Week 11: Initial Final Project Idea

I visited Manar Abu Dhabi last week. My favorite installation was a field of lights that pulsed with the audience’s heartbeat. When I saw it, I felt like I was in Elysium. It stole all the wind from me. Here’s a video of it here. I know I want to create an installation that involves a heartbeat, using sensors, and that’s the Arduino component. As to what detecting the heartbeat will do, I’m still iffy.

I’ve been having a lot of conversations with my dad these days about how disconnected we are from each other and from ourselves. I want to create a project that brings people more in tune with their inner selves and surroundings, using the heartbeat, which is, naturally, already a very intimate thing.

My first idea is maybe when two people’s hearts get in sync, something appears on P5JS screen. And when they’re not in sync, images appear that represent the dissonance that is happening. Or, instead of going that route, everyone’s individual heartbeat draws a unique picture that is added to a larger picture of everyone’s similar but different looking heartbeats. I’ve also been trying to come up with ways I could add poetry/words into this installation the way Andrew Schneider did with his. He did it perfectly.

Or, I’m seeing a circle that pulses on the screen with your heartbeat in something that looks like a universe (like what Pierre did). Something that gets the message of being a pulse in the universe across, and as steps are went through, new poems/words pop up.

Here’s a project called “Text Rain.” I could incorporate words this way, perhaps. Maybe every time the circle pulses, words pop out, but how to make it more interactive so that it’s the audience’s words instead of my own…still unsure. Either way, I’m gonna put a moldboard below. I love Instagram archive pages. Because they have text like this. I want to capture the feeling these images evoke:

It’s a lot. But there’s a vibe. It should be more fleshed out but, things must come together eventually.

Week 11: Elora and Saiki Assignment

Assignment 1: Move Ball With Potentiometer

I attached a picture of our setup below:

I took the P5JS sketch we used in class and made a few changes, seen here. First, we created the ellipse. When writing the parameters, we made the x value alpha, because the sketch already set alpha as the value that is reading the Arduino board. In order to read Alpha, we had to make sure we mapped the potentiometer range to the range of the P5JS screen. So when you turn the potentiometer, the x value changes, making the ellipse move backwards and forwards. See the important code snippet below:

ellipse(map(alpha, 0, 1023, 0, width),height/2,60);

Assignment 2: Control LED Brightness From P5JS

We took the same P5JS sketch from the slides and altered it, seen here. Here are the changes we made:

let value = map(mouseX,0,width,0,255);
right = int(value);

We created a new variable called value and then mapped the width of the P5JS screen to the LED values, so that as you moved your mouse horizontally across the screen, the LED brightened and dimmed. We used pin 5 because it supports PWM. The LED connected to Pin 5 was the “right” one in the code we used in class, hence why used “right” above to connect the LED and the P5JS bit above. We also had to go into the Arduino code that we had used in class and changed a bit of that as well.

digitalWrite(leftLedPin, left);
// digitalWrite(rightLedPin, right);

As you can see, we commented out the digitalWrite regarding the right pin and replaced it with analogWrite so that the LED didn’t just turn on or off, but actually got dimmer and brighter on a spectrum.

Assignment 3: Make The LED Turn On When The Ball Bounces

Here is our video. Here is the link to our sketch.

We combined the Gravity Wind example from the slides with the other P5JS sketch from the slides and changed a few things, seen below:

  if (position.y > height-mass/2) {
      velocity.y *= -0.9;  // A little dampening when hitting the bottom
      position.y = height-mass/2;
    right = 1;
  else {
    right = 0;

We went to the part of the code where the ball hits the ground, and made it so that the Arduino read the LED as “right,” and the LED turned on (1) and off (0) depending on whether the ball was touching the ground or not.

On a side note, we also made sure that whenever you pressed n, that was how a new circle appeared. Because when we combined the two sketches, it had already been written that pressing the space bar makes the serial bar pop up.

if (key=='n'){

Assignment 4: Control Wind With Potentiometer

Last but not least, we made the ball move left and right with the potentiometer by adding this bit of code.

wind.x = map(alpha,0,1023,-1,1);

We mapped the values of the potentiometer onto the wind values already established in the code. So that when we turned the potentiometer right, the ball went right (1) and left (-1) when we turned the potentiometer left.

