005.2: Testing Scenarios

In my maiden attempt at a more creative requirements piece, I've imagined ten testing scenarios I would like to see happen. These will work both to help me create a list of functionality necessary for the test as well as give me a rubric to evaluate the test against. While my experience with the test will drive much of the raw research for the paper, the space between imagination and actuality will make a good measure.


1

I am on the G train, going home. Its been a long, gray day. The train isn’t too crowded yet; mostly everyone has a seat. There are some cute kids and across from me is a guy who looks like a teacher, reading a creased novel, and a young dude also gazing into space. We’ve just pulled out of Clinton-Washington. As my eyes, blur a little and I relax into the feeling of Metropolitan camaraderie — just then it happens. Time loosens a little and I can just about make out the traces of other moments hovering about this one. The object is in my hand. I press the button.

2

I’m walking through the park to brunch. It is a blustery day. I’ve been here before, on this blustery day! Omg, that was so long ago. Back then, I lived in Greenpoint and ... . I reach into my bag, find the object, hit the button.

3

I’m walking through the park to brunch. It is a blustery day. I’ve been here before, on this blustery day! Omg, that was so long ago. Back then, I lived in Greenpoint and ... . I reach into my bag — oh fuck I left it at home. I grab my phone and open the app. At least I can save it here.

4

I’m walking through the park to brunch. It is a blustery day. I’ve been here before, on this blustery day! Omg, that was so long ago. Back then, I lived in Greenpoint and — oh! I wonder if my app has resonances. I reach into my bag and pull out the phone. Clicking the lefthand gem button, I see the moments the app has pulled up to match.

5

It is Sunday afternoon. This morning I went swimming and now I am laying on the couch reading. It is sunny and drowsy feeling. I have been playing with the object but now it rests on my chest. It buzzes! What could be there?

6

It is Tuesday afternoon. This morning I got in my 5,000 words and now I am laying on the couch, reading for media law. I’ve been playing with the object, rubbing the surface to help me focus, but I’ve put it down on my chest to concentrate. Fuck, why is it buzzing???

7

A ferry on Lake Champlain. I’ve never been here before but it’s gorgeous. The leaves are changing and the sky is bright. By bag buzzes; I check. Oh all these other adventures, this same mind.

8

I am in New York but this is what I call earthquake weather. Save, save, save, save. Phone, object, whatever. California, I’ve never missed you so badly.

9

Los Angeles. Earthquake weather. Bougainvillea. Nothing.

10

Happy hour ended one drink ago and I’m waiting for the bus. Sometimes when you are tipsy, you are also nostalgic. I switch from Twitter to the full list of moments and scroll. Moments come back one-by-one. I add a few notes, top up some titles. I wonder what this random time is. Well, I can’t delete it. Maybe I’ll remember later. Scroll, scroll, scroll.

005.1: Notes On Methodology (+ an Outline Draft)

The last big chunk of necessary reading has been around research methodologies. I have been working to be very attentive to the choices, implications, and constructions here since I am departing from the most straightforward positivist testing. In thinking through the methodology and methods constructions, I again returned to the notebook and to diagrams.

I've also been updating my outline as I go. Check out the updated PDF.

004.3: A Few Notes on Metaphor

While I was reviewing my pre-thesis drafts for the outline, I took some time to collect the metaphors that were prevalent in the piece (inspired of course by Nick's questions about the metaphors of memory). It was pretty productive, especially because this way I can be sure my metaphors are not incidental — revealing only unconsidered meanings — but instead are another well–thought out element.

004.2: Weekly Update 🌴

Hello buddies and mostly Kate — here's a short update from the week.

Meeting

On Friday I met with Liz to review my outline. The meeting got me extra psyched to write again — Liz is interested in the topic and being able to spend more than a ten-minute slide show talking about my work was really something I needed. It's hard to spend all this time going deep into an idea and then mostly being the only one who is into it as much as you are. But Liz wanted to talk about it a bunch and that was great.

The biggest suggestion she gave was to think about how I want to signpost readers as they make their way through the paper. I don't want to have super literal chunks and she is supportive of that, so it will be about playing with conventions to give people an idea of what's coming next and making the structure slightly more explicit.

I also realized when talking to Liz what a huge effect this Ideo RFID turntable had on me when I came across it six years ago. In many ways it is still my platonic ideal of technology improving life and keeping the awesome ambiguities of analog alive while changing formats. So much of my work is based in this, but it had retreated into the mists of my mind until this meeting. So it will definitely be making an appearance in the paper.

