Archive for September, 2012

The Otamatone Oracle

Monday, September 24th, 2012

The Otamatone is a device art object by the Japanese artist Mazwa Denki. It is a musical-note shaped singing toy which requires two hands to be played: one hand controls the pitch by sliding one finger up and down the stem, the other holds and squeezes the head.

The design of this device art object is already making a statement for the connection between musical expressivity and the communication features inscribed in it. The Otamatone Oracle is celebrating and consequently extending this idea, by offering a translation of the predictions made using this device.

The interactor is asked to express his current feelings and personality by using this very easy to handle and highly expressive musical device. Since the Otamatone is hacked and hooked up to an Arduino board, the way in which it’s played generates a poem. It becomes a digital oracle between oral and written poetry.

This way the user does not only get a reason to become a musican, but also generates a personal piece of literature, which is in direct relationship with his personality and expressivity. The predictions will be on display together with the recorded music for the time the Otamatone Oracle is in town. And yes it is possible to write books by consulting the Otamatone Oracle.


Examples of poems generated by the Otamatone Oracle:


“Oh how I love you squealing

It sounds so utterly appealing

Make I stop before I drop”















Lives My socks



Holy Tomatoes

in grocery town

hippy Flopping Berger



“casserole cows are

being strangled

by the ducks that

hide in the trough!

who’s laughting

now? silence”


“problems help

snake charmer



neerst monitor”


“O ili








it ate



t tt t



New Challenge

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

Find an example of a ecological system – what we are preliminarily call a “communal space.” Identify the actors and notable conditions in it. Create some form of visualization of it (to communicate your idea) – then design at least three performative interventions in it that use some form of digital media. Elaborate one of these cases and present that as your case study. Avoid to produce a “flavor of hell” as Laurel calls it.

Deep Breath Music

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012


Breathing is process both automatic and conscious. Though we can hold our breath for a period of time, humans, literally, can’t help but breathe eventually. It’s a basic bodily function and almost completely universal.

Deep breathing from one’s diaphragm is a skill. Yes, you can get better at breathing. Meditation is called a “practice” for a reason. Everyone can participate in this activity because everyone can breathe; however, some might be more skilled deep breathers who are able to manipulate the process of music making.


In “Deep Breath Music” the user stands in front of clear glass and a theremin-like device with photoresistor (and possibly other sensors), such as a Beep-It. The Beep-It emits a high-pitched tone when the sensor is exposed to bright light. When you block the light by moving your hand in front of the sensor, or tilting the Beep-It away from the light source, the tone gets lower. A button on the side allows you to turn the sound on and off so that you needn’t slide from note to note.

Waving a hand in front of the sensor reminded me of blinking, which, in turn, reminded me of the similarly automatic process of breathing. By breathing onto a pane of glass in front of the Beep-It, the user will create a temporary opacity that will block some of the light from the sensor, lowering the tone.  In theory, the user should be able to create music (of some sort), just by breathing. The system could be enhanced with more sensors, perhaps measuring temperature (warm breath on a cold surface) or humidity or even wind.

Because the range of tones would be fairly limited, you would need more than one user to create sounds resembling a melody. A hand bell choir would be a good analogy. If each of six or seven user had their own Deep Breath Music setup, with a slightly different light source, they could work together to make music, instead of simple beeping sounds, just by breathing onto panes of glass.


Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

MyTone empowers the user to design their phone technology through the creation of unique ringtones for different incoming calls. The idea is for the user to crete their own unique pattern which is adapted to different colours for different callers. This tone can then be associated with its colours when individuals ring the phone owner.

Cue Abstraction, pioneered by Irene Deliège states that we use Gestalt type grouping to identify salient pitch and rhythmic components which stand out in music. Our mind categories these cues and this leads to our perception of how they relate. The given pattern by the user will therefore let then Identify the patterns they create even though the notes being played are fluid.

The colour component allows users to base their perceptions around a more familiar framework. They do not need ton concern themselves with emotional connotation, but simply choose an abstract colour representation of the pitch patterns they like. Although these different pitch patterns follow the same thread of pitch relationships, each colour should have different emotional connotations depending on the tonality of the chords they come from.

Skipping Homes | Throwing Rocks | Bucolic Building

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

I propose a relaxing, non-teleological system for throwing rocks and creating unique construction materials. For the human the process will be: first skip/hurl stones into a lake, stop whenever, then finally assemble together the resulting uniquely shaped logs.