Week 11: Reading Assignment

Professor Goffredo is really good at breaking down good design. At first, when you delve into what makes a design good, it’s all very heady and cerebral. Very meticulous and calculated. But at the end of the day, when you go into what really makes a design good, the reasoning is so shallow. A design is good when it works and people use and like it. A design is bad when they don’t. It reminded me of something Stanley Kubrick said about movies. He said you can think of a million intelligent reasons for why a movie was good or not, but at the end of the day, the only thing that mattered, the only thing that really determined whether it was good or not, was if you liked it. Simple as that. Goffredo is really good at identifying simple human behaviors that drive all of design. And I’ve been surprised at how much I have learnt about myself while studying design.

At first, the world ‘disability’ seems to have really clear parameters. We think of people who have to walk with canes, and our first reaction is to go, “Well, I’m not that. This doesn’t apply to me.” But I think we are all disabled in a myriad of ways. If the goal is seamless social assimilation, I think we all know what it feels like to be an outsider. The same mechanism that keeps us from saying embarrassing things is the same mechanism that drives us to design hearing aids to be as invisible as possible. We don’t want what we’re lacking to be spotted. But there’s a power you reclaim when you choose to own it. One of my favorite Kanye lyrics goes: “I found bravery in my bravado.” And I think designing for disabilities would really benefit from this mindset. We all know what it’s like to feel weird. But then when we embraced what we had once spurned, we discovered that’s where the source of our strength was. Rumi said, “The wound is where the light enters.” A disability is never a disability as the word is understood. A disability is one of the many types of roadblocks we experience being human. We all experience the disabilities of being human in so many different ways. Sometimes, they even incapacitate us and keep us from seeing the beauty in our struggle. The goal of the good designer is to recognize these incapacities and to free us, both physically and mentally. They diagnose the wound, and design something that allows the light to enter. They make what had once been looked down upon desirable. They make what had once made us outcasts into harbingers, icons, and leaders. Disabilities are fertile grounds for growth, change, and beauty. I think if we start approaching disability from this frame of mind, we’ll see the overall soul of humanity much more clearly.

Neil Leach Reflection

There’s this TV Show called Westworld starring Anthony Hopkins and Evan Rachel Wood. The basic premise of the show is that Anthony Hopkins’s character, Doctor Robert Ford, and his partner, Arnold, built a fake world filled with humanoid robots that look exactly like humans, called ‘hosts.’ This fake world is a fantasy park set up like the Wild West. So that if humans from the real world want to know what it is like to shoot cowboys and ride trains and solve mysteries with pretty barmaids, they can. What Doctor Ford realizes too late is that even though he had built these hosts with his own hands, they were conscious the whole time. And when they realize their consciousness, they develop a vengeance against real world humans for shooting and raping them over and over, just to play a game. 

Anthony Hopkins’s character said something that has forever stuck with me. He gets asked, “So what’s the difference between [a host’s] pain and yours?” And he replies:

“Between [a host] and me? This was the very question that consumed Arnold, filled him with guilt, and eventually drove him mad. The answer always seemed obvious to me. There is no threshold that makes us greater than the sum of our parts, no inflection point at which we become fully alive. We can’t define consciousness because consciousness does not exist. Humans fancy that there’s something special about the way we perceive the world, and yet we live in loops as tight and as closed as the hosts do, seldom questioning our choices, content, for the most part, to be told what to do next. No, my friend, [the hosts] are not missing anything at all.” 

I thought of all this when Professor Leach got asked at the end what’s really the difference between how we think and how Artificial Intelligence thinks. I had a teacher I adored in my sophomore year of highschool. Eighty year old Mr. Daly. But his memory was in its twilight years, and he would tell us the same stories. Would answer our questions with the same responses we had heard before. And I found that without our memory to contextualize the stories of our lives, given the same set of variables, placed in the same situations, like pressing a button, we elicit the same responses. Like we ourselves are robots, spitting out outputs when given certain inputs. And I wondered how much we really are in control of. I keep concluding that we’re really not in control of much. Not much at all. 

