09 November 2006

random thought

while reading john maeda's blog this morning, i came across this statement.

Understanding and "listening" to one's materials is a critical factor to finding the most natural form of expression for a set of given constraints.

which was expanded to the original "fifth law of simplicity."

A material's failure to comply to a specific application
provides indication that its more natural usage lies elsewhere.

i couldn't agree more.
and i think there's something there with the "set of given constraints"
but how do you find those constraints?
how do you physically and intuitively understand?
how can we, as teachers, help others learn these constraints?
how can we, as learners, always "hear" the materials?

08 November 2006

answering david's question: why wire?

why wire? good question. and i guess one i haven't answered yet quite fully.

i'd be lying if i said that my choice of wire is completely objective. had i not had the experiences with making chainmail and jewelry and little wire figures and helping dad build fences, etc, i probably would not have been as struck to make things after seeing arthur ganson's stuff. but because wire was a material i was already comfortable wtih and had around, somehow it seemed more accessible. i didn't sit around and ponder the plusses and minuses of the material. it was the material i had and was the material i understood. so let me just admit the subjectivity of my decision to begin with.

but, really, nothing in life is truly objective. we, as humans, don't have enough time to sit around and fully think out every possibility. our choices are determined by our past choices and current comforts. that being said, after working with wire as much as i have, i've come to some realizations as to why it's a great material to build mechanisms/sculptures with. although maybe my decision to come to wire wasn't overly objective, perhaps my thoughts as to why it's a good material can be separated from that.

first off, flexibility... physical flexibility. especially when trying to feel out a new idea, flexibility is important. the mechanisms can be tweaked to get the desired result. once you get a feel for the wire, you can prototype new things quickly and see how it works and then work on a more finished version. the flexibility allows for higher tolerances, so less precision is necessary when making a mechanism. this is good because it's not really possible to precision engineer things in some places. the flexibility allows for creating curves. you're not just limited to right angles and straight lines. also, the physical flexibility provides a very material constraint to building structures. if you don't understand the material or think about the geometries, your structure might fail. this provides insight into why triangles might be a good geometry. also, thickness being important to prevent bending. and thinking about things like how much weight can this hold. etc. (that last bit was rambling, but maybe you still get my point?)

second, flexibility in what you can make with it. not just limited to one scale. can make really small delicate things or larger things. in some ways, much less limited than working with legos or k'nex or something of that ilk. but by the fact that you have to make everything, it's limiting in a different way. also it allows for the integration of found/scavenged parts more readily than other building materials. basically, if you have the scaveneged parts, you can find some way with wire to hold them in place. sometimes they're not the most elegant solutions, but it is sufficient and aids in the prototyping/building/design process.

third, cost and availability. it's generally available everywhere for not too much money. places like africa and south america have a rich tradition of making toys and art out of found objects. particularly if an angle for learning is taken, this could be advantageous. here's one place where people in developing nations might have a leg up over developed ones. or rural vs. urban. and if people are connected via computers ($100 laptop?) maybe this will allow for an influx of ideas into places where ideas often just leave? but back to cost... a lot of schools can't afford lego robotics. and instead of sitting around wishing they had these lego kits, maybe a way to get the same ideas across with cheaper materials (at a bit of a time cost) is a worthwhile solution.

other random thoughts: you can't make anything too precise and as a result might be more likely to experiment? (analogous to the thought that sometimes it's good to draw with your wrong hand or without looking at the paper.) drawing in 3-D. actually making the parts vs. using provided parts.

hrm. yeah. those are my thoughts for now. maybe i have more... i'll add them when they come.

06 November 2006

answering glorianna's questions: personal story

"OK now go into what you have discovered about the physical world by building something.... tell a very specific story about making your giraffe -- what did you have to start, how did your understanding change?"


oh boy. Don't I already talk about this enough? ;) Anyway. Maybe I'll tell several stories. Life is all about stories.

I needed a demo and I needed it bad. I had one week. I had wire. And I had whatever was around me at the lab to use because I didn't really want to waste my time searching for parts and waiting for them to arrive when I could be using that time building. I only knew one thing: the theme was "dance." One afternoon, I sat down with one of my friends and brainstormed about different objects/animals dancing. I decided that I really liked the idea of a giraffe, mainly due to the fact that I really like the elegand awkwardness of the giraffe. And I really like the way their eyes look so gentle. So I set out to make a wire giraffe that danced. I went through a few different design ideas. I knew I wanted to use a spring for the giraffe's neck so it would wobble. Other than that, I knew I wanted to use a wire gear a la Arthur Ganson. I asked Roger if we had any springs lying around and he handed me that one. I asked Roger if we had any motors, and he gave me that motor... a simple DC motor with a max output of Not Very Fast. I decided upon making a crank rocker and having the giraffe rock back and forth, with its neck swaying extra. Since we had a laser cutter with lots of spare acrylic around, I decided to make the base out of acrylic. I wanted the part that the giraffe was on to be green like grass but all they had was this glass green color. And I wanted the rest of it to be clear, but all they had was black. hrm. I went with what I had. I underestimated the amount of gearing down that a worm gear to a spur gear creates, and as a result, ended up with a giraffe that doesn't rock as quickly as I'd like, even when the motor is at full speed. For the programming of the Gogo board, we thought it would be nice to have some sort of differential for the speed. So we ended up settling on two touch sensors that the faster you could run on them, the faster the motor went. All that was left was to have a base for it. Again... I had wire and one day left, so I decided to wrap wire around until it was stable enough to support the giraffe and its base. I had used this technique before when making little wire figures. It was a fun demonstration of principle, but I think I could do better. The design was heavily determined by my previous experience (mostly none) and by the materials I had readily available (in and around my office).

+my graduation hat
This all started because I wanted to have a thinking cap... a crank on the left side of my head. So I made a crank to a worm gear to a spur gear, again using the same basic beginnings that I'd used on the giraffe, but in a different context. Instead of going to a horizontal rocker, I went more for a swing version with a little guy sitting on a swing in a graduation hat. I wanted it also to have a lightbulb on it. Since I had cleared out the insides of a lightbulb earlier so I could use the lightbulb as a small flower vase, I had this lightbulb lying around. So I put a fake filament inside it. And just for geeking's sake, I made the hat spell MIT. Anyway. Again, this design was heavily determined by the materials I had available... only wire and a bit of brass and some aluminum can from the energy drink I was having while staying up late to make this. All tooling was done using pliers, a dremel, and a knife, which is what I had in my office. It sounds unglamourous to say this, but I'm trying to be honest here. Also, the design was unplanned from the beginning; I simply made it up as I went. Luckily this worked, and I think I ended up with a crank rocker of a bit more simple elegance than the giraffe. I want to make another one for my next graduation. This time more elaborate. But I would be unable to do that had I not had the experience of dealing with this first hat.

+wire man with sword
I talked about this a bit in my entry (below) about my meeting with Arthur Ganson. This is the design that is most driven by a strong idea of what the motion and overall feel should look like. The design process is getting easier but still I find that I fight a bit. Intuition is getting better as to how to get wire to react how I want. I find that I appreciate making arbitrary limitations on the design process (such as using only found/cheap materials) because it limits my vision to a manageable chunk.

Anyway. What does all of this have in common? There was a lot of learning between the giraffe and the man, even though the man isn't done. The man is closer to my original concept, whereas I find the giraffe to be a bit gauche and inelegant at times and not quite what I had wanted. The graduation hat was an important step to learning how to make more elegant things quicker. After finishing the man, I'm sure the next things I attempt will be quicker and even closer to my original design thoughts. My intuition about what is feasible has started to affect what my design is.

Having limitations is nice because it gives me a smaller area to explore more fully and more confidently. I even set limitations in my drawing, even though I feel that's the area in my life that I have the most control/understanding. Setting limitations allows me to push the boundaries of those limits, to explore freely. And through examining the limits, I learn when certain techniques might be useful, and I might also pick up some physical knowledge that I otherwise would not have gained. For example, I've lately been drawing quite regularly with either my left hand (I'm right handed) or by not looking at the page. Arbitrary limitations. By drawing with my left hand, I'm more aware of the feeling of the pen on the paper. And from the beginning I usually just concede that the drawing will have a certain lack of control, which allows me freedom to explore the feeling of the pen on the paper. By drawing without looking at the paper, I've been exploring the link of the line I make to the line my eye makes as it follows around the object. And as a result, I become aware of the link between my eye and my hand.

answering glorianna's questions: imagination

I can't separate myself from my experience; I am my experience. My experience is leading me by my nose... sure. So maybe instead of trying to appear objective, I should be blatantly subjective. Glorianna's comments I think are quite right. And I think her process may be a better suggestion than "give me the first page."