Reading

I've been focusing my reading on methodology this last week, and finally, after talking to Liz, I moved some more books on my to-do list into the futures stack. Which is good, because lately I've been stuck on The Enthnogrpahic I, an autoethnography written to teach and explain autoethnography. Though I am interested very much in the ideas, I have already discovered the pitfalls of autoethnography — if you can't stand the writer it can be hard to pull the insights out of the way they've chosen to put themselves in the piece. Still I soldier on.

Coding

I am aiming to start the first test of the Oublié/trouvé system at the end of the week, so I am finishing up coding the moment capture and sorting. Today I wrote the code that grabs the location and elevation and then calls out to the weather API. All that's left now is writing the sorting code, which I will take care of tomorrow. I need to be sure this stays very flexible because I know I will want to mess with the groupings and expand them, and as time gets tighter, I shouldn't be fighting myself. Then I will need to figure out getting a standalone version loaded on my phone; for now I have been using a tethered build. This will involve fighting with Xcode I'm sure, so yay. I've been avoiding updating to iOS 10 just to ward off complications. I can have a new operating system for Christmas.

Destruction

And finally in my quest to test the limits of microcontrollers, I have placed something cheaper than the Bean in a cup of plaster to see if it still works. Guess we'll find out in the morning. 

004.1: Outline

Today I pulled together the outline for the final paper. I am not much of a fan of the standard outline structure, especially because it is easy to get sucked into getting ones thoughts to match the structure instead of just getting info down. So I went for a loose list that I think really captures the thing.

To put the outline together, I made a retroactive outline of my paper from last semester, then cross-referenced it with the suggested sections from the course site. After that, I reviewed my reading notes from key works to add in elements of those I know are coming.

All caveats about subject to change, etc.

Download as a PDF.

I.

This is the introduction but the section will not be named that, because I hate introductions

  • Sketch the problem of the watcher object and my initial interest
  • Touch on failures of previous refusals
  • Short overview of polluting the possible and critical design
  • Goal is to better understand for myself (phenomenologically) the assumptions we make re: information and inform future work
  • Secondary goal and audience are other artists and cultural producers to get them to want to pollute with their own work
  • Short overview of phenomenological / practice-as-research / autoethnographic approach.
    • Note: This needs more research.
  • Explain why clear, achievable research is kinda bs

II.

This covers background and the goal of polluting the possible.

The Problem, or How It All Began

  • Computing history up to the 1950s (The Information)
  • Computing / cybernetics history starting in the 1950s
  • Linking the 1950s through today and how the underlying ideas have remained the same (Hippie Modernism, Counterculture to Cyberculture, Close to the Metal)
  • Outlining the definition of information we are opposing (Hayles, Lanier)
  • The spread of the divorce of information from context into the ultimate divorce of mind from body (neurons & circuits)
  • Demand for accommodation from machines

Polluting the Possible

  • Short articulation of why & how to make prototypes
    • Lanier
    • “How Things Shape Us” from Material Culture History
    • Describe graph of the universe
  • Overview of critical design
  • Explain how this fits in (giving possibility) and how it does not (goals are different from “just start thoughts, man”)
  • Can include some comments on the Datacatcher / Goldsmiths style of speculative design here

III.

Defining the goals of the object.

Characteristics of An Invested Object

It should be a real thing.

  • Realness and richness (Lanier, Benjamin)
  • People can find richness in the digital, though it is not given.
    • consider the difference between digital objects that work and those that do not
  • Realness also opens us to material culture analysis and power
    • objects with meaning connect us to the future and connect the future to our emotions, especially if they come with writing (Foundling Hospital tokens)

It should be a thing you can think with.

  • Turkle on thinking with objects
  • the SEI and emotion

It should be a private thing.

  • avoiding surveillance
  • Hook, interactional design
  • negative example of non-private, assuming system
  • autonomy is infringed when a system decides what to communicate to others
  • characteristics of the interactional approach to design
  • distinction from machine in ambiguity

It should be a reflexive thing.

  • Contrast to homeostasis, involving change
  • Information should be contextualized
  • Thought and feeling should be recognized as inseparable
  • Maturana and the idea that perception is not representational
  • Recognize humans as autopoeitic beings (here is where memory comes in)

It should be a transportable thing.

  • Mention of the survey
  • Using this more-traditional method as a test
  • Audience sourced from Twitter

It should be something people can make themselves.

  • Maker movement

    • also built on the same movement from the 50s to today covered in history, Brand & Anderson
    • land of watcher objects
  • We open another avenue to pollute another possible

IV.

