DinaCrab: Hermit Crab Behavior

When humans are near, making noise or stomping on the ground or rippling the intertidal waters, our crab retracts swiftly into its shell and only a little bit of claw can be seen:

When the humans back away, and stay quiet and still, our crab comes out and waves its claws about, testing that it has a peaceful environment again, and then gets on with its business of scrabbling about looking for food or patrolling its space:

Who is our crab?

We have been taken with the hermit crabs of Koh Lon, their big personalities (from an anthropomorphic perspective) and varied looks and behaviours (from an ethological/naturalist perspective). Throughout their lives they move to ever larger colorful shells, from compact round snail houses to pointy or gracefully ovoid ones. They come out to the beach in diverse-looking groups because of their differences in size, shell type, and claw colors. If you get close, they snap into their shells, a little patience and distance and they are eager to get on with their business while we are watching.


Another crab, the fiddler crab, was one of the first dramatic animals we met. On our first evening we walked on a huge intertidal expanse exposed by a full moon tide, and the bright orange of swarms of fiddler crabs were dramatic. But as soon as one gets close, one’s footfalls, water disturbances, or shadows alert the fiddler crabs who all pop into their holes in the coral or sand. As they disappear one sees their bright orange claws, and then nothing. Only quite a bit of distance or perfect stillness from the humans gives them a safe time to come back out.

We simplified my (Margaret’s) orginal wearables Dinacon project concept to collaborate on creating “humans” and “crabs” animated on Microbit boards, which felicitously have cute orange-red displays on board suitable for crab claws! We installed one of our crabs in a mighty shell, and let Dinasaurs carry human boards and other crab boards around with them. Using the Microbit’s packet radio capability as a quick, though not very accurate or precise, ranging technology, crabs can tell whether there is any human nearby. As soon as any human gets in range, it snaps into its shell, leaving just a claw visible (like a hermit crab’s visible armored claw blocking it’s shell opening). As soon as all humans are far enough away, the shy crab comes back out waving its claws about.

Using the packet ranging for interactivity between creatures was inspired by a lovely and extensive dance performance interaction project by Emily Daub, her student capstone project at the ATLAS Center at CU-Boulder. We are grateful for her inspiration, and for help from Emily and her student colleague Annie Kelly.

Creating the animation of the crab claws, in my happy place near the sewing/textile/yarn corner. Microbit universe in an egg crate.

Oliver and I collaborated on programming for the crab/human existence and interactions. We used the microbit/microsoft blocks-language interface to its Typescript language (Javascript). Oliver built up a test suite for packet radio ranging in textual Typescript as well. I built several wearable versions of the boards using various batteries and sewn wearable holders, then ended up simplifying to hand-carrying the lightweight boards with simple enclosed battery pak. I also decided on an indoor installation space for our largest crab. For the humans, it feels like walking on the beach while carrying a rock or shell one might have picked up. For the crabs, is that like carrying a shell? No idea…

Here’s video of DinaCrab: Dinacrab with human 23 sec and Dinacrab in-progress 2 mins

This is most of the blocks code for the main interactivity. It supports as many “crab” and “human” boards as you want, we had four at Dinacon. Usually configured as one crab, three humans, sometimes two crabs two humans.

Any questions contact us!

You can find the micro:bit code to make your own humans and crabs at: https://github.com/margmarg/Dinacrab

You can also find Oliver’s micro:bit RSS metering code here: https://github.com/osteele/microbit-signal-meter

by Margaret Minsky and Oliver Steele
Koh Lon, June 27 – July 7

photo of live hermit crab courtesy Cherise Fong

Soil/earth/dirt and poop? Connections in:/out:

Soil/earth/dirt and poop? Connections in:/out:

Reflections on my time at DINACON

Huiying Ng


Working on maps inevitably gets me thinking about connection and connectivity – the links between relations spatial and biological, but also the human and social. DINACON is a big blobby, lovable mess/h, a meshy, net-like structure of parts and people moving in and leaving bits of themselves behind.