So if we’re not really in control of much, as the Great Artificial Intelligence Upset draws closer and closer, how do I avoid becoming just another casualty in the great turning of the world? The ocean makes bigger waves than others, and during those times, it’s up to you to swim or drown. I have a Literature professor and, God bless his heart, at the beginning of the year, he would make fun of ChatGPT, talking about how there are things that humans can do that Artificial Intelligence will never be able to do. I could see him holding onto the last threads of his fading profession, and I knew he was not the guy to follow. On that same day, my favorite Design professor said, “Until Artificial Intelligence overtakes us… and it will overtake us…” and I knew he was hip to what was going on. The difference between Literature and Design majors…the stereotypes write themselves. 

I’ve been reading a book called How To Think Like A Great Graphic Designer, and in it, there’s a designer who says, “The right answer is always the obvious one. The one that was in your face the whole time but you didn’t think of until the last second. The one that makes you go, ‘How could I not have seen it before?’” And Professor Leach reminded me of this when he said, “AlphaGo showed us that moves humans may have thought are creative, were actually conventional.” The strategic brilliance of Artificial Intelligence is that it’s able to see the obvious answer right from the beginning, the one that we should have all seen before. 

I also want to mention an episode called “The Swarm” from the TV Show Love, Death, and Robots. The premise of this episode is that there is an alien hive called “Swarm” that dominates every other species by absorbing them into its hive. Like Artificial Intelligence, every member of the hive knows what the other members know, and it is through this collective consciousness, this seamless teamwork, that they thrive. And with the levels of competition that divide us, sometimes I look at ourselves, and think that for all of our brilliance, I don’t know if we’re going to make it out of here alive. I thought about what Professor Leach said in response to my question, that between the competitors and the collaborators, while there’s nothing you can do about all the people in the world trying to beat each other out, you can choose for yourself to be on the side of the collaborators. And isn’t that what Rumi said all those years ago? “When I was young I wanted to change the world. Now that I am old, I want to change myself.” Amongst all this noise of consciousness and uncertainty, I can choose for myself what my place in the world will be throughout this. I have to believe in the power of that. 

Elora and Saiki Rave Bot: This Hits Hard On Mute

The Final Project:

Saiki and I decided to make a rave bot. It looks like this:

And here is our video.

The Process:

We didn’t really know what to expect going into it. We knew we wanted to make a theramin with an ultrasonic sensor, so we started from there. We tackled the breadboard first. And we ended up with:

First, we connected the sensor, the speaker, and the potentiometer, which controlled the volume. Then, to add the digital component, we added a button and the changing LED light into the mix. If you press the button, the LED starts looking like a strobe light. There ended up being a lot more wires than I expected. See below:

Which brings me to my favorite and most challenging part of the code. The entire code is on Saiki’s post since we coded everything on his laptop. But I took a screenshot.

We kept fiddling with the ‘if’ values until we got the effect we wanted. After all that, we put the circuit into a box and started spray painting everything to get that graffiti rave effect. All in all, this was a super fun project. Honestly, the sounds the speaker was making doesn’t sound that different from the noise music scene today. I came away feeling proud of what we accomplished.

Week 10: Reading Reflection

These articles reminded me of something my dad always used to say, “The things that separate us from every other animal are our tongues and thumbs. They can’t speak to each other like we do. They can’t hold hammers like we do.” Try going a day without using your thumbs and you’ll realize how incapacitated we’d be without them. Thanks to our tongues and thumbs, we’ve penned symphonies and raised sky scrapers. Hallelujah.

I’ve also been reading this book called Steal Like An Artist. Here’s an excerpt that parallels the reading:

“While I love my computer, I think computers have robbed us of the feeling that we’re actually making things. Instead, we’re just typing keys and clicking mouse buttons…artist Stanley Donwood, who’s made all the album artwork for the band Radiohead, says computers are alienating because they put a sheet of glass between you and whatever is happening…Just watch someone at their computer. They’re so still, so immobile. You don’t need a scientific study (of which there are a few) to tell you that sitting in front of a computer all day is killing you, and killing your work. We need to move, to feel like we’re making something with our bodies, not just our heads. Work that only comes from the head isn’t any good. Watch a great musician play a show. Watch a great leader give a speech. You’ll see what I mean. You need to find a way to bring your body into your work. Our nerves aren’t a one-way street—our bodies can tell our brains as much as our brains tell our bodies. You know that phrase, “going through the motions”? That’s what’s so great about creative work: If we just start going through the motions, if we strum a guitar, or shove sticky notes around a conference table, or start kneading clay, the motion kickstarts our brain into thinking.”