So again. Please be patient. I'm not a writer. In fact, I find dealing with words overly cumbersome at times. Maybe it would be fair to say that this thesis will end up with me examining my thought process just as much (if not more) as I want to explore others' thought processes.


+ what do I want to make?
+ what can I make with these materials?
+ what makes me want to build something so badly that I scavenge?
+ what if I have a kit/materials but no technique?

Sometimes as an artist, I feel that the overwhelming pressure is to be "new," to be "unique," to be "cutting-edge" and all that. If someone can look at your work and name your influences, somehow it makes you less of an "artist." There's this idea that permeates -- the idea that the artist is a lone genius living in the wilderness and that one day inspiration, a muse, comes down and the artist creates. No artist lives in complete isolation. Ideas don't come from nowhere. What makes something unique is not so much that the techniques are radically new, but maybe more that the things have never been put together in that order before. What goes for art in this case also goes for design to some degree. People want designs to be "innovative." Following from the conversation over dinner at sponsor week, perhaps innovation comes from viewing the problem in a unique way. Hm. I'm a little off topic now.

Anyway. I think the first two questions fall into the same answer... the first step is usually immitating what's around you. There's a lot you can understand about something by observing an object and interacting with it. But when you try to build your own version, you realize (more) why the design is how it is. Especially when you are able to try alternative designs and see how they may work differently or may not work at all. A good example I can think of this is truss structures. If simply observing a truss structure, it may not seem obvious why there are all these triangles around, but if you try to build something that is only squares (for example), you soon find that it fails. I had this experience as a kid. Cylinders/columns are also another good example. It's easy to build paper versions of different extruded shapes, and simply placing the same weight on the top, you can see which is stronger. And it's this gut intuition that matters... not knowing all the reasons like... well... the mass is a certain distance from the neutral axis and thus has a large moment of (bending) inertia blah blah blah mechE stuff that I learned in 2.001.

So maybe you want to make something that's familiar to you. And the perceived affordances of the materials will depend on your prior experience with those materials. You're more likely to use a material as you've seen it used.

The third question is harder. What makes you want to build something so much you want to scavenge parts? Oh man. Well. I guess I'm a strange person to ask about this; I make things compulsively/obsessively. I was just telling someone the other day that me drawing wasn't a question. In some ways my compulsion to draw exists beyond me "enjoying it"... I MUST do it. And if I didn't have my familiar materials to do it with, I would come up with some way to do it... in the sand, make my own paper, make my own glue, burn a piece of wood to use as charcoal, use hairspray as fixative, etc. I've actually done quite a few of those when I've been in situations where I want to make something and I don't quite have all the necessary materials. I think the simplest answer to this question is the idea that making something might have a personal, emotional meaning to you. "A cidade que a gente quer" (the city that we want) is a good example. This desire is something the student needs to bring. No amount of cajoling by the teacher can force a student to care. So if this is given by them, they'll be working on something they care about, and will therefore be more involved.

At least, this is my own personal experience. I've found that if I don't care about what I'm working on, it's damn near impossible to get me to do it. But if I care about it, I'm fixated on it until the end. And the things I care about end up with better results. And vice versa. (I was once often told about my highschool english papers that I write well, but uninspired.)

So for the last question... What if I have a kit but no technique? Hm. Good question. This is part of the reason I think the kit should go along with a small booklet. The contents of this booklet are up for debate. Perhaps the contents could emerge from my experiences with what the people who interact with this kit want? If I find that people have trouble starting here or going there, perhaps instead of telling them what to do, I could provide helpful questions to ask yourself? Maybe ideally, there'd be an online community of people using these kits and sharing their experiences with others.

Maybe this is enough for this post for now.

05 November 2006

oh the thesis

so here is a first stab at what could possibly be a thesis proposal page. plus a lot of parentheticals. plus a lot of blathering. a rough rough draft, i guess. a week later than i'd hoped. but starting is always the hardest part, you know? the first paragraph is a bit of a throw-away. i always have these, but i thought that including it here might help show my thought process. i kind of gave up a bit towards the end. i'm writing in a loud place. i feel restless. i keep getting interrupted. i have homework i need to get done. be that as it may, hey, i've started.


I once heard it said that mathematicians do their best work in their 20s, physicists in their 30s, and that engineers just get better with age. While I can't vouch for the validity of the first two thirds of that statement, I believe some truth lies in the last third – engineers get better with age. But maybe this is too specific of a statement for my purposes. Let me generalize. First, age is not really the key factor, experience is; engineers get better with experience. Second, the term “engineer” shouldn't just apply to people with engineering degrees. Anyone who takes an idea and makes what they want with what they have avaible to them is performing the role of an engineer, be it mechanical, electrical, etc. Maybe in its most general form, the statement “engineers get better with age” turns into “people who make things become more able to do so the more experience they have.”
This is crap. I can't write.
There is a body of knowledge that exists beyond words, in a realm of pure experience. When dealing with the physical world, and in particular with mechanical and structural design, this ineffable, tacit knowledge is unavoidably present and thus must be knowingly addressed. Due to the inadequacies of language, this experience cannot be fully discussed through any traditional means, such as writing, speaking, drawings, etc., but can only be explored and understood through personal experience, through interactions. The best we can hope for in communicating the inexepressable parts of our experiences to others is to evoke their own similar experience through our words. (z.B. if I say to you that I ate a sweet apple the other day, those words evoke in your mind your own experience of eating a sweet apple, even though you never ate the same apple I did.) When it comes to teaching (or enabling the learning of) an area that is comprised of a large amount of experiential knowledge (such as the field of mechanical and structural design) the limitations of communication become readily apparent and can be quite the obstruction, especially when the other person does not have the same experience base that you do. So how does one, as a teacher, approach teaching such a field?
(Do I need to elaborate on why I believe that mechanical and structural design relies heavily on tacit/personal knowledge?)
Experience. It all comes down to experience. Instead of the teacher trying to transfer their knowledge to the student (which I don't think they should be trying to do, regardless, but that's another matter), the student must be encouraged to explore and to reflect on their experiences. Through experience, they accumulate tacit knowledge. Through reflection on their experiences, the students can build up their own method of critically thinking about what they've learned. Therefore, it is critical in such a situation that the barrier to exploration be as low as possible so that the students feel safe and encouraged. Because of these reasons (among others, that maybe I should elaborate on later), I propose that a low-cost construction kit focused on enabling the building of interactive kinetic sculptures would be beneficial in aiding the learning of mechanical and structural design.

01 November 2006

first day of a new month

i had a dream the other night. about media, somehow, though i don't remember. i think i was trying to explain what MAS meant and CMS and all of that... what is media... and i woke up with the words in my head "you can't have media without content" or something along those lines. the media is what carries the content.

media is what carries content
you can't have media without content
you can't have content without media?

oh the things i dream.

in other news, i met with arthur ganson on monday morning and had a really lovely conversation. i finally showed him some of my work. (he really liked my graduation hat.) and we talked about the things i made and the process behind it and the thoughts behind why i want to do what i do. particularly, we talked about my man with the sword and why it's different having it sense IR and turn on when you're in front of it vs. working with a crank. and it took a while, but i think we got to the bottom of it -- by having the sensing and the ability to turn on lie in the machine/sculpture itself, separate from needing a directed cranking, the sculpture is given its own sort of agency... it becomes a separate entity. its own gesture becomes more free. he also asked why i wanted him to swing his sword feebly, as opposed to confidently, and what's the symbolism of his heart making his hand swing. well... when i found the paperclip and built the head/cape, somehow i thought he ended up looking a little old. when i put the sword there, i couldn't imagine him ever looking very convincingly intimidating... so somehow i thought it would be right if his swinging the sword was a little feeble. and i think somewhere along the way i projected myself onto him... and if i were swinging it, i wouldn't be menacing. but i also thought he felt trapped and confined into doing this one thing... that he was made to do it but didn't want to do it, and so he did it but lacking the motivation. which brings the heart into play. he was made to fight, but he has a conscience? symbolically speaking, of course. and so his heart makes it move because he feels bound to doing it, but his heart also makes the action erratic and wobbly and a little weak.

if that makes any sense.

so to tie back into my thesis, why is sensing/programming important when making things? in some ways, i think it's best to learn the mechanics separately and to then add sensing... so i wouldn't say sensing/programming is imperative to learning about mechanisms. but what it does allow is a parallel logic structure between the virtual and physical world as well as it allowing the final machine to have its own agency.... you can put more of your knowledge/logic into the machine.

hm. it's almost lunch time. i guess that's all for now.

