The PDF has been sent to the committee (check it out) and the slides are ready to go. I think I am about as ready for Friday as I can be.
Once everything is done, I am planning to create a web-based version of the project so I can embed videos and just generally have a more interactive work for people to check out. But first I gotta get my corrections and get everything signed off. Eeee!
This week has continued to be all about the paper. I did a first pass on all the sections and pulled together the figures, then sent things out for Kate, Liz, and Arlene to review on Wednesday. I also uploaded it to TurnItIn and, as I expected, only actual quotes were flagged as coming from other works. So that's chill; I am not even an accidental plagiarist.
I also pulled together my front matter, including the vita, acknowledgements, and abstract. (The latter has also been added to the About the Project page.) I am planning to include a short and long table of contents and the list of figures reflects the current state of the paper. I expect it will change but I am working to get all the paper stuff to a place where it will just need touchups to be sent out next Friday. (Which is OMG SO SOON.)
Finally, I spent a little more time in code and added a page for the Bean to the app. This way I can connect / disconnect, buzz, and see the battery info from the application itself.
And that's about it. Next week I am presenting my mock defense, so I need to get on that presentation and I need to pull together all the material for the appendices, plus do another paper draft. So, uh, very relaxing.
Getting through the last of the paper (but not the appendices or the front matter yet, sheesh) has been difficult. Just a lot of typing and not a lot of rest. I think it will be worth it in the end. Now to give it a good review and send it off to Liz & Kate.
I've finished section five, which covers the idea at a high level and the initial design documents, plus a small objections section. Links to section and the figures referred to are below. I also spent some time researching other practice-as-research projects to see if anything jumped out at me in terms of the approach. Fortunately, I seem to be on the right track. All the stories in the Practice as research: Approaches to creative arts enquiry were super interesting and it was great to see some compelling first-person writing, especially from Annette Iggulden and Gaylene Perry. They managed to talk about their projects and themselves without being too trite or sentimental.
I haven't posted much (or at all) about inspirations on this blog. Partly, I think, even by the time I started this semester I had put a lot of imagination into the project and was firmly into the working stage — so I wasn't looking around at a bunch of things to get excited about. Recently, though, I came across two apps from UsTwo (makers of Monument Valley!) that seemed related to O/t in interesting ways.
The first is Pause, a phone app to facilitate taking a break. Users move their fingers along with an organic, inky spot. The goal is to not stop and not move too fast and just let one's mind wander. The animation is beautiful and suits the purpose, but the hectoring instructions ("Stopped" "too fast") break the mood often. Also, the dot eventually grows to cover the entire screen — though it comes back if you move fast — and that creates an interesting moment where I was very aware of the glass and how my finger was just touching a featureless surface. Without the interest of the animation, the lack of tactile pleasure becomes very obvious.
Moodnotes is interesting as an anti-influence, or thing to react against. The journaling app was created to make use of CBT principles to work with depressed users. The use of careful color with mood is very compelling, but the idea that, again, the computer's main use is to tell you how to do a better job of being human suffuses the app in a very offputting way. The use of data-visualization to quantify moods is a clear manifestation of brain-as-computer analogy and, for me, it seems to push away from subtle, specific understandings.
Once I started thinking about aesthetic influences — and why, say, I went with the textures I chose instead of something more kinetic like Pause — I realized there were two big influences I should acknowledge for the textures: Jacques Bertin and Olivia Sautreuil.
I first came across Sautreuil's moire pieces on the LinaresFreire twitter account, which is dedicated to geometric art. I loved the senses of layers and juxtaposition, which made it a perfect aesthetic for an app about layering and juxtaposing memories. These textures also brought to mind the visualizations of Bertin, author of The Semiology of Graphics, one of the best-known works on data visualization. His examples, made for print, use texture often to distinguish dimensions in visualizations, both black and white and color. Using these patterns is a nod to an artistic strain in data visualization that I want to see live on, even when it is hard.