Setting: Quiet lake-shore strewn with rocks, pebbles, dirt, sand, leaves and twigs

1) Ubiquitous skill/ play property; Throwing Rocks

Throwing rocks into water, or the slightly more advanced process of skipping stones, is a meditative rewarding process. My design seeks to incorporate the whole of this process with minimal digital intervention. Thus the person will perform all aspects of stone skipping as if the digital device did not exist.

Scan the shore for choice rocks. Dig up rocks with your hands. Weigh, compare, absorb the information of the stone. Fling the rock towards the water. Visually and Aurally connect with your object during its brief, flaming period of life. The feedback from the rock’s performance is incorporated into your body and encourages further throwing in order to validate the newly learned information.

Throwing rocks is enjoyable because it constitutes the the core function of intelligence and learning: continuous analysis of prediction.

 2) Digital Analysis

There will be one, minute change to the typical stone skipping process. Before flinging, the human will attach a thin strip of reflective tape to the rock’s edge. This is the only interfering component of the system. Next to the human, on the shore will be a smart phone whose camera is facing over the water. The camera has a small peice of infrared filter over the lens. An infrared flood lamp sits next to the phone, also directed over the lake. When the rock is thrown, the mirrored strip will beam pulses of information back to the camera lens. The stone’s relative position, velocity and spinning frequency can be determined through non-difficult computer vision methods. The splashes will also probably reflect the infrared radiation in a manner which can help the system collect more information about the flight and its aftermath.

3) Digital Exploitation of Ubiquitous Skill for Production: Strut Casting

Tethered to the computer vision system is a simple two-axis pivoting head which controls a spray nozzle. The head’s orientation and spray will be controlled by the information collected through the camera. The substance sprayed will be a thin line of a foaming, bonding agent that rigidly hardens within seconds or minute. Ideally this substance would be a biodegradable version of Dow’s “Great Stuff” foaming sealant. The rigid lines would be cast directly onto the surface of the beach forming dirty logs which physically incorporate the environment. Every stone tossed generates a new line. The user can keep throwing logs and the system will keep squirting onto the previous log, making it thicker and thicker. Whenever she wants, she can kick (or dig) the generated strut out of the way.

The exact material for the rigid foaming substrate is not totally fleshed out yet, but here are some biodegradable / bioincorporative alternatives to Dow’s Great Stuff:

Plastic make from milk and vinegar (takes two days to set):

Robot makes sandcastles:


4) Construction

At the end, the user gathers her generated logs and uses them to assembled a shelter for the night, or (if the rigid foaming substrate works out) a raft for traversing the lake.

Shirt Slash

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

Our third challenge was for us to find a way to use digital media to propagate play as an expressive form. This had to be built atop a common skill or play property, and produce something in the process.

One very common skill, which quickly takes on play qualities when performed within the safe boundaries of friends, is the ability to balance attack and defense. To strike while minimizing our own vulnerability is at the root of our survival reflexes, a skill so ordinary that it can be observed in untrained animals. This behavior occurs when neither fight nor flight wins out in full, and a person or animal is then pressed to engage in both at once.

For humans, tools are employed to increase the effectiveness of attack or to reduce the need to defend. Such tools include, even among ancient and primitive humankind: stones, knives, spears, and swords.

Truly inflicting bodily injury is certainly not a playful activity. Instead, I’m focusing on sparring, by substituting fabric markers in the place of weapons, and competing to mark up one another’s t-shirts.

The game’s intersection with digital is in how the scoring occurs. A simple Processing application takes a before and after photo of each player facing the camera, then compares the end shots to the beginning versions to highlight changes made by marker contact. The number and thickness of lines drawn to each shirt can then be totaled for each player as the opposite partner’s score. The program is then able to declare a winner based on which player’s score is greater.

In the process, a one-of-a-kind artifact is created: a t-shirt design dynamically generated by the successful strikes of our playful sparring partners. The length, number, and intensity of strokes on each player’s shirt speaks to the battles they have been through.

Detailed instructions are available on the Guide: Text Page.

For more photos and details check out the Guide: Images Page.

Slake thirst with steady smiles

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

Why the long face? What’s that you say? The hanging plants are thirsty and they’re so high in the air? And the water? It’s so far away? And without a proper watering can, you have to make multiple trips to fill that old wine bottle enough times to satiate them?

Introducing, the Photogrynthesis, a watering station that not only brings joy to your plants but downright requires it from you. Here’s how it works.

