La Jam del Sur

AstroDime correspondant sam smiley just came back from a trip to Buenos Aires..and in the process was lucky to be invited to a grafiti party and jam in an area neighborhood. All and all, she shot an hour of video. The final version will be on vimeo, and will also be included in INtransit V.7: Ecology/Ecología, as part of “ecología de callejero” or street ecologies.
Here’s an interview with Ariel (Scratch) one of the organizers. He is a DJ, and his cousin, Nelson (Next Graf) is a grafiti artist. Included are photos of the final works.

Sea Turtles in Puerto Vallarta

There’s a lot to report from this spring, but one thing that happened is that AstroDime had a chance to interview biologist Oscar Aranda, in Puerto Vallarta for the upcoming journal INtransit V.7: Ecology/Ecología. This journal will also be bilingual English/Spanish and should be completed by the end of this summer.

Oscar Aranda is the founding member of the Sociedad Ecología de Occidente. He is a biologist, and his work currently revolves around saving sea turtle eggs from the busy tourist beach of Puerto Vallarta.  His partner Mar Zuloaga Lopéz is the marketing director. The following is a video taking in the spring of 2011. For more info, or to donate or ask questions, go to

In search of tales in Georgia and Florida

our wheels. long story.

our digs in Panama City Beach

The first week in January,  AstroDimers sam smiley and Lisa Lunskaya Gordon went on a 3 day road trip beginning in Panama City Florida January 3, 2011 and ending in Tifton, Georgia on January 6, 2011.

We went first to Panama City to talk to Betty Pleas Taylor, the great great grandniece of Charles Earl and Lillie Pleas. C.E. Pleas was a botanist, photographer, and did many other artistic and scientific endeavors, and Lillie was a painter and taxidermist. This couple introduced Kudzu to many parts of the U.S. through their plant nursery in the early 1900’s.  You can link to a wonderful accounting of this by Lynne Mayhew on this blog:

Betty and John Taylor

Eden Gardens State Park where we talked

Kudzu letterhead from early 1900's

The next day, we had a really long drive through torrential rains, but arrived safely and well fed in Pensacola around noon, thanks to the largess of our car, and the proximity of Waffle House.

much needed waffles after long drive

After that we went to the University of  West Florida, in Pensacola, Special Collections Library and talked to Dean Debolt, the curator of the Special Collections in the Pace Library. There we saw a lot of great photographic plates from the Pleas photography business..and more of C.E. Pleas’s photo experiments. The web site for the library is here:

Dean DeBolt, Curator of Special Collections

Kuma Lisa in archives

Our last leg of our journey took us on a drive to Tifton, Georgia.

There we went to the Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health. We talked to Karan Rawlins, Invasive Species Coordinator, and Joe LaForest, IPM and Forest Health coordinator. Karan took us to see all kinds of invasive species right outside the door, and we got to hide out in a kudzu stand. The web site (one of them) that they maintain is, amongst other things, a tremendous resource of images of all kinds of different species..images that people send in, images they create. This is in a public database open to research at

Karan Rawlins

Karan and Kuma Lisa in dead Kudzu pile

sam gets eaten by Kudzu

Joe LaForest, IPM and Forest Health Specialist

Currently, I am exhausted but happy, and collecting all my videos and photographs.  Lisa picked up her rentacar at Michael Moore’s Auto Body and Paint Shop, and then drove to Atlanta. I’m off to Savannah to do some teaching, and then back to Boston to edit! More to come later…-sam smiley

No not THAT Michael Moore!

Looking for Kudzu

As AstroDime searches for our new themes within the subtheme of “Ecology/Ecología”, we’ve come up with some good leads so far. If you are reading this and know of anyone who has work that works into these themes, please let sam know at rocketscience(at) by January 15, 2011.

Here are our themes..

Kudzu (science, social, cultural)

-street art/ecologia de callejera

-gulf of mexico (oil spill)

-indigenous perspectives on ecology in the americas.

I’m sure there will be other themes as they develop.

-sam smiley

SHOT shakedown

SUMMARY of SHOT (Society of the History of Technology)

summary by sam smiley

This September, I had a chance to go to the Society of the History of Technology (SHOT)
to screen INtransit V.6: “scientific american”/La America Científica. The conference was in Tacoma Washington, and my sister lives in Seattle so I had an opportunity to visit her too. What follows is the summary of my experience there and some resources and links.

What I learned overall: Historians are storytellers. Maybe in their different ways.. some let the numbers tell the story, some let the artifacts tell the story, some people collect oral histories and let that add the story up. Some don’t claim to be telling a story at all. One of the editors of SHOT’s journal, Technology and Culture, John Staudenmaier SJ actually wrote a book on this subject called Technology’s Storytellers: Reweaving the Human Fabric.

The second thing I learned: generally historians have pretty good presentations. WHy? well, many historians look at artifacts, and primary source documents. So you are much less likely to see a lot of text, flying graphics, and gratuitous google images, and more likely to see some interesting letters, images, or pictures of places.