Memory and the goals of the system

What An Invested Object Might Contain

Memory in General

  • can be used in a broader context, with a stimulus that is common but ambiguous, vast in its experience and interpretation, but known already as a continuous phenomenon, emotional, specific, embodied, a target for communication throughout human existence
  • is physically situated and effected
  • very much reflexive

Avoiding solipsism — memory is cultural

  • Quote from Halbwachs
  • Other material culture notes
  • example of the history of netsuke collection in The Hare with Amber Eyes

Memory is artistic

  • Memory is artistic, which again brings us back to the lichen metaphor: it is the algae inside

Possible meanings of memory and honing in on our definition

  • Types of memory

    • mystical Bergsonian plane
    • documentary images (Tichy)
    • fragmentary images (Kracauer)
    • hallucinatory surrealism
      • (and this one is kind of us, though perhaps without the psychoanalysis influenced idea that what is brought up is hidden to us)
    • Pierre Nora’s four types: true (land), archival, duty, alienated
    • Public to private memory: comparing Proust and Perec
  • Initial impetus: I like Proust

  • Resonance: Memory in computing and memory in the project; information vs. data vs. memory vs. knowledge

Proust in Detail (Shattuck)

  • Optical metaphors in Proust and how memories work reflexively, autopoeitcically
  • Three types of relations: cinematic, montage, stereoscopic
  • Merging of instinctual and rational; insistence on sloppy human contradiction and ambiguity — perfect to shove into a rational system

The Moment of Inflection

  • The structure of moments bienhereux (aka moments of inflection) in Proust
  • Recognition vs. merely moments (Shattuck 38); summoning back (63)
  • Self-creation in this way (99) ties into the introductory meaning conundrum between the humanists and the engineers
  • Notes on paper moment-marking and the pleasure here

V.

Initial idea, design assets, objections

The Idea

  • Short explanation of the system

  • Design objects

    • “Characters”
    • Storyboards
    • any updated elements I create for the science fair
  • Pitfalls and objections to the idea itself

    • Lanier: Expanding the empathy circle too far
    • Lanier: Nostalgia as a waste of our new capabilities
    • Turkle & Nora: The danger of completionism (and painting penitmento; story to record
    • Turkle: The digital character (annotated photos)
    • such a long duration to test; can we say anything about the project with a month instead of 20 years?

VI.

Longer section on research methods

An Unconventional Research

  • To test whether an object meets these goals cannot be as simple as user testing
    • the goals are complex and durational
  • Assertions of phenomenological &c. research
  • Explanation of works I have undertaken to meet this type of research
    • self-interview
    • seeding the app
      • monthlong test and observation
    • other writings
    • the rubric as test (include illustration)
  • Pitfalls and responses

VII.

Object and system design

The Object Prototype As It Stands

  • Mold making
    • fabrication style
  • Materials testing
    • resin, plaster, concrete
      • look, aging, smooth & rough
    • include notes on degradation / reflection of time
    • Writing Material Culture History, Ch 4: Case Studies in Ceramic Research — “durability in the ground"
  • Size changes
  • Top-shape selection
    • thinking object
      • fidget widget thoughts here?
    • nonrepresentational: SEI shapes and the emotion of the blob
  • Adding components
    • microcontroller
    • power
    • building the button
  • Reflections on DIY fabrication

A System for the Object

Writeup of the application & test woven together

  • Short recap of Shattuck & Proust
  • screens and descriptions, plus reflections (includes the visualizations as well)
  • explanation of tech / diagram of the code
  • Developing the application, phenomenological reflections on being the developer of this type of work

Similar Works

Gordon Bell, My Life Bits

  • the idea of a memory tracking app isn’t new
  • antithesis of what I want: used cameras and sensors and scanners to try to do everything
  • in the bosom of Microsoft
  • in this project memory is set as though the problem is that we forget and for computer is how to efficiently save & search

Nick Felton, Reporter

  • More recent tracker
  • Very straightforward data approach, polls user, survey
  • I was so excited to try this and then very disappointed
  • it was super annoying; I felt like I was working for IT

Ishaac Bertran, Memory Device

  • More up my alley
  • Really beautiful
  • Vague-er than I want ... forgetting makes it gone

Dear Data

  • Finally in terms of ambiguous, personal data, there is Dear Data, by Giorgia Lupi & Stefanie Posavec
  • Generative data

A Website for the Object

  • Why I made lost-time.club
  • Similar to Thync
  • Responses in survey (if I do it)
  • Reflections as a designer on the difficulty of communicating the design, lack of shared assumptions

VIII.

