Johns Hopkins Gazette | April 27, 2009
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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University April 27, 2009 | Vol. 38 No. 32
How Tweet It Is

Homewood students David Hung, Nora Krinitsky and Tabor Barranti do preliminary work on 'Twitter Jay and the Recyclists,' the Johns Hopkins entry in the Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture Race, which is run by the American Visionary Art Museum.
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS

By Phil Sneiderman

After a year of design and assembly work, Johns Hopkins students and staff members are preparing to launch the Homewood campus's first entry in the Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture Race, a popular event that mixes art, athletics, colorful costumes and light-hearted behavior. To this mix, the Johns Hopkins team will add some interesting ecofriendly and high-tech twists, including a connection to a fast-growing social networking tool.

The Johns Hopkins entry, dubbed "Twitter Jay and the Recyclists," will allow fans and spectators to exchange brief Twitter comments, called "tweets," with team members while the May 2 race is in progress. Team members also will be able to keep in touch with onlookers via conventional cell phone text messages.

While the race is under way, some messages will be displayed on an electronic LED screen mounted on the back of the sculpture. In addition, the team members will record video, audio and GPS data while the sculpture is racing, as well as the pulse rates of the students who are propelling it. The team plans to share this data with the Homewood campus community from 3 to 6 p.m. on May 8 during the Mattin Center pARTy, a celebration of the creative endeavors of Johns Hopkins students.

"Building the sculpture was hard enough," said Nora Krinitsky, a history and museum studies major who began organizing the Johns Hopkins project in spring 2008. "Adding the technology required even more work, but I think the way it's turned out is really great."

The Kinetic Sculpture Race, launched 11 years ago by the American Visionary Art Museum, requires teams to construct a solely human-powered work of art that is capable of traveling on land, through mud and over harbor waters. The eight-hour 15-mile course weaves along pavement through Federal Hill, the Inner Harbor and Fells Point. The sculptures must survive a dip in the bay at the Canton Waterfront and a mud-filled obstacle course at Patterson Park.

Participants and spectators often dress in colorful costumes, and race officials bestow amusing honors such as the Golden Dinosaur Award for the first or most memorable breakdown by an entry.

Johns Hopkins students had never entered the contest before, but faculty member Elizabeth Rodini, who teaches museum studies, and Joan Freedman, director of the Digital Media Center, last year encouraged Krinitsky to assemble a Kinetic Sculpture team from the Homewood campus.

Freedman guided Krinitsky through the process of recruiting students, securing funding (through the Arts Innovation Program and a DMC Creative Use and Technology Grant) and organizing construction. Krinitsky was joined by seven other undergraduates and graduate students from the Whiting School of Engineering and the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences: David Hung, Tabor Barranti, Aasiyeh Zarafshar, Ian Lee, Josh Hewitt, Stephanie Smith and Rebecca Shapiro. Yana Sakellion, the Digital Media Center's visiting artist, also participated.

The group designed the sculpture last year and sought grants and donations of building materials and tech equipment. A blue jay design was chosen because the bird serves as the mascot for the university's athletic teams.

Most of the construction was completed during the Intersession break in January. In keeping with an ecofriendly theme, the team used mainly recycled building materials, including strips of blue plastic grocery bags to serve as the bird's feathers. Harvested bamboo makes up part of the frame.

The idea of encouraging "tweets" struck the students as an appropriate choice for a bird sculpture. The sculpture will move via the pedal power of two bicycles mounted at its center. Engineering students Hung and Hewitt are expected to be the primary bicycle riders during the race. Other members will follow as a support crew.

If the kinetic sculpture remains in good shape after the race, returning team members should be able to reuse it next year with minor modifications. "It will require a lot less work next year," Krinitsky said.

To receive Twitter updates from team members during the race or to send them a "tweet" (140 characters or less), fans should follow "hopkinsbluejay" on Supporters can also send text messages to the team on race day at 443-453-4012.

More information about the race, including the route and schedule, is available at:


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