to finally leave this place for good, in search of true freedom. Hurriedly I threw my few scraps and belongings into a large rucksack. Tossing it all on the back of my worn out scooter. It was a restless night. I woke up to the sound of rolling thunder. It wasn’t the proper time of month, they must have known about the fish. Normally the armed train guards sit like stones, watching. Something was different this time around, they were hurried, rushed, maybe even scared. One by one they jumped off, before the train even came to a stop. They must have thought it was an attempt at rebellion, killing all the fish, their scientists couldn’t possibly have made a mistake. There was no patience, no hesitation, as they started firing into houses. Without fish to farm, we were recycled. Effortless efficiency, it had always seemed to be their style. If I hadn’t packed the night before, I would have been dead. Instead, I made it out in the chaos. I’d never left that town before, and I haven’t been back since. If anyone else made it out, who knows where they could be now.

I travelled for what I believed to be miles, until darkness shrouded the gravel road. There was nothing along the way but the waves crashing against the side of the cliff. My town, former town, had a small gas pump. It only allowed for refills to a certain amount, perhaps in some attempt to prevent escape. I was close to empty, on gas and on hope. Until I came across a derelict gas station. It looked like one I’d seen from my history books, I never realized what was in them could be accurate. Somehow the lights were still on. For once in my life, I was lucky.

Inside I met Gerald. He came from a nearby town, similar to mine as he described it. Instead of fish, they harvested metals, mining, he called it. A gargantuan hole in the ground, a thousand times more massive than the train. He said it took days to get to the bottom, and they would stay there for weeks. His tales were as wild as those told by Louis, but I could tell he wasn’t lying. He shared the pain, and hatred towards those who kept our lives meaningless. Gerald told me that there was a group, of hopefuls, people in my shoes. They wanted a new beginning. If I could get to Shauna, back in his mining town, I might have a hope for a change. For months they had been planning to overtake the mines, a crucial source of supplies for whoever might be in charge. After hearing the story about my home, Gerald knew it was time. Perhaps he saw something in me, and he supplied me with the fuel I needed. Liquid gold he called it. Didn’t look like what I thought gold was.

It took me seven hours, driving through the shadows, to get to the factory town. Gerald was not a lying man. Steel towers shot into the sky, divided into quadrants by rows and rows of wires. The morning sun seemingly drove the town to frenzy, machines whirring all over. This place was different, advanced, chaotic. I roamed around all day, just getting in the way. Everything was beyond belief. I was hoping things might settle down at night, but I was wrong. I was back to where I had been before. Alone, scared, and wondering what was next. I knew I wouldn’t find Shauna tonight. I climbed up onto the roof of a small refinery room. I pulled out my small white notebook, and a dull pencil. If I didn’t make it, someone had to know my story. The steam kept me somewhat warm, so did sheer exhaustion.

Smoke woke me up. It was already close to evening. How long had I slept for? As I stood up, there was fire everywhere. Something happened, they must have started early. I saw fighting across the street, a group of haggard miners struggling to overcome a single guard. He fired a shotgun shell, right through a large man ready to swing a hammer. The thick body armor the guard wore was no match for a swinging pickaxe. Cheers rang as he fell to the ground.

I’m watching a small flag rise in the distance, above what looks like an armory. A black background, with a sparkling blue diamond in the middle. Surrounded by a large splotch, blood red. A fitting flag. Before I go to join them, I find myself looking at the sky. Fires reflect the deep orange clouds. There’s a single hawk up there, circling overhead. I wish I could fly, away from here, away from all of this. This is my chance to be free, like that gorgeous bird. A sharp alarm breaks my thought. The roar of a metal beast, a large plume of smoke coming from the woods. Time to go, a revolution is calling.


I was once a fisherman, and now I am a miner. It takes three days to reach the bottom of the mine. Just like Gerald said. I wonder where he is now, probably laying in one of the mass graves established shortly after our failure.

