Archive Page 4

NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program Winter Show 2009

As has become habit over the past couple of years, this past week I headed over to the NYU Interactive Telecommunications Program Winter Show. ITP is a graduate program started by Red Burns with a mission to “explore the imaginative use of communications technologies — how they might augment, improve, and bring delight and art into people’s lives.” While not as robust as last year’s Spring Show (due to the fact that the Spring show is often a display of many of the grad students’ master theses), the Winter Show definitely lived up to ITP’s vision of producing imaginative uses of tech.  I’ll share some of my favorite projects.

As would be appropriate, the first project on display when you walked into the show was ITP Guest Book, a web project meant to be accessed via an iPhone or iPod Touch that helped show goers leave comments on specific projects and navigate the space via a built in map and project categorization system.  While I loved the concept, I didn’t really find myself utilizing the app, preferring to organically navigate the space and save my commenting for the blog, where I could leverage a bit more of a hindsight view of things.

Many of the show’s projects were less utilitarian of course, with a whole slew that fell on the more artistic side of the technological spectrum.  My absolute favorite in the arts category was tek(s)nesonic, which featured a projected screen which captured those that walked in front of a camera and then mapped falling letters and numbers (which viewers could enter themselves) into the image, each of which were associated with different sound samples.  People who found themselves in the frame could then interact with the falling characters, “catching” them and activating the associated sounds.  I found myself delighted when a P would land on my shoulders and start beeping until I moved and it continued to fall.  Ingenious.

Continue reading ‘NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program Winter Show 2009′

Silently starting a conversation – Reflections on 24 hours of Public Meditation

Photo by Frances Yang Martin

My fellow meditators in the windows of ABC Home

When I signed up to be part of the Interdependence Project’s meditation marathon, to sit for 24 hours in the windows of the most sheeshy home furnishing store in New York City as part of a fundraiser for the organization, I knew it would be intense.  I just didn’t know what the nature of that intensity would be.  I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about or preparing for the sit, as I didn’t have much context for this kind of experience to base any preparation on.  I mostly considered that I’d be sitting for 24 hours (with of course walking meditation mixed in), and the only context I had for such an extended period of meditation was meditation retreats, usually about a week long, that I’ve been going on for some time now.  Those retreats are, naturally, very intense from an internal standpoint.  Generally retreatants, or yogis as they’re often called, are in idyllic surroundings with delicious food and lots of silence, but are so intimately engaged in focused meditation that they tend to experience euphoric highs but also debilitating lows, with plenty of peacefulness and straightup boredom mixed in.  And so when I was thinking about what to prepare for when sitting 24 hours, I largely thought of it in these terms, as a subjective experience.

What I basically forgot about was that I’d be sitting in an *extremely* public space, a street level storefront window that’s meant to highlight things to otherwise uninterested passers by.  And wow, were the passers by  interested.  I guess it isn’t everyday that you see about a dozen people meditating in window, but wow.  The fact that our 24 hours included a Friday night in a pretty busy part of New York City probably helped in terms of the amount of attention we got.  Here are some of the general sentiments I heard, paraphrased:

“Are they for real?”

“Are they real?”

“Wow, those people are incredible. That’s discipline!”

“I wish I could do that.”

“I used to meditate, I should really start again.”

“What a waste of time.”

“Get a life!”

“How much do you cost?! I want to take you home!” (Note: not a paraphrase.)

Continue reading ‘Silently starting a conversation – Reflections on 24 hours of Public Meditation’

Just in time learning, local politics and potentials in informed citizenry

Voting LeverSo I, like about 15% of New Yorkers, went to the polls today to vote in the Democratic Primary for a number of city wide as well as borough-specific elections.  Among them were the office of Mayor, Comptroller, Public Advocate, City Council seats, etc.  AKA, the kind of stuff that most of the public just doesn’t care about enough to vote on, let alone get informed about (especially since the Democratic mayoral candidate will likely get squashed by Bloomberg).  In my years of becoming more civic minded, I’ve begun to vote regularly in these “smaller” elections, and have come up against a bit of a hurdle.  While I’m motivated to vote in these elections, realize that my vote will make a real difference in deciding who gets into office, and understand that these politicians have probably the most impact on the issues immediate to my city ranging from education and real estate development to local environmental laws and criminal justice, I just can’t seem to get motivated enough to actually follow these races.

And so tonight I found myself in the familiar situation of arriving at the Brooklyn Museum (best polling place ever) not really knowing much about the people on the ballot.  Last time this happened I figured that I should use the resources I had at hand to become an at least somewhat informed voter, so I sat down on the floor, took out my iPhone, and painstakingly reviewed various articles about the candidates on its small screen.