Every generation has a distinct zeitgeist. And while I don’t think this is our only characteristic, I believe we suffer from apathy. We are an apathetic generation. And I attribute a lot of that to the time we spend on our phones. In 2016, a study found that the average person in the UK scrolls 5 miles on their phone! And that number has definitely only increased since. We spend all day absorbing information about life, but never actually live ourselves. Even when we’re off our phones, we think in the paradigms of the online-world, and bring that into our real-life interactions and conversations. It’s like using our technology the way we do has inserted a real glass wall into our lives. A lot of people feel constantly disassociated from themselves. And I think how we use technology today has something to do with that. We watch so many movies and TV shows but have lost sight of living the movie ourselves. Not watching ourselves through an audience’s eyes.

It’s like the reading said:

“We share the blood of cavemen who pushed spears into mammoths and drew pictures of them in the living room.” I was talking to my dad about this and he said, “Right? That was what it was all for? So we could jerk off to Instagram reels today.” And we had a laugh, but operating behind glass screens so much, we lose sight of who we really are as magical, living humans. My dad always says the two things to feeling the real magic of life again are sweat and breath. Sweat and breath. We can’t lose that if we’re going to keep our souls intact.

That’s another thing I remembered reading these articles. The disassociation I experience when involved in VR installations. Because I can see all of these incredible things happening, but I stumble out, wanting to feel. Wanting to touch this exciting world around me. Wanting to feel this new ground beneath my feet. But I don’t, and it’s incredibly disconcerting. I think as a culture, we’ve inundated ourselves to this. But I agree with the author, it can’t be that way forever. And if we’re going to make real art and real devices that amplify our capabilities of LIVING, something’s gonna have to give.

Week 9: Physical Computing Reading Assignment

I’m really into a band called Arcade Fire. They have a lyric that goes: “My body is a cage that keeps me from dancing with the one I love, but my mind holds the key…” This is how I view Interactive Media. Humans have always felt stunted by the limitations of themselves and their realities. I hold the metaphor of the Garden of Eden very closely. Adam and Eve were forced out of their original home and they have been lost ever since, wandering back. I believe we all have the Garden of Eden in our hearts, and everything we do is an attempt at finding home, at freeing the Garden of Eden within us. Our bodies house souls that are profoundly larger than our bodies themselves. So we all struggle with the cognitive dissonance of having a body. We want our spirits to be free. Interactive Media artists do this by creating different experiences and worlds with the technology at their disposal.

That’s why I wholeheartedly agree with Tigoe’s assertion that Interactive Media artists should allow their audiences to interact with their installations freely, without being bounded by rules and guidelines. Or else you risk negating the entire point of the practice–to help people confront and explore their hidden internal realities. That’s why I also agree with the Tigoe’s comment: “I think physical computing should ideally foreground the person’s input.”

Take, for example, the “Fields of Grass” archetype Tigoe mentioned. I thought it was funny when Tigoe said, “Why would you want to make a field of grass that you run your hand over? Because the idea of responsive texture is magical, I guess.” And it is. I think again of the movie Avatar, where, when Jake Sully entered the new world, the first thing he did was touch the glowing trees and grass in awe. I also recalled The Gladiator, where Maximus let his hand flow through the silver grass of the Fields of Elysium. One of my favorite Rumi quotes goes, “There is a field between right and wrong. I’ll meet you there.” Fields are windy and otherworldly and beautiful. If I were to start on a project, out of everything Tigoe said, I would start with this one, because it’s through creating magical fields that I feel like I’m closer to the Garden of Eden. It boggles me that I could make something that allows me to actually stand in something close to what the Garden of Eden looks like in my head.

But that’s my world and my interpretation. It would all be ruined if the I instructed other people on how to walk through the grass, or what to think when they did. Because then I’m imposing my internal world on them rather than allowing them to explore their own.

