S001: Summer Check-In #1

Now that summer's here and I've recovered from a long semester, I've been working on the next steps of the invested object ecosystem. My goal is to head back into fall with a usable object and a software framed out, so I can spend time refining, testing and creating visualizations instead of frantically writing bad code and never sleeping. I also brought a big pile of books along with me to read through. (Fun story: The TSA guy said books show up really dense on the x-ray so if you have a lot, they usually ask to look in  your bag. He asked why I had so many and was pleased when I answered "grad student." He was a nice TSA dude.) Anyways, the accomplishments of June!

Hardware

So far, a lot of the work I've been doing has been with figuring out the hardware. I decided Bluetooth would be the best way to communicate with the object (so it will be another phone-paired wearable-type thing): I need to be able to grab GPS data when the button is pushed so I need the phone anyways, and there is no guarantee the user will be connected to WiFi. Because I want to keep the current size — or stay as close as possible to it — my first step was to find an out-of-the-box board with BLE and a microprocessor. I settled on the Light Blue Bean from Punch Through. It has a great little coin cell battery, ATmega328 microprocessor, and a pretty nice built-in library. (I wish the documentation were somewhat better but I think that is my eternal wish.)

I've gone ahead and added a button and a vibrating motor for prototyping with code, and dipped the motor in plaster for good measure. As you can see, the Bean is a little too big for the current form, though the board at the bottom can be sawed off to get a little closer. However, it's going to get still bigger, as adding inductive charging is next on the list. This may still prove to be a bit of a problem. The coils aren't tiny and I am not 100% sure about how the recharging will work. I found rechargeable coin cells batteries, but I am not certain that the inductive charging set will stop when it's full or how to wire it up: through the BAT or VCC pin or straight into the battery itself. I've been thinking I might end up getting a custom PCB done in the end, but that will be better solved when I can chat with my advisor, who has experience here.

Software

Meanwhile, I've just started working on the software by first writing an Arduino program to do what I need and then researching the available libraries for Node. Fortunately, some kind person wrote ble-bean (mostly leveraging noble-device), so I was able to get the basics up. I can now press the button on the board and be notified on my laptop, as well as type buzz into the terminal and cause the motor to buzz. Not gonna lie, I feel a little like a wizard. But there is a lot of code to write to get to the functionality I want, so next week will be framing out a React Native app. I've done the least here so far, since the hardware needed to get to a point I feel good about. But it's time!

Materials

After visiting the Material Connexion library and touching everything I could, I thought I ought to give concrete a chance against plaster. I got back and forth on whether I want to keep the traces of degradation that plaster provides over a longer lifetime, up to and beyond the life of the owner, so I will be testing both out.

The first concrete piece had a very rough back, so Wes made me this lovely pyramid weight to add a smooth back without creating a new mold. (No Othermill in SF.) I can't wait to see it tomorrow when it is freed.

Research

Summer isn't just the time for pushing on development though; with a lot of time on my hands, I wanted to take advantage of some unstructured time to do some good reading. I have a big set of books I dragged across the country and a lot of space to cover. I expect the final paper will touch on cybernetics and the the cultural construction of information; cybernetics and system thinking in art; material culture; memory and previous art of memory; interactional design and HCI studies into design for privacy and autonomy; and possibly desktop fabrication. 

So far I've reread some parts of N. Katherine Hayles's How We Became Posthuman and read all of James Gleick's Information. The latter was maddening but good for tracing some of the perfection-focused logicototality trend back into 19th century mathematics. Now I am onto Writing Material Culture History, which has been a solid introduction to the field, itself new-ish but as interdisciplinary as one would expect. One chapter, on porcelains tying together 18th century France and China has me really excited for the relevance of the field to this project.

I also put together a system of flags to help me find all the cool things I am reading later and I've moved my notes to Evernote, since this is a little bigger than my low-key dropbox could handle.

And that's it! I've felt like I've not been getting much done, but seeing it all written out together, it doesn't look too bad.