Step up to the watering station. Open the sliding door and give it your best grin.
Computer Vision detects your face and translates your smile into a digital signal that the Arduino can read.

The Arduino transmits that signal via radio communication to the radio receivers attached to each of three watering cans suspended on pulleys way up in the air (one for each plant)

For each second you smile, a stepper motor rotates one degree. This stepper motor controls the rotation of a spool of string. As the motor rotates, the spool releases string and increases its slack on one end of the watering can.

The weight of the water tips the watering can as the string releases its hold, simulating the motion of a water-wielding gardener’s elbow.

Close the door to the Photogrynthesis station, and wait a few moments for the plants to start reflecting your joy.

Ashton Grosz

Let’s Get Lost: Redesigning the GPS Process

Monday, September 17th, 2012

GPS devices for personal use usually help us figure out how to get somewhere we want to go. With a few simple additions, GPSs can get us lost and take us to someone else’s favorite place. This concept would be an optional modification to a GPS device, using existing technology. Instead of inputting a desired destination, users would rely on custom navigation and recorded narration from local cab drivers (in this example), directing them to a place they’ve likely never been.

Inspired by TaxiGourmet (, I envision using GPS devices as a communication system for taxicab drivers (and other “locals”) to lead other drivers to their favorite restaurants and out-of-the-way places.

  1. Using an external microphone with the GPS in his own car, Joe the taxicab driver records a narrative as he drives to his favorite restaurant. The mic records his voice, while the GPS records the car’s movements.
  2. Once he arrives at the destination, he uploads the narration and directions.
  3. Two weeks later, the Smith family is jonesing for some kimchi. They hop in the car and start typing in the address for their favorite Korean restaurant, when little Johnny Smith suggests using the “Let’s Get Lost” hack on their GPS. They leave their fate up to a random set of directions from a stranger. The Smiths are adventurous folks.
  4. The GPS device directs them to the starting point of the cab driver’s directions. Once they hit the starting point, Joe’s narration kicks in, leading them to a mysterious location that will not be revealed until they reach it.
  5. Twenty minutes later, the Smiths reach Joe’s favorite West African restaurant. There’s no kimchi on the menu, but they’ll find something new to try.

Let’s Get Lost is more about redesigning a process than physically redesigning the GPS hardware. This system would probably require an external microphone (already available on Garmin devices), possibly a SIM card (to streamline the process and avoid having to plug the GPS into a computer to upload), and some kind of web interface/app. It’s simply reappropriating a device that’s designed to get you to the “right” place in the more direct way. Users would be forced out of their local comfort zones and left at the mercy of a stranger, just as if they asked a cab driver to take them to his favorite restaurant.

third challenge

Friday, September 14th, 2012

Looking at Gaver and our very own Rock all the Things project: they propagate play as expressive form with digital media. The new challenge copies this approach and consists of two steps: 1) find a skill/ play property that most of us share 2) exploit this in a way that this activity becomes productive. Do so using digital stuff.

Flux Processing Unit (FPU)

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

There is one big problem with notebooks: they are boring! Computers always used to be challenging devices that ask for creative problem solving and a high sensibility for their dysfunctionality. Today notebooks tend to become more and more this black boxes, emphasizing consume and standardization. It gets hard and hard to imagine them in any different way. Thankfully here comes the Flux Processing Unit (FPU)! The FPU is a hyper-intelligent, charismatic and fun personal computer that has a lifespan inscribed in his very design. The longer the interactor is working or playing with the FPU, the more its falling apart, both on the hardware and software side. It is the perfect challenge for every true hardcore nerd. We are bored of clean and highly subjective computers, we need to get back to the possibility of thinking about their design from different perspectives. The FPU is the perfect tool to emphasize the optimization throughout all layers of society.

The FPU is metadesign for everyone. It is intented to be a giving away for cheap for prototyping purposes and thus allows computer manufactures to monitor the needs and utilizes the creativity of their customers at the same time. It is sold as a living creature, both the hardware and software are falling apart with time. The challenge for the interactor is thus to develop procedurally strategies for overcoming the FPUs collapse.