26 October 2006

in the meantime

i have a paper due today on an existing "dystopic" technology. i was tempted to write it on... i don't know. marketing aimed specifically at kids? corporations? the stock market and the idea of constant growth being necessary? digital rights management and the loss of fair use and the subsequent cooling effect on creativity? tv? but maybe i'll do it on myspace and the shallow social interactions it helps build.

but for now, i thought i'd just put up some comics of mine.

p2 and p3.

19 October 2006


i've been trying to scan in my work.
here's the first and most fitting for me right now

images and the like

i finally developed some film. five rolls worth. so over the course of working out my thesis stuff, i'll post a few select pictures here and there. so for now here's three. the first above, and then
#2 and #3.

13 October 2006

design thoughts

so i was thinking about this some more while i was waiting for jacqueline today. why is it that i bristle against having design competitions like 2.007. and i think the answer is that with a point scoring system, there is an implied "right way" -> the winner. there is only one winner. and with students' robots, there's a lot left to chance, so even some really good designs get kicked out early occasionally. the disappointment of not doing well in the competition can sometimes overshadow any good thoughts you have about what you've learned. this is in addition to the competition overshadowing the design process to begin with. so, really, i don't think that competition is the best way begin to design.

i was also thinking more about gender. particularly, that the people who do well (i.e. score lots of points) in 2.007 tend to be men. i can't think of a worman ever winning, but i might be wrong about this. why is this? the first thing i can think of is that women are less likely to have prior experience with making/fixing things from childhood on. this makes them less likely to dive in confidently and start making things. every mistake seems like the worst failure ever. when really, there's just a lot of back experience that needs to be built up. i guess i've noticed (being a woman engineer) that the most discrimination happens in the machine shop or with things having to do with design. it's a fight to be taken seriously sometimes. it's a fight to be allowed to make mistakes. and i think this is a problem that should be addressed (in general)

i'll try to touch on these things some more later on.

12 October 2006

oi. what?

so. i really should get down to work. today, i'll attempt to flesh out a bit more of the what it is that i'm doing for my thesis.

in case you don't want to reference what it is that i wrote down in the previous post:

+Kinetic Sculptures
..... -Wire
..... -Found Objects
..... -Interactive
..... -Ganson
..... -Calder
..... -Mechanical Design
..... -Structural Design
..... -Hands-on/Project-based
..... -Art as a safe play/exploration space
..... -My experiences with being taught design
......... *007
......... *009
......... *thesis

ok. so.
the broad idea is using art as a way to introduce engineering concepts to kids/people who might otherwise not think that these ideas are accessible to them. to make knowledge accessible to a different set of people from that of the traditional route of learning design/mechanisms/structures/math/programming/etc.

more specificially, what i'm interested in is the use of low-cost interactive kinetic sculptures as a way to enable the hands-on learning of mechanical/structrual design. to use art as a safe place to play and experiment with new concepts. to attempt to bridge the gap between knowledge/comfort in programming/the virtual world to the physical world. to carry over the idea of debugging a program to "debugging" a mechanism or structure. to encourage comfort and intuition in building with physical materials.

i guess this is just rehashing and clarifying things i've said before. so let me try to say something different... or at least expand more fully.

why kinetic sculpture? i was inspired along this path after seeing arthur ganson's exhibit in the MIT museum. i had already been experimenting with wire as ways to make little figures, jewelry, and chainmail. something about it just spoke to me. later on, i discovered calder's work. i'm still finding new artists to inspire me. but, mainly, i like using wire and things i find around me. my budget is always small to none, so this is convenient. as for wire as a material, it's good because you can find it most anywhere, and it's really flexible. with a little bit of thought/understanding the material you can do pretty much anything with it. it's easy to tweak if things mess up. and it's good to use to incorporate found objects into your work. adding the interactivity of sensors/programming is great. it adds a whole new aspect of things that can be done with the materials. also, there's this nice parallel of thought between programming and building. both require trials and debugging. both require logical thought. i think they reinforce each other.

another idea that goes along with why kinetic sculpture is that of art as a safe place to play, a place where there's no "wrong". the only measurement to live up to is your own. through introducing technical concepts through art, some of the intimidation factor is taken away. it's more of (as david puts it) "hard fun". part of my desire to do this stems from my experiences with MIT's mechE design classes. particularly with 2.007 (previous post on that matter found here). since my own experience with that class, i've realized that i wasn't the only one who had issues with the way it was taught. i think there's a problem with the competitive aspect of the class. the competition clouds over the design aspect. also... the competition can be intimidating for people whose first design experience this is. by feeling that whatever they do will be shown in front of a crowd and compared to their peers, fewer people are willing to really try to push the limits of what they can do with design. and as a result, people's machines all end up looking relatively the same, because the people who are less comfortable with design just take the working bits from the people who get something working first. (i really should go into this more at some point). anyway. point is that i think that maybe having a non-competitive, creative way to explore design would be good for a certain set of people.

as for my experience with 2.009, i thought it was better structured. as a group, we came up with our project and worked on it. it was mostly the group dynamics that were a bit funky. i think i would've been better prepared for designing a larger scale thing had i had better design experiences earlier on. and i think hands-on is the only way to go when it comes to design.

but, really, the time i learned most about design was the time i worked on my thesis. i designed and built my own gyroscopic kinetic sculpture. it wasn't until here that i really tried to push my limits when it came to design. and i think it's possible to encourage other people to have similar experiences. to start to experiment. to set a challenge that's just enough beyond your limits that you learn new things. and this is ultimately what i want to do through my thesis... to encourage exploration for everyone. to help make learning mechanical and structural design accessible, non-intimidating, and fun.

maybe a better proposed outline for the intro would be:

+Kinetic Sculptures
..... -Wire
......... *Ganson
......... *Calder
..... -Found Objects
..... -Interactive

..... -Art as a safe play/exploration space
..... -My experiences with being taught design
......... *007
......... *009
......... *thesis
..... -Hands-on/Project-based
......... *Mechanical Design
......... *Structural Design

06 October 2006


I've been trying to figure out my thesis, but I wasn't quite sure where to start. So I decided that it was best to just try to get thoughts down and simply start.

First iteration. Not so clear. So I tried to expand upon it.

I tried to narrow down the area that my thesis will focus on -- kinetic sculptures as a way to enable the learning of mechanical and structural design. Maybe this is still too vague? Maybe it would be more clear to say "interactive kinetic sculptures as a way to enable the learning of mechanical and structural design as examined by a short study of several groups of Scottish children using wire/found object construction kits"? heh.

But what it really comes down to after that is that I have definite questions to answer. What am I doing. Why would I or anyone, for that matter, want to do this? And how would one go about this.

So I tried to answer and flesh out those questions.

I don't know how successfull that is. I hate to say it, but that's really how I think. Maybe the arrows are a bit confusing for some, but I find them useful for thought flow. I'll try to talk through the last one.

+Kinetic Sculptures
..... -Wire
..... -Found Objects
..... -Interactive
..... -Ganson
..... -Calder
..... -Mechanical Design
..... -Structural Design
..... -Hands-on/Project-based
..... -Art as a safe play/exploration space
..... -My experiences with being taught design
......... *007
......... *009
......... *thesis

+Constructionism/Constructivism/Hands-on learning
..... -"Hard fun"
..... -Experiential knowledge
..... -Future of learning
..... -Experiential Knowledge
......... *tacit knowledge
......... *build intuition
......... *rilke/aristotle/bauhaus
..... -Mechanical Design
..... -Structural Design
..... -A feel for materials
+Different approach for a different type of learner
..... -Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance
..... -Gender imbalance in high levels of mechanical design
......... *due to way it's taught?
......... *due to lack of confidence in a traditionally "masculine" field
..... -Build confidence in working with materials
......... *Costa Rican workshop -- some teachers not used to working with hands
..... -Infuse design community with new thoughts/people (eventually)

..... -One vs. repeated
......... *build up experience/intuition
......... *increased mechanical complexity
......... *Dewey (deep/structured thought. Reflection)
..... -Age range?
..... -Kit to start with
......... *materials in kit
......... *directions in kit?
..... -Start with overall idea for a project or simply one mechanism?
......... *(gut feeling: focus on one mechanism to start)
......... *limitations to enable a clear direction to start
..... -Projects as "hard fun"
......... *kids don't think of as learning?
......... *art as play

maybe that's a lot to bite off. but that's maybe a start of a direction. it's always easier to prune than to expand? this is somewhat of an outline :

Intro: What? and a bit of Why?
Background: Why?
Experiment: How?

