Two birds, one stone:

Sorry about the wobbles.

This is my video journal of the Servo lab for PhysComp, filmed for CommLab on a Sanyo Xacti 6MP digital movie camera.

I tried to edit this within the Xacti, but I ended up joining the clips together in the wrong order. It was way too much work to separate them again—it’s just a lousy way to edit—so then I dumped the mess into iMovie HD (an older version, recommended by Bre Pettis in his very fine Getting Started in Video series), recut and rearranged it, and added title frames from Photoshop (too bad they look like crap after compression) and CC-licensed music by the excellent Kristin Hersh. This was my first time using iMovie; I found it reasonably intuitive.

So, basically, it’s just the worst video for a Kristin Hersh song ever. Rock on.

Plugged in

outdoor electrical socket that looks like a surprised face

I finally got around to installing some WordPress plug-ins. Here’s what I’m running at the moment:

Akismet 2.1.8
Akismet checks your comments against the Akismet web service to see if they look like spam or not. You need a API key to use it. You can review the spam it catches under “Comments.” To show off your Akismet stats just put in your template. See also: WP Stats plugin. By Matt Mullenweg.
Category Selector Back to the Sidebar (MOD) 0.7
Puts the category selector section back to the sidebar of the Post page. Now you can write at a WordPress v2.5 blog without hating v2.5. By Baris Unver.
FeedBurner FeedSmith 2.3.1
Originally authored by Steve Smith, this plugin detects all ways to access your original WordPress feeds and redirects them to your FeedBurner feed so you can track every possible subscriber. By FeedBurner.
Fluency Admin 1.2.1
WordPress 2.5+ only. A rethink of the WordPress admin interface giving it a slightly more modern application-esque feel, inspired by Steve Smith’s Tiger Admin. Firefox, Safari and IE8 only. By Dean Robinson.
No Self Pings 0.2
Keeps WordPress from sending pings to your own site. By Michael D. Adams.
Wiki Dashboard 0.1
Mini-Wiki on the wordpress dashboard, for multiple autors [sic] collaboration. By Dzamir.
WordPress Admin Bar 3.0.2
Creates an admin bar inspired by the one at Credits for the look of this plugin go to them. By Viper007Bond. Stats 1.3.2
Tracks views, post/page views, referrers, and clicks. Requires a API key. By Andy Skelton.
WP Ajax Edit Comments
Allows users and admin to edit their comments inline. Admin and editors can edit all comments. By Ronald Huereca.

I’ve also edited the stylesheet so that the body text is sized in points rather than pixels, and I tweaked some colors and margins and such.

Photo: Oh. by Adam Smith; some rights reserved.

PhysComp lab, week 3: Electronics

This week’s PhysComp lab looked pretty straightforward, but that’s only if you don’t take into account my singular gift for turning LEDs backward and mixing up power and ground on the breadboard.*

So, first, there was the obligatory soldering. It wasn’t quite so bad this time, I think, though I did manage to melt some of the plastic inside the jack.

Soldering the DC power jack

Then I had a lot of puzzlement over the high voltage readings I was getting. And there was a burning smell, even though I’d turned off the soldering iron ten minutes before. Hmm. Could there be something wrong with the—

Ice used after I made the mistake of touching the voltage regulator

Handy Tip: Voltage regulators get really fucking hot. Don’t touch them.

Finally, I found the wire that was going into ground instead of power and got the desired voltage reading. Then, I added a switch and an LED.

Breadboard with power jack, voltage regulator, push-button switch, and LED

And, again, wired the switch into ground instead of power. Got that sorted, and—

Pressing the switch to light the LED

Ta da!

The next step, putting two LEDs in series, went fine (with voltage readings of 2.11 for the red LED and 2.88 for the green), but when the instructions said to add a third . . . well, I’m not sure how you add a third LED in series. Is it like this—

How do you put three LEDs in series?

Probably not, since that wiring scheme works, while the instructions imply that adding a third LED makes them all go out. Comparing my voltage numbers here would probably tell me the answer to this question, but although I took lots of photos to record the multimeter readings, I can’t remember which reading was from which part of the circuit or taken at which step. Sigh. I should have just written them down.

Setting the LEDs in parallel was also pretty easy, but measuring the amperage across them was simply not happening. I tried it every which way, but I couldn’t get the circuit closed with the multimeter as part of it. After trying several interpretations of the written instructions and circuit diagram, I gave up and moved on to the pot part.

Breadboard with potentiometer and LED

Again, no problem wiring it. The voltage readings were 1.78 at about halfway and 2.89 at full blast.