The FPU comes with 6 separate touch-stereoskopic-high-res-screens and tons of undefined buttons and other input devises. Each of the screens and input devises are detach- and reattachable. During the lifespan of the FPU the interactor will be forced with making a decision: Loosing usability and comfort or rearranging the parts and thus giving it more time. It is likely that most interactors will end up rearranging the parts in ways that make sense for them on the long run, but the FPU is also forcing them to take some risks, especially when they run out of convenient solutions. Additionally it is constantly communicating with all the other FPUs on the planet. There is also a extra feature available, which allows to expant the lifetime of the devise by petting it. This way the interactor has the opportunity to develop a very personally relationship to its FPU.

Every FPU comes with Flux Linux Sickness (FLS), the only operating system compatible with the FPU. This Linux participation is following the lifespan idea on the software side. Here the operation system, with all attached programs, also begins to fall apart and it is up to the interactor to develop procedurally solutions in order to maintain the lifespan of its FPU. One of the first elements that is going to die is the mouse. Thus the first task of the interactor will be to prohibit the mouse from dying. In order to do so he is playfully forced to redesign it.

Additionally every FPU is equipped with the Flux Communication Annoyance (FCA). The FCA makes sure that all FPUs on the planet are constantly communicating and thus allowing for cloud-based computation. If the interactor is maintaining a healthy, and thus very well designed FPU, he might also acquire the right to develop and communicate his own procedurally developed design challenges to other FPUs. The FCA is not only a fun way of annoying each other, it also makes sure that not every single interactor is developing his own solutions for himself, but that the community is procedurally co-developing the future of computation. Thus every single FPU becomes not only a symbol of merging design and user time, but also mirroring the design ideas and challenges of all FPU interactors all over the planet, across time and space, nationalities and social class. 

Arduino Pinball Kit

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

For this week, we were challenged to re-imagine a way for user and design time to get closer together on a digital device, by enabling users to redesign the object. Plenty of opportunities for user redesign come to mind for software, in which accessible tools can be designed for arbitrary levels of content creation and experience customization, but in line with the challenge’s specification of “device” I aimed to come up with a hardware example.

The overall concept I pitched was that of a modular pinball table, wired with an Arduino microcontroller to enable customization of playfield scoring and gating rules.

I built a crude, playable concept model to illustrate the intended scale and form:

Playable, though all-analog, concept model

The low half of the table is fixed firmly to the table, so the inlane/outlane divider, slingshots (triangles above the flippers), flippers, and plunger are positioned in their standard arrangement. The top half of the playfield however is perforated with holes, each providing a potential connection point for a bumper, spinner, stand-up target, ramp, or other playfield element. In the fully wired version, rather than using small holes with wires poking through, a more secure and flush electrical connection might be established by instead using screw sockets, filled with plugs for those not in use. Such a design would also enable arbitrary positioning of lights in/under the playfield, to also be orchestrated via the Arduino controller.

Guide: Text Page

Guide: Images Page

Crafting materio-digital combinations through use

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

This approach to technology as material positions humans as crafters who design technological objects through use. These objects are manufactured as  “workmanships of certainty” in an industrialized process that encapsulates and obscures operating logic behind set input methods.

In order to empower users without the knowledge or means to change the inner workings of the device, we might instead reimagine these technical objects as unfinished, subject to misuse by their owners.

Humans outpace machines in their abilities to personalize, improvise, anthropomorphize objects, and interpret new meaning from unexpected behavior. If we imagine gadgets as sites where users exercise such activities, we can imagine human crafters might redesign existing technologies with personal needs in mind. Humans have some knowledge of physical construction. Using this knowledge, they can redesign the object to output signs and signals that were not there before. These signals encourage further dialog with others or with the single user alone at “runtime.”

Three possible alterations leading to redesigned gadgets with new outputs and opportunities for reflection are presented here. The first two do not require the user to interact with the digital logic of the machine. The last example is possible only if the devices’ functionality is modular and interlocking to allow new combinations of sensor input and digital output.

  1. Coat the device in thermochromic paint. When the device, such as a remote control or a cellular phone, has been held for a long period of time, the gadget will change colors. This visibly changed state of the device sends a signal to the user that a significant amount of time has been passed with the device in use. The user can determine for him or herself how to act based on his or her needs and the context of use.
  2. Encase the object in a material that translates the gadget’s buttons into personally meaningful labels. For example, a remote control might be redesigned as a tool with limited use by obscuring buttons leading to undesirable outcomes, or by explicitly labeling buttons to reify the implications of their use. When increasing the volume of a button labeled “annoy neighbors,” the user is reminded (in that moment) that he or she may be creating an undesirable situation for others.
  3. A device reveals a pre-recorded message when it is moved. In this scenario, a child escapes from his bedroom window at night, leaving his smartphone positioned so that an opened door hits it. With access to the device’s logic, the child can program a simple interaction that displays a message when the device senses a change in compass direction. The child uses the device in absentia to say goodbye to his mother at the precise moment she discovers he’s gone.