MIDTERM REFLECTION Please answer the following questions on your process web site to discuss further at your midterm review:
Where are you in your writing process? How much is left to accomplish before the end of November (use your outline as a guide)?
I’ve finished the theory, history, and goals sections (§§ 2, 3, 4, and 6) and have the project sections (§§ 5 and 7) left, plus the introduction and conclusion. These sections should go faster, because they are less about research and spinning an argument and more about what I have done. My goal is to have this done by Sunday November 13 so I can spend a week revising before sending it off to Liz.
How is your project developing? What is left to do for the final version? What is your timeline (be specific)?
My project is in a state where it could be presented tomorrow, if need be. I would like to create another hardware iteration, with the bean inside the object, and if the paper editing and presentation writing goes smoothly, I may just have time to do it in the last two weeks leading up to my defense.
For this iteration, I would recut the PCB I have been using inside the object to include a notch for the bean, so they don’t have to be stacked. I would then mill one more mold for plaster at the final dimensions, including the charging chip. If I do not have time for both, I may make a time-limited, un-rechargable version of the object for the demo. This could make use of existing molds.
How will you demonstrate your thesis statement with your research/practice/project in your defense?
I have no idea. I know the documentation deliverables ask for a film of someone using the object if you make an object, but film is really not my thing. Arlene suggested doing a collection of stills with subtitles or diegetic notes, so I may go that way. I may also just tell the story myself as part of the presentation (half background / half how-it-works). I plan to write the presentation over Thanksgiving, while Liz is reviewing the paper.
Who are you and your thesis advisor considering as your external examiner?
Nick Montfort has agreed to be my external advisor.
With the completion of section IIa, on the history of computing, and section IV, which covers memory and the content of the system, I have completed all the theoretical sections (and about 22,000 words). This gets me over the main hump of the paper and out of the theory side. Sections V and VII, which cover the development of and reflections on the piece are next and then Intro, Conclusion, and Visuals. It still feels tight but I will have a draft that I have done at least one pass on by Liz's Thanksgiving deadline.
Oh man, my blog readers (by which I mean Kate; hi!!!), I have been neglecting you. I'm still a bit behind so I am trying to just power through the paper so I can give it a good once-over before Thanksgiving comes and it goes to spend the holiday with Writing Aunt Liz and all the other little papers.
In my focus though, I forgot to let you know the visualizations are real and living in the test app. Check out these sweet screens. (And notice that I am no longer naming the groupings but instead just going for Compound.)
My choices for the final designs were this set, but as you can see they are a bit different from the shots.
Some of it is just because the data is different; however, they are also different because it turns out it wasn't possible to get React Native to render the views as designed. React Native has not implemented SVG. There is a library, react-native-svg, which I was using for the buttons that I thought replaced the functionality, so it was full steam ahead — until, it turns out, the library doesn't implement all off SVG: no <pattern>, no links to images. These were things I needed.
And so, I had to create a complicated manual patten generation process in which I created the textures at different sizes, converted them to pngs, uploaded the pngs to Sketch where I used them as patterns for various geometric shapes and then added those shapes to the app where they can be composited on one another. They are definitely not production-quality, but this is a prototype, right?
The ideal solution would be to implement the missing spec myself or to change the visualizations. but I am committed to this aesthetic and to finishing this project this semester, so this may be the big compromise of the project for now. Any extra time, particularly over the holidays, will go to refining these views.
I've finished up on the vis exploration by pulling together two general types of moment visualization, with a variation or two for each. For the examples, I used six different moments from the seeds in order to get an idea of the spread.
Seeing them altogether is a little misleading, of course, because they will be on their own pages, but there is enough aesthetic variation in each to make them viable options.
I am going to reach out to a few folks for informal feedback and then choose a set. The definitely need to be considered in relationships to the concordance views. Here the goal will be a relationship that seems to flow one to the other. For instance, does the dot wash make sense with any of the individual? Would the full blow up seem to aggressive after it?
