Ricardo Miranda Zúñiga

Structural Patterns

Reflections on Art, Technology and Society

Internalized Racism

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A week ago, that is the last week of pandemic June 2020, my nearly 12 year old and I biked to Clinton Hill to visit a buddy of his.  The friend’s block in Clinton Hill was having a “stoop day.”  We arrived at the brownstone where his friend lives in Clinton Hill on the edge of Bed-Stuy around 1pm and the next door neighbors had their stoop party rolling.  

The next door neighbors are Black and they were sitting at the bottom of the stoop behind a gate drinking and talking while one man worked the grill.  Parked adjacent to the next door brownstone was a large white SUV with the passenger door open and music playing; it was the sound system for the stoop.  A Brooklyn summer Saturday block party was just getting started. 

My son’s friend and younger brother were outside, and greeted us.  The mom stepped out, we had never met so after brief introductions, I offered to escort the boys to the Christopher “Biggie” Wallace Basketball Courts around the corner.  Between COVID-19 and expected rain, the courts and playground were empty.  The kids threw around a football, kicked a soccer ball and we headed back to their stoop.

The mother invited us to hang out on their stoop.  I took a seat and we chatted as I watched the next door party grow.  With each new arrival, a small explosion of laughter and cheer – a young man with a bottle of Hennessy and plastic cups, a middle-aged woman with beer in hand… it was a multi-generational gathering.  At an apartment building across the street people were setting up tables with food.  I could see that rain was coming, so we didn’t stay long.

On our bike ride back, as my son and I rode next to one another in Prospect Park, he mentioned that his friend (who is White) had said that “those people party all day long.”  He said it in a judgmental manner.  I told him that it’s Saturday and many people work Monday through Friday, so Saturday is a day to party and enjoy family and friends.  I told him that it’s a good thing as I tried to dismiss the judgmental tone.

This immediately made me consider the difference between Black and Latino cultures versus White, particularly WASP culture.  I assume that my son’s judgmental tone was picked up from his friend.  I recalled 15 years back seeing the summer weekend stoop parties along Vanderbilt and reading the stories of the gentrifiers calling the police to shut down those stoop parties as they loudly rolled into the evening.  Now there are no stoop parties along Vanderbilt and nearly no Black people.

Then I thought about my own family in Nicaragua.  On Sundays (or Saturdays), my cousins regularly head over to their parent’s homes with their families and their drink of choice – one cousin adopted Titos a few years ago, others stick to Flor de Caña and uncles tend to elect whiskey or vodka.  The weekend is commonly to gather and enjoy family.  The kids play while the adults talk, drink and listen to music and everyone feasts on carne asada or pollo asado, tortilla, chicharron, tostones…  At the larger family gatherings, it doesn’t always end well, occasionally simmering disagreements explode, words are said, but soon enough everyone will gather again.

When I was very young, my own parents would sometimes throw weekend parties.  It wasn’t every weekend as we did not have much family around, but every few weeks and it was more friends than family.  As I grew older, those parties ended.  My dad worked whenever he could.  If someone called in sick, he’d cover.  He was a BART maintenance employee for 27 years.  There were periods when he’d take a second job or try to run his own janitorial company or even drive to the airport and try to pick up passengers.  It seems to me that when he was younger he enjoyed life a lot more and as he grew older he became more obsessed with amassing money.  Perhaps it was having a family or making sure that all bills were paid off or being comfortable when he retired or he just had a lot of energy and with a family – why not use that energy for financial security…  Whichever it was, my parents were immigrants that adapted to US life and culture, one in which work, not having debt and amassing money is central.  (At least for poor immigrants, commonly, not living with debt is a goal.) However, in the US there are many cultures and amongst them Black and Latino cultures are more likely to maintain the importance of weekend socializing, drinking, music and partying.  Whereas WASP culture is more likely to embrace isolation, the Weekend Edition of the New York Times, reading a novel, exercising in the park, silence and contemplation. And mixed in this is a bit of work – checking emails, checking bank accounts, perhaps moving a bit of money… They are not likely to tolerate loud music and regular weekend parties.