A little like this snail leaving its bits on my palm:

Or like a bunch of us adding to the DINACON google map of plants which Craig Durkin started!


I came to DINACON to work on creating simple soil testing kits for gardeners. But the more I talked to people, the more I started doing: thinking about a soil and elevation map, playing with plant impedance and conductivity, learning about Arduino coding (and making something – scary!). I was way outside my comfort zone of the social sciences. But it was all interconnected with the social sciences and humanities; every moment of activity was culture forming quietly, mostly unobserved. When I left, I found myself thinking about the DINACON experience while finishing up my maps. There’s a section from chapter 1 of The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi which I love, and which is all about connection.

A man finds an unfamiliar fruit in a market in Bangkok, in a future world where food production has become entirely driven by GM-food companies. He stops to examine it. The fruit seller talks to him, “seeking connection”. Nothing touches him in this wet and bustling market as he thinks through his mental repository of “flowers and vegetables and trees and fruits [which] make up the geography of [his] mind” – “nowhere does he find a helpful signpost that leads him to identification”. And then, he eats it. As he bites into it, he finds himself tasting the past in this “slick translucent ball”. Suddenly, “a fist of flavor, ripe with sugar and fecundity. The sticky flower bomb coats his tongue… The shell-shocked moment of flavor – real flavor – after a lifetime devoid of it.” He’s found not a discovery but a resurrection, a connection to the past through flavour. History and possibility and the future shift all at once.


I love this passage for so many reasons, but most of all, I think it was because I had no idea what this fruit was – so many hints, so many signs, but we just keep guessing until bang, it hits us.


Food and poop are grossly different. But consumption and excretion aren’t all that far apart – we might say they feed (!) one another. It’s easier to see this with abstract poop. We poop ideas for instance much faster than we visibly excrete what we eat. And we pay a lot more attention to ideas, too: it’s gross to think of pooping ideas; no, we generate ideas instead. Granted, idea generation and excretion are a little different – generation tends to be more valuable than excretion. So we go on circling through this logic, and for whatever reason, even though poop and excretion is the basis of life, we rarely think of our ideas as the mental excrements of daily life! Perhaps this is because sewage and toilet matters aren’t very nice to think about or work around. But they are the measure of how well a system functions and renews itself: whether measured in the outhouse of a cabin, the blackwater storage tank on a ship, the lavatories of a train, or the wondrous open toilets of the jungles and woods. Strangely, even as we’ve drawn toilets closer into the intimate proximities of our lives, they’ve grown the opposite way, becoming more alien to most of us. Specialisation has created black boxes of muck. We’re useless to actually live on the planet now without the technical knowhow of a small group of people who can’t possibly get around all that much, to be captains of a system in a way that fits the needs of every member in it.

So much for connection. Connection and poop really don’t seem to fit. But if DINACON is a connected, bustling, lively island conference/house of ideas in the making and people meeting, it’s also about all the residual stuff that sticks, settles, and holds on – more stubborn than barnacles. A system’s input and a system’s output are pretty different, but a DINACON that accepts a new wave of people, as a seasoned group leaves its shore, becomes an earthly being rotating through space-time with a gravitational field of its own. What goes in and what comes out all stay in orbit, whether consciously choosing to or not. So then: how many times in two months does DINACON complete an orbit? And perhaps: how many times in two months do other bodies complete orbits around DINACON?

Connectivity is so central and so deadly: buzzing circuits that fail; electric wires buzzing overhead after a rainstorm; buzzing human conversational germs and bees that unwittingly bump into their deaths on weaver ant nests, chasing the shine of a torch. Life is hooked to signs of promise: we’re led by our noses and senses whether we like it or not, know it or not. Most times connections maintain a system, or fall away. Sometimes it leads to new, viable connections: new (medicinal) drug routes, civic partnerships, interdisciplinary breakthroughs and collective-but-autonomous epiphanies. So it wouldn’t be strange that social connection, ecological and synthetic-biological connections pushed together become a florid display and a poopy display altogether.