This lab took me about four hours, sadly.

* The reason for the latter, in my defense, is that the breadboard in my kit has ground on the outside rows, while the breadboard in all the photos within the instructions has power on the outside. I always forget to check the color of the row, matching only the position. And sometimes I’m just not paying attention.

Applications presentation

I had very little to do with Group 5’s brilliant presentation, since I was out of town for the weekend, but I did set up the Powerpoint slides.

Group 5: Let's put it to the test
Applications presentation slides

For context, here are the project descriptions, written by Jorge:

My Lung Buddy

My Lung Buddy is an empathic breathing guide that senses your breathing rate and matches it so that you’re both breathing together. Slowly, My Lung Buddy adjusts its rate to a predetermined pace in order to help you attain the sense of calm and well-being that comes with breathing deeply in a measured way. My Lung Buddy doesn’t force you to breathe with it. It simply reminds you that breathing is important. And that you don’t have to do it alone.

The ITPod

The ITPod is an on-floor oasis that offers students short escapes from the blinking, buzzing and beeping that fill a typical ITP day. It’s a simple structure, airy enough to ward off claustrophobia while still allowing for separation and privacy. A comfortable hanging chair dangles inside an enclosed cylinder of cloth, which glows with warm, diffused light. A floor compartment lets you tuck your stuff out of sight and browse picture books from a community library. Noise-canceling headphones offer four settings: (1) silence, aided by the headphones’ noise-canceling properties; (2) white noise to help drown out thoughts and distractions; (3) the sound of falling water or other natural sounds; and (4) a guided breathing session. Each program is twenty minutes long and fades in and out along with the light, giving the user enough time to recharge.

Lunch Date

Lunch Date is an opt-out service that helps ITP-ers meet and share meals with fellow students and faculty with whom they may not otherwise cross paths. An email directs students to a simple form that asks for two times when you’d generally be available for a 40-minute lunch, and the number, between zero and four, of Lunch Dates you’d like to have per month. The program compares everyone’s schedule, sorts people into anonymous pairs, and sends out text messages each morning: Reply yes if you’d like a lunch date today, and no if you’re too busy. A negative reply sends the computer back into the pool of candidates until a match is found, and another text message alerts each lunch date to meet at the elevators fifteen minutes before the time is set. By automating the social selection, Lunch Date eliminates the awkwardness and inertia which might keep students from getting to know someone they’ve never met. And because it’s an opt-out program, it nudges those who aren’t already ultra social to engage in an easy, commitment-free way. After all, it’s just 40 minutes. And then it’s back to class.


LeisurelyMail is a simple plug-in designed to relieve the tense breathlessness with which we typically attack our in-boxes. When installed, it changes the visual effect of opening an email message. Instead of a sharp pop-up or a boring drop-down pane, the email window opens slowly, unfolding over a full second of time. Every few messages, an extra momentary pause is built in, as the window shows an image of nature, or a simple reminder to breathe, before revealing the contents of the email. Because sometimes you just want to say screw it and burn through your work, you can revert your email to its normal function by holding down the option key as you click.

Focus Pocus

Based on a theory of how we block out unnecessary inputs . . .

CommLab homework, week 2

This week’s assignment:

• Install WordPress on your ITP account or create a blog in ITP’s multiuser environment. Document this process in your blog.
• Transfer first week’s assignment to your blog
• Find three blogs you like and create links to them in your sidebar
• Document your process as an entry in your blog.

As I mentioned last week, I’d already tried ITP’s built-in multiuser blog and found it frustrating. So it was with great joy that I set up a standalone version in my Web space.

I’ve installed WordPress once before, for my mom’s website. Setting up that just the way I wanted it took me several days, interleaved with real work tasks. So this install was quick and painless, though I’m still sorting out some permissions things and trying to decide which plugins I want. And it took hours to find a template that did roughly what I want; I’ll tweak it from here.

Photo: Oblivious by Vicki’s Pics / Vicki Ashton; some rights reserved.

I, Spy

I-Spy books

On Sunday, Diego, Juri, David, and I slogged around Park Slope in the heat, snapping photos of strangers and writing notes about them, à la Harriet the Spy. The assignment was to

take a one-hour hour walk or ride around the city. Try to travel as far as you can from your start and get back in an hour, this will give more variety. Take note of every time you see a person using a digital device. This could be anything from buying and using a Metrocard on the subway to playing video games in an arcade to making cell phone calls to using an ATM to swiping an ID at the gym. With each action you note, take note of:

* location and time of day
* apparent intent of the actor
* time taken for the action
* number of people involved
* motor skills needed (hands, legs, seeing, hearing, etc)

Collect your notes on your blog. Do this in pairs, with one person observing and the other keeping notes. Alternate roles as well.