This will be the conclusion

Review goals & lit in light of comparisons

  • shortly summarize systems & comparisons
  • rubric
  • memory and meaning-making

Consider where it would sit as a piece of material culture

  • Prown & his taxonomy of cultural materials, then later an “old-fashioned” set of questions to ask about an object … what happens if I apply these to the Invested Object? What will it say?

Reflections

  • tk

Lessons Learned

  • tk

Future Plans

  • tk

Appendix A

List of Collaborators

  • Wes
  • People at Punchthrough, sort of

Materials, Vendors, Budget

omg I hope I can remember half of this

Technical Requirements

Appendix B

This will contains surveys, notes, &c.

003.6: Weekly Wrapup

Meeting With Nick

Another character has been added to my thesis menagerie: Nick Montfort will serve as my external adviser. We met on Friday and chatted a little about the project. Key points include:

  • Consider the metaphor of memory that are being deployed. To call the groupings concordances is to imply that memory is a book. But If in discussion, salience seems to be most important, is that the correct metaphor?

and

  • A compressed test condition may make pre-seeding unnecessary. For instance, a vacation is a time that people often attempt to remember with intention, and so testing on a trip might be enlightening. 

From these I also take away that I need to be sure to define terms for memory and what the object is doing even more strictly. For the vacation suggestion implies and understanding that this is about willful saving as opposed to marking moments of memory experience. At the same time, it might still be useful to have a compressed time to compare to the everyday test.

I also realized I would benefit from making a rubric of the attributes of an invested object to use as a decision-making aid when I design, code and test.

New Bean & Container

The backup Bean arrived and today Wes is printing me a little box for testing. I need to start testing on or around October 7, so I need to get cracking on finishing up the GPS code and pre-seeding memories if I decide to continue on with that.

Coming Up

This coming week, I will finish outlining the paper and as a result have a list of reading that I know I need to complete. I won't really stop reading, since I find all of this too interesting, but I do think it is important to distinguish between what I must finish and what I want to finish.

I also need to finish the GPS-related code as mentioned above and outline the functionality I must have for the test, so I can be sure it is all in place. Since I need to make a new mold and get new wax for that, I may end up testing one object for two weeks and then a refined version for two weeks following. I should also take some time to pour plaster on a microcontroller I don't care about.

Better get cracking.

003.5: Ten Terrible Thesis Statements

I've been feeling like my thesis statement isn't where I want it to be — though I was happy with the elevator pitch. Marijke suggested writing ten imperfect ones to get myself out of my head and so I did. Behold:

What I Have Now, Revised with Suggestions from Kate
The positivist and logico-totalitarian nature of computing culture (as currently constituted) manifests and influences everyday discourse — particularly through the way we understand and deploy information and data. Using standard sensors and the basic form of data visualization but nonstandard content — amorphous, incomplete, layered memory — provides for a system of ambiguous data collection and reflection that may stand as an alternative.

1
Oublie/Trouve is a system for collecting and recollecting memories. It offers myself and other artists a portal to a different relationship to computing memory and behavior in the hopes that we may imagine a more humane future of human-computer interaction.

2
O/t is a poetic system of hardware and software created as a prototype of a non-positivist non-information–based computing object. It serves a focus for research and speculation into a preferable future, where the humane and the binary are not seen as opposing forces.

3
O/t repurposes sensors and data collection for private and ambiguous ends in the search for a less aggressive human-computer interaction — one not animated by mid-century positivism. As a poetic object, O/t instantiates its objections.

4
O/t is an adaptive time travel device — collecting, recollecting, and recombining the narrative moments that add up to us. By repurposing sensors and data collection, O/t offers a different type of computing companion and thereby a different imaginative path.

5
By deploying limiting and containing technologies — namely sensors and data visualization — for ambiguous, incomplete, and private purposes, O/t proposes a reversed value proposition between humans and machines. By offering a system where the human’s capacity to reflect and layer is used to augment the machine’s limited facility for ambiguity, O/t offers a starting point for new dreams of the future.

6
What if Claude Shannon was wrong? What if information only made sense — what if it only lived — when embedded in its context and interpreted by a human mind? The Invested Object project takes up this inquiry by creating and testing O/t, a system for contextual memory and computer-aided suggestion, and thereby providing imaginative threads to artists and other observers of computing culture.

7
The current context-ignoring and surveillance-enabling focus of computing culture is the direct result of its origins in nineteenth century mathematics and twentieth century militaries — and the definition of information that proceeded from these. By creating works like O/t that instantiate a different view of information, we can embody a counter-theory of information — as the incomplete emergence of human knowing.