Evolving Design

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

The stated goal for this week’s design challenge is to think of a way to push design-time and use-time closer together in a digital device. This is based off Maceli’s Human Actor’s paper discussing meta-design. In my preliminary ponderings about this concept some thoughts rose up. First, that in other fields (like systems engineering) the processes of design and use can be thought of as a control system. Control systems are functions that take a stated goal (rotate the car 15 degrees left), produce an output in the real world (car’s new position is 13.8 degrees left), and (sometimes) receive feedback to bring the desired and the actual closer together (car only moved 13.8, move an additional 1.2 degrees). Generally the faster a control system can receive and process feedback, the more perfectly the system functions.

Traditional design could be viewed as a very poor control system with little feedback. A designer creates with a goal in mind (a perfectly comfortable chair), and the user deals with what comes out (this chair feels alright). More robust design-use systems feature closer feedback with user-testing and use-analysis for more iterative design process. As we shrink the feedback time and make our designerly control system more responsive, we get closer to this design challenge of pushing design and use time closer together. Let’s imagine a chair made of an even more perfect version of Hiroshi Ishii’s posit, “Perfect Red” (a digitally manipulable matter which allowed one to perform CAD functions on the object itself), which perfectly understood a users thoughts, words and actions. A user could receive a blank, “Perfect Chair,” sit in it, and command it physically, verbally, and emotionally until the user was perfectly content. This, I believe would present a concept of design and use being as close together as possible. The tightest possible feedback leading to beautifully responsive design.

A problem with this perfect control system, is that although the chair can give us whatever we want, we don’t always know what that is. Omnipotence kills innovation. One might not ever realize the benefits of a cup-holder in one’s “perfect chair.” The thought of splitting off a “perfect Ottoman” might be one of those things that doesn’t happen until you see it at a neighbor’s house. “What a great idea” one might say when seeing a fresh new type of “perfect chair” in an airport lobby. Some of these people with fresh new chair ideas might start receiving commisions to come up with their designs. Soon we are back to splitting apart design and use-time once more!

This is why mutations and arbitrary changes are so important in nature. This is why we have sex. Something can be optimized in its own niche, but without new or outside information, it cannot adapt. My answer to the design challenge attempts to push together design and use time closer, but only to a point where the design can still be meditated on, played with, and innovated.

Evolving Design

I propose objects that are responsive to their users, and the innovations of similar objects, though only in an indirect manner. The object’s shape and functionality will change according to evolutionary principles.


  • Everyone’s device starts out the same.
  • Everyone’s device possesses a code describing its current state and configuration (“genes”). This code can feature markup describing higher level functionality and descriptions (“alleles”).
  • Every night the device “dies,” automatically reconfigures itself, and is reborn as its own child. This is like asexual reproduction but the number of resulting objects remains the same.
  • The child’s genes are taken in some part from the parent device and a smaller amount are taken randomly (“mutation”).
  • The genes passed on are determined by a fitness function which results from how the user interacts with the device.
  • Two devices can reproduce sexually by leaving them  in close proximity overnight. This results in each splitting the code normally passed on to their singular children, but for each other’s child


An alternate idea I had was for Lamarkian Evolving Furniture. In this case the main difference would be that physical changes that happen to the device-creature, are passed on through its genes to the next subject. That is, you could beat your chair into a new shape, and its “child” would show signs of your previous physical manipulations.

The Cater Wooler

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

Current mechanisms - Different mechanisms present different engineering challenges

In Catching Fire, by Richard Wrangham, the camp fire became one of the initial focuses of group social structure as prehistoric man learnt to cook food. This mean that one could no longer gain instant satisfaction from eating, but had to wait through preparation for the group. If we zoom mankind forward somewhere in the order of a million years, we notice the modern phenomenon of the water cooler moment. Considered the social focus of the office where people connect and exchange ideas.

This design is an attempt to explore communication on two levels through creating a mess. Firstly, that individuals want to share experiences with others and that strange phenomenon are in themselves talking points. Secondly, based on the work by Pat Healey which essentially states communication is a special circumstance of miscommunication, this project is using confusion to lead to a stronger discourse.

