Tilings and Friends: Celebrating Roli

May 18th, 2014


A few weeks ago, I received an invitation to participate in a math conference called Kaleidoscope. The purpose of this conference was to celebrate the 60th birthday of an important Mexican mathematician called Roli by gathering the people he has influenced to talk about stuff he likes.

Roli happens to be a very good friend of mine, as well as one of my all-time mentors. Together with Luis Montejano and Jorge Arocha, he introduced me to contemporary geometry, and helped me find new directions in digital art and computational design. It was a big deal for me when I was tasked to deliver the closing keynote to the event. A great honor, and a big challenge: I was expected to hold myself together for an hour in front of an audience of world-class mathematicians, and I haven’t practiced any mathematics since my days at MIT. But I have never stopped making math-inspired art, and luckily, most of the conference attendants were my friends, and there was a deep pool of shared memories I could use to weave a thread through my personal experience of mathematics, art, and Roli.

My talk, entitled Tilings and Friends, narrated the story of a thirty year old friendship centered in a passion for the intersection of art, history, and combinatorial geometry in the form of tilings and low dimensional polytopes. Here is an excerpt from my notes:

If you read the abstract of my presentation you might have realized it didn’t make a lot of sense. At best I hope it made you laugh. It was inspired by a legitimate desire to challenge traditional representations of social engagement as mere connections in a network where individuals are reduced to labeled points.

I’d like to imagine—if not propose—alternative models, that will hopefully reflect upon things like friendship in a more truthful manner. Perhaps I am naive to be saying this, but we all know there is more to friendship than a simple connection. This is why most of our friends in Facebook are not really our friends.

Friendship is a process.

The reason I’m here is the friendship relationship I have with Roli, and with a group of mathematicians that were my teachers and classmates around twenty years ago.

To honor this relationship, and especially the projection of it that finds Roli at it’s epicenter, I want to suggest a model of friendship that goes beyond combinatorics, and takes into consideration the geometry of personality.

In this model, friends are tiles that share matching edges and fill portions of the plane. A friendship starts when a set of tiles match or fit-in together, and evolves as more tiles are added to the plane.

This friendship will be compromised once the tiles reach a configuration where they fail to tile.

A number of years ago, Roli told me a story about a construction worker or “maestro mosaiquero” as one would call him in traditional Alupyecan lingo. This worker’s job was to take piles of tiles and paste them over the surface of bathroom walls. He got used to work with squares and hexagons the most, a lot of times printed with patterns that limited the ways in which the tiles could be arranged. Through years of practice, he developed a good intuition of the seventeen crystallographic groups without ever knowing of their existence.

“What will he do if we give him a box full of pentagons?” —asked Roli. Years later I proposed this same question as the basis for my final project in the Symbolic Programming class at MIT, and the professor almost offered me a PHD based on it… just a good example of the depth in Roli’s insight.

For the next half hour I am going to touch upon ideas that are connected to an aspect of Roli that is not easy to find: His everlasting desire to establish a functional creative conversation about mathematical ideas with non-mathematicians.

One of them being me.

I met Roli a little over thirty years ago because he is the cool brother of my best friend from junior high and he once took us to a soccer game in the Azteca. We were roughly twelve or thirteen years old, and I didn’t see him again until college. But I remember that day well. A gentle and quiet man, he took us back to the apartment where he lived with Irene and Felipe in Villa Olimpica, and offered us limonadas. Felipe was probably seven eights of a year old, and was wearing a home-made helmet to keep him from bumping into furniture corners. There was a big tome of the lord of the rings on a table, and a blackboard with a drawing of something I had never seen before: a mathematical graph.

If you’re still with me after all this text, you probably got the picture. My keynote went really well and the conference was a great experience, hanging out with old friends and meeting some of my heroes from back in the day, like the legendary Egon Schulte (master of the polytopes), Asia Ivic Weiss (H.S.M. Coxeter‘s last student), and the not less amazing Chaim Goodman-Strauss, who’s had his own fantastic incursions in the realm of math-art.

Celebrating Muntadas

April 23rd, 2014

I just came back from MIT after an amazing weekend participating in the public space? lost & found — symposium and exhibition to celebrate the twenty five years of Muntadas at MIT. Muntadas was my teacher and mentor during my Media Lab years, and has remained a great friend after that, and I was honored to be part of this exhibition with my work on surveillance in the Red line of the MBTA subway system called The Red Line Tour.

It curiously snowed upon my arrival, even though it is almost May, and the city of Boston was in a state of disarray due to the preparations for the 2014 edition of their famous Marathon, but the weather cleared up beautifully and my constant delays didn’t stop me from having a fantastic time hanging out with old friends and making new ones, both in the categories of human friends and place [or location] friends.

I stole the following images from the symposium blog. The picture with the circles shows where I was and where my artwork is. If you are in Cambridge Massachusetts before October 30th this year, please don’t hesitate to visit this exhibition in the MIT Media Lab. The featured Public Art projects are all extremely interesting, and the Media Lab itself is a mind-blowing experience anyway, so just do it, ok?




Rest in Haste – No One Regifts Liquor

December 17th, 2013

My friends from Rest in Haste just released a two-track 7 inch vinyl record featuring an illustration I made for them in the cover. My friend Filip from Capital Grey describes them as “Sounds like Queens of the Stone Age”. I am not sure I agree with Filip’s assessment in full, but I do wish they sang in Czech more often. In any case, you should buy their record. It’s pretty cool, and there are only five hundred of those covers out there.