My data

Observation photos by Juri

Because there were four of us, the taking turns part was a bit chaotic. Most of the time, whenever anyone spotted a new subject, they’d call it out and we’d all start scribbling or photographing (I didn’t bring a camera, because mine is big and obvious), though there was one point when Diego told me he’d take notes for a while, as he’d mostly been photographing people. We spent almost the entire hour walking, so it was hard to get a sense of the time taken for most of the actions we observed, especially as most of those were cell phone calls or iPod usage that started and ended outside our view. There was one guy whom we walked behind for several minutes, and while everyone else went into a shop to poke around, I waited on the sidewalk and saw a couple of people who had ongoing calls.

The lack of variety was kind of surprising, but it had a lot to do with where we were. There was no subway along our route, and no buses arrived while we stood near any bus stops, so we didn’t see any Metrocard use. And in some spots where there was a lot going on, we’d focus on different people, so, for example, David and Juri observed some people using ATMs, while Diego and I were facing the other way. We had to go out of our way to see a coffee shop with people working on laptops, and though we saw several people carrying cameras, I spotted only one person using one (besides us, of course). I was also surprised to see only one person apparently using his cell phone as a timepiece, especially since I was pulling mine out every two minutes for that purpose.

Nearly everyone we observed was solo. Nineteen out of the thirty-six people whose actions I recorded were using cell phones, apparently to communicate with someone else (though you never know, with all the stuff you can do through your phone now). Fourteen of those were walking or bike riding while doing so. All but one person held his or her phone in hand; of the two people I saw using hands-free phone mics (one of whom is not on the list, because it was after we’d officially stopped stalking people), one still had to use his hand to hold the mic close enough to his mouth that he could be heard. Most people who didn’t have iPhones had flip phones, which require a fair amount of dexterity to use.

One thing we didn’t make note of was people using digital tools within cars. For one thing, it’s hard to see into a car. For another, it’s safe to assume that any car made in the last fifteen years has something digital in it, so probably every car we saw was eligible. I would have liked to see a driver using that system that helps you back up without hitting anything—a gadget I became aware of for the first time in July, when I rode in my brother’s ginormous SUV—but there are very few parking spot in Park Slope, so finding anyone trying to parallel park would have required much more time walking around in the blazing heat.

My impression was that not only were most of the people we saw using technology walking while doing so, but also that most of the people we saw walking were using technology while doing so. It might have been useful to count the number of people not using digital devices, for comparison. Then again, we were having enough trouble keeping up, as it was.

I-Spy photo: I-SPY books by Leo Reynolds / LeoL30; some rights reserved. All other photos by Juri Imamura.

Drawing program

a doodle made by our Processing app

Part two of this week’s ICM homework: “Make a painting program or a kaleidoscope that uses mouse interaction.”

Neither Ruthie nor I could envision out how even an analog kaleidoscope might work, so we took the drawing program option. Again, we relied heavily on examples from the book (Drawing a Continuous Line and mousePressed and keyPressed), but instead of making a program that just draws a single, continuous black line, we added a mousePressed thing so that it draws a black box and changes the line color every time you click.

Bouncing Ball

bouncing ball, rainbowified

Ruthie and I worked together on two assignments. The first was “Make a ball bounce around the screen.”

I thought I knew how to do this, but after beating my head against it for maybe forty-five minutes, I finally looked at the example online: Example 5-6: Bouncing Ball.

Ohhhhhhh. I would never have thought of that speed = speed * -1; in a million years.

So then we ended up copying the example, which is not much fun. To make it more interesting, we made the ball move diagonally. But with both speedY and speedY incrementing at a steady rate, the ball just does a box step. Still not very interesting. I wanted to introduce a little rotation, but using speed = speed * -1.1;, though interesting at first, eventually speedY goes too far from +/- 1, which causes the ball to go crazy and disappear.

So I added an if statement to reset the variable to 1 if it got outside the range -/+ 5, but that, too, caused the ball to start behaving weirdly after a couple of turns. I figured out that it had to do with not keeping the ball going in the right—-making the reset value always +1, never -1—but I didn’t know how to preserve a negative value. Jeremy came over and talked me through making it work. Yay, Jeremy!

India’s ITP blog