South Park Me, Maybe

In order to make a self-portrait of myself using Processing, I first took a quick ‘selfie’ of myself and produced a cartoon version of it using Adobe Illustrator. I went for the cartoon aesthetics did so because my plan was to rely on the two built-in shape functions in Processing to make my portrait. That meant, from the get-go, that I wouldn’t reproduce my exact features.

Here’s the process, from selfie to Illustrator cartoon and then the different shapes as they were arranged in Processing:

I used four colours: two shades of peach (RGB (177, 127, 73) and (201,157,102)); two shades of red (RGB (189,22,34) and (229,51,42)), and one shade of brown (RGB (66, 41, 24)).

Kellyanne Conway’s Alternative Facts Generator 1.0

My Stupid Pet Trick assignment was inspired by Kellyanne Conway’s response to Chuck Todd in which she says the White House Press Secretary used “alternative facts” when talking about the size of the crowds at President Trump’s inauguration.

Given the current U.S. administration’s tendency to lie, I decided to build a machine that would make their life easier. The Kellyanne Conway’s Alternative Facts Generator not only pays homage to the person that coined such term, it allows the user to distort reality without having to think too much in the process.


The machine uses a photocell to recognize when a ‘fact card’ has been put in, activating a servomechanism that pushes an ‘alternative fact card’ through another slot in the machine. The facts and alternative facts used in my machine were taken from compilations by NPR and The Sydney Morning Herald.

I used the following materials:

  • 3 mm white, transparent and black acrylic
  • Small woodsticks
  • Hot glue
  • Acrylic cement
  • Black, white and red paint.
  • 3 red LEDs
  • 1 piezo buzzer
  • 1 servo
  • 1 photocell

The machine works the following way: When the photocell reads values inferior to 200 it activates the buzzer and the and LED light pattern to give the appearance that the input (fact) is being processes. After a few seconds, the servo is activated, pushing out an output (alternative fact) card. Additionally, whenever the machine is turned on, the piezo buzzer plays a fragment of the U.S. anthem.

The most challenging aspect of the project was creating something that could be used by anyone without it breaking down. In this sense, the soldering of the circuit and the laser-cutting and putting together of the acrylic box proved the most difficult. This because the measurements of the slots and supports had to be very precise in order to guarantee that nothing would fall apart. The images below show how I tackled some of these design/structural issues:

Although I am very happy with the project, there are some improvements I could implement on a second iteration. First, I could use RFID tags and an actual printer to make the interaction more organic. Moreover, I could make the machine more user friendly by being more explicit about the interaction I am suggesting and use better signifiers to do so. In terms of coding, I should add a calibrating phase so the values that trigger the servomechanism do not have to be adjusted every time I move places.


The Exorcist Motor Head


This week’s assignment was to use a motor to mimic human movement. After realizing that very few things in the human body move on a full rotation, I decided to use the motor to mimic unnatural human movement. In order to do this I took inspiration from the 1973 horror movie The Exorcist. I used the motor to reproduce the scene in which Regan’s head rotates 360 degrees.

I used a potentiometer to control the speed of the motor, and used cardboard and sticks to build the head. I made two faces to give the impression of a full rotation.

A Small Piano

This week, I made a small piano-like instrument using button switches and the tone function in the Arduino IDE. There are 8 blue button switches, and each button corresponds to a particular note. They’re all arranged in consecutive order to make a full octave from C to C.

I added a yellow button switch that allows the user to navigate through three consecutive octaves. The octave switch is paired to a feedback mechanism whereby LED lights indicate what octave the user is in: the red light indicates you are playing in the lowest octave, the blue light indicates you’re playing in the middle octave, and the green one indicates you’re playing in the highest octave.

The most challenging aspect of this project was getting the octave changer to work. For this, I had to incorporate a State Machine into my code: I set up a boolean variable that indicated whether or not the octave changer was “available” be pressed, and if it was, allowed the button to be pressed in order to change the octave to a higher one. In addition to this, I had to make an octave state variable whose value was set using modular arithmetics such that it would cycle around the three octaves.

Code for the State Machine can be found below:

int pitchButton; // allows you to change the pitch
bool pitchButtonAvailable = true; // boolean keeping track of the octave
int pitchState = 0;

if(pitchButtonState == LOW){
if(pitchButtonAvailable == true){
pitchButtonAvailable = false;
pitchState = (pitchState + 1)%3;
// if(pitchState == 0){pitchPin1==HIGH;}else{pitchPin1==LOW;}
// if(pitchState == 1){pitchPin2==HIGH;}else{pitchPin2==LOW;}
// if(pitchState == 2){pitchPin3==HIGH;}else{pitchPin3==LOW;}
} else {}
{pitchButtonAvailable = true;}

Social Convention in Art, Design, and Engineering

In his talk, Roberto Casati insisted that it is impossible to define what design, art, or engineering are. Many people have tried to do so, and their work is still plagued with inconsistencies or their definitions brought down by counter-examples. However, Casati argues, the fact that we can’t define any of these fields does not mean we can’t recognize design, art or engineering when we see it. In saying this, Casati was implying that we all develop some normative framework to judge whether an object is one thing or the other, and therefore we should pay more attention to these frameworks than to obsessing over definitions.

