S003: Concrete Disappointment, Gnarly Bugs, and Other Developments of Summer

July is almost done, so it seems like a good time to write up what I've been doing this last month.

Hardware & Software

A good chunk of this month has been spent on getting the hardware and software to work together. Because I have not developed software for iOS before, but am very comfortable with Javascript, I decided making a React Native app would be the most accessible way to get my code onto my phone. Though I have been surprised how much time I still needed to spend in Xcode and the challenges of working in the non-browser environment (seriously, we do not appreciate browsers enough), not to mention the state of React Native documentation, I managed to get some screens done, fonts loaded, and events eventing.

Then came time to learn how to write my own bridging functions (thank you, Mike Schwartz) and dip into the Light Blue Bean iOS SDK. Here things became ... gnarly. First I discovered that the iOS simulator does not access the computer's Bluetooth. So I had to take the detour, earlier than I expected, into getting my code to run on the phone instead of the simulator. I had planned to put this off longer, but instead it set off a multi-day comedy of errors, bugs, and hours spent updating Xcode. When the smoke cleared, there were one-and-a-half bugs standing, both involving the Bluetooth connection: I can connect and read serial responses, but not send a serial message to the Bean. I called defeat and wrote Light Blue; they have promised to take a look, so now I am treading water on  this point. (And I have a few plan Bs in case I can't ever get it up and running.)

By the end of the summer, I'd really like to have all the basic screens finished and my database set up and filled with some of the moments I captured in my notebook and some dummy data, so I can spend most of the semester on the paper, solving the hardware size and power problems, and designing and developing the concordance visualizations. This is a reasonable — if slightly ambitious — goal based on the time left and everything I have going on (see the Distractions section below).

Materials

For the first part of the month, concrete was on a high. The test pour with the rough back had softened up with use, creating a piece with a really great contrast between sides: perfect for fiddling with. Tragically, when I stuck it in my wallet and took it to LA, it broke apart. The thicker one is showing cracks, too. Plaster in the same situation held up much better. (In fact, the plaster piece I have been carrying around all summer is still in good shape. I'm not giving up on concrete yet; there are a lot of options to fiddle with, but materials will probably remain on a pause for a bit until I can catch up on everything else.

Research

I've finished up Writing Material Culture History. Many of the essays came off a little thin, but altogether, this book offers some useful frameworks and ideas for imagining the life of the object beyond its use in this system. Key ideas include: material culture history works best when objects are accompanied by texts; durability matters, though being whole doesn't always; and that we have very little control, despite our wishes, over the larger frameworks of interpretation to which our artifacts will be subjected. Displays and interpretations, like everything else, go in and out of fashion.

One of the chapters, "How Things Shape Us," on objects of the Victorian age and the behaviors they promoted, takes a look at objects that supported the manifestation of the external self & self as memorabilia. This provides an interesting contrast to my object’s goal of internal self-relation, especially considering this covers the period Proust discusses, though In Search of Lost Time itself came out later.

I also ran across the the catalog for the Walker's Hippie Modernism show at Dog Eared Books, and it has proven to be a really great source of essays on cyberneticists and the 60s counterculture. This moment is the link between the defense department–funded computer culture of Licklider, Shannon, Wiener, et al., and the ideas at play in tech today, so it fills a great spot in telling the story of the ideas I've been responding to. I've followed the rabbit trail to Ted Nelson's "Computer Lib/Dream Machines," which is a beautiful voice in the democratization and personalization of computers. I also ordered From Counterculture to Cyberculture, Fred Turner's history of the same period.

Next up is some more memory and memory art readings, including Roger Shattuck's Proust's Binoculars.

Distractions

Finally, timewise, I have set a little bit of a challenge myself, but managing to apply for and get a slot in an upcoming show at Flux Factory as well as an EO1 Art Club commission — oh, and an article accepted at Recompiler. I am excited and I know it is worth it, but it is definitely less thesis time. Just gotta focus hard. 🤓