I met some interesting people. There were a lot of people from the Smithsonian there, and one of the things my room mate did was curate space suits! I met another woman who curated uniforms. So there were historians who write, historians who curate, people interested in the history of science and technology, people who wanted jobs as historians, Rachel Maines who wrote about the history of the vibrator (later turned into an off broadway musical), people who wanted to publish their books through academic presses, and me, probably the only M.F.A in the house.

The screening of INtransit V.6: “scientific american/La America Científica was on the first Friday morning of the conference. The audience was small, but I got some very good feedback and discussion. That day I went to (appropriately enough) a panel that day called “Patent Regimes” where I saw a good talk by Cai Guise-Richardson on how the difference between the British patenting system and the U.S. patenting system eventually allowed Goodyear (the U.S. patenter) to claim to be the inventor of vulcanization of rubber (thus “Goodyear” tires). Guise-Richardson said that Hancock, a British manufactorer most likely came up with the idea first, but Goodyear ended up with the world patent. She said that it was because the U.S. patent system at the time favored the individual, and the British one favored the “good of the community” so it was harder for an individual to profit from a patent. There was a followup from Graeme Gooday about metaphors for patents in the U.K. in the 19th century which was interesting to a patent “property”? a service? a process? a product? These are interesting questions.

On the subject of patents, Ted Beatty’s talk on the next day was very interesting. He talked about patents in Mexico in the early 1900’s. Although he described Mexico at that time as primarly a “technology importer” he also talked about the importance of “adaptation” as invention in developing countries. He said it was important to understand the interactions between imported knowledge and local contexts. There is an assumption that Mexican’s didn’t play a role in technological change at that time, but his question was: How did importation stimulate local innovations in Mexico? He had an image of a great document which he later emailed me the information for..Mexico’s patent records at that time. This forms the basis for some of his research.

Book of Mexican Patents, 1903

here are two case studies/examples he used as part of his research:
a brewery (Cerveceria) in created a demand for glass bottles which were hand blown primarly by foreign glassblowers. However, by 1903 they were replaced by a machine glassblower that had been manufactored in Toledo Ohio. There was a race for a Mexican patent and by 1913, there was one that had been secured.
Beatty also talked about a cigarette manufactoror who used automatic rolling machines and the race for the Mexican patent then. Beatty spoke about patents that come in the wake of the introduction of imported inventions. he also noted from his research the amount of foreigners who had claimed Mexican patents.
This makes me curious (as per a previous AstroDime post) about the “Spanish Patent” that was advertised in the Export Edition of Scientific American in the 1800’s..and how that related.

I saw a lot of other talks, but the panel that turned out to be the most interesting was the “Consumption and technological change in 20th century Africa”. Laura Fair’s talk was called “Consuming Cinema in Colonial and Post-Colonial Tanzania”. For me it was facinating! There are a lot of assumptions that technologies come late to developing countries or countries that still bear the stamp of colonialism, but actually it turns out that film was part of the culture in Tanzania in 1904, shortly after the introduction of film in Europe. There were grand movie houses built, especially on the coast. Johny Walla built a picture palace that seated 900 patrons. Some of these are still around today. Fair built her historical reconstruction around oral histories of people who remembered seeing film, or whose parents had seen film in these communities. All in all, it was a facinating talk.
Joshua Grace followed up with public tranportation in urban Tanzania: “Riding the People’s Car in Dar es Salaam: Busses, Passengers, and the State”. He talked about the competition between the state run public transportation system and the “Thumni Thumni” busses, or illegal private ones that would adjust their rates according to the market but were often more efficient.

Finally, Bianca Murillo worked from letters written in Ghana in the 1970’s..looking at letter writing as a technology. She had several examples and they were really facinating. She did an analyis of them but also provided statistics about the amount of letter writing, specifically to the that time. She said that the 1960s was the end of colonial rule, but there was a collapse of the government. Private citizens would write to the government to report on neighbors, or store violations of the price of goods, report on the conduct of soldiers, or actually ask for a job as a soldier. her talk was called “Militarization of the Market: Scarcity and Surveillance in Ghana, 1970’s.”

I wished I could stay for the final day, but I was unable. Probably with respect to what AstroDime came out of this..I found a great journal on Environment and it has a few articles which can help lead us as we continue our call for work for Ecology/Ecología in the next journal.

INtransit intro and new Vimeo site

Here’s our intro to our latest journal: INtransit V.6: “scientific american”/La America Científica

Opening Sci Am Ciencia from AstroDime Transit on Vimeo.


Well, INtransit V.6: “scientific american”/La America Cientifica is on its way to being pressed! Here is a sample of the front/back cover. -sam smiley

Interview with artist Karen Aqua

Karen Aqua

One of the featured artists of INtransit V.6: “scientific american” is animation video artist Karen Aqua. Here is an interview exploring the process of creating “Twist of Fate”, a video piece exploring how modern illness intrudes and impacts one’s inner and outer experience. Her website is:

1)   What was the process of making this film like for you?