I’ve been obsessed with soil for the past half a year. Everything for me is a sign to something else about soil; soil might be my orbiting body – as it well should! Water covers about two-thirds of the earth’s surface, and after subtracting all the bits of land inhospitable to agriculture (too hot or too cold), only about 3% of the earth is covered in agricultural soil. We like to think of it sitting quietly in plots of land, causing landslides in poor nations or being carted to rich nations, when soil is really a single body of continuous work that stretches between all our minute, not-as-separate-as-we’d-like worlds.

Map layout: Huiying Ng

All sorts of signs interest me. So wading through connections for me was once a little like scaling treacherous cliffs or navigating mangrove swamps: how to decide which footholds to lean on, and which I’d lose my footing on? It’s an interesting question to pose in unstructured environments like DINACON. But a more interesting question would be how these open connections can stay open, as things to care for rather than domesticate: something to play on and around, prodding and pushing and bumping and nudging. A better question might be: how shall we read connections best, so they can each be nurtured in the time and space they need?


Things I referred to:

Plant impedance – Cybres Impedance Spectroscope with Stig

Bees on a weaver ant nest – with Magdalena’s torch

The Windup Girlhttp://oceanofpdf.com/pdf-epub-the-windup-girl-download/

Orbiting celestial bodies, moons and tides – charades with Tasneem, Rob and Andy

The blackwater tank problem – The Diva Andaman and some funky physics

Plant map – extended. Raw data files available here: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1_Xf0hG1V4H-FB2xjwxeSSRySinv5I-DZ

Crochetteering – a tale of fishy innovation

by Hannah Perner-Wilson (+C, KOBAKANT)

My plans for Dinacon were to develop An Underwater Studio Practice, but when I arrived and began going underwater to crochet and (thanks to Kitty) discovered plan, this practice lead me to write a story about ocean plastic as the result of our human ability to make.

Flickr set >> https://www.flickr.com/photos/plusea/albums/72157696220704072

Crochetteering a stripy vest for a puffer-fish:
Crochetteering - a tale of fishy innovation

Drawing depicting the situation between humans and fish and ocean plastic:

Crochetteering – a tale of fishy innovation
A good-night story for Dinaconnaisseurs

Crochetteering - A Tale of Fishy Innovation

Crochetteering - A Tale of Fishy Innovation

Crochetteering - A Tale of Fishy Innovation

Crochetteering - A Tale of Fishy Innovation

Crochetteering - A Tale of Fishy Innovation

Crochetteering - a tale of fishy innovation

Crochetteering - a tale of fishy innovation

DinaSynth Quartet – Scott (Seamus) Kildall

At Dinacon 2018, Scott (Seamus) Kildall prototyped a new project called DinaSynth Quartet, which is a live audio-synth performance between a plant, the soil, the air and the water in nature. This quadrophonic melange emits a synthetic soundscape that interacts with the buzz of cicadas, the croaks of frogs and the songs of the birds. By endowing hidden data in the natural environment with digital “voices,” the installation invites viewers into the jungle to experience digital artwork that almost always exists in the built environment.

DinaSynth sunset concert

My response to my time at Dinacon was to find a way to fuse the digital with the natural, seeking both a collaboration and future development around the idea of making chance orchestra arrangements. This experiment builds on my previous work, Sonaqua, which is an interactive installation that sonifies water quality.

These four “players” connect to sensors that modulate software synthesizers with embedded electronics. The plant uses electrodes, ground to soil sensor, water to electrical-conductivity sensor and air to humidity. Each one uses specific code that is active on one of my custom Sonaqua boards, and, each player has its own speaker so that you can spatialize the sound by walking around the outdoor installation space

My custom Sonaqua board, which use the ATMEL 328-PU chip

The humidity reading varies the least and activates the a baseline, while the plant sounds like a skittering voice, as its voltage readings constantly shift around. The water has the high-pitched violin sound and the soil emits the melodic slow waves.

In future iterations, I will develop sculptural containers for these and improve the sound-synthesis. Ideally, they would play at various festivals or other outdoor spaces.

Videos below!