All this said, the reason behind this reflection is my disconcert at my son’s judgmental tone at the idea of people partying all day long and underlying that judgmental tone is a trace of racism. I present two radically different measures of the value of life. One is based on productivity whereas the other on joy. One may find joy through accomplishment, the other finds joy in joy itself. One has a puritanical and protestant root with a moral basis whereas the other has “savage” root with a hedonistic basis. However, the savage hedonism has been tamed or civilized, because it is only after a week of hard work that the pursuit of pleasure for the sake of pleasure is enjoyed. And in writing this, I display my own implicit racism.

Written by ricardo

July 3rd, 2020 at 7:23 am

The Golden Age of FinTech

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FinTech for the Precariat (working title) is a net art work that speculates on the false promises of income distribution in the Age of Bezos. COVID-19 has compounded existential insecurity; the pandemic of stress has been inseminated by the novel flu virus to birth a new reality – a chasm of uncertainty. As unemployment soars, speculative futures drive a stock market that has largely rebounded from the initial shock, but on what basis? The basis that this moment will soon pass and the age of plutocrats, technocrats and authoritarianism will continue thriving a year from now; the slight disruption soon forgotten. The agenda of economic growth must be embraced at the cost of human health. After all, those who enjoy the economic growth will remain safely at home in their condo or rural cabin or yacht.

It has been projected that the 2020s will be the decade of the FinTech Revolution. This marketing hyperbole is on the heels of many such revolutions – the Green Revolution, the Personal Computing Revolution, the dot.com, web2.0 and Social Network Revolution… These revolutions are sold on the promises of democratization and wealth. And they always leave a toll from cancer and the privatization of agriculture to unparalleled surveillance. Today financial technologies present the promise of democratizing complicated transactions, facilitating personal banking, mass speculation in stocks… Whether budgeting or gambling, these tools are relatively harmless. However, entirely new finance mechanisms or rather schemes are being developed as part of FinTech including autonomous finance, bitcoin and ultimately the financialization of human existence. A sector of FinTech will compound income inequality nationally and globally to insurmountable levels. As made abundantly clear by world leaders, finance no longer serves humanity, humanity serves finance.

The New Normal, for Now

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Bartel-Pritchard Entrance, Prospect Park, Brooklyn, Saturday April 11th 2020

It’s the Saturday before Easter Sunday, April 11th 2020 and Prospect Park is active. Not nearly as active as on a pre-pandemic beautiful spring Saturday afternoon, but still people are jogging and cycling, some respectfully wearing masks or bandanas. Families are playing games and exercising or merely enjoying the sun. Everyone is trying to keep at least a six foot distance, however, with so much movement, it’s not always possible.

In Windsor Terrace, neighbors visit and chat from a “safe” distance. Shoppers line up around the corner from the butcher, at least six feet apart, waiting for their opportunity to shop. The liquor store has both its back door and front door open, air streams through as a sign outside instructs that only the paying customer should enter. It appears that a majority of people are wearing masks and gloves. Unfortunately, still there are many who do not, particularly the athletes. Huffing and puffing, mouth breathing runners of all shapes and ages, focus on their exercise with little consideration of those around them or the trails of breath and saliva that they leave behind. I’m no athlete, but my bike is my primary form of transportation and I wear glasses, but I still wear a mask. I recognize that I may unwittingly either catch or pass COVID-19 while getting about in public space, so although I bike in traffic and my glasses get fogged up due to the mask, I recognize that it’s the responsible thing to do.

According to the New York City’s Department of Health there are nearly 100,000 confirmed cases. 24,846 cases in Brooklyn. I assume that we all want to flatten the curve and return to a more normal existence. In a make believe world, we would all freeze in place, cocoon at home for two or three weeks and it would miraculously disappear. Of course, that is not going to happen, so why not wear a mask in public space? Throughout the history of pandemics, masks have been an essential tool to keeping viruses from moving from individual to individual, so why not wear a mask? No one likes them, no one wants to walk or run or cycle with a mask, but it seems like a small effort at this time. And it’s only for a relatively short period of time. With 25,920 people hospitalized in the city, I’m dumbfounded at why people will not wear a mask, handkerchief, or anything to cover their mouths and noses.