Listening to Casati, I was reminded by the seminal paper on art as collective action by sociologist Howard Becker. In his paper, Becker proposes that:

“Art works can be conceived as the product of the cooperative activity of many people. Some of these people are customarily defined as artists, others as support personnel. The artist’s dependence on support personnel constraiizs the range of artistic possibilities available to him. Cooperation is mediated by the use of artistic conventions, whose existence both makes the production of work easier and innovation more difficult. Artistic innovations occur when artists discover alternate means of assembling the resources necessary.”

By focusing on convention, Becker highlights that the definition of what art is (or design, or engineering) depends more on how we produce such work and the acceptable responses to it, than on the qualities of the objects themselves — very similar to Casati’s normative frameworks. This might come off as a platitude, but I think it is more useful to think about these fields in dynamic terms so we don’t get caught up in definitional struggles.
Moreover, thinking about these fields as collective action highlights the extent to which these fields are defined by ideological and physical constraints — from the Laws of Thermodynamics to the size of a gallery’s door. Thinking about collective action is fruitful because it allows us to do more within these fields, inasmuch as we can choose what constraints to contest, and which ones to capitalize on.

Designing with Disability vs. Designing for Disability

Graham Pullin’s Design Meets Disability is very effective in identifying different points of tension in design that, addressed conscientiously, can make design more inclusive both in terms of the process and the products. The piece also provides some useful language for thinking and articulating the relationship between the way we formulate products and characterize their users, as well as the impact this has on users, objects, and society’s perception of both.

The tension I found the most interesting was that between a medical and social model of prescription. The question of who gets to decide what medical devices look like, and the extent to which it is acceptable for someone to own several different kinds of such devices, can impact the way affected individuals, and society as a whole, thinks about certain kinds of disability. In this, the example of the eyeglasses is very telling: a social model of prescription can boost self-esteem among those living with the condition (as something that doesn’t have to be concealed), and reduce social stigma. This tension is also interesting for its relationship to language: calling our target audience wearers rather than patients can open up the design process and put us in a different starting point altogether.

Now, the “Not everyone. Not always,” mantra that resists the urge to deny the individuality of the disabled poses practical challenges for designers who want to design with disability in mind. Pullin points at some of these, such as having to decide to develop appliances versus platforms, or the inherent problems with a “universal” approach to design. Thus, when thinking about the design, we must strike a balance between usability, complexity, and usefulness, and in doing so, think about how our products can positively impact the lives of our users and the people around them.

Analog Input: Misguiding Knob

When I started thinking about building something that got information from an analog sensor to make a LED behave in an unexpected way, I was still thinking about Tom Igoe’s piece on making interactive art. Igoe asks us not to interpret our work for our audience, to stop trying to make statements. Instead, he asks us to foster conversation by suggesting interactions:

“Arrange the space, put in the items through they can take action, suggest a sequence of events through juxtaposition. If you want them to handle something, give it a handle. If they’re not supposed to touch something, don’t make it approachable. If they’re supposed to discover something hidden, give hints.”

This reminded me of Norman’s affordances and signifiers. With this in mind, I decided to build something that capitalized on users’ expectations about analog input and output (that as you turn a knob to the right, output will increase) to suggest a particular interaction, and would then subvert that interaction.

My product is a box with a line of 6 blue LED lights. Lights are sorted into pairs, and each pair is associated with a particular section of a knob’s trajectory. The leftmost pair is associated with the the initial third of the knob’s trajectory, the middle pair is associated with the middle third of the knob’s trajectory, and the rightmost pair is associated with the last third of the knob’s trajectory. However, the LEDs being ON or OFF does not correspond with the position of the knob. The principle of this object is to rely on the user’s’ assumptions about correspondence, and subvert those.

For this project, I used:

  • 6 blue LEDs (with cables and 6 330 Ohm resistors)
  • Knob variable resistor (cables and 1 10k Ohm resistor)
  • Cardboard box

The most important part of the box design is to suggest some correspondence between the sensor (knob, soft sensor, etc) and specific bulbs. Secondly, because I couldn’t put the knob in the box, it was important to at least draw it (representation!) so users have an idea of how everything hangs together.