Scott (Seamus) about the Diva Andaman
One DinaSynth module in nature
EC sensor in water
Electrodes on plant
Setting up the installation
Full installation

Full video edit

Ground-only composition

Plant-only composition

Air with Humidity sensor Composition

Water with EC sensor


Ecosystem Simulation

My goal for this simulation was to be able to abstractly demonstrate interdependence in an ecosystem. It isn’t meant to be an accurate model of any real ecosystem, but rather replicate that specific property of ecosystems in an easily observable environment. This simulation uses 3 types of actors, and unless all 3 are present the patterns by which they interact will quickly collapse.

Flora, which propagates outwards and sometimes generates “seeds” (solid green circles). Flora can only spread if it’s seeds are carried off by an herbivore. Each node has a lifespan and will eventually die if it isn’t eaten first. Without Flora, herbivores will die off because they have nothing to eat, then carnivores will die off because there are no herbivores.

Herbivores, which eat flora and will reproduce if they consume enough. If they happen to eat a seed, it will drop once the herbivore has traveled a certain distance away and start a new plant. Without herbivores, flora will die off because it cannot spread, and carnivores will die off because they have nothing to eat.

Carnivores, which eat herbivores and also reproduce if they consume enough. Without carnivores, flora will die off because they will be eaten by herbivores faster than they can propagate, and herbivores will die off because they will kill their own food source.

One step that’s missing from this food chain is decomposition. Decomposers would be responsible for turning dead material into nutrients that plants need to grow.

Download (.zip, 16 MB)
(Press Enter to Reset)

Island Caterpillar – Hannah Wolfe

Hannah Wolfe’s  goal was to explore caterpillar movement while on the island.  She looked at different materials to make the caterpillar with and different movement techniques.  She tested using a motor to spool fishing wire and a linear actuator driven spiral.  The final design used a 12 volt motor to power a spiraled linear actuator.  While the initial design was 3d printed, the final construction was made out of bamboo, linked together with an elastic band.  Feet were added to stabilize the caterpillar.


Hannah Wolfe


Dates: 06/26/2018-07/07/2018

Project: Island Caterpillar

Bio:  Hannah Wolfe is a media artist and PhD candidate in Media Arts and Technology at the University of California, Santa Barbara.  She earned a B.A. in Visual Arts from Bennington College (2009) and both an M.S. in Media Arts and Technology (2016) and an M.S. in Computer Science (2017) from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her work has been shown at international art exhibitions and published in academic journals.  Her artwork focuses on the relationship between body and technology, giving computers and robots biological qualities. Her research interests include human robot interaction, affective computing, virtual reality, and computational creativity.


Biobang! 0006: “Lighthouse Jumpin” Khan + Quitmeyer, Valerie Harris, Luis Fraguada, Elizabeth Bigger, Hanegg (feat. DJ Dez + JPOM + Grace)

Mount your horse, and ride up to our lighthouse. We talk to Valerie Harris about wildlife cancer research and her upcoming project the cancer van! Meanwhile a light jumper from Barcelona warns us about future wars and microplastics, and a governmental employee who crochets underwater for fish.

They plug:

The Cancer Van https://twitter.com/valeriekharris

Designing yourself to fit in the environment


Makers and designers to make better products for fish out of upcycled materials


Tasneem Khan

Andy Quitmeyer


Valerie Harris, Luis Fraguada, Elizabeth Bigger, Hanegg (Hannah Perner-Wilson), Segment with Grace Wong

Music by:

Dj Dez (https://dezmediah.bandcamp.com/album/beep-boop)

and JPOM (https://jpom.bandcamp.com/)




Get it on stitcher:

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Dinna-con Foraging Guide (PDF)

Foraged Noms!

The symbiosis of Dinna-con Fossils  have led to the creation of the Ko Lon Foraging Guide.

Click to download a digital copy of the  Ko Lon Foraging Guide and happy foraging 😉

Adam pleased with his haul of “firefruits”

Disclaimer: I‘m terrible with formatting – do exercise some patience as the fossils come up with the Dinna – Compendium of Delights !