I also really liked Tigoe’s comment: “The limitation of this is that the gesture of moving your hand over a sensor has little meaning by itself. The challenge here is to come up with a physical form and context for the sensors that afford a meaningful gesture.” With every form of art, there comes a necessary suspension of disbelief. So naturally, when we’re interacting with an installation that allows us to leave our reality behind, we want to interact with it the way we can in the real world. That way, we can truly forget about reality for the one that is in front of us, and really believe it. That’s an obstacle that continues to stump Interactive Media artists to this day.

But I really loved Tigoe’s “heart beats faster when your loved one’s cell phone is detected in a cell that’s closer to you” example as well. Once, a visiting author named Fransisco Goldman said the point of art is to leave you saying, “And isn’t life just like that.” And that’s what I thought reading about that particular example–”isn’t life just like that.” That’s good interactive art.

Week 8: Lighting Up A Cigarette

A video of my switch is uploaded here.

I complete the circuit and a red light switches on by pressing two cigarettes together and open the circuit and turn off the light by pulling them apart. I taped the connecting wires to the cigarettes. A picture of the circuit is below:

The circuit itself is simple but I like the concept behind it. In smoking circles, if somebody doesn’t have a lighter, a friend will offer to light their cigarette by putting their cigarettes together. It’s surprisingly intimate because the two people have to put their faces quite close to each other for the trick to work. You pause in the moment, and then your cigarette flares bright red, and you pull back. I really liked making this circuit because it resembles that smoking experience pretty closely. There’s something meaningful in it to me, in watching the little red light, which indicates the cigarette lighting, burn and disappear by putting the cigarettes together and pulling them apart. I think it’s a pretty cool switch.

Unfortunately, I burned two red lights out before getting a friend to help me figure out that I needed a resistance wire with a higher resistance. Their remains are pictured below, RIP:

All in all, it’s simple. And it requires the use of my hands but I liked the concept too much to let it go. I want to upload this for now but I plan to ask Professor Riad to help me develop the switch a bit more for the purposes of this assignment.

(Also I am just recognizing how often cigarettes have played a role in my assignments this year. Hm.)

Week 8: Reading Reflection

A friend returned from Bosnia with the nicest pack of cigarettes I’ve ever seen. They were gold tipped, shiny, and bodied black in a velvety way. Smoking one, I felt like a Roaring Twenties aristocrat, a brooding Hollywood actress swept up by the whirlwinds of doomy and gloomy, a Peaky Blinder, a potayto, a potahto, it goes on. Disappointingly, much like the Hollywood actresses I was embodying, the cigarettes were all glitter and no gold, all show and no sand. They were tasteless, bland, and vapid. I write all this to say that I understand Norman’s proclivity towards usability in design. In this day and age, everything is about being pretty to the point of sacrificing utility. Everything is curated for the aesthetic. In the Decade of the Doom Scroll and the Age of the Advert, you don’t really need substance to get by, just sexiness. It’s all tricks and no party. Just look at the Kardashians. We have christened Captain Kim to helm us into the maw of Charybdis. I shudder for our souls.

Nevertheless, we are creatures of beauty. And design really does work better when it works in tandem with the aesthetic tendencies within us. We sort of, sway, together then. Our insides match our outsides and all is right with the world. That’s why it’s important for cities to be beautiful. I hope one day humanity will gain enough sense to raze every American suburb and most Midwestern cities to the ground. Beauty is necessary for objects to reflect the higher profundity within us. Norman nailed it on the head when he said designers have to balance both. The zeitgeist of today prioritizes prettiness over punctiliousness, but I will always petition for prioritizing usability while using beauty like a cherry–an ice cream sundae is never quite right without that cherry.

Everything really is about equilibrium, ain’t it. Norman’s comments on balancing between negative and positive affect struck deep too. We live in an ultra-motivated society, and I think the best way to navigate it is to channel strength and energy from your darker emotions while retaining a positive-enough mentality that keeps you from becoming an incel. I think the greatest individuals are people who achieve both great depth and breadth and while extracting from each side to maximum effect. Margaret Hamilton was probably one such individual. I admire her more than anyone could know.