Since this virus will not magically disappear, this is our reality for the next several months. In the new normal, we should all exercise and enjoy the sun. We should be able to walk the streets or parks, chat with people and enjoy some sports. If we all do so thoughtfully and take appropriate precautions, including wearing masks, I believe that the new normal will be a bit more bearable. Besides, what thoughtful New Yorker wants to be a sociopath like Trump who declares that he is not wearing a mask as citizens die.

Written by ricardo

April 11th, 2020 at 4:27 pm

Tropicana Face Shield

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As the ease of the spread of COVID-19 becomes increasingly apparent, I decided to try and make a face shield from a commonly available product – a Tropicana bottle of orange juice. I generally do not drink juice, but recently decided to buy oj to have around for my kid. As COVID-19 exploded onto New York City, the Tropicana bottle neared emptiness. Once it all had been drunk it went into the recycling bin. At this time a friend sent me a link to DIY face shields and a call to artists to make them if they had plastic sheets. I did not have any plastic sheets. However, following a particularly alarming walk in my neighborhood, I pulled it out. I thought, who knows, rather than recycling, it may be immediately useful. Turns out that a Tropicana bottle makes for a reasonable face shield, all be it that I have no idea what the appropriate gauge is for a face shield, but hey it is solid plastic and holds liquid in.

Here’s the finished cut up Tropicana bottle as face shield. It works great to cover my entire face, but I have glasses, so it feels better to be worn below my glasses. After the initial wearing, the rubber band broke, so an elastic band works best.

Tropicana face shield over dust mask and below glasses. Works over entire face.


I shared a video on FB making this… https://www.facebook.com/ricardo.miranda1/videos/10102086965865719/

COVID-19 NYC Map

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A couple zip codes in Lower Manhattan

The last 24 hours I have been obsessed about comparing the COVID-19 case map that the NYC Department of Health made available with NYC population and median household income according to zip code (as the DOH map is layed out). So I added to the DOH map.

All the data is old at this point – DOH case map is two days old (March 31st). The population and income data is from the 2010 census. (I can probably find more recent income data.) But I was curious to get a sense of how these numbers compare with cases. Of course the population data presents a direct correlation – density tends to mean more coronavirus cases.

Only select zip codes have data as I was scraping it by hand. The data that is available can be toggled on and off as the map is initially (upon loading) way too crowded: http://rmz.nyc/covid/covidNYC_Map.html

Written by ricardo

April 2nd, 2020 at 7:26 pm

Coronavirus: Trump’s New Reality Show

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Trump was tiring before COVID-19, now he’s constantly taking his audience on a rollercoaster ride. At a March 24th press meeting, a reporter asks Trump – who suggested Easter as the date when the country could go back to work? Trump responds – “I just thought it was a beautiful time, a beautiful timeline. It’s a great day…”

As late as March 27th, Trump remained hopeful that the country would go back to work on April 12th Easter Sunday. Then two days later on March 29th, Trump states that social distancing is to continue through April 30th. The ignorant but “beautiful” Easter timeline, he now refers to as “aspirational.”

Why does anyone take what this guy says seriously and more importantly, why does the media continue to air him? KUOW of Seattle has taken the correct stance: “KUOW recently made an editorial decision to stop airing White House briefings on the coronavirus pandemic live on a daily basis. We will continue to cover these briefings – but believe it is imperative that they are fact-checked, which is a challenge during a live broadcast.”

When not reading a script, Trump says what pops into his head while a country is listening, this is incredibly irresponsible. Later, he is corrected by the numbers and experts, but rather than recognizing his ignorant statements, he reframes them and blames the Media as fake news. Meanwhile, there are still people listening to him. Trump creates false expectations and takes people on a rollercoaster ride unnecessarily at a time when it’s best to take the long view and prepare people for the most factual possibilities, not false realities based on his whims. Of course, as a born millionaire who has never dealt with reality, he’s accustomed to creating his own televised realities, and he’s at it now, he can’t help it. However, now there is a pandemic and people are dying. This man should be held accountable for making shit up and not properly preparing this country in January 2020.