8
The teleology of computing machines has been determined by their mathematic births and the cybernetic tales told about the kinship between human brains and logic machines; since the 1950s people have been asked to fit themselves to machines and to understand themselves as imperfect squishy computers. O/t rectifies this error by demanding machines instead instantiate the theories of human memory outlined in Proust.

9
Computers are a cultural garbage fire because we let nineteenth century mathematicians — more enamored of machines that people — decide not just how they should work but what they should be used for. O/t attempts to redirect the flow of possibility by instantiating human wisdom, played in this work by Proust’s conception of memory and self-realization.

10
A system for collecting and displaying data in a format that can only be fully decoded by the human who saved it, O/t uses a pocket computer and networked object to enable time travel and insight in the place of surveillance and lifetime of feeding facts to a machine. It serves as an concrete objection to contemporary positivist narratives.


Though I want to explain everything, I know this is not possible. The exercise did make for some great phrases to Frankenstein together into 

The Winner, For Now

The context-ignoring, surveillance-enabling beliefs and behavior of contemporary computing culture is the direct result of its origins in nineteenth century mathematics and twentieth century militaries — and the definition of information that proceeds from these. Using standard sensors and the basic form of data visualization but nonstandard content — amorphous, incomplete, layered memory — Oublié/Trouvé embodies a counter-theory of information and thereby dangles imaginative threads to artists and other observers of computing culture.

 

003.4: Object Updates and ToDos

Now that the evil bug hath been destroyed, I can get back into the hardware jam, which is pretty exciting. Since Wes is in SF for the next two weeks, with free access to a 3D printer, now is the time to jump on designing a case for the testing prototype and possibly a case to put in the object itself. This mean I need to design a new, larger mold, so I know how large the case might be. I also need to order another Bean so that when I inevitably break it, I don't lose a week waiting for a new one. And I need to order MOAR WAX. So excited.

003.3: Alpha Presentation

Started off with a rad intro build to keep me an my audience excited.

Cool gif about becoming a Master of Science. I am pretty sure once I get my diploma it will be just like this.

This is the latest I have ever added the title slide, but I felt really strong here.

Having a three-page build because my thesis is too long is probably a bad sign. I do have a few avenues to keep rewriting it, so that is definitely an upcoming project. I think the hardest part of the thesis for me is the project feels so big that cramming it into a small statement is inevitably incomplete. This likely means I am still a little too close and need to abstract more.

Both people who took notes for me mentioned that they aren't sure what positivist and  logico-totalitarian mean. Though I would suggest the latter is a combination of two words the do know, suggestions to define my terms are pretty much spot on.

Overall, finding the balance between conciseness and accuracy and accessibility will be an ongoing challenge for this project. Once you've spent a ton of time with your material being able to project yourself into the audience becomes more difficult precisely as it becomes more necessary.

Elevator pitch feels nice though. And last week that was killing me. Improvement is possible.

This speculative/critical design cone was a very helpful diagram in talking about my motivations for the piece — that is pushing scenarios into the preferable slice. Though I am uncomfortable with some aspects of critical design  —  satire, "making people think" as a goal, cruel humor in general — the theory behind the works certainly resonates. We put what we want out into the world, even if only in prototype form. This is exactly polluting the possible.

And this is where things started to go downhill and get messy. Because I know my class has heard and seen the work before, I find myself leaving out the basic explanations of what I am doing and why. For the next version, a top-level overview should fit in here.

While feedback into how prominent to make the Proust link was mixed, Marijke pointed out the sense of time travel that is lurking in the project and suggested that making this more explicit might help frame everything.

I brought the object in and passed it around, then talked about next steps: inductive charging, etc.

One of my favorite pieces of feedback came in here, with Ti asking that the magnet be added back in. Other people echoed that it was one of their favorite parts. Fortunately, the magnet is not dead; I just left it out of this prototype, since the unconsolidated form factor means I won't be attaching it to bags soon anyways.

Again, without context, the screen review went over a bit badly. There was very little feedback about the screens themselves — likely because the content is still dummy content and there is very little time to take it all in.

I'd really like some smaller reviews to just get feedback on elements of the project; luckily I think that is in the cards, maybe even next week when we have individual meetings (in the time we are waiting around).

And then the gif showing the screens in action would not play! I haven't run into problems with gifs in Keynote before, but preloading will be my friend when it comes to the final presentation. Unless I decide to show the application itself, which would be preferable, I think. ( /me adds "load app onto example phone for review" to Trello.)

Finished up presentation of new work by showing off the O/t marketing site. Here the biggest problem was that, of course, I can't read the site to people when I am presenting, even though, as one note-taker pointed out, this was the point where she felt like "oh! now I am going to finally get it!" For my committee, this should be less of an issue, since they can review it beforehand and will also read the paper.

