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May 22, 2008

Culturing Technology

This semester I worked on a piece for the Quarter Gallery exhibit “Culturing Technology.?

Like most designers, I started out with grand ideas for an AHH - Inspiring masterpiece. Then reality sets in and time constraints begin to weigh heavily on the out come of the design.

Artist Statement

My vision for this piece is to convey individual complexity and how those complexities interferer with those closest to us. I added an additional layer that represents the outside influences that can help and hider these interactions. The dial represents the outside forces that:
1. Cause conflict
2. Pushes us into each other
3. Redirects our path

Materials and Technology
I chose to use 5 small canvases and a timer dial that would create the interaction between the art and audience. The canvases are painted with acrylic using a combination of gradation and texture to represent an individual/family quality.

A BasicStamp microcontroller and potentiometers are used to created motion when the dial is turned. The example below shows a breadboard example of the wire configuration. An LED is used for testing and will be replaced by the potentiometers.

Download file

Code and connection were modified to accommodate additional potentiometers.

I the basic concept for the project was pretty sound. The way in which I artistically convey the idea needs further consideration. The project needs more audience consideration in order to produce conversations about how individuals maneuver and get along with others.

May 16, 2008

Emergent identity: process vs. product

"This semester, I would like to continue refining the work I have previous done on the piece titled, Emergent Identity . . . "

As stated back in January, this semester I set out to continue work on my Emergent Identity piece that I developed last semester (Fall 2007). Allowing myself to be adaptable, I eventually felt that the Greenway iteration of this piece was just not right. However, I kept the original concept in mind all semester and ended up developing three more pieces– 08AMA art prints, an i + TiBET cultural networking site, and Being Brdwy '08 neighborhood identity campaign – that somehow were related to this concept of emergent identity.

In reality, I ended up developing the concept of emergent identity, the backbone of the original piece, much more so than the piece itself. I found value in the concepts of emergence and feel that delving into that realm a bit more will in fact accomplish what I had set out to do, which was to "show the adaptability of the underlying theory and concept behind Emergent Identity and relate its ability to work within [other contexts]."


It turns out that the concept of my original piece was the beginning of my thesis concept which may develop into a proposed model or framework for design. I am attempting to develop a process and methodology by looking at the four projects I've already completed and mapping their properties, qualities, etc. Eventually, the idea would be to use those findings to venture forth into a new design problem, to see whether the results are varied/similar, effective/ineffective. As is, its still in its infant stages, but I think there are seeds of some really good ideas that could grow into some amazing work (if I do say so myself). I will continue to document this work on my personal blog, http://emergentidentity.blogspot.com, so stay tuned!

May 15, 2008


The distraction project to which I previously referred I call FinnegansWork. It is based on a confluence of thoughts surrounding the notion of the Database Aesthetic as applied to literature.

FinnegansWork was inspired by Joyce's Finnegans Wake and the experimental database-style inherent within its literary form. This is to mean: Database as a concept, an aesthetic. Refer to the writings of Lev Manovich and others regarding Database Aesthetic.

It is my thesis that Joyce relied heavily on the use of a Database Aesthetic in creating Finnegans Wake, and in a time before computers or the technical notion of database (1922-1939).

Joyce's use of the Database Aesthetic for Finnegans Wake can be said about both in its final product, the book, but also in its production. "According to the evidence of Joyce's numerous surviving notebooks and manuscript drafts ... the book began inauspiciously enough, as Joyce began jotting down and
compiling, in English, discrete phrases and sketches without fully knowing where they would lead him." [1] It is said the book draws from over a dozen languages, perhaps even upwards of 60 languages, and flows in a dream-like state. It is definitely a non-linear experience reading this book.

Database Aesthetic puts a dichotomy between Database and Narrative--however, I prefer the notion of a spectrum between these two endpoints. In Finnegans Wake the narrative, the story line, is very weak, which I think is why many people are turned off by the book. For me, reading Finnegans Wake is much rather like being bathed in words--really, in their sounds--with my head in a cloud, and every so often an image would appear, or a humorous construct or odd combination of thoughts, sometimes even within a single word. Joyce uses the word 'funferal' to describe the book itself, a funeral or a wake. Modified from its original, 'funeral' (it is about a wake), there's a dramatic shift from the morbid to fun-for-all. Also, fun-feral comes to mind, so there's at least three ways of looking at this single word.

In my project, FinnegansWork, I intend to explore the database quality of this text. At present, I see this manifesting in some sort of web-based project concomitant with some other thoughts of mine regarding processing of literary text in general, including using Google Suggest as a "lens" to attribute popularity rankings to words and phrases.