Tried out the concordances with the blown-up texture style. These are also very lovely.
I've now finished the first draft of section III, which covers the goal of the object. This was a little easier than the previous sections as it draws substantially on the pre-thesis version of the paper, though I have reworked the first section ("The object must be real"), splitting into two sections covering separate aspects of the real that had been conflated previously.
I still have two more theoretical sections left: IIa, which covers the history and current state of information, and IV, which will cover Proust and Shattuck's theories of the stereoptical and make the case for the content of the project. Then I'll have the two project explanation & reflection sections, and the intro and conclusion. IIa and this intro will also be susbtantially pulled from the previous paper.
I've also taken the next steps in designing the app — the last design part of the project, really — and pulled together some data-driven examples of concordance views.
First I pulled together a palette that goes with O/t, instead of using one I had laying around.
In my original tests, I found the was effect very moving for a concordance. It gives the feeling of a thing and of grouped elements with a sense of meditation as well. I tested these with selected groupings for concordances with one, two, and three inputs to see how things looked.
I'm pretty happy with these but may also attempt some blown-up texture style views for comparison. Also on deck are individual moment views.
This weekend, I dove back into the paper side of the thesis and pulled together section IIb, which covers the idea of polluting the possible and why this is not a project of critical design. Check out the PDF.
Next up will be section VI, on methodology and research practice. Since this was the last reading I completed, I thought it made sense to get these sections out before I dug into my notes on computing history. Once these are done, I will be taking up the object goals, which will be good to keep in mind and I continue testing the object
This past week has been all about trying to get a physical object into a testing state. I haven't touched the Othermill since May — nor have I created my own PCB, so it was a lot to figure out. (I did make the Hello, World project in February, so I had an idea of how it should work, but mostly just an idea.)
So Friday I spent all day making files for the new milling projects — PCB for the motor and button mount, one wax for the case + plunger, and another wax for the new object mold itself — and then Saturday in the lab milling. It has been somewhat less than a successful iteration.
Based on my work with the Hello, World, I decided to try to use Eagle CAD to create my board. The goal was a board with space for my button and motor and pads to separate input pins and a shared ground. Pretty straightforward, I thought. Except for the part where I had never used Eagle. But I've figured out all sorts of Adobe programs and can read tutorials, so why not? The first surprise is that it is really hard to draw components in Eagle. The workflow is set up around importing components from a library of designs uploaded by manufacturers or retailers like SparkFun. It works less well when you are using random components from Amazon. But I persevered and after a few hours, I had a file ready for the Othermill!
Sadly, as I discovered Saturday, this file wouldn't work. See over on the right in the last image, how the buttons marked Traces, Holes, and Outlines are all selected? When you select only Holes, they aren't there. At first I thought it was the tool size, but even down to a 1/100th bit, there were no holes. After a little more searching and clicking, I realized drawing an SVG of what I wanted would be a lot faster. So I did that. And it worked. Too bad Othermill seem to have removed SVGs from the new version of Otherplan. Being able to just draw the line you want to cut is underrated in the pursuit of "user friendliness" and well — the internet is full of similar rants for any product you can think of.
The Wax Molds
Because I have done wax molds for the object before, I knew how to create the files to mill objects. Turns out, though, I made a few calculation mistakes along the way. For the first mold, I made the object too high and the body too low to contain the board. (I also forgot to change the default max pass depth, which led to a god two hours wondering why everything took so long.) When I ran the project a second time — with the 1/8" bit and a .05" max pass — it was a lot faster. However, when I ran the pedestal again with a 1/16" bit, to clear out some spots the 1/8 missed, I decided to add a little more depth just for fun and managed to mill all the way through. Oops. Turns out I had reset the Z once the facing finished and forgot. I filled it with silicone anyways, and now the top is drying. With luck it will be deep enough, but if not, I know what not to do when cutting again.