I am also playing with the idea of having people read the site and fill out (another) survey, assuming I can get enough interest from Twitter and personally asking folks. This way I can get feedback about the site, which is other facing, while focusing on the phenomenological work for the majority of my user research.

Here I quickly ran through the design and materials research I did last semester. Again, while this will be useful in the real defense and I should practice discussing it, I rushed through because I know everyone has already seen it.

Structurally, I waffle between showing the work and then reviewing the development or keeping thing chronological and building to the reveal. In this case I worked backwards: today > design > related works. Maybe for the B presentation I will reverse it, just to test.

The characters in the system: object, application, user.

A view of the system chronologically.

A view of the system as storyboard.

Screen designs. I did stay pretty true in implementation.

All the fun materials pics!

Finally I reviewed the comparative applications, at a high level. This will have to be blown out rather a lot in the paper itself.

Thync is a more on-the-nose implementation of a personal object designed to help you explore sensations. Of course, fitting into the current trend means it is about a system determining what you need and your passive interface with it. The How It Works section of the site serves as an example of the type of explanation lost-time.club plays on.

Gordon Bell's My Life Bits (whose existence I discovered via Sherry Turkle's Evocative Objects)  is the grandfather of personal data collection as indiscriminate hoovering. Bell even wore a camera to take photos whenever it thought someone had entered the frame (determined via light changes). The writeup claims this is the Memex brought to fruition which is, I think, to misunderstand the Memex. Bush talked about the Memex as solution to overwhelming information via personal curation, not as the generator of indiscriminate data, requiring ever more code to annotate and classify.

Next came Reporter, Nicholas Felton's commercial version of an app he built to originally help him create his 2012 Annual Report. I remember being so excited to get my hands on it when he announced its development at Eyeo — and being so disappointed when I started using it. The constant polls, the purpose of the app, made me irrationally annoyed each time they popped up. This is perhaps a cautionary tale for the object and its little notification buzz. At least the object "works" if it is ignored.

The third memory device was Ishaac Bertan's. This is more up my alley, creating a general reminder, a line, at the time it is touched. That is all the data collected, which for me is somewhat too little. 

Last I mentioned Dear Data. As a work of abstract personal memory collection by two of my favorite artists, Dear Data is the closest to what I want to create in terms of data display in the app. It is beautiful, generative, and legible while remaining abstracted.

The final slide covered my plans for the future, including phenomenological research, which will mean producing works like my original moment tracking and interview with myself.

Overall, the presentation was decent, but I need to pay more attention to explaining upfront and to building a story around all the artifacts of the design process.

003.2: Meetings, Meetings, Meetings, Feedback, Meetings

Other than slaughtering bugs and resounding joy, last week featured about a million meetings. Or like two. And some written feedback. You know.

Marijke

Marijke and I spoke again Friday, this time via voice chat. She had some helpful feedback on my presentation (see the following post) and suggested that since I am still struggling with my thesis statement that I write ten imperfect ones quickly and see if that doesn't break me out of my rut. (Kate suggests that the first two sentences are a pretty good start and not to worry about including notes on method, etc.)

For her part, Marijke seems to be doing well. She is looking for data, which is always the hardest part of a data-driven piece.

Arlene

The biggest meeting of the week was with Arlene, my project advisor. Before we met, I pulled together a rough agenda and mostly stuck with it.

1. Talking about how often we want to meet / setting a repeating time (every other week seems good & this time works for me).  What you are interested in in terms of seeing paper drafts, etc.

Result: We probably don't need to meet quite so often and can figure it out on an ongoing basis. I should go ahead and forward her drafts as I get to them. Pretty chill.

2. Talking about where I am hardware-wise — and possibly coming up with things I need help researching together.

Result: We talked a bit about the induction charging. Arlene suggests I look more for the induction hardware data sheet, though I still assume if Adafruit didn't have it, I am not likely to find it either. But I can take a gander. I was worried about overcharging being an issue, but Arlene said that is usually one of the functions the onboard chip takes on.

We also talked about different methods to make the button, which is on the board, accessible from the surface of the plaster. The most promising idea is to create a sort of silicone plunger + backing carrier, similar to the first run holder I made before leaving for San Francisco in May.

 

3. Discuss the BLE bug.

Result: At this point, I already had the thread fix in mind, so I talked about hunting that down. In terms of discussing working around the bug and whether it was desirable, Arlene encouraged me to go back to my paper and consider the criteria I laid out for the object. 

 slide from final pre-thesis defense

slide from final pre-thesis defense

I am not sure that it is clear to me where "a thing that notifies you" fits in these yet, but always returning to what I have set as a goal seems like a reasonable way to make a decision.