08 September 2006

costa rica

I keep meaning to write up my experiences in Costa Rica, from when I was there with David at the Foundacion Omar Dengo (FOD), but somehow, with all the registration stuff and the moving stuff and the life stuff, I keep losing days. So I might as well just do it now while I'm thinking about it, because, really, the hardest part is just getting started. Here goes.


So I was in Costa Rica for five days a week ago, but only two days of really doing stuff at FOD. Otherwise, I slept, and I caught up with David about my thesis and this term and stuff. The idea was that I'd be there for a two day workshop, but somehow the workshop ended up on the wrong two days, so I was only able to be there for one day of the workshop.

The first day with the FOD was mostly just talks for the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) and the FOD's work with this. I listened to David's talk. Had lunch with the FOD's robotics dept. In some ways, it was really nice to hear about OLPC, because i'm not really up to date on all the latest things. I tried to prepare a bit for the next day (when I wasn't at the talks). As a result, I ended up making a butterfly that flapped its wings when you pulled a string attached to its body... kind of like the butterfly at the top right there. Except out of wire. And I used some Costa Rican change as the counterweights for it. I really just intended it as a small physical example of something that can move that's made quite simply out of wire.

The second day was the workshop. I had maybe 20 or so teachers in the room. The goal was to help them creatively explore the use of wire in construction as well as structure and mechanisms. First we introduced the ideas. Then we had them go walk around the FOD and find examples of structure, mechanisms, and nature. Then we had them discuss a bit, brainstorm a bit, and start building. After lunch, I explained about about circular to linear motion, tried to talk about mechanisms, tried to talk a bit about cranks... etc. Jorge was a great translator. And then they kept on working. I was amazed at what they came up with.

So here are some thoughts on the process.

1.) when asked to give examples of structure and mechanisms that they found around the FOD, pretty much all of them drew some sort of picture. when talking about the pictures they had drawn, they gestured quite a bit about the motion it makes. really.... just a lot of gesture. This idea of gesture ties in quite strongly with the idea that there's a lot of information that cannot be transmitted via 2-d, and I think helped to illustrate the point that hands-on experience is really necessary.

2.) It was interesting to see/hear about the difference in experiences (past and present) of the groups. One guy knew about chassis, and as a result, when his group was trying to make a walking wire ant, he tried to build a wire chassis for the ant's body. Another group that used a plastic coke bottle for the body of a bird had a woman who commented that she used her knowledge of working with fabric to help her understand how to use wire. She seemed to kind of weave it around into the shapes she wanted. So I was really fascinated by the influx of past experience into the workshop.

3.) Many commented that this is time consuming. Yes. It is. But it's cheap. And when you're done with it, it's yours. You know it at the end. You know every last bit of it in a very physical way. And I think that the flexibility it allows for creatively is something that's unquantifiable. Wire can be quite expressive. There's something nice about the minimalism of it. I think the time commitment is worth it to certain people. If you don't have the money for other materials, but you do have the time, then what does it hurt? Even if you do have the money for some other materials, wire is just better in certain situations. And a very hands-on experience with it just helps you to intuitively understand when this material would be a good choice.

4.) a single two day workshop is not ideal. I think that to get at deep and structured... as Dewey puts it, disciplined... thought, repetition is necessary. Maybe a small project to start out with. And once the experiences accumulate, you start reflecting more and more. Your past experiences start affecting your future projects. And you gain an intuition for the design. So maybe a better way to go about this is to have one group that does several different sets of projects over time.... a cumulative effect.

5.) having people explore their environments in the light of an engineering project is good. there's a lot of knowledge that can be observed in physical objects. And it's good to get people started discussing why things are made the way they are, in the shape they are, and with the materials that they're made. (ok... that was a confusing sentence, maybe). In addition to just getting people actually actively observing their surroundings, maybe it also encourages imitation -- of nature, of existing design, etc. Imitation is the first step towards understanding. If you can observe something and then recreate it, you really must understand it. In Costa Rica, one of the groups made a to-scale version of an umbrella arm. After talking to one of the group members, it was clear that he really understood how the 4-bar linkage worked in a very physical way. And even if he didn't have the technical words for it, the understanding was there. I feel it's critical to have this understanding before abstracting it to technical words and equations.

hmm. yeah. that's about it for now.

11 August 2006

on nature

i finished making a mini comic. really just a compilation of sketchbook stuff from the past 2 years. and i gave one to john maeda since i was delivering some over to PLW anyway. in exchange, he gave me a copy of his latest book/exhibit -- "nature"

it's always interesting to see what people choose as beautiful or simple or evocative... all of those things. i was struck by the moth on the asphalt. i found a similar thing when i was in pennsylvania, except it was a spider trying to kill a butterfly. i chased the spider off and saved the butterfly('s now dead body). butterflies and moths fascinate me. especially when i see close-up pictures of them. the scales. the proboscis. they're so delicate. the scene from pennsylvania also stuck with me because it was a simple reminder that nature is impermanent and not as "nice" as we'd like to think -- things die; things are killed; things bleed; things hurt; things in nature exist because there's no option not to. only humans seem to try to live outside of this.

i guess at this point i could make some comment about sartre's statement that we brought about our own existence. or maybe something about vegetarianism. or something else philosophical. but i think i'll just leave it at existence. past and future don't matter; there is only now and what must be done.

Time and Space died yesterday. We already live in the absolute, because we have created eternal, omnipresent speed. -- from the futurist manifesto


(Quotes from the books in grey. The Q: parts are the interviewer. A: is John Maeda. Hopefully he'll forgive my copious usage of his book to further my own discourse)

Q: When you are using the mouse to draw, do you have a clear idea of what the result will be on the screen?
A: At least 90% of the time I can predict what's going to happen. It's the 10% of the time that gets me excited. It's the same way when you're working with any material. You can draw a perfect picture of a person, but nobody will care about it. But if you draw a perfect picture of a person on some kind of oddly constructed material, something happens. Something bad happens. But that bad, for those who are creatively trained can be really good. It doesn't happen all the time but when it does it is a moment that should be appreciated, (p.16).

I can definitely vouch for this sentiment from my own creative standpoint. I mean... part of the reason I think that people are unimpressed with realistic images any more is because of the prominence of photography in our every day lives. More and more, I value the "mistakes" that happen in my work.

Q: Do you think it's more difficult for someone who's been trained as a computer engineer to start to think intuitively? Or do you find it more difficult to help the person who is artistically trained to think technically?
A: That's the perfect question, and it's something that I often think about. The answer is that it is much harder to get someone who is technically trained to move over to the artistic side. I'm not sure why. I think it's because the thinking space of a technologist tens to be narrow and focused -- this makes it hard for them to accept that waht might be "wrong" is sometimes right. The artist's mind is always open and diverging -- on the other hand this makes it hard for them to enter the constrained space of programmatic thinking. At times it can be suffocating, (p.16).

Oh man. Definitely a question I often ponder. I mean. I guess I feel strange coming at this from the standpoint of someone who considers herself both an artist and an engineer. But sometimes I think that mechanical engineering -- at least when it comes to mechanical design -- isn't so different from art. Mechanical design feels very intuitive. At some point, you need the equations to chek out your design to make sure it's ok, but the beginning... it's intuition. And this is one reason I think that designers get better with age. Intuition builds off of experience. And the 10% "accidents" still happen in the mechanical world.

Q: Many contemporary art movements have emphasized the importance of the artist's intention or idea over the technical mastery of materials. It may seem surprising but the computer is so complex to use as a medium that it seems to demand a return to the fundamentals of technical mastery or craftsmanship. How important is craftsmanship in your own work?
A: this is a really great question because I've changed my position so many times on this over the last decade. The fact that I make my own art is important to me. This approach, I realize, is not so popular today.
However, the general public, if you care about them, still thinks that artists make things. For example, they'll go to see Christo's Gates in New York City. The average person thinks there's this guy named Christo who put these gates together one by one, painted them orange and put them all over New York. When the average person realizes the artist had this amazing concept but did not actually build the piece with his or her own hands, they may get kind of confused.
Q: Or disappointed.
A: Or disappointed. A more sophisticated person can understand that the actual making of art may not be nearly as important as what the art actually represents. However, I've discovered that I'm very interested in the 95% of the population that may be disappointed.
In the field of technology-related art, there are very few who have both technical mastery of the computer and creative ideas. There are those who have just the ideas without the skills to make, who use massive bands of technologists as their construction team. this is today's dominant production model. It does not differ from making a Hollywood film in some senses. I wish to be thought of as more of a personal preference, (p.19).