NOTE: as of (c. May 2008) references to the website don't do very much!

[1] Introduction to Finnegans Wake by James Joyce, John Bishop,
Pub. Penguin Classics, 1999, ISBN 0141181265.

The Wind

(aka my Bluetooth project)

The Wind, as I have stated before, creates a complex interaction between its viewers and a field of devices which simulates grass blowing in the wind.

On a technical level, there are three components, if you will, to the installation:

1. the field itself
2. the bluetooth detection, collecting bluetooth wireless data
3. triangulation and "comments" sent to the field

I am happy about the prior achievements made in area #1, and am working to further the other areas, with a focus on #2 this semester, with some complications along the way.

Not to focus on the lack of (my expected) progress, I will say these positives about it:

  • purchase, and delivery, of 3 small computer systems (norhtec jrsx) on which to run bluetooth data-reception software. these systems are small (4.5" square, 1.3" thickness, see photo) but are full-fledged PCs by many measures, except the CPU does not have hardware floating-point. But they run quietly and on very low power consumption. Very cool! I purchased these from Norhtec, which is a company based in Thailand--the units themselves appear to have shipped directly from Thailand to my house! They cost only $85 a piece, and since I thought I may need upwards of 4 to 8 of these for what I'm trying to do, paying $200-$300 a piece for some of the alternatives seemed to far exceed my self-funded budget for this project.
    http://www.norhtec.com/products/mcjrsx/index.html http://www.linuxdevices.com/news/NS5563564014.html
  • Getting an operating system to boot on the norhtec jrsx from the compact flash device. There is no spinning disk on these systems. I decided to go the DIY route and did not purchase from Norhtec their "Puppy Linux" pre-installed on a compact flash. It turned out that was a mistake, at least in terms of time and effort. But I had in mind to run a BSD operating system over a Linux distribution. (Old loyalties never die!) I tried FreeBSD, OpenBSD, NetBSD, DragonflyBSD, more than one version FreeBSD, in fact; these all had trouble because of the lack of floating point hardware. Then I started various Linux distributions: Knoppix, Ubuntu, DSL, Puppy Linux (the last two in fact are the ones the company runs), and had other issues. And finally Debian Linux. I don't know why I didn't at first go to Debian, since that is the basis of many Linux systems, and is the core operating system promulgated by the GNU set of projects. My impression was that it was "too big" whatever that might mean. I had to fit an entire system on a 512MB flash drive. HOWEVER, Debian is the one that worked right out of the box. Now, given *more* time, I am convinced many of these other distributions, even some of the BSD ones, would work, but I was already running low in time. I spent a considerable amount of effort just getting this to work.
  • I have a reference Debian Linux system (4.0 Etch) setup on which I can generate the Compact Flash images for booting, and the process runs fairly smoothly. The process is scripted somewhat, but I'm improving on it yet. At this very moment, due to other reasons, my reference Debian Linux system has become unavailable to me (other emergencies have taken over). This means progress in this direction has been momentarily suspended.
  • I have purchased three different bluetooth devices (dongles, if you will): Trendnet TBW-105UB, Zoom 4311, and iDOTconnect 9017. The idea behind this was to research a little on which brands worked the best for the usage I intend. (Since I'm not doing the mainstream thing with this but instead measuring signal strength, that is something that seems just outside the normal or standard. At least, the RSSI command does not seem to be widely implemented, nor documented among the various devices available.) This, like discovering which OS would run on my jrsx system, is like another research project. However, I don't have to perform these tasks on the jrsx system itself; instead I can run these tests on my reference Debian Linux system, and only do some final testing on the jrsx boxes. I have started this process on FreeBSD, only because my Debian reference is unavailable, and so I am not sure the drivers and results will be useful knowledge toward my end goal, but learning about the bluetooth dongles themselves and their capabilities, I hope, will. I have started with the iDOTconnect and Zoom products first, and at least FreeBSD recognizes them at a low-level driver point of view!
  • I have created a context diagram which I think depicts more clearly what I am trying to do with this project. See below.



"a lot going on" (this semester)

If you type that phrase into google (today) you will get over 23M results, a measure of great clichéness! Indeed I have a lot going on.

I will blog on the project of my original intention, The Wind (aka Bluetooth), but also on the project of my current distraction, which I will refer, here, in abbreviated form as FW. The Wind has not come as far along as I'd like this semester, though I've made some good progress, and I do not intend to give up. A fork in my road.

May 7, 2008

"Play" Documentation Pt. 4 – Second Performance Review

A text and video review of the second performance of "Play". It covers the interesting interactions I saw that afternoon, as well as draws parallels between the two performances.