Times Election Page

This time, I thankfully had my laptop with me, and using the museum’s free wifi, was able to do critical last minute research to inform my decisions.  I checked the sites of various local organizations that I know to see who they endorsed, as well as the local section of the Times to get their take on who would be best for various offices.  Armed with a much greater understanding of who the people on the ballot were and where they stood on various issues, I entered one of those classic New York polling booths, made my selection, and pulled the lever with a sense that I had not only done my civic duty by voting, but didn’t waste my vote as a result of being entirely uninformed.

Continue reading ‘Just in time learning, local politics and potentials in informed citizenry’

On Obama’s Speech to America’s Students

Obama Speech to America's StudentsRecently on our family listserv, we had a little back and forth about Obama’s recent speech to students across America, with most giving positive reviews.  I thought it was fine, but had a bunch to add, and to critique, so I thought I’d share here as well.

I agree that the speech was really wonderful, and important, but do have a bone to pick with Obama on this one.  Hear me out.

Throughout the entire speech the predominant theme was that youth need to take responsibility for their own education.  Don’t drop out.  Don’t disrespect your teachers.  Do the work even if it may not seem relevant.  And above all, it’s ultimately up to you whether you succeed or not.  Generally good messages, but really only good messages for students.

For society at large, we know, however, that “it takes a village”, to quote an old African proverb, and that the village that was put in charge of education has failed.  It has failed because it was designed for a different world, and has been ornery in the face of adaptation.  It has failed through cutting costs, it has failed through irrelevant content, it has failed by favoring teaching methods that are at best boring and at worst antagonize young people to the idea of learning.  It has failed to realize that it needs to teach attitudes and orientations as opposed to facts and figures.  And it’s a failure that Obama didn’t mention a word about, glossing over this ossified aspect of American society using a fail safe mantra of rugged American individualism when what the education system really needed was a serious jolt about how this is a problem of communities and systems, of parent involvement and teacher training and of fear in the face of special interests that control testing and textbooks, as opposed to just giving a pep talk to kids saying that they should take their studies more seriously.  After all, if you were given the system that they were, would you?

When taken in the larger context, Obama certainly said some nice things, but no where near enough.  This was a fine thing for the president to say to young people on their first day back to school, but if this President wants to make any impression on me when it comes to education, he’ll have to say, and do, much much more.  This was his first day of school to me, and he did alright.  An A for effort and showing up.  We’ll see what his grades are like, though, at the end of the year.

Photo courtesy of CNN.

Support me to Sit Down, Rise Up

Open 24 HoursOver the course of November 6th and 7th, I’ll be taking part in Sit Down, Rise Up, a 24 hour meditation marathon and fundraiser for the Interdependence Project, an organization dedicated to exploring the intersections between community life, meditation, arts and activism.  As some of you might know, I direct the IDP’s Integral Activism work, and I’m asking anyone reading to sponsor me as I meditate for a full twenty four hours as part of the Fall fundraiser. (No Joke!)  I’ll be joined in this full 24 hour marathon by Ethan Nichtern, IDP’s founder and director, along with Jessica Rasp, one of IDP’s meditation teachers, as well as by many members of our community that are committing to meditating with us for four hours blocks over the course of the day as we sit in the windows of ABC Home, who have generously offered their space for the event.

I’m aiming to raise $1,000 to support this budding community, whose members are dedicated to examining their own lives and their engagement with the world through the lens of interdependence, one that implicitly acknowledges the connection that we all have to one another.  It’s in this spirit that I ask you to support me.  Conscious and active grassroots communities are able to thrive with the help of people that believe in their value, and if you do, please support me as much as you’re able.

If you’d like to sponsor me for one of my 24 hours of sitting, you can give $42, which would be awesome, as then I’d need only 23 more people to do the same!  Alternatively, I invite you to give what you want and how you want.  More is great.  Less is great.  All is appreciated.  I thank you all in advance for your support.  If you have any questions about the organization, the work that I’m involved in, and how we’ll be aiming to utilize the funds raised, don’t hesitate to be in touch (Rafi at empathetics dot org), or check out the event details over at the ID Project’s web site.

Family History, Communist Show Trials, and How I Almost Didn’t Exist

As some of you know, I’ve been in the process of researching the life of my grandfather, John Santo, whom I’ve written about before on the blog.  As I engage in this process I’m getting a unique opportunity to experience history in an a new and somewhat more personal lens, and recently had the opportunity to reflect on how personally impactful events that happened years ago can be when taken in the small context of a small family’s history.