4. Talking about the paper

Result: Items to consider include: how much I want to talk about self-fabrication as an element to this project; what can be said about privacy from a technical level, all the way down to the operating system; and larger meanings of reflexivity.

I do keep dancing around the first question. Overall, while I don't think at-home fabrication is a cornerstone of the work, it is certainly out there — after all Lost Time Club does, however tongue in cheek, promise a kit and not a product — and as such worth mentioning in the work. Thinking about privacy beyond the privacy of ambiguous data is definitely not something I have considered yet beyond the idea that just storing the data in the phone keeps it off other servers, if also leaving it susceptible to loss. Finally, in terms of reflexivity, Arlene asks whether a system can be reflexive at a community or societal level. I must admit being kind of uninterested in this tack currently.

5. How to when to stop reading :)

Result: Now. And also never. Arlene emphasized the practice orientation of the program and that it is not a PhD dissertation. But I don't want to stop. I should probably slow down a little though, and, once I have the outline laid out, concentrate on the areas that are obviously missing. It is definitely a challenge, since all this is so interesting, to not keep following threads and trails.

The Paper

Speaking of reading and writing, Liz got back to me on a review of my paper from pre-thesis. She liked it a lot and thinks it is great shape, so I feel good. My biggest goal with the paper is to cover all the points we need to, especially practical notes on research and development and comparative works, while weaving in history and reflection so it doesn't seem so chunky and blocked out. The recommended paper assignment this week is a high-level outline, so that is about right in line with my current preoccupation. It may not appear till the end of the week, though, since some work-related projects have been taking up time.

Upcoming

Finally, this coming Friday I will be meeting with Nick Montfort to talk to him about being the external examiner on my committee. He seems about right thematically and knows way more about this process than I do, having been on a committee before.

 

002.3: Planning & Accountability

The last two days have been all about really getting a structure set up for this thesis. It's definitely the largest project for which I have sole responsibility, so I need to be on top of all the elements. I first created a mind map of all the sections of the project, mixing statuses and questions I have and then created a Trello team for Marijke and I and my own Trello board. (All those years working at startups have really made agile-type categories second nature.)

Marijke and I also had our first accountability chat last night. Since she is in LA, we will be doing one text chat and one video chat a week. We reviewed what we've done — sharing our Evernotes and Trello boards, reading one another's status documents, etc. Marijke put together some questions for us to answer about our feelings around the project. They are pretty great:

  1. What parts of your thesis do you feel the most confident about? 
  2. What parts of your thesis do you feel the most unsure about? 
  3. What helps you work through ideas? 
  4. What helps you get stuff done? 
  5. What is a sign that you are struggling with something? 
  6. What do you struggle with the most in writing/project management? 

 I think I will do them this weekend.

Today, I am meeting with Arlene (my advisor) and then doing my alpha presentation in class. More soon!

002.2: Thesis Statement, Second Draft

Along with the elevator pitch and links to pre-thesis work, I've posted the second draft of my thesis statement to the About the Project page:

The positivist and logico-totalitarian nature of computing culture (as currently constituted) manifests and influences everyday discourse — particularly through the way we understand and deploy information and data. Using standard sensors and the basic form of data visualization but nonstandard content — amorphous, incomplete, layered memory — provides for a system of ambiguous data collection and reflection that may stand as an alternative. Taking a phenomenological stance to the project, using practice-as-research, will extend this resistance through possibility into the project as well as the product.

Strangely, this has been the hardest part of the project to write so far. Trying to be accurate and brief — and to keep the writing sharp — has proven elusive. This version seems to sacrifice the third for the first two. But it is still just a draft, right?

002.1: The Bug Endures

Spent the morning adapting the working Bean LED blink tutorial into a React Native project in a quest to slowly define the location of the Bean bug. It is now clear that the issue lies somewhere in the interaction between Objective-C/Swift and React Native. When the code is no longer part of a straight iOS app, for some reason the buffer doesn't send out the message. Wes did a little research and thinks that it may have to do with how the threads are allocated. The next step is to pursue this line of inquiry.

At some point, I am going to need to work around this bug and release those energies to other parts of the project. Right now, I am thinking as a plan B I can load the acceleration, temperature, and time of day trigger parameters into the Bean manually and then it can trigger itself without needing a message from the phone app. It isn't ideal, but drawing the triggers away to be only slowly updated does rhyme well with the notion of oubli as outlined in Shattuck: namely, the idea that a moment must be forgotten before it can be recognized. This would be a systemic forcing of delay, which is also a lovely way of playing with Ellen Ullman's idea that we soon come to behave as the system would prefer.