Setting Up The Stage and Having a Conversation

Most of the time, we think of art as a form expression, but introducing interactivity into our work means that we have to let go of our urge to make statements for our audience to passively absorb. Crawford defines interactivity as a conversation, “a cyclic process in which two actors alternatively listen, think, and speak,” (4). The question then becomes: how do we take a form of assertive self-expression and make it into one that not only elicits a response, but that solicits a response in order to have meaning?


Tom Igoe argues that we should set up the stage, shut up, and listen. He asks that we give context and suggest ways of interacting with our work, but that we refrain from interpreting it. Instead, we must think of ways of recording our audience’s reactions — to watch out for how they experience our work. In this sense, Igoe proposes that our audience completes our work.


I understand Igoe to be making a more profound statement about the nature of interactive art, one that goes beyond the making of one piece. If we take his thoughts to be relevant only to the making of an interactive art object, we risk using our audience as a “switch” in our work, and escaping listening altogether by just using their input (touch, movement, etc) to “make something happen.” When considered in a broader scope, I think Igoe’s thoughts can help us answer the question about soliciting responses and creating meaning. One possible answer is to take interactive art as an inherently iterative process: our audience does not complete our work there and then, but their experience suggests how we can ask questions/communicate things more effectively, and off we go to make it better. Another possible answer is to create works (and environments) that record and present our audience’s reaction and their thoughts to what they think the piece is about as a component without which the piece is devoid of meaning. The challenges with implementing the latter is that it suggests a larger program for the place of interactive art in the art world more generally.
Coda: I want to highlight two ideas in Igoe’s article about the hits and misses of physical computing: the need to consider how specific interfaces structure interactions (what they suggest people should do with them/affordances/the extent to which they do this at all), and the importance of not confusing action with attention.

What Threw Me Off When Drawing in VR

On Monday, I tried VR for the first time. I used the HTC vive in the IM lab to get into the Google Tilt Brush environment. This is, essentially, a VR environment in which you can draw things. It was, as you would expect, an awe-inspiring experience. I tried drawing something eventually started looking like Coney Island’s iconic “Funny Face” and, in the process, I was surprised by two things: the fact that I the depth of the drawing depended on what I was doing in three-dimensional space (quite an obvious realization, I know), and that I somehow “insisted” in making something that would make sense in 2D.

Coney Island’s “Funny Face”
My drawing using the Google Tiltbrush

I think this experience captures some of the points made by Victor in his Brief Rant on The Future of Interactive Design, particularly the ones pertaining human capabilities. We have impressive abilities to locate ourselves in space, and adjust to the constraints it imposes on us, but we also have an incredible ability to internalize constraints. This is what happened to me: realizing my ability to create in a 3D environment, I insisted on behaving as it it was 2D.
With this in mind, and echoing Victor, I think we should move toward thinking about creating interfaces that rely on the wealth of our senses. If we don’t move in this direction, we run the risk of unlearning many of the things we can do, and be victims of a path-dependent process in which innovations stop suiting any of our needs beyond the desire to be amused.

Garden of Earthly Delights: Stoplight Tryptic

My stoplight version of the Garden of Earthly delights by Hieronymus Bosch uses 3 LEDs (red, yellow, and green), each activated by a switch of the corresponding color. The circuit was programmed using the Arduino board.

For this project, I used:

  • 1 A3 sheet of tracing paper
  • 1 A3 sheet of normal paper
  • Tape
  • Cardboard
  • Super-glue

This project was born out of failure. I was trying to do a second iteration of my previous project by reproducing the entire ceiling of the Sistine Chapel using tracing paper and integrating it to a circuit in which lights of different colors would highlight different parts of the fresco when activated by a switched. The switches would also trigger an audio file that explained that part of the painting. I was unable to make the audio work, so I had to go for a proof-of-concept project.

The Garden of Earthly Delights allowed me to do this. It has three sections, which can be highlighted by lights of different colors. I also liked that by using lights similar to those of a stoplight (red for hell, green for heaven, yellow for earth) I could suggest some things about the nature of the relationship between these environments.

I printed a black and white version of the painting on a sheet of A3 tracing paper. Then, I pasted it on a piece of cardboard, out of which I had previously cut out rectangles the size of each panel in the tryptic (see image below).


Tracing paper printout of The Garden of Earthly Delights on the cardboard frame.

Then, I attached the LEDs using tape (see image below). After this, I pasted an A3 sheet of white paper at the back of the frame, to make the most out the LEDs’ brightness. Finally, I built a stand for the frame using hot glue and cardboard, and connected the circuit.


I hope to put the knowledge I gained in creating this project to one in which I manage to reproduce the Sistine Chapel, using both lights and audio to highlight different parts of the painting.