Written by ricardo

March 30th, 2020 at 8:28 am

Question of Intelligence

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Before COVID-19 shutdown New York City, I had the opportunity to experience the exhibition “The Question of Intelligence – AI and the Future of Humanity” curated by Christiane Paul at Parson’s Kellen Gallery. I did not enter the exhibition expecting to witness disparate algorithms animating the exhibition space. It took me a few minutes to realize that the empty gallery (populated only by myself and two silent gallery sitters busily working, I suppose, on their school work) was brought to life by artworks forced to listen to one another and respond. I’m talking about artworks sensing via microphones, cameras, the internet; processing through artificial intelligence, machine learning, algorithms; and communicating via speakers, projectors, screens, printers, the internet and miniature swamps.

Christiane Paul has assembled elder artificial intelligence artworks over 40 years old (though still learning) with nascent works just starting to realize themselves. With the popular explosion of catch phrases including “Big Data,” “AI,” “Machine Learning,” “Today, right now, you have more power at your finger tips than entire generations that came before you…” (I used to appreciate Common before the Microsoft commercial, now I cringe when I hear his voice), Paul has curated a learning experience that recognizes the generational history of artificial intelligence as a creative medium.

Upon entering the gallery, one hears female artificial voices generating poetry or relating temperatures and soil humidity and other environmental measures or in the distance an occasional tweet. To the left, I saw a big black microphone and elected to approach it as the first means toward interactivity. I introduced myself and then watched my words projected onto the wall along with Chinese-style landscape paintings. Trails are drawn from word groupings to word groupings along with drawn landscapes and icons forming a word and image map. The projection is a mind map generator based on the words captured by the microphone. Following a few phrases, I decided it wasn’t very interesting and decided to move on. Adjacent to it is Lynn Hershman Leeson’s chatbot Agent Ruby (2001), but having interacted with one of Leeson’s works at Yerba Buena’s “The Body Electric” recently, I only spent a minute with it before moving on, also it didn’t know what to make of what I was telling it.

“image may contain” by Lior Zalmanson

Adjacent to the chatbot, is Lior Zalmanson’s “image may contain” in which the artist feeds historically significant images into FaceBook’s Automatic Alternative Text image recognition algorithm, an accessibility AI to help contextualize images for the blind and sight impaired. The artists uses the uncontextualized and minimal description of the historical images to identify “similar” images and then collapses them onto lenticular prints. Above are the images that appear in the first print as I move from left to right. The work simply and clearly shows that bots such as AAT should not be used to present information and least of all pretend to be a source of knowledge, at least not yet.

“Us Aggregated” by Mimi Onuoha

Similarly, Mimi Onuoha uploaded a photo of her mother “to Google’s reverse image search, which allows one to upload a picture to find online images that the Google algorithms identify as related.” Scaled, printed and framed from the initial image at the center to the algorithmically related images encircling, a seemingly family home portrait wall appears, leading one to question the process of algorithmic categorization based entirely on visual similarity. With such a project, I can’t help but recall eugenics and Sekula’s “The Body and the Archive.”

I then circled back toward the center of the gallery to try and figure out what was going on with “The Giver of Names” by David Rokeby. And it wasn’t until I read the instructions and changed the objects on the pedestal to assemble my own still life that the brilliance of the exhibition really dawned on me!

“The Giver of Names” (naming since 1990) consists of a monitor, speaker, old CCTV camera, pedestal, pile of old toys and a program that tries to understand what it is seeing through the camera to generate poetry. Once I removed the toys left on the pedestal and placed my own selection, I watched the AI go into action by identifying shapes and colors and then trying to make sense of what it was identifying or “seeing.” Those shapes and colors feed a poetry algorithm that speaks and writes to the monitor adjacent to the CCTV camera. Meanwhile, just beyond this installation, the not very interesting mind mapping microphone is also capturing this generated poetry as it echoes across the gallery and starts mind mapping away. AWESOME! The gallery is its own loop of machines churning away at one another’s utterances. This realization helped me refocus my attention and expand my time with each work. I tried to capture this in the video at the top of this entry.

Near the entrance on a wall monitor, hangs AARON which I had merely paused at for a few seconds but now returned to observe. “AARON is the earliest artificial intelligence program for artmaking and one of the longest running ongoing projects in contemporary art. Harold Cohen started creating AARON at UCSD in the late 1960s and developed the software until his death in 2016. In this video AARON produces a new color image every 10 to 15 minutes.” As one tours the gallery, AARON is quietly working away creating shapes and lines of color, artful abstractions.