As a finishing note, let me give you access to a giant resolution version of the cover art, in case you feel like printing it the size of your bedroom. You are welcome.

Black Magic Pocket

November 28th, 2013


I just obtained my own Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera from Black Magic Design. What a beauty. In spite of all it’s limitations, and how difficult it might seem to achieve The Perfect Shot with it, I have been completely seduced by the detail and depth of RAW video, and what it does in combination with hardcore professional optics.


In addition to this, I learned that Black Magic Design offers a free version of DaVinci Resolve, their state of the art color correction software. This has kept me awake more than a few nights lately, and I suspect it will continue to do so.

I can’t help but find it fascinating that extremely sophisticated digital technologies like RAW video and high end color correction software have already become available to the average consumer. This is nothing new; in the past ten years it’s happened all around us in all aspects of industry, but I still stand in awe every time a new digital milestone has been reached. Coming from a background in film, and having personally struggled with digital post production technologies through the nineties, I sometimes find it hard to believe that I can sit in a coffee shop and run software like DaVinci Resolve in my little laptop while I enjoy my espresso.

I will be uploading Black Magic Experiments to my flickr feed on a regular basis.

Propagación de Ficciones

October 20th, 2013


Maria Paula Lorgia y AnaDK me invitaron a participar con una plática en el Seminario Transmedia y Narrativas Audiovisuales 2013 en Bogotá, Colombia. Después de mucho deliberar, AnaDK y yo decidimos expresarnos en forma conjunta, y combinar nuestros pontos de vista con el objeto de discutir los populares conceptos de Transmedia y World Building:

Los términos importados World Building, originado en la ciencia ficción estadounidense para describir la construcción de escenarios capaces de albergar mitologías y épicas completas, y Narrativa Transmedia, originado en discusiones académicas recientes de teoría crítica para describir métodos de propagación de historias o superhistorias a través de plataformas múltiples, describen en si mismos técnicas de construcción narrativa que aprovechan al máximo los recursos de comunicación característicos del medio digital.

Esta charla busca despejar el aura esotérica que rodea ambos términos al examinar conceptos paralelos y ejemplos que aprovechan técnicas similares para crear sistemas narrativos abiertos, y establecer, de una u otra manera, un espacio de agencia creativa y participación para el público que los consume.

La charla completa se encuentra disponible en YouTube para quienes puedan estar interesados:

En el ámbito del evento tuve el privilegio de conocer y convivir con fascinantes personajes en la impresionante ciudad de Bogotá. Entre ellos cabe mencionar a nuestro viejo amigo vVvA y su paisano/tocayo Andrés Burbano, que hablaron de Modos y Logicas Transmedia, y Arqueología de la Ficcion, respectivamente (y fueron condensados en el mismo video, a pesar de hablar por separado), y el artista metamático digital Pablo Colapinto, quien nos habló de los laberintos en su cabeza.

La ciudad de Bogotá respira profundidad, color e historia. Una vez más, estar de visita en América Latina me hizo revivir lo familiar, todas las cosas que me han hecho falta durante mi exilio Norteamericano, incluso viviendo en una ciudad invadida por mexicanos como es Los Ángeles. Aquí hay unas imágenes que jalé del Instagram:

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Pappy Tracker Icon

September 30th, 2013

I just finished the icon for Pappy Tracker, a new iOS app by Buzamoto that tracks all sightings and appearances of the extremely desired and almost impossible to find bourbon Pappy Van Winkle across instagram and twitter. To put it in Buzamoto’s words (from the description in iTunes):

By constantly monitoring Twitter and Instagram for up-to-date information about where others are finding this prized bourbon, you get a leg up on the competition. When it comes to tracking down this bourbon, knowledge is everything. The PappyTracker helps you find the information you need, and notifies you when new information surfaces.

After many trials and a lot of deliberation with Buza, we settled for a flat and simple style following the iOS 7 new graphic direction, and we chose to peg a location icon on the shoulder of a bottle to represent the action of tracking the Pappy. I am VERY satisfied with the result.


Has this happened to you?

August 21st, 2013

I recently rediscovered a video recording iPhone app called 8mm. Evidently, it makes your mobile video look like an old movie filmed with an eight millimeter camera.

Every time I go for a walk I take my phone out to record locations, landscapes, moments, or anything else that calls my attention. Last Wednesday I was walking back to the office when I saw these two guys asking the mailman to take a picture of them using a picturesque Venice wall as a background. I walked right in the middle of their interaction and recorded them as I walked by. The mailman took off in my direction and the other two guys just walked away into Rose Ave.

Then yesterday while browsing through my Tumblr dashboard I stumble upon the picture taken by the mailman in some Hip Hop blog I follow. The original post is here. The blog I follow and the original item were separated by a long list of intermediaries (more than 20).

This is the first time I find myself experiencing a moment where the following two conditions are satisfied:

1. This moment is recorded by me and by at least one stranger.
2. The stranger’s recording of this moment finds it’s way to me through an online social network.

This might already happen to a lot of people, and I am expecting it to happen a lot more frequently in the future. For now, I am just going to upload my movie somewhere and somehow connect it to that picture.