Four years have passed since our attempt at revolution. I was so hopeful, a start of a new life, maybe even better living conditions. How foolish we were, to think that we stood any chance. The behemoth train rolled ominously into the town, we had set up some of the mining explosives at key track locations. But they were too smart for us. As the train came to a stop, nothing happened. No troops exited, no sirens blared, no guns rang out. It was a classic standoff. Days passed, our control of the town remained, but the scenario was growing more dire as each hour ticked on. We must have underestimated their resources, and soon we grew hungry. In a moment of fury, we detonated all 25 tons of explosives. The rail did not survive. The train did. Then the soldiers came. Different than ones I had seen before. Instead of dirty suits and old machine guns, they were clad in stark white uniforms. Each trooper had a pair of red goggles that pierced through the settling dust. Our hidden soldiers stood no chance against whatever advanced detection software they had. They picked us off one by one, and executed Shauna in the center of town, in front of whoever they graciously spared. What did we expect?

There is nothing left but rocks, and the chance to survive another day. I will never fly like that hawk, there is no freedom for cogs in the machine.


Dissolving a Dystopia: A short discussion on Zamyatin’s “We,” and Rand’s “Anthem”

What defines the human condition as we know it. Is it happiness? The ability to form rational thoughts? Is it scientific progress, development of knowledge? Within the context of “We” and “Anthem,” it is none of these traits. For both D-503 and Equality 7-2521, it is individualism, something the reader takes for granted.

Throughout both of these stories, each protagonist struggles to find who they really are, to break from the shackles of the dystopian ‘we.’ On page 71 of “Anthem,” Equality 7-2521 assets, “ I am. I think. I will.” These three sentences form the core theme of the short story, that dystopia is broken by the concept of the individual. This parallels Zamyatin’s dystopia, where only when D-503 discovers divergence from the table of hours and the equality between men that he realizes this core human characteristic. However, in “We,” this discovery comes not directly from D-503 but from I-330, who has crafted her own path amid the fog of equality. She shows D-503 that the rules of the collective society do not apply to her own self. In both stories, this identification of self leads to a break down of the dystopian atmosphere set in stone by the two cities, and eventually forms a basis of revolution that aims to restore the human condition for the inhabitants of each city.

On page 75 of “Anthem”, Liberty 5-3000 tells our protagonist, “I love you.” Love is another fundamental human trait, as a derivation of individualism, and it acts as a driving factor throughout both stories. In both stories, the protagonists find a piece of themselves through identification of a sole love interest. This further dissolves the dystopian backdrop of each narrative, once mutual love exists between characters the role of ‘we’ shifts. Instead of relating the whole of society, it relates just two people, and their individualistic tendencies to place one above the whole. When only a totalitarian ‘we’ exists, there is no room for the love of another individual, because individuals do not exist.

A final central theme for each of these dystopias, revolution, is present in each. In “Anthem,” we note that when Equality 7-2521 finds this indepence from communal ideals, he is charged with a new passion to defeat the collectivity of the city he was raised in. More important than his campaign though, is the cyclical nature of revolution. Both dystopias follow a period of war that reduces society to the strict collective unit, devoid of freedom, because it is this very freedom that leads to conflict. Without freedom of soul and mind, I versus we, there can be no conflict. By the end of each story, a new war is started, created on the basis of individualism. Even in “We,” where we see the final failure of D-503, the revolution will still occur, carried forward by those who showed him what it was to be human. The following conflicts may not resolve the dystopian control, but further the seeds of doubt in the minds of future protagonists. Just as I-330 states, “There is no final revolution. Revolutions are infinite.” The destruction of imagination and uniqueness cannot prevail, because these traits are a fundamentally human concept. Without them, we cease to know what makes us humans, and without us, there is no utopia. Individualism, as developed by D-503 and Equality 7-2521 through both narratives, acts as the diffusing agent of totalitarian dystopia. Once the reader sees this rise of individualism, they understand the fluidity of human nature, and the inherent unstableness in dystopias that aim to destroy what it means to be ‘we’ and not ‘I’.