“Deep Swamp” by Tega Brian

Back near the center of the gallery, just beyond “The Giver of Names” is another work with a female computer voice speaking at intervals. Tega Brain’s “Deep Swamp” asks “if new ‘wilderness’ is the absence of explicit human intervention, what would it mean to have autonomous computational systems sustain wild places?” The handsome installation has three AIs, Nicholas, Hans and Harrison each “engineer their environment for different goals. Harrison aims for a natural looking wetland, Hans is trying to produce a work of art and Nicholas simply wants attention.”

“Learning to See” by Memo Akten uses machine learning to relate the objects on a pedestal that a camera captures to five different data sets that the system has been fed. The visitor can re-arrange the objects on the pedestal to see new interpretations. Across from the pedestal on a wall is a split screen that shows the image captured by the camera adjacent to the system’s interpretation. “Every 30 seconds the scene changes between different networks trained on five different datasets: ocean and waves, clouds and sky, fire and flowers, and images from the Hubble Space telescope.

Similarly across the gallery, hang a series of prints by Mary Flanagan. The work is [Grace:AI] in which generative algorithms trained on thousands of paintings and drawings by women to create a series of images. “[Grace:AI] was tasked to create her ‘origin story’ by looking at 20,000 online images of Frankenstein’s monster and producing its portrait.”

Both “Learning to See” and “[Grace:AI]” employ generative adversarial networks (GAN), to generate new visualizations. Using GAN anyone can put their own conceptual spin to generate a data set for the machine to learn and see what it spits out. Over the last few years, I’ve seen a few similar projects, my favorite remains an early one – the MEOW Generator trained on a cat dataset.

Perhaps the most darkly monumental project are the large four black machines with spinning fans, exuding steam and ticker tape – the installation component of #BitSoil Tax by LarbitsSisters. The project proposes the fair redistribution of internet wealth to all people through a new taxation system. The installation is utopian, dark and whimsical.

“microBitsoils” by LarbitsSisters

Other projects on exhibit include “Futures of Work” by Brett Wallace, and Ken Goldberg and the AlphaGarden Collective.

ICE Rushes to Return Detained Migrants as Need for Laborers Soars

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Immigrant labor across the US, many undocumented must be protected

I’m waiting to read the following headlines “ICE Rushes to Return Detained Migrants as Need for Laborers Soars” and “The Federal Government Will Provide Health Care and Sick Leave to Undocumented Work Force.” If we use the San Francisco Department of Public Health order for “SHELTER IN PLACE” declared yesterday, a majority of the “Essential Businesses” are manned my immigrants:

  • Grocery stores, farmers’ markets, supermarkets;
  • Food cultivation, including farming, livestock and fishing;
  • Gas stations, auto-supply and auto-repair;
  • Laundromats, dry cleaners, and laundry services;
  • Restaurants and other facilities that prepare and serve food, but only for delivery or carry out;
  • Home-based care for seniors, adults, or children;
  • Plumbers, electricians, exterminators, and other service providers;
  • Businesses that ship or deliver groceries, food, goods or services directly to residences;
  • Taxis, transport workers;
  • Childcare facilities;

Each of these areas and more are now considered Essential Businesses that are fulfilled by Essential Function Workers. As I read through the list, these are jobs that immigrants are commonly the employees; not only immigrants but many undocumented immigrants. Consider your food delivery guys, the childcare nannies, the laundromat and dry cleaning employees, the senior care employees, farm workers (40-50% are undocumented)… Over the last few years, the undocumented immigrant workforce has been at rising risk of losing the lives they have fought to construct in this country as ICE has ramped up raids. Now, as CORONAVIRUS runs its course across the United States, there will be an increasing need for this immigrant labor force.

Unfortunately the country’s social net has deteriorated over the last forty years of rampant neoliberalism and increasing inequality. Suddenly, Trump’s tax cut and slashing of the social welfare will have significant ramifications. I wonder what support these essential laborers will be given if they become sick and can no longer go to work. If we are calling the food delivery workers, farm workers, supermarket employees, laundromat employees, delivery workers (Amazon plans to hire a new thousand), gas station employees, Uber/taxi driver, home caretaker – essential function workers – will the country help them if they become ill? All the laborers that do not have green cards or work permit or social security number – what support will they be given for risking their lives?