The first idea is to make the office water cooler the talking point of conversation rather than just the facilitator. This will be achieved through altering the tap mechanism so that when a tap is pulled, water comes out of the opposite nozzle. To enhance the messy evidence of the phenomenon, a disruptive grill will be placed in the drip tray. To stimulate conversation, the opposite nature of the tap mechanism will be on a ten minute timer, this only working once the cooler has been left for a while. Other than that, the device seems like a regular cooler. This will make it difficult to reproduce phenomenon. The only way the phenomenon can be mutually observed is if two people plan to leave and regroup at the cooler.

The second element is to give a name plate for maintenance and refills which is actually the number of a near by office which has also had one of the water coolers installed. There water cooler has the number of the original office too. It is therefore hoped that the miscommunication that will follow between offices will inspire more interaction between individuals and groups.

Messing about with Macaroni Necklaces

Sunday, September 9th, 2012

After playing around with origami as a possible “messing about” activity, I decided that it was too dependent on following a specific set of instructions. Group members would be forced to follow written directions closely, or listen to one speaker demonstrating each fold. Something so based in following directions might not be the best way to stimulate conversation. Plus, origami isn’t nearly messy enough.

Macaroni necklaces share some key traits with the inspiration activity of knitting

  • Both are solitary activities that can be performed in the company of others (or cooperatively)
  • Both use the only the hands (unless the necklace-maker or knitter is extraordinarily talented with his or her feet)
  • Both create some kind of wearable output
  • Both can be extremely simple or extraordinarily complex.
  • Both have somewhat gendered associations

Making macaroni jewelry should stimulate group conversation because it’s an easy, repetitive activity that won’t be distracting. Like knitting, (and unlike origami), the participants can choose to create a pattern or choose pasta-beads at random. They can also draw inspiration from other group members.

Improving on Knitting?
Greer mentions her annoyance at strangers who pester her with questions about knitting, even though they don’t know how to knit and have no intention of learning.# Although knitting only requires knowing two stitches, if you don’t know them, knitting is closed off. It’s not the type of activity you can pick up easily just by watching. Passers-by could join in a drum circle without much prior bongo experience, but they couldn’t jump into a knitting circle. They could, however, make macaroni necklaces quite easily.

While members of a knitting circle bring their own yarn, patterns, and supplies, the materials for macaroni necklaces are communal, which should lead to more interaction. In fact, the group could make one macaroni necklace, with one person at a time choosing and stringing a bead (it would be tedious, but possible). Knitting simply cannot be done by more than one person.

Hungry, Hungry Anteaters

Sunday, September 9th, 2012

The goal of this week’s design challenge is to create a “messing about” that opens people up into simultaneous social and analytical thinking. This challenge was based on Ratto’s paper, “Critical Making: Conceptual and Material Studies in Technology and Social Life” in which he discusses the act of “making” as a lubricant for opening up shared social experience and critical thinking.It also spawned from discussions of Greer’s paper “Taking Back the Knit: Creating Communitites via Needlecraft” who promotes the idea of crafts for their socially engaging qualities.

I was attracted to Ratto’s discussion of how “making” brings with it the emotional dimension of learning which tends to be neglected in most positivistic educational methods. He states,

“The importance of affectual relations in meaning-making has also been emphasized in Knorr-Cetina’s work (1997) on the relationship between scientists and the “epistemic objects” with which they work. For us, affect serves as a way to begin to understand the importance of personal investment in linking conceptual understandings of technology’s potential and its problems to everyday experience.”

My work deals with animals, their behavior and performance. Often, I am challenged with the task of thinking of interesting things to do with the ants, or questioning why certain behaviors exist. This is a daunting task, and difficult to pursue in an entirely abstract, mental manner. The same couple of standard facts about ants tend to cycle over and over in my mind, striking me as boring or impractical.

I find most of my successes in digital-biotic design come from direct combinations of abstract research and physical play. For the design project today, I have made a game to explore the “materiality” of ants.


First, I went and collected some local, harmless wood-ants from a nearby hiking trail. Next I put the colony under anasthesia in order to paint them with my very own magnetic insect paint. Finally I took some plastic containers and coated them with a non-stick teflon paint (fluon, or “Insect-a-slip”).


The goal of the project is to see what concepts, emotions, and comprehensions arise from the activity.  To play, each person chooses an anteater character which represents a different modality for interacting with the insects. In all, the picker-uppers include: Two types of magnetic grabbers, a sticky-grabber,  warm mammalian hands, and cold, accurate tweezers. There is also a bonus power-up where people can use an insect aspirator to vacuum up the ants.