Based on how much of my art has changed from the 10% of "mistakes" I've made, I think there is validity to the idea that should be artists who have a hands-on relationship to their medium. In some respects, if you're working in concepts, you're only limited by your brain... your conceptual model. But you might not understand why such concepts might never come
into being. To contrast, though, if you work in concepts, you might be the one who pushes some new technology to be further developed to help realize your concept. I guess it's two sides of the same coin, in some sense. You have a concept, and when you try to realize it, you might run into problems. Sometimes these problems change your concept. Other times, you figure out a way to conform the materials to your vision. I think one positive aspect of actually working with materials is the ability to explore the limits of the materials yourself. There's a lot of knowledge to be found through physical interaction. I think the trick is knowing when to be conceptual and when to be intuitive about your process. Sometimes the materials "know" more than you do.

Q: You often emphasize the importance of developing a deeper and more human relationship with the computer. Can you explain what you mean by this? As an artist is your relationship to the computer less human or humane than the relationship of a painter to his brushes or paints and canvas?
A: I was visiting one of my mentors in Japan when his friend, a traditional landscape painter in the Japanese style, dropped by his studio. The visitor smelled like paint and he had all of the attributes of someone who has been touched by his medium in a way that carries a kind of romanticism. What I lament is that my work with the computer has left me nothing but scars inside my hand tissue that are entirely invisible. I'm not saying I want a pixel-inflicted scar on my face, but sometimes I feel that the way I realize my digital artwork could be seen in the same way as a person that creates Excel spreadsheets. What differentiates a digital artist from a conventional office worker? (p.20).

Good question. Again, something I've been pondering. And I think I came to my conclusion that my own interests lie in the physical interfaces to the computer. Maybe it's my training as a mechanical engineer. Maybe it's my love for pens and pencils and paper. I don't know. But I have a special fondness for the physical interaction. I guess that maybe it's that I like the tactile knowledge... I like intuition. And in some ways, I don't feel the same intuition about the art I create on a computer. Except with OPENSTUDIO. And then, it's more of a fondness for the simplicity and the fact that the digital tools don't cover up the physical flaws. I've ended up with a lot of mistakes on OS, and I find that I like a lot of them. Maybe in some way, I feel that OS allows for that 10% to happen. And because the interface doesn't allow for perfectionistic tweaking, I tend to leave them.

Maybe there is a romanticism attached to materials. I think this is partially due to the history of the materials. The smells, the feeling of using them, the sounds of using them... they all evoke a rich and diverse past. The computer doesn't have this past yet.

The past is something that is evoked. Objects don't carry the past with them, they simply evoke what you know about its past... you fill in the blanks. Maybe if there were a rich history of computer art, things would be different. But mostly for me, computers evoke MS Paint and photoshop and childhood when computers were still so new. And work. Computers evoke work. But the same can be said for the fact that pens evoke the feeling of taking notes in class and writing the numbers 1-100 because my teachers said I had to.

I don't know. Just some thoughts.

17 July 2006

information, the internet, the public, and nostalgia

A public space is public when it either maintains the public order or changes it, (Vito Acconci).

The public gathers in two kinds of spaces. The first is a space that is public, a place where the public gathers because it has a right to the place; the second is a place that is made public, a place where the public gathers precisely because it doesn’t have the right – a place made public by force, (Vito Acconci).

Although Acconci was talking about space -- parks, streets, buildings, etc. -- I feel that these ideas also apply to public vs. private information, to the concept of internet, to creative commons vs. copyright. Virtual space. Not to sound like a digital utopian/net-o-phile/whatever, but it's true that the internet has changed the way we think about some fundamental concepts, and I feel that when viewing the internet as a public space through the lens of Acconci, it's possible to see how it falls into the two categories.

I guess that maybe I'm not the person who knows best about this. All I know is the stuff that has gotten hashed out in two semesters of CMS classes (thanks, Henry :) ), but it's something I think about, and is something I care about, so maybe I can still have something to say in the matter even though it's not really my area of study.

The internet. In some ways, I can barely remember the time I didn't have it. But even though the memory is vague, I remember the first webpage I made -- in fact, it was the first thing that came up when you searched for my name for a long time. I remember when I used to get games via BBSs. I remember shareware and Duke Nukem and Crystal Caves and Commander Keen. I remember my first computer -- an Atari. And, in some ways, I realize my generation's role as the first people to have pretty much grown up with computers. I used to be fascinated by the screeching sounds of the modem communicating to another computer. So horrible, yet so wonderful at the same time. In some ways, it's still the sound of the future for me. I remember some of the first CD drives for PCs. I remember building my first computer. I still use my AOL screen name from 6th/7th grade. I've been around computers so long, that I take them for granted, take the knowledge of how to use them as something everyone knows. Well.. at least all my friends know. So I'm always surprised when my step-mom or my mom or my dad don't know about things. I introduced my dad to flickr. He's decided to get a paid account now. I find this really amusing.

But back to information. Transfer of information. That's what the internet is good for. I can find people who have my same interests all over the world. I can buy toys from my childhood (thanks to ebay). All of this and more has led to the growth of the long tail economic model. Lots has been said about this, and I don't know that I can really say any more interesting things than have already been said. So back to Acconci. "The public gathers because it has a right to the place." Take away this right, and you take something unique about the internet away.

I get really frustrated reading about the whole net neutrality debate. Particularly from the standpoint that our politicians are so distanced from society/technology, that they really seem to have no clue. Or at least most of them seem this way. Jon Stewart has definitely made fun of this one a lot. But, seriously, I listen to them talk and it's obvious that they don't really know things. And I also think that this whole concept of internet, of connectivity across the world, is just at its beginnings. So much that we don't know, so many uses left to be found -- uses that can only be made by people who use the internet. The uses of the street. The uses of the public.

The internet allows people to redefine public. It allows fan communities to form. It allows niche groups to have a say. In some ways, it has the potential to be a wonderful tool for democracy. The internet is very much a place for the public.

The internet is also a place where the public can reclaim things made private. Piracy, mp3s/file sharing, open source software, etc. These are all reclaimations of privatized information. The internet is a place where information can be "made public by force"... the force of numbers. The force of anonymity. The force of the public.

The space that is made public began as its own opposite, This was a space that was never meant to be public at all: a royal space, or a presidential space, or a corporate space. This private and privileged space had inherent in it, from its beginning, the seeds of public space: the fact of its existence provoked desire, its privacy functioned as a taunt to the public that felt left out. Once that space has been taken over by force and made public, it has inherent in it, in turn, the seeds of private place, the seeds of re-defined and re-inhabited privacy: the public that takes it over is working its way up to the royalty or the presidency or the corporate office. Private space becomes public when the public wants it; the public space becomes private when the public that has it won’t give it up, (Vito Acconci).


In the space that is public, the public, whose space this is, has agreed to be a public, these are people “in the form of a city”, they are public when they act “in the name of the city”. They “own” the city only in quotes. The establishment of certain space in the city as “public” is are minder, a warning, that the rest of the city isn’t public. New York doesn’t belong to us, and neither does Paris, and neither does Des Moines, (Vito Acconci).

No one owns the internet. No one should own it. And I think there's a very interesting interplay of public vs. private on the internet. In some sense, it's a space that everyone has agreed is "public." But it's also a space where propriety of information -- privacy, of sorts -- comes into play. Hacking websites isn't "allowed." I mean... it can be done, but it's messing with someone's own "private" place. Even though everything about the webpage (the source and the styles and the images, etc) are all open for the public to see. Blogs. Blogs are some place I find the interplay of public and private most interesting. There are all these teenagers (I reserve the right to talk about them because I once was one of them) who post their most inner feelings for all to see. Often involving overly-done and melodramatic poetry. Possibly a black background on their journal. In some ways, by showing it to people who are numeros and anonymous, it's almost like privacy. At least, I never got worried about posting things in my journal until my friends found it. And then I would change journals, or make private entries, or something along those lines.

And, you know, to this day I still find this concept of anonymity to be important. Especially when it comes to showing my sketchbook. I would rather show my sketch book to a complete stranger than to my parents. Or my friends, usually. The distance is somehow soothing. Everything becomes more objective. And in some ways, it's just a different form of performing. I can only perform when I can't see the audience, when I don't have a connection to the audience.