Given all that, I am thinking now this delay would be right to work into the app even if I can get Bluetooth to work; but at least I am slowly planning for a way to not get too bogged down whatever I do about delay.

001.1: Back to School, aka Sh*t Gets Real

This week was the first back in class and I realized I'd been leaving problems for Future Sarah, but — oh shit, don't look now — I am suddenly Future Sarah. And this thesis is really, really real.

Cast of Characters

For the rest of this project, there will be some important buddies along for the ride. 

Kate is the prof. leading the thesis class. She has many good ideas.

Liz is our writing consultant. Fancy! A writing ~* consultant *~. I am excited to send her all the writings.

Arlene is my project advisor. She taught the digital fabrication class I took last term.

Marijke is my accountability partner. She is another person I can torture by showing gifs and sending drafts.

I just realized we're all women. I am super into it. And I bet not one of us has had our uterus go wandering around our bodies, despite our educations.

On to the updates!

The Bug

The BLE bug still lives. Wes and I messed around with it a bit more, ruling out all the warnings we were getting when the app compiled, but no dice. I posted on the Recurse Center Zulip for pairing help but got no responses. 😭  I am ascribing this to the annoying nature of the bug and not my personality. I also sent out some feelers at the Nodebots meetup, but no takers.

The next thing to do is to take the working example code and change it to get nearer mine, till it breaks. Another friend also has experience working with BLE, so I may have to draft him for help as well. He seemed less than psyched, but with a dream on the line, kidnapping always remains a possibility.

New GIF

In better news, I got the form working and updating the database (except for the Concordance View, which needs a lot more structural thinking, so I am leaving it alone till I circle back around). Please enjoy this updated gif of screens.

 

Phenomenology

Leading up to the first class, Kate asked us to put together a status document. In response to my insistence that the audience for this project is me, she suggested I check out the idea of taking a phenomenological approach to my project — that is to consider a research paradigm where my personal experience and exploration of the project is a part of the research itself. I've been reading Closer by Susan Kozel, which outlines her ideas of this approach. It's great.

Phenomenology is beginning to feel like one of the missing words in my research: an idea I have but don't have the terms to research. It really seems to be a unifier of other threads I have going on as well. Kozel brings up reflexivity and Varela (the second-wave cyberneticist and research partner of Maturana); phenomenology is essentially similar to the experiential theories from Dewey, which were picked up by the Fluxus artists, who have fallen off as part of my research but remain influential in the background. It is like a perfect little piece slotting and pulling other threads together. 

Reading

Most of the actual work I've done this week on my thesis has been reading. (Coding time has gone towards the EO1 commission, which is about as important as the thesis and has a much sooner due date.)

I read all of Ellen Ullman's Close to the Machine, a memoir of the 90s in Silicon Valley. It wasn't super related to my research except for a few passages on data and coming to work for a system — as opposed to keeping the system working for you — that are 💯  and will likely find their way into the paper. It was a quick read and well worth it. I also finished Proust's Binoculars, Roger Shattuck's meditation on optical imagery and the revelatory use of stereo-vision and multi-exposure memory in A la Recherche.  

Next Week

Next week will be a bunch more reading: Fred Turner's From Counterculture to Cyberculture, which will fill in the history mentioned in Hippie Modernism and finish tracing the route of the information dreams that inform computing culture and cybernetics from Russell to today. Then I think I will finish with history reading for a bit. I also have Closer cued up and I am expecting the last volume of A la Recherche next week, so that will be next. I do need to find a way to determine when I am done reading (or mostly done); I will probably talk to Kate about it.

I plan on presenting my project for our Level A prototypes next week. (It is a two-week presentation, but since I got plenty done over the summer, I think I should just get it out of the way.) And I need to do a bunch of structure and planning — set up a Trello, etc. Marijke, who I met with today, will be making a calendar of deadlines I can subscribe to on Google Calendar. 

Finally, code — I would like to spend some time on the next Bug Attack Approach and my initial plan called for figuring out GPS, plus calls to APIs for elevation and weather, given a location. I have no idea how to do this, so that should be exciting. But that's a whole lot to do, so tomorrow, it is all about reading in the a.m. and Trello in the afternoon.

A Note About Numbering

For the rest of these updates, the first number will be the week, with each week turning over Sunday. It will then increment sequentially. (Surprise!)

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. 🤓

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.