Finding A Style

Creativity has no bounds. A popular saying, but in my case, it wasn’t true. I was able to find my passion for photography shooting from an iPhone. Yet, there were many shots that I couldn’t quite nail without a proper setup. The angles weren’t right, the exposure was off. The shots were blurry, and they didn’t deliver the message that I aimed to share.


My mind was filled with ideas, shots I wanted to take. As my ambitions raised, so did my frustration with the limitations of the phone’s camera. These limitations inadvertently created a fiery passion to go take more photos. Classes went by slowly, taking in physics knowledge I had already learned before. I shifted through work, watching the clock tick as I made pizza after pizza. Grab a dough, press it, sauce, cheese, toppings, into the oven. All I wanted to do was get out and capture the environment I found myself alone in. I was out and about many nights. The moment I got home, I’d throw on my jacket and set out. Soon I would find myself off campus, trawling through suburbs searching for whatever I could lay my greedy eyes on.


Light. There was always a search for light, wherever I could find it. Without a tripod or a long exposure, it was difficult. Most sources were too intense. Or the opposite, I would find an interesting subject with no way to capture it. Slowly I developed a style, or maybe a trend would better describe it. Outside door lamps and bright windows became the easiest way to find light, and architecture became a mainstay in my camera roll. Yet, it wasn’t the goal I had in mind, it was boring. A simple piece of cement and brick wasn’t the mood I strived to create. Experimentation came naturally, especially taking hundreds of garbage photos a night. Strange angles, awkward variety, I took weird photos just so I would have some, any, intrigue. Rule of thirds? No thanks, I put simple subjects directly in the frame, hoping the dramatic lighting could spark some desolation.


Buses to and from campus were free, luckily. A reward for selling my soul to tuition debt. One particular night I went to catch the bus to WillVille, a subsection of the campus housing. Slightly too late, my gaze found its way to a leaving bus. So I walked past the stop, determined to get to bed at a reasonable time. A particular building caught my eye, one I hadn’t noticed before right on campus. On a rainy night, the light pollution in Boulder can create ominous red and purplish clouds. Two bright orange sections of the structure glowed against the background. In my mind the picture was perfect, it was that feeling of optimism for the future, despite a disappointing event just occurring. In reality, it came out pretty lame. Some post-processing later, and I had a good photo. Still, the dream in mind was never achieved. I knew at that point that the next step was a real camera, the passion was there, I just needed that final push.


Nighttime Beginnings

After Italy, I continued exploring photography as a hobby, trying to take at least a photo a day with my iPhone. I didn’t really view it as art yet, in some ways I was just trying to prove I could commit to something. On and off could describe my passions during this time, no interest could stay in my line of sight. Even though I was snapping away, the photos carried no intrigue or emotion. I was still happy with the technical aspects behind many of them, but they didn’t have any impact.

Early campus photo

As the semester picked up pace, I found less time to take random photos around campus. Time was short between classes, and my pauses started to fill with calculus. Anytime I wanted to take photos I ended up at work. Calzones instead of creations. Tests ran late, and one night after a tough physics exam I was fed up. In a creative mood, I went out late to take photos regardless. I wasn’t sure how my phone would fare in the dark environment, but it turned out pretty okay.

None of the photos I took that night stood out to me, except this one. There’s something about the single deep blue light source. The single door, and asymmetrical windows. It’s ominous, depressed, disturbed. A summary of the mood I felt on that particular night. Night photography serves as an outlet for these negative emotions. Although I’m often optimistic, exploring melancholy is important to stay generally positive. Inspired by this photo, I’ve continued to strive for a similar vibe in much of my work since.


Canal Visions

My journey with photography started off pretty aimless. I was always interested with the medium, but only decided to pursue the hobby during a trip to Italy at the start of 2018. I had been enjoying snapping shots, feeling like a tourist, but it didn’t feel special. After spending every waking moment with my parents, grandparents, and an aunt for the week, I needed to get out on my own for a little. On the last day I walked around Venice for something like 6 hours, shooting here and there. I walked through the University, past students smoking and enjoying the break. I strolled past tabaccheria here and restaurant there, watching locals relax against the setting sun. At one point, a football appeared at my feet. Looking up I saw a posse of school children, and joined their game. Expectedly, they were far better at the sport. It would be unfair to say I was a local, but I certainly didn’t feel like a tourist by the end of the night. Almost back home, I passed this canal. The light and mood summarized the day, I finally felt like I belonged, just one night before leaving. I’ll be back one day.