Public space, in an electronic age, is space on the run. Public space is not space in the city but the city itself. Not nodes but circulation routes; not buildings and plazas, but roads and bridges. Publicspace is leaving home, and giving up all the comforts of the cluster-places that substitute for the home. Space on the run is life on the loose. There’s not time to talk; there’s no need to talk, since you have all the information you need on the radio you carry with you. There’s no need for a person-to-person relationship, since you already have multiple relationships with the voices on your radio, with images of persons in store windows and on billboards; there’s no time to stop and have a relationship, which would be a denial of all those other bodies you’re side-by-side with on the street, one different body after another, one body replacing another. There’s no time and no need and no way to have “deep sex”: in a plague year, in a time of AIDS, bodies mix while dressed in condoms and armored with vaginal shields – the body takes its own housing with it wherever it goes, it doesn’t come out of its shell. The electronic age and the age of AIDS come intermixed in an age of virus, whether that virus is information or disease. Each person becomes too infected, either with information or with disease, to be with another. You come to visit, not to stay, (Vito Acconci).

I felt this last night when I didn't feel safe to stop anywhere to sit and eat a dinner.
Why does the concept of ownership feel so foreign to me?
A 30 minute drive away might have well been another country.

12 July 2006

thoughts on creation (in both engineering and art)

where do ideas come from? how do we link things together? how do we start the creative process? these questions intrigue me, push me to explore my own creative process and the process of others.

a while back, i met with arthur ganson and talked for a while, asked him lots of questions, tried to gain an understanding on how he went about doing things. one of the questions i asked: what was his design process? his answer: most of the time, he thinks about how it will move/speak for/to an audience. sometimes an item is a catalyst for the design (z.B. artichoke leave walking). sometimes the idea is more nebulous and what drives the design is the overall aesthetic presence of the piece (z.B. the cloud sculptures).

maybe sometimes it takes asking someone else a question to get yourself to ask the same question to... um... yourself. at least, until ganson gave me his answer, i never really thought about my own design process -- it just came about. but that's not a good answer for people. it really isn't an answer; it's just me not actively thinking through the process.

so i started thinking about my own experience with design -- both in engineering and art and the combination of the two. and i think i have a very similar manner of doing things. let's take comics/drawing/art as my first example (seeing as i actually have pictures of the work)

method 1) i have a clear idea of what story i want to tell. this is probably the majority ... like the comic i recently did about my travel woes. or jeoffrey. or various other stories of my day. example 1

method 2) i start with a line or a shape and use it to catalyze a drawing around. often this is an eye or a mouth or an expression i want to capture. example 2 and example 3

method 3) i have a certain way i want to lay out a page or maybe a certain method i want to use to do this. in other words, i want to achieve a certain effect. i don't really know what the content will be before i start; the method shapes the content. this is a harder example to find, and the only one i can think of is a photograph where i wanted to try to sign my name using car tail lights on a long exposure (around 10 seconds). example 4

a similar process goes on when making a wire sculpture or doing a more traditional engineering design. examples:

method 1) i need to make something that does this particular task. in general, 2.007 contest forces this method. other examples are like... making a mechanism that can sign your name.

method 2) i found a really cool part that i want to use, like the paperclip that started me on the path of making the wire robot guy with a sword. or maybe i want to use a particular mechanism because i think it'll be fun.

method 3) i want to build something that has a particular presence... a feeling. the dancing giraffe was a bit like this. but not quite as successful as i'd have wanted it to be.

anyway. these methods switch around during different phases of the design process -- every design is some combination of these. but these are the three clear ways i've found to start. even working today on things with a fellow media lab student, alea, we touched on these different methods with her different projects. she wants to make a mechanism to sign her name. clear goal-oriented start. she has some bits of glass she found that she wants to use in a stained glass/wire thing. more of a method 2. i gave her a bit of wire and told her to make something with it, and she made a bird. again, method 2.

i feel like methods 2 and 3 are more likely to be found when creating an art piece, and method 1 is more traditional engineering. but there's no reason why the other methods couldn't be used in traditional engineering. maybe more on the design side -- i.e. i want the end users to have this experience. or if your materials are limited, maybe there's a play between method 1 and 2, with i need to do this, but i have this.

hm. i don't know. just some thoughts.
anyone else have any thoughts?

10 July 2006

SNAP - the people version

Cast (the older ones):
Amelia - Glorianna's niece. From NYC. At the workshop for three of the five days.
Dimitri - Just finished his first year at UNO. From New Orleans. There for all five days.
Garrick - From New Orleans. Carol Bebelle's... nephew? There on Wednesday and Friday.
Micah - From New Orleans. There for all five days.

In response to Glorianna's comment, here's my effort for posting on the changes of the older kids in the SNAP workshop.


First off, I was really impressed by the maturity of all the kids involved. I feel like I would've been a much worse kid to work with when I was their age. They did excellent work and had such great ideas on how the street could change.

I'll just go in alphabetical order.

Amelia did great work compositing photos of the street to get a feel of how it is now, and she also did an excellent job of laying out three blocks of OCHB in Google SketchUp. Even though she was only there for 3 of the 5 days, she managed to do a lot. I also feel like she worked quite well with the other students there. Even at the end of the 5 days, her three blocks are the most completely laid out blocks on the street in SketchUp.

Dimitri is quite a character. He focused so intently on the details of one of the buildings that he didn't manage to really map out even one complete block. I tried hinting at him that details weren't quite so important for these 5 days, but he kept on going. I didn't really feel that it was my place to strongly step in and tell him to do things differently, though. So I let him do what he did -- he was having fun and learning how to model a building (very detailed building) to scale in SketchUp. His presentation skills were a little hesitant. I tried to get him to run through his part of the presentation with me a couple of times. But after one run-through, he said that was enough. His question answering was really good. He seems a bit shy at times. But he also seems to think through things well. He's a good worker with good ideas. If this project continues, I think that working on it will be good for him. Maybe to develop some confidence speaknig in front of people.

Garrick was only there for 2 of the 5 days, but he jumped right in and had some great ideas. He was very excited about the possibilities of the businesses on the street. It was great to hear his ideas, and I think it would be fun to work out more thoroughly the business aspects of one of the blocks. I feel that if he were there for a few more days, he would've done even more great work. He didn't get to work in SketchUp much, due to his absence. But he drew out (on paper) a nice comparison of the old/current front of one block to his new ideas for the space.

Micah really impressed me when it came to the presentation. He was well spoken and clear. And his transitions between slides were excellent. He took preparing for the presentation more seriously than Dimitri seemed to, and I think this ended in good results. He laid out a few blocks, but didn't quite get the scale right, so they're all a relatively correct size... um... relative to one another. He seemed focused throughout the 5 days.

All in all, I think the older kids that were there for SNAP were wonderful. Again, I was quite impressed. And I really hope that they get to see some of their ideas come into being. They did some great work in 5 short days.

some thoughts on the cricket construction kit.

so i ran across an article on the cricket construction kit in the tech one day. or maybe it was tech talk. either way... in one of the MIT newspapers. and at first i was like, oh no... i want to do something similar... is what i want to do too similar? and then i thought about it. and i think there are some major differences in what i'm thinking of doing for a thesis vs. what the cricket construction kit does.

1) price. price price price. so expensive for that. $250!! i never would've gotten one of these as a kid. as it was growing up, LEGOs were too expensive to ever get large sets, much less a lego robotics set. with all the concerns over the digital divide between rich and poor, why aren't they trying to make something that everyone can use? or really, something that everyone can afford? call me idealistic, but i really do think that the idea of making a profit gets in the way of any good intentions.

anything i make, i want it to be affordable to anyone, something that can spread, something that can be added on to, something that will grow with the users.

i'm more of a fan of open source, open hardware, creative commons things. the product is secondary to the ideas. and when this is the case, the way you make a living is by providing support, which is much more interesting and engaging, anyway, than continuously working on hardware development. i mean, when it comes right down to it, i am limited by my own experiences and my own imagination, so any design that i come up with will also be limited. but if the design is distrubuted, and people can innovate freely, then everyone benefits from the experience of others. my dad always told me that you never can learn more than your teacher, if you only have one teacher, and i think this carries over into open source logic. with everyone bringing their own experiences and ideas to the table, more ideas get mixed together that might otherwise not have been broght together, and as a result, everyone benefits. and in some ways, a community (of sorts) develops around this. i think it's a strong concept, and more and more, i'm fascinated by the idea of the open source community and things like make magazine.

and this is one reason i like the GoGo Board. sure, it may be kinda blocky and a bit hard to put into things at times. but it's cheap. and it's meant to be innovated on. it may not have the sleek design of a cricket, but i think that's good. it hasn't been black-boxed away from the people using it. it isn't mysterious. you can build your own. you can program it. you can see the parts.