The game starts by dumping the prepared ants into the arena, and then, in the Hungry Hungry Hippos style, everyone tries to collect as many into her or his own buckets.


Original Design

Second challenge

Friday, September 7th, 2012

Combining the user vs designer discussion and the risk vs certainty discussion:
Take an existing digital device (phone, GPS system, laptop, whatever) and re-imagine it in a way where user and design “time” get closer together. You goal is to get “users” to (re)design the object. Your challenge is to provide means for this re-design.

Copy Jockey (CJ)

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

Copy Machines can be more then just a mere productive tools to work with. They have a distinct aesthetic and an own performative aspect to them. Everyone that worked with Copy Machines for a longer time, knows about their rhythmical, peaceful conditioning and there potential to become tools of Zen practice.

However there is one big problem: Copy Machines are usually placed in ugly corners, which are uncomfortable and therefore tend to force their interactor into social isolation. I propose to stage a party centered around two Copy Machines in order to overcome their bad reputation.

By using two Copy Machines at once, it becomes quite a fun and meditative challenge to be as much productive as possible. The goal of the interactor operating this two machines at the same time, the CJ, should be to merge with the electro-mechanical apparatus. His movements become dance, the synchronized sound and light of the machines shell embrace the whole scenery.

By hacking Copy Machines in the first place, the CJ may make sure that the rhythm of movement, sound and light is synchronized with the music and lightning of the party. Therefore a CJ performance is not only a celebration of Sisyphus task in an postindustrial age, but it also stages the gap between work and play. It aims to opens up new perspectives on boring work-benches and provides a breading herd for people to develop more creative and efficient ways to deal with them.


Facecard Friends

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

The notion of “messing about” from Papert (1998) and Hawkins (1965) is about embracing unintended effects during crafting as a source of learning and ideation. This helps interactors “overcome the ‘rigid style of work’ typically associated with [electronics]” (Ratto 2011).

Another type of object that we commonly associate with a rigid style of work, especially as adults, is everyday paper. In this case I’m specifically setting my sights on index cards, which for me evoke memories of studying flash cards, browsing library card catalogs, preparing bibliography entries, and generally taking care of schoolwork or business the old fashioned way. For my concept today, I’m be introducing a way to mess about with index cards to, hopefully, help us overcome the rigid style of work typically associated with office/school paper products.

There’s another theory that we need to account for, however: in writing about knitting for her MA Thesis, Betsy Greer (2004) highlights how, “A space for conversation opens up somehow, with this simple act.” Greer’s words immediately before that statement better explains the meaning:

“‘[Knitting] allows for people to come and talk to you without feeling awkward.’ …it’s true. It’s much easier to go up and talk to someone who is holding a baby or playing with a puppy because everyone agrees that they’re both cute. You don’t look like you’re hitting on them or anything. It’s safe. The similar reaction happens when you have your knitting.”

We don’t just need to rethink our relationship to paper supplies. We need a conversation starter.

Example designs

There are so many ways to design and decorate your Facecards

I’m pleased to report that while working on these crafts, within a period of only a few hours I had nearly a half dozen classmates stop to talk and ask me what I was up to. After I finished crafting, and just had them sitting around on my desk, I still drew in an unusual amount of attention and discussion with acquaintances that I ordinarily only speak with at most a few times each semester.

I arrived at this concept after discarding a multiplayer electronic game idea – for fear that competition would get in the way of casual conversation – and a stairstep paper folding maze I made multiple prototypes for. Inspired by Greer’s ideas, I was searching for a solution that fit as many of these criteria as possible from the domain of hobbyist knitting:

  • Non-competitive. There’s no winner or loser. People of varying skill can all participate together without anyone feeling shut down by it.

  • Range for skill. More experienced participants are able to challenge themselves, while people newer to the activity are able to still complete projects and achieve output meaningful to other people. This also means that someone practicing the skill has room to improve at it, achieving new and different results with time.

  • One artifact produced per individual, ready to be saved or gifted. This untangling from one another’s production makes it easier for the group to be flexible, welcoming in new members at any time and experience level. Everyone can be at different phases on projects of different complexity. This also works better for fitting the task into everyday life, since participants can miss or come late to a meeting and not be “behind” thereafter. This quality reduces stress and logistical overhead.