Sometimes the film was really hard to work on emotionally. But most of the time it was very positive: empowering and cathartic, a sense of taking control. When I first drew an image visualizing a cancer cell, it was very important for me. Here was something totally invisible that was dangerous and threatening, that I was able to make visible.  In a way, I felt that I could see and confront the enemy.  Visualization has always been a powerful tool for me.

The process of animation is also very labor-intensive & repetitive and there are lots of mundane tasks (like coloring and cutting).  So the work was also very distracting and absorbing, as I spent many weeks/months/years simply creating the drawings (a very pleasant endeavor).

2)   Do you see the arts and sciences related? How?

Many artists incorporate the sciences into their work (including my studio mate, Jeanee Redmond, who works in clay). The sciences offer a rich source of inspiration, and the intersection between the 2 disciplines is open to endless possibilities of creative interpretations.

3)   Would you relate any part of your art-making process to therapy, in the sense that it allowed you to reframe or transform your way of looking at or experiencing this illness? Or in another therapeutic way?

For a while after diagnosis and starting treatment, I felt so not myself, identifying myself as a cancer patient who happened to be an artist.  A huge shift happened when I started to get back into my studio and get to work again.  I was able to identify myself as an artist who happened to be dealing with cancer. This was when I felt the essence of myself returning, and it really helped.

In the creation of this film and related drawings over eight years, I turned to my art-making is a necessary, nurturing, cathartic, and life-affirming endeavor, as well as a means for sharing this experience with others.

Still image from "Twist of Fate"

4)   What are some of your future artistic and/or personal goals?

I have recently started a new animation project inspired by New Mexico, using pastel drawings to explore elements of architecture and the natural world.  It connects to the natural sciences through an interest in and close observation of insects and plants.  With this new project, I am continuing to experiment with combining drawings with animated textures and found materials.

Research trip to Bogotá

AstroDimers sam smiley and Gina Kamentsky just got back from Bogotá Colombia, where we were doing research and video interviews about science and technology in Colombia. We learned even more than we thought possible.

We went to the Museo de Caldas and learned that one of the first scientific journals on the continent  was published in the early 1800’s in Bogotá (which was then called Nueva Granada) The periodical was called “El Semanario de la Nueva Granada”.

We visited a hospital and sanatorium museum in Bogotá, we toured the Observatorio Astronomico (built in 1804) in Bogota, we went to an ancient Muisca Observatory (note: it was called by the Spanish, El Infiernito, whether because of the heat, or the large phallus shaped rocks, I dont’ know)  We interviewed biologist Brigitte Luis Guillermo Baptist at the Humbolt Institute for Biodiversity, and we saw the beautiful metallurgical craftings of the Muisca at the Museo del Oro. Oh and a lot more happened.

But to be honest, pictures say it better than words so here are a few images from our trip.

View from the room of Casa Platypus, Bogota

View of Bogota from Montserrate

sam in the streets of Bogotá

Hospital Sanatorio San Carlos

Research Room in the Hospital Sanatorio

The Museo de Caldas in Bogotá Colombia

Diego and Martha at the Museo de Caldas

Observatorio Astronomico in Bogota

Brigitte Luis Guillermo Baptist from the Humbolt Institute

out the bus window on the way to Villa Leiva

Gina in the center of Villa Leiva

On the way to the Muisca Observatory

Muisca Observatory in Villa Leiva

Yes that is what you think it is. For fertility rituals of the Muisca.

Our hostel in Villa Leiva

Villa Leiva sunset. super amazing.

Lulo fruit (not to be confused with President Lula of Brazil)

Street art in Bogota

More really intense street art from Bogota

Graphics for Lorenzo's show in Macarena, Bogota

Gina in La Candelaria, Bogota

Interview with artist Ben Aron

Ben Aron in recent performance "Where does it go?"

One of the featured artists of INtransit V.6: “scientific american” is video artist Ben Aron. Here is an interview exploring the ideas behind his work.

1.   What inspired you to create the piece “The Science of Business”?

My fascination with the capitalist basis of science and medicine in American culture inspired me to create this piece. It interesting, and backwards for me to see these systems fueled by the action/reaction of capital as opposed to the search for quality or advancement.

2. How does this piece relate to your past and future artistic ideas?

This piece is related to my larger body of work in that it uses a simple juxtaposition to hopefully bring up a larger relationship.

3. What connections have you made between the concept of “scientific American” and your piece “The Science of Business”?

I thought about what it means to make the distinction of “American” science, and how that is different from the larger practice of science itself. Also, how we treat science as a business, and business as a science.

4. Who would you consider to be a “scientific American”? Why?

Steve Jobs, because he is one of the most public embodiments of the American connection of science and industry.