2) black-boxed. i started on point two in the previous paragraph... so carry that down. by putting the picocricket in this slick box with these fancy buttons and surface mount components, you're making it mysterious and unattainable, in some sense. sure, you can program it, but you can't add onto it, you can't see the parts, you can't figure out how it works and adapt it for your needs. for example, i think running the GoGo Board on solar power with fuel cells, like the kids at the South End Technology Center tried to do (i'm not sure if they succeeded... i think they might've), might not have happened if they had been using picocrickets instead of GoGo Boards.

3) it doesn't emphasize construction. it's not the programming that i'm interested in when i'm trying to do this construction kit idea. i want more of, as my advisor puts it, a grammar of mechanisms. building blocks for making a machine. a quick reference. something that gives the basics and maybe a few examples and then encourages exploration and building one's own ideas. i think it makes it more powerful to be able to add some interaction with your machines. but i think that the construction part should be able to stand on its own.

instead of giving instructions on how to build a specific thing, such as LEGO does, i want it to give a way of thinking about design, a way to go beyond one thing. this is something i never found in any of my (many) construction kits as a kid (LEGO, K'nex, erector set, etc), and what is what i really wanted. just some hints as to where to go. when you don't know what's out there, or what the possibilities are, it's hard to start. i mean... ideas don't come out of thin air. inventions and ideas are built out of experience... out of previously seen things... out of combining two random things in your head at the right time... out of innovating on something that's already there. same as in art. imitation does count.

(actually, as a side note, there was this nice section in this book i was reading recently on how all tools and inventions are based around stories. even if the story is "i need to do this, and i have this, so this is how i did what i wanted to do", it's still some form of story. i should remember to explore this idea a bit more.)

so, construction. construction is what i'm after. how do you learn to build things that move? how do you externalize motion from what your body knows? how do you create your own thing? and most importantly, how do you build up experience... intuition.

4) commercialized product. i'd rather it be something that people feel is their own, and i feel that the black-boxed-ness and the price detract from this, although the product is quite nice. there's something to be said for the diy aesthetic. i don't want to build dependence on a product, but instead build intuition and confidence for each individual. i want them to grow ideas. i want them to share ideas.


so where does this leave me? i want something cheap, versatile, appropriateable (ok... i made that word up. something that can be appropriated by the people using it). something that helps people develop their own intuition about building things, instead of relying on being told what to do. i want to encourage using the materials around you. i want to lower the barrier to starting to work on things. i want it to be fun. and i think that trying to build some sort of community around it is good, where kids share their ideas and experiences with each other, offer advice, etc.

maybe having some questions to ask yourself when you get stuck would be good. advice from people who've worked with similar things. a reference for the grammar of mechanisms, for which things can be soldered and which can't, for which glues can be used on which surfaces, for geometries. a reference. a guide. i don't know. encouragement for kids/people who want to build things out of cheap materials. maybe with some actual physical examples that come with it. a tool to make wire gears. pictures/drawings of real life examples of these things in action. and encouragement to explore your world.

i'm not sure of the best way to go about this. maybe i should ask kids what they discovered through working with wire... and what suggestions they might have for other people doing similar things? sigh. i think i know what i want but i'm not sure how to get there.


man. i tell you. i really should get better about posting in here. i do so much, and i never seem to talk about it. maybe first things first, i should talk about the new orleans trip with glorianna. photos can be found on my flickr account. and let me try this new lightbox thing, that will hopefully work.


SNAP -- student neighborhood area planning.

June 26-30, 2006. Ashe' Cultural Arts Center - New Orleans, LA
Students from the New Orleans area met together at the Ashe' CAC for a week long workshop focused (roughly) on the themes of urban planning, adaptive reuse, rebuilding, and reinvisioning a neighborhood. The area focused on was a 4-5 block stretch of Oretha Castle Haley Blvd. (formerly Dryades St.), which also included the Ashe' CAC. The number of kids varied from day to day, but there were two who were there for the entire time. Unfortunately, due to a cancelled flight, I missed the first day, but managed to get to New Orleans the next day (with quite a few delays).

Tuesday was a bit rough. There were a lot of younger kids who were very needing of attention. Glorianna was great with them, though. I think I was still in a bit of shock. Steven Bingler gave a nice talk/discussion about the feeling of the place, getting kids to come up with words for how the street feels now and how they want it to feel in the future. He then worked on getting them to come up with concrete ideas about how to achieve the feelings they wanted. Ex: NOW - run down, historic, lonely, familiar, forgotten. FUTURE - classy, lively, outrageous, scenic, revitalized, safe, a New Orleans vibe. HOW? - gumbo shops, soul food restaurants, stores, flowers, plants, banks, available housing.

I managed to catch up a bit on what was going on, and did my best to get the younger kids going on something. For this, I broke out the art supplies I had brought down from Boston. After walking around and taking pictures on Oretha Castle Haley Blvd. and while focusing on the words that Steven had them come up with, the younger kids sketched up some ideas for what could go in some of the empty lots and buildings, as well as ideas for what could make the neighborhood better. Some of the students' work: 1, 2, 3. (more on flickr.) It was a bit messy, but fun. There was this wonderful kid, Syraje, who started designing artistic street lights and matching benches for the street. Unfortunately, he was only there for one day.Lisa Mosier taught the older kids how to do models in Google SketchUp, while I was working with the younger kids.

The next day, only three of the younger kids showed up (in addition to the older kids). Dorian Hastings showed up and gave a wonderful presentation on the history of the street. Glorianna, again, was great with the kids and helped the younger ones think about being entrepeneurs. The three designed their store fronts and what they wanted their stores to have in them. One of them wanted a jewelry store, one of them a clothing store, and one of them a dance/dance supply/dance clothing store. After designing the store fronts, they started designing the things to go in the store. The older kids worked on their 3D models this day. I worked with this kid Garrick a lot on this day. He had some great ideas about how this one block could be, with an internet cafe, some stores, a blockbuster, a drug store, a health center, and a cafe/restaurant with outdoor patio seating.

Thursday. Glorianna left. None of the younger kids showed up. It was pretty much just Micah and Dimitri, the two consistent kids. They worked on their models all day. Dimitri was very focused on doing detail work on the buildings, whereas Micah was more focused on trying to lay out a block. I laid out Garrick's street in SketchUp, since he wasn't there. Work work work on the presentation. Lisa picked out some of the words from Steven's discussion to go in the presentation. I tried to get the kids' input on how the presentation should be structured. While they were busy working on their models, I made the presentation. Well... started it. I didn't finish it until late that night.

Friday. Presentation. Micah and Dimitri were the only ones there in the morning. They ran through the presentation a few times, for practice. Garrick showed up after a bit, and Micah and Dimitri filled him in on the presentation. About when the presentation was starting, two of the younger kids showed up, along with their parents. The presentation went well. I was impressed by Micah's presentation skills. They're better than mine, I think. Dimitri was a bit distractable, and a little soft spoken, and not quite as prepared as Micah, but still did well. Garrick told about his ideas for the two blocks he worked on. And afterwards, the younger kids spoke about what they had worked on.

The parents and other people who showed up seemed interested in what was going on. They asked great questions about the project and about why are we doing this and what all was going on. The kids answered their questions well. And I also answered a few of them, along with Carol Bebelle (of the Ashe' CAC).

All in all, I think this workshop went well. The kids thought through some hard things and came out with a good presentation. I wish we had had more time to work on things, and I hope that this continues and that something comes out of it. I think it was a good experience for the kids, if anything, and I know it was a great experience for me.

03 June 2006

workshops in scotland -- photos!

i figure that i should probably show what i've been working on... or really, what the kids in scotland worked on when i ran two workshops over there.

ok. so <- that is supposed to be an angel. this group of two girls made this. they were 9 or 10 years old. it goes back and forth and kind of wiggles.
this -> is supposed to be a skeleton and a gorilla that fight. they originally wanted it to pop out of the coffin in the front, but couldn't figure out how to do that, so they made them fight. when the rack (the thing that they're standing on) goes back and forth, they sway.

this <- is the group that made this clock that says "time flys". it rocks back and forth.

this -> is supposed to be a potato, or "tattie" as they say in scotland. he's wearing a little tam. they made him a kilt, but i don't think they got around to putting it on him.

this <- was made by a group of boys who were in to mountain biking and motocross. they made this motorcycle that rocks back and forth. this is all them, too. all i helped them with was showing them briefly how the mechanism could possibly move and showing them how to solder. for two hours work, i'm pretty impressed.

this -> is supposed to be a monkey swinging on a tree. it's pretty cute when it's moving. they wanted more time to put leaves on the tree and make the monkey swing a little better. but, again, for only two hours, i think they did an excellent job.

there are a few more, but i don't have photos of them right this second. i'll put them up either later tonight or maybe tomorrow. one is of a dolphin, and one is of a robin.