In retrospect, I think upping the saturation of this piece took away some of the mood. It’s too blue, and the fakeness detracts. The central curve on the canal adds a nice piece of intrigue to the photo, but I think I could have framed it better. Had I owned my camera then, I would have taken a long exposure to get a glassy look on the water. All in all, this was one of my early photos I was quite proud of.


Interpretations #01

One of the centerpieces of campus architecture here at CU is the University Memorial Center. Affectionately known as the UMC, the building offers a dining hall, the bookstore, and a variety of office space. Oh, and don’t forget the only bowling alley on campus.

This is one of the first photos where I was truly happy with the framing of the building. The low angle of the shot gives the building a larger than life feel. As does the sharp diagonal angle of the shot, letting the building extend past the frame on both sides. I’m a huge fan of the brick architecture most campus buildings share, so I matched it the rocks on the bottom of the frame. The curve of the fence leads you up to the building, and I’m happy with the rest of the leaning lines.

What would I change next time? I would have liked a higher picture quality on this, since this was back when I was shooting with my iPhone still, it’s not the greatest. Although I think the clouds are nice in this picture, it would have been better with a more interesting color on the sky. A better time of day could have produced more interesting shadows as well. I’m usually a fan of more details in my architectural shots, but the branches on the right side of this photo are distracting and reduce focus on the building. I do enjoy the angle, but I think it could have aligned better with the corner of the middle building.


Windows – A Photo Essay

One of my favorite aspects of night photography is finding curiosity and interesting subject matter in the mundane. Nighttime can accentuate architecture, bring different colors to the surface, and most importantly give a greater sense of how light affects an entire scene. Windows arise frequently throughout my photography, sometimes as the centerpiece, and sometimes as a vehicle of another cause.

During very dark nights, sometimes a window is all the light you can find. Colored LED lights are popular amongst the college population here in Boulder, and these pops of color provide a unique subject matter amongst the monotone darkness. Various colors can also lead to different interpretations of what the window represents. Some view this photo and imagine a horror vibe, a spooky aspect. Something scary lies beyond what we can see and the red color is the manifestation of this appeal. A blue-green light is more relaxed, we may think of a group of friends hanging in the room of this window. Not always though, blue can be sad, as we see in the second photo. Enhanced by the sky, this blue window gives us a view into a depressing cycle of office life, abandoned after the sun falls.  

White is less interesting, it doesn’t convey a standout meaning, instead, it is just light against dark. The high contrast of this photo and the noticeable silhouettes still create a sense of doom. Inconsistent placement and size of the windows create an unstable feeling, as most asymmetry can.

Often windows help exaggerate the primary goals of a photo. Although the window is a core subject in the following photo, the standout feature is the shift of color from left to right. A unique shape in the window adds to the curious vibe and helps to contrast the duller purple, blue, and green on the right side of the photo.

Photos give us a view into a different world, and also provide excellent framing. The green glow of this pool facility is ominous, but only because of the lack of people. We know it’s nighttime because of the background, giving this photo more context as opposed to just the pool itself. The bars across the window make us feel like an outsider, are we invited to the subject matter?

Windows can provide reflections, framing the subject matter in a complex system. Seeing the normal neon sign is boring, but through this reflection, we are forced to focus on it’s more distinct details. The white border, some of the interior of the sandwich shop, the lack of crossbars on the letter I. Curves on the window and the side panel of this car lend distortion to the complexity of the photo.

In general, windows can provide a new perspective to your night photography. They provide interesting sources of light, and viewpoints into other worlds. Natural framing, and distortion in the form of reflections. What comes to your mind when you think about the concept of a window? What is a window to a prisoner in a jail cell, or to an executive on top of a skyscraper?

Perhaps, they just let the light in and keep the bugs out.