  • Conversation enabler while making. The craft needs to occupy enough of each maker’s attention to take pressure off the intensity of eye contact or meeting just to talk, while leaving enough attention free to engage in full and meaningful conversation with others.

  • Conversation starter when done. Like the knitting needles hanging out of Greer’s handbag, the craft needs to be something which can spark conversation with others even when it’s not being actively done.

  • The goal of each artifact can be made open or kept personal. Everyone’s producing a unique artifact, which they are welcome to either share details of with the group (ex. “Oh, this is for my nephew Jacob”) or keep those intentions to themselves (“Today I’m making a scarf”). The separation between artifact and who it is being made for is left ambiguous, in a way that say, writing letters or making gift cards, would easily reveal.

  • Not pretentious. These artifacts make no claim to be high art, or aren’t concerned with conceptual and theoretical posturing. They get made primarily because they are enjoyable or relaxing to make, and they get saved or shared primarily because everyday people like the results.

  • Within anyone’s price range. This isn’t an activity just for people with major financial means. It’s an activity for anyone and everyone.

In the mid-1990’s, I learned basic paper pop-up craft from Paul Jackon’s The Pop-Up Book: Step-by-Step Instructions for Creating Over 100 Original Paper Projects. One of the simplest designs included, which produced appealing and playful output from comparatively little effort or skill, was a frog face that opens and closes its eyes and mouth as a page is folded or unfolded. Since this is so simple to learn and do, and creates room for skilled customization through painting or more advanced cutting, it seemed to me a suitable craft to adapt and elaborate upon.

I’ve incorporated watercolor paints as the decoration method of choice, in part because for many of us it evokes elementary art class, which was one of our first and few courses in life where freely socializing while working with our hands was the norm. As a minor modification to the folding, I added side flaps, which makes it easier to open and close the mouth to play with the artifact like a puppet. I changed the plans from full-size pages to index cards because they’re stronger than regular paper–so they hold up better to the watercolors–plus they’re small enough to be easily stored, and it’s possible to buy hundreds of them for only a few dollars. Since this cutting pattern is simple enough to work with scissors, no X-Acto blade is really needed, conceivably hundreds of these can be made for only $5-$10 spent on watercolors and index cards.

Lastly, because the final artifacts lay flat when finished, it would be trivial to scan these, at which point they could be e-mailed as patterns, shared via a database, or textured to a 3D model in-browser (for previewing customization ideas by others… or even for mapping on a character within a game). People could share their Facecard Friend designs not only with the people around them, but with the whole world, creating a potential audience for those interested in taking Facecard crafting to the next level.

For more information, here are my two one-sided pages:

Guide: Text Page

Guide: Images Page

Reflecting Rocks

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

This “messing about” works to make abstract concepts of philosophy more comprehensible through a material connection to a pet rock. The act of making the rock and of taking the rock should open new perspectives on the philosophical figure and the ideas this figure develops. The constructed object is a medium between the intellectual and the playful, the material and the digital. The maker should assemble the pet rock as an embodiment of the forthcoming theoretical reflections saved in digital space and tagged to this object.

This digital message can be a YouTube video, a twitter account, a blog, a facebook page, or any sort of social media channel traditionally associated with a living person who walks and breathes. This messing about complicates the rigid notion of personal profiles online, by repurposing these spaces as a forum for dialog between an anonymous conduit for a lofty or inaccessible figure and a recipient of a childish physical object.

Attaching a QR code to the object will provide a hyperlink to the rock’s “soul” in digital space. The maker of this hybrid object can explore different perspectives by producing digital artifacts as if he were the philosopher. The recipient can exploit the methods of two-way communication built into social networks in order to communicate with the figure embodied by his found rock.

Making the rock might prompt questions such as:

  1. Who will care for my rock?
  2. What does my rock stand for?
  3. How will my rock be received?

These questions refer to the physical object being made, but metaphorically extend to the human figure it represents. For example

  1. Who will care for this figure?
  2. What does this figure stand for?
  3. How will this character be received?

The recipient of the rock might ask, “How is this rock meaningful in my life?” to which he can begin to find the answer exploring the digital information matched with this crafted object.

First design challenge of the new term!

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

Welcome back!

The first design challenge for the new term follows Ratto’s ideas of critical making: Design a “messing about” one that aims to fulfill Greer’s point: “A space for conversation opens up somehow, with this simple act.” Looking forward to see the ideas.