02 June 2006


so today, i was commissioned by armando alegre on OPENSTUDIO to make "a drawing that explains why u like so much the blood in living things." i guess i do have some 'splainin' to do.

a couple of weeks ago in response to the appearance of two "museums" on OPENSTUDIO, i decided that maybe what was needed was more gallery curation. and so i started the plan to curate a show around a theme. for various reasons, i chose the theme bloody and set about commissioning and buying art with this theme. why bloody? good question. i guess for me blood has a lot of significance. and i honestly just find it somewhat amusing to make bloody cartoon characters.

we, as humans, place a lot of value on life -- the people most harshly punished are the ones who bring an end to human life (or who threaten the country, but that aside...). this reverance of human life also extends to other living creatures, some people even opting to never eat another (previously) living animal or using anything that might have harmed them. blood is inextricably tied to life. when i was reading "the second self" a while back, i was struck by how kids decide on whether or not something is "alive". more specifically, i was struck by the statement that spiders aren't alive "because we can kill them." which doesn't quite make sense when you get down to it, but in some way it does. on the whole, we don't think twice about killing insects or worms or things like that. maybe it's because they don't bleed. when making art on OPENSTUDIO, i often make things bloody. in particular, i'm drawn to the idea of cute gore. or cute monsters. the ability to show something that would in real life be really horrible but in a way that's estranged from all our connections to real life. it's cathartic in a sense. and by being able to laugh at something, you can begin to become unafraid of it in real life.

when we get an injury, we want to fix it. exposure of blood usually signifies a jeopardy to life; the one exception to this is menstruation. but, still, blood is not part of what we talk about, even though it plays a major role in our every day lives. we grow up watching nature shows where you see the lion hunting and then see the lion eating -- never the lion killing. nature minus the harshness. but, you know, nature isn't clean. it's bloody and messy and fearful. as someone who grew up in the country, i thought nothing of helping goats give birth, gutting my own fish, or of eating an animal i raised, etc. it was part of life. but then i moved to the city. in some sense, the nature of living was gone. i no longer had to fear being bitten by poisonous snakes, the deaths of my animals in the back yard/farm, predators. and i realized how sterile we humans try to make our lives. in some sense, i still feel that living in the city is just... strange.

but i don't think blood and fear and death and nature are things to be... well... feared. they just are. and it's more advantageous to feel capable of coping instead of being afraid of ever having to deal with them. we are mortal but our ideas (maybe according to plato) are eternal. but we shouldn't forget our mortality. we are rational animals, and sometimes it's nice to be reminded of the animal aspect. not everything in our world can be rationalized.

as for a more personal significance of blood, and at the risk of maybe revealing something about myself that i'm not proud of to the entire damn internet (or at least the portion that will see this), i went through several years of being (off and on) depressed and a self-injurer. and in some way, it's cathartic for me to externalize these things. to be able to laugh at myself. to realize that there are things in my life that may not be perfect, but that i always have the opportunity to change. to know that i went through this and survived makes the happiness that much sweeter.

so i guess i'll probably continue to make bloody cartoons for a while. it's a nice way to remind myself of my mortality, and to laugh at it and decide to live, anyway. sport death, maybe, to use the senior house motto.

yeah. sport death. only life can kill you.
it's better to face these things -- blood, death, disease, pain, fear
than to pretend they don't exist.

18 April 2006

part 1 of essay

As computers and other digital technologies have become more integrated into our every day lives, we begin to take the digital world for granted, and in many cases we choose digital over a more material form. Digital media has offered us ease of use, convenience, quickness, versatility, and in many cases is cheaper than the material alternative (especially if one already owns a computer). Digital cameras allow cheap, instant gratification when a photo is desired, instead of the old method of having to wait for a roll of film to be developed and printed. Email allows us to freely and almost instantaneously send our thoughts to anyone around the world who has the ability tof check email instead of having to write out a letter by hand and wait for the postal service to deliver it days from when you sent it. We have digital clocks that can receive a radio signal from the atomic clock and adjust the time accordingly. We can have our music wherever we go. We can watch movies or the news on our iPods. Technology is so integrated into our daily lives that at some point we begin to take it for granted not only as simply being present, but also as being a good thing in our lives. We should stop to consider how having these things around have changed the way we think, live, and interact – not every impact technology makes or has made is positive.

I'm not trying to vilify technology, though. Technology has undoubtedly made a huge positive change on human life – the wheel, irrigation, electricity, water filtration, etc. But these are not new technologies. What I'm more concerned about is everything from the industrial revolution onward, and in particular computers. But, still, I'm not trying to vilify the computer; I just want to be conscious of the effects of technology's use on myself and on others. To quote one of Seth's blog entries:

I am not denying the utility and benefits that computers have brought to my life, and many others, but I am rather recognizing that there are times when the computer does not benefit me. It can impair my health, keep me awake, waste my time, and reduce my interaction with other humans. So, I would like to minimize these things without denying that procrastination, games, and frivolous interactions can also be beneficial.

To further clarify, I believe that the technology itself cannot be good or bad, but only our use of it can be valued with words such as good or bad. Existence is beyond evaluative words; it is only in our perception of an object's or a person's existence that the evaluation of good or bad comes in. Existence precedes judgement; in the end, technology is simply what we make of it, and it falls to us to be responsible about its use. Existence precedes use; it is only when we are presented with existing materials that we can judge them and then either put them to use as they are, or else reshape the materials to fit the use we have in mind. In simpler words, technology's not the problem; the problem is us.

27 March 2006

rambling philosophical musings that probably don't make much sense right now.

i really should get better about writing in this. i keep coming up with so many things to say, but only end up having the time to say a few.

philosophy has been on my mind. in particular, why do i find that i have such a strong reaction against plato? and why do i tend to agree with aristotle more. well... at least when it comes to the ideas behind aesthetics.

plato. oh man. plato. so much there (of what i've read) that gets to me. first off, i guess i tend to read his argument against allowing mythologies to be told as an argument for canon and for the side of media effects that tends toward children can't tell the difference between reality and stories. a similar argument is going on now with games vs. reality. and earlier in the 80s with D&D. and i suppose it will always go on.

maybe i should clarify. plato takes the stance that falseness is bad. in all its forms. and i disagree. sometimes a lie is more capable of telling the truth. and i think that this stance has appeared throughout art history and comedic history. satire. dada. the daily show. and he argues that children need to be protected from this because they don't have the capacity to discern the difference between truth and fiction. i don't think so. i think kids are often smarter than we give them credit for. and instead of deciding to censor things, it's better to have open discussion about controversial things. not talking about it only serves to cause a festering wound.

and maybe i just tend to bristle at the idea that he has the right to tell people what is and isn't worth studying or reading. but maybe that's me coming from my own stance of hating it when people do this to me. maybe i just feel that anything that you're interested in, if examined deeply and thoroughly, can lead to a develpment of critical thinking and also build up and branch out to other topics. for example -- the main reason that i started studying the history of modern art has its roots in my love of punk music and many hours spent on the internet reading about the history of punk music and related subcultures. i'm sure plato wouldn't think punk music is a valid form of study.

i also tend to disagree with him when it comes to his idea of imitation and images. that true art is when an artist produces a true to life representation of an object. but that the replication is somehow secondary to actually making an object. i feel that he wrongly puts aside the subjective. everything leads towards the objective. and everything has its perfect ideal.... platonic ideals. pah. this is not my cup of tea, nor do i think he's right.

aristotle, on the other hand, i think has a better feel for subjectivity, and in particular, the thing-y-ness of things. how without materials, there would be no production of any objects. he, too, disagreed with plato. maybe it's just a nice change after hating plato for the past few days.

one more reason to hate plato:
his discussion of who should be allowed to tell a lie. he argues that the state is the only one who should be allowed to tell a lie if it's "for the public good." i don't think this is right. the public should decide the public good. the public should be informed. the public should care.

and, sadly enough, i don't think the public is informed ... i know i'm not.
people shouldn't be afraid of their governments. governments should be afraid of their people.