Full entry below the fold:

The second performance of “Play? was held on April 21 from 2:00 to 4:30 pm. This performance was scheduled late in the duration of the BA show, primarily so that a few important people could see it and so I could do a little more publicity this time around. I sent out a number of invites for people to attend as I knew there wasn’t going to be much of an audience unless I created it. There was no large congregation of gallery attendees I could expect to show up, it was all on me.

There weren’t as many people at this performance, but about 15 made the effort to come see “Play?. This was a much more intimate show for my friends and family, as many of them were not able to attend the opening a few weeks earlier. Nearly everyone that visited that afternoon had heard me explain the piece to them at an earlier date, so most people knew what to expect and how to interact with it. Even so, I still was able to see some very interesting experiences and gather feedback from people close to me.

Two of my close friends made the trek down from Bethel University had a very worthwhile experience, some of which is presented in the video below. They were very hesitant at first, but were soon enjoying themselves thoroughly. Much like the 18 month old the performance before, they attempted to keep all the balls moving at all times, and even got in a small dodge ball game for a few minutes. My 80-something grandmother also came by to see the piece, but the whole concept of interactive art was completely foreign to her. I had to provide more direct instructions for her, and I think the experience may have been a little too much for her to grasp. I’m sure she enjoyed it, but probably more for the fact that I made it than any other reason.

There were some interesting parallels that I was able to draw after seeing two separate groups of people come and see “Play?. The viewers that seemed to enjoy themselves the most came in with a group, so that one person could participate. Also, allowing themselves to enjoy the piece was important, as those viewers who approached the piece with a playful attitude had the most fun. Single participants had slight difficulty experiencing the entire scope of the piece, as it was difficult to interact with all four balls at once. Overall, there were a wide variety of interactions from a very diverse group of people over the two showings. It was an extremely valuable experience to show my work publicly, and I hope to again in the future.

May 6, 2008

"Play" Documentation Pt. 3 – First Performance Review

A text-only review of the first 'performance' of "Play". It documents the two extremes of the interactions I saw that night, as well as some general comments by viewers and notes about the show.

Full post below the fold.

The first performance of “Play? took place on April 4th from 6:00 to 8:30 pm. This coincided with the B.A; Senior Show opening party, so there were a large number of potential viewers. Initially, I didn’t have very large signage to alert people to the difference between what was in the main display hall and the actual display that was in W131. This made it a little difficult to get people to see my exhibit, but more people streamed in after I put up a secondary placard underneath my artist statement.

People did eventually start to come in, probably 25 to 30 on this evening alone. The crowd was very diverse, which provided a wide range of experiences. The first couple that came in was probably in their late 20s or early 30s, and their experience was unfortunately brief. I gently reminded them that this was interactive art and they were supposed to touch it, but it seemed to do no good. Each person picked up a ball and looked confused for a minute, shook them like a maraca (a motion difficult for the system to detect), quickly got bored and left. I surmised that the audio portion may have been too quiet, so I upped the volume and waited for more viewers to show.

In contrast to the most disappointing experience that night, a 18 month old with a gaggle of about 8 late 20 somethings provided the best of the evening. The parents were a little hesitant to let their child go crazy with the exhibit, but after reassuring them that he couldn’t possibly break something important, he went at it. He kicked the balls around the room, threw them, rolled them around and tossed them to his parents. If one ever stopped moving, he made a beeline to get it going again. He was enjoying himself immensely, and after only a brief period he discovered the connection between the balls and the audio playing in the room. After he made the connection, his interest shifted to include the changes he was making the auditory environment, even occasionally chasing the sound as it moved around the surround sound system. Unfortunately during his enthusiastic interactions with my piece, the wiimotes started to lose connection to my computer and cut his time short. Probably for the best however, as he’d been in there for nearly 10 minutes and his group of chaperones was looking to head on. Even so it was enlightening to see such a young mind approach the piece without any inhibitions, as I hoped more adults would do.

Overall, most viewers on the 4th seemed to enjoy the piece, and thought the execution was very good. A few viewers approached me and commented that they thought it was a ‘very neat idea’ or that it was ‘very fun to play with and explore’. Many viewers were very interested to learn how it all worked, and I wasn’t hesitant to share the details. Overall, I consider it a very successful show. It was my first ever public showing of work, and the wide array of responses that I saw helped me tune and refine what I can realistically expect from viewers and how I could best present my piece. It was a highly educational (and nerve-wracking) experience.

**Video documentation exists in a review of the second performance**