In short, my grandfather was an Hungarian American Communist who was one of the founders of the Transport Workers Union, became a high level official in the Hungarian Communist Government, and eventually defected from said government for a host of reasons not least of which was total disillusionment with Communism as it manifested in its brutal and paranoid form in cold war Hungary.

As I conducted initial research about his life, one of the key books that I found was called In Transit, a great read that documents the history of the TWU.  It’s by a labor historian, Josh Freeman, who teaches here in New York at the City University of New York Graduate Center.  I figured that since he was so close, literally blocks from my office, I’d try to contact him and see if we could meet to chat and possibly fill in some blanks I had in the story of my grandfather’s life.  Luckily, Josh is a really wonderful man and sat down with me for a long conversation where he was able to give me some historical context within which I could better understand what I’m coming to realize is an even more fascinating and complex political and personal history than I imagined. Continue reading ‘Family History, Communist Show Trials, and How I Almost Didn’t Exist’


A wonderful short film by the folks at RadioLab, one of my favorite podcasts. Really gets at one of the things that is key to meditation practice, that being awareness of life on a moment to moment basis.  The one thing I’d say about it is that while all the moments highlighted in the piece would generally be considered noteworthy in some way, in meditation practice, even ones that are not usually considered noteworthy merit our full embrace.  Enjoy!

Identity, Self and Second Life


How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Three Online Alter Egos

This is an article I wrote back in early 2007, when I was working full time on projects that utilized the virtual world of Second Life.  It was never published, and just resurfaced in my mind, so I figured I’d share.  Enjoy!


Wait, who am I? From left to right: Bhikku Beeks, Rafi Gkid, Theravada Young

Sometimes when I go to work, I wear jeans and a t-shirt.  Sometimes it’ll be more of a blazer and khakis kind of day.  On others I might go for something more formal, like a tuxedo.  Lately I’ve taken to dressing up as an elf, a sumo wrestler and a lava monster, depending on my mood.  I save my Godzilla costume for special occasions, like when I facilitate a workshop.  No, I haven’t been asked for my letter of resignation yet, though some of my colleagues do give me funny looks as they pass by my desk and see me talking to a mermaid.  I work in the virtual world of Second Life, an immersive three dimensional online environment populated by ‘residents’ from across the globe.  It is a place where the odd and surreal are the norm, and a place that is surprisingly rich with lessons about the nature of identity, if one looks at it from the right angle.

Continue reading ‘Identity, Self and Second Life’

The Power of Ideas

At our Summer retreat at work, each of the staff on our team were asked to briefly share one lesson we took away from our work in the past year, and for me, I didn’t have to think hard. I’ve been struck, again and again over the course of this year, by the power that an idea can have to make an impact. I know, it’s trite, and perhaps even fairly obvious, but to me I can’t say that I was able to fully understand what this term meant until had experiential knowledge of it in my own work. I’ll share a couple of examples.

At a staff meeting early in the year, perhaps September, my colleague Tabitha mentioned something that was bothering her. She said that she loved how we did these interesting issue-based digital media production programs with teens, but felt that they were missing out on being exposed to other teens doing similar things. They were in isolation, without community or a sense of being part of a larger movement of youth production and participation using new media.

Continue reading ‘The Power of Ideas’

Growing innovation, from the playful to the serious, at NYU’s ITP

I only learned about NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program about a year ago, from my friend Sonaar that who had then just started a graduate degree there.  I’d thought of the program as focused on engineering, and Sonaar, a fellow meditator, writer and tech enthusiast, didn’t exactly evoke engineer.  He was straight liberal arts to me.  But then, I didn’t know much about the program.

Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to check out their seasonal show, now for the second time, and gotten a real sense of the incredible spirit of creativity, innovation, experimentation, playfulness and collaboration that characterizes the program and its students.  At the show there are tons of projects, ranging from innovative interfaces to tech art, pro-social technologies, mobile applications, wearable technology, robots making art, and much more.  Some seem immediately ripe for either venture capital, application in the classroom, or installation in a museum.  Others are more whimsical, and might never make it to a broader public, but will inform the discourse around interactive media and the way it shapes society. It’s a real playground for those interested in the next generation of odd, interesting and thought provoking technology.  You can check out the photos I took from the show in the slideshow below, but for full effect you should check them out with my notes on my flickr stream.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Hi there.

Rafi in thailand, smiling

If you're reading this, then you've reached the web log of Rafi Santo. This is my little slice of the internet where I can share my passion (or whatever) with the world.

Research. Meditation. Learning theory. Spirituality. Activism. Cooking. New Media. Pedagogy. Photography. It's all fair game, and will likely coalesce into some unholy mixture thereof. But hey, that's the integral life.