Written by ricardo

March 17th, 2020 at 7:34 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Hole in the Meadow

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The hole suddenly opened up in the middle of the park! Right at 7:30am, last Tuesday a hole grew from nothing to a 30 meter radius at the center of the north side of the Long Meadow. It occurred in an instance. At least 30 frolicking dogs disappeared into it. Fortunately, the majority of the owners happen to be standing along the perimeter; so perhaps only 10 owners died or rather disappeared upon the appearance of the hole. And then there were five more or so that flung themselves into the hole after their dogs. Most stood mouths agape or collapsed to their knees blindly staring into the abyss.

Now the military has cordoned off the north section of the Long Meadow and a team of investigators descended down the hole on ropes from military helicopters. When the ropes were reeled back up, they were empty. Zero communication has emanated from the hole. Meanwhile, the owners of the lost dogs and their friends have placed memorials along the perimeter of the cordoned area. Flowers, dog portraits, favorite dog toys, bones, sticks, leashes and even a few statues form the doggy memorial border.

Written by ricardo

February 13th, 2020 at 6:08 pm

Posted in Fiction

Cuban Girlfriend for Rent

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Spouting Bald Fat Man and Beautiful Young Woman

Friday April 26th, 2019, I had arrived in Camaguey, Cuba the previous day for the city’s video art biennial. Earlier this day, I presented a virtual reality piece – “Incertidumbre” outside the biennial’s theater – on the street in a small public square. It was a big hit with unsuspecting pedestrians, not so much because of the content, but rather because no one had tried virtual reality, so people were awed. Throughout the two-hour duration of presenting the work, there was a line, so that evening I decided to treat myself to a nice dinner at a restaurant that I had enjoyed on my last visit to the same biennial. I requested a seat on the rooftop deck as it was not too hot and I could enjoy the view of the city with its rooftop ceramic tiles and many church towers as the sun set.

I had the patio to myself until a couple arrived – a man perhaps near 50 with a young woman, perhaps in her late teens. As I was alone, I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation. He spoke with an Argentinian accent as he told her about his latest travels – business travels around Western Europe and South America. His voice was deep and aggressive, not particularly pleasant to listen to. He was a large bald white man who stood over six feet with a decent belly and skinny legs. His v-neck t-shirt with a pattern of sailboats was a bit too tight. She was a beautiful light-black young woman with an hourglass figure. Her large firm breasts shaped nicely her fitted dark tank top.

The large bald white man talked about flying first class, the delicious champagnes that he was served. He told her that in first class the seats fully recline. He would down three or four champagne glasses, transform his seat into a bed and put himself to sleep. He told her about the sporty BMW that he rented to travel around Spain as he had meetings in Madrid and Seville. He said his business was doing well, described how busy he has been, and that he was glad to be back in Camaguey to relax. He talked on and on while she remarked in awe but with a tinge of boredom. For the most part, she merely listened. Until he paused with a complaint – that he had been telling her all about his life and travels and she had not told him about her life – what she has been up to, details of her life…

At this she replied with a hint of frustration – “you already know all about my life. I get up, go to school, after school, I do sports until it’s time to go home for dinner, and then I study until it’s time to go to bed… That is my life, I don’t go out, because I’m too busy with school and athletics. I’ve already told you all this…”

At this point, I couldn’t help myself but shift my chair a bit and pretend to take a selfie with them in the background. It was a stereotypical reality that one hears about and sees upon visiting Cuba – older men from abroad paying girls for their time and bodies. It was clear that they knew each other and that they are together when he is in Camaguey. Perhaps he maintains her by regularly sending her money and in exchange she is his when he is in town.

I finished my dinner, particularly enjoying the plantains stuffed with shrimp. I had had those before and upon entering the restaurant, they immediately came to mind. I requested the bill from one of the waitresses – two and at times three had been hanging around the patio as the downstairs was empty and the only patrons were myself and the older bald white man with the beautiful girl.

Written by ricardo

July 15th, 2019 at 1:16 pm