By contrast, milling the wax for the case and the plunger went right the first time. This should have tipped me off that something was wrong, but I wanted to believe. The main problem here revealed itself when I broke out the silicone this morning: the plunger is too close to side (and frankly, the side is kinda fat). I have to cut from the outside of the line and double check the measurements, so it looks like I'll be back in the lab this afternoon. I'd really like to have the whole bit setup for Wednesday's call, but this is pulling it a little tight.
Bonus: Bean Case
While I was subtracting away, Wes was running the additive machine to make a case for the Bean. This too turned out to be off measurementwise — the numbers were right but the ends of the Bean are not a perfect arc. Whoops. One more thing to iterate on.
I am slowly creeping up to being in position to begin on the next draft of the paper — the first to cover everything in the outline — but first I need to get a testable version of the system in place, so I can start on my testing month(ish). This weekend's work towards the latter has been a real case of two steps forward, one step back: after a lot of bugs and just trying to compare settings in Xcode, I got a release version of the app on the test phone (my old iPhone); at the same time getting the hardware into a prototype that I can carry around with me has become an ongoing series of errors.
The joints on the previous test version of the app came undone. (Soldering wire to wire is always prone to failure it seems, even with the heat-shrink protecting it.) To work on it, I had to destroy the plaster that was currently wrapping the motor, and in doing that, I managed to break the motor as well. Then when we went to remove the old wire from the prototyping board at the base of the Bean, we realized we don't have a desoldering pump, which makes removing solder from the through-hole board challenging. So now I am the proud owner of a desoldering pump.
The next difficulty in making a testable object that can stand up to some travel is what to do about adding the new motor. Most coin motors have very short leads. I found some with longer leads and ordered them, but they are going to take a few weeks to arrive. In the meantime, I have ordered some braided wire to try to attach to the short leads. A sailing friend pointed out boats are full of braided wire because the flexibility keeps them more resilient, especially on something that moves as much as a boat. I will give these a shot tonight. An alternative plan is to use the Othermill to cut a board on which I can mount a motor and button, and then wire these into the Bean's prototyping holes.
The virtue of this second approach is that it will mean I can also start testing the new molds I need to make for the next iteration of the object. I will make a new, slightly larger and slightly deeper mold for the object itself — enough to hold the mounting board and a Bean, even if I don't put the Bean in the first one — and then a wax mold for the silicon backwrapper / button plunger. On this I will also drill a standalone plunger piece, so I can stick that in the object plaster while it cures. My plan now is to go into the Fab Lab at school next Saturday armed with files (and a Wes for company) and not leave till these are all milled. Then I can get the wiring and plaster set up.
Wes is helping me model a case for the Bean to protect it during this external testing, and with luck we can print that, too. Otherwise, cardboard and cotton might have to suffice for the first test protection. Based on the destruction of the motor this weekend, sticking a Bean into the object — with protection or directly into plaster — should probably wait until charging is solved.
So, I am getting there — more slowly than I prefer, but moving. And I have a hardware plan for the week. In the meantime, I am going to seed the app with some real memories and push out one more version to the phone.
While I was making diagrams, I thought I'd pull together a nice view of the object rubric to keep the goals in front of me. I'm thinking I will print both this and the how it works for the science fair demos we are doing on the 19th. That way I can have the app an object out, but people can see what the jam is without having to wait for me.
The test of a microcontroller in plaster is going pretty well, so far. I let the plaster dry out for two days, to get it extra dry, then turned the controller back on. (Note to self: next time mark the wires so you don't have to guess which is which.) Using the Red Bear app, I was able to connect to the BLE module and the RSSI readings change and the phone moves nearer and farther away. I ran it for about four hours and it still worked.
The next step here is to see how hot the Bean gets when connected to the phone to get an idea of how much heat I will be dealing with. Possibilities going forward include: plain plaster strait on the board, heat sink, then plain plaster, and creating a box for the hardware before covering it in plaster. This latter is least appealing to me because I think it will rattle but is probably safest for the controller. The heat testing will give me a good idea if I should forge ahead.