Friday, July 31, 2009

Excitement Continues to Build for ITP

Preparations continue for the Interactive Telecommunications Program that I will be starting in September, and the excitement builds with every action I take. Earlier today I was checking the course descriptions and calendar for the fall 2009 semester, which have recently become available. During this process I felt giddy like a geeky kid in a high-tech toy store. 

The focus of my activities today were on better acquainting myself with the core requirements that I will need to take in the first and second semesters. In college, these requirements are usually courses that people do not want to take but are required to because of a need to ensure that everyone receives a well-rounded education. 

At ITP the foundation courses focus on building a basic understanding regarding the applications of interactive technologies, the use of computation as a medium, and skills required for programming software and building hardware. Below are brief overviews taken from the course descriptions of the four core requirements. I can't wait to get started. 

Applications of Interactive Telecommunications Technology
This introductory class is designed to allow students to engage in a critical dialogue with leaders drawn from the artistic, non-profit and commercial sectors of the new media field, and to learn the value of collaborative projects by undertaking group presentations in response to issues raised by the guest speakers.

Introduction to Computational Media
What can computation add to human communication? Creating computer applications, instead of just using them, will give you a deeper understanding of the essential possibilities of computation. The course focuses on the fundamentals of programming the computer (variables, conditionals, iteration, functions, and objects) and then touches on some more advanced techniques such as text parsing, image processing, networking, computer vision, and serial communication.

Introduction to Physical Computing
This course expands the students' palette for physical interaction design with computational media. We look away from the limitations of the mouse, keyboard and monitor interface of today's computers, and start instead with the expressive capabilities of the human body. We consider uses of the computer for more than just information retrieval and processing, and at locations other than the home or the office.

Comm Lab
An introductory course designed to provide students with hands-on experience using various technologies including social software and web development, digital imaging, audio, video and animation. The forms and uses of new communications technologies are explored in a laboratory context of experimentation and discussion.

Monitoring, Tracking, and Behavior Changing

During the past several months there has been an upsurge in interest about the behavioral changing potential offered by new monitoring and tracking technologies.

The July issue of Wired magazine ran a cover story titled "Living by Numbers: Track your data. Analyze results. Optimize your life. " This piece focused on the emergence of monitoring and tracking technologies that have become available across a wide range of areas. Recent issues of Make and Interactions, respectively titled "Remake America" and "The Waste Manifesto", magazines also focused on possibilities created by these technologies to help us reduce waste and live in more a more sustainable manner.

These technologies enable individuals and communities to generate data regarding various types of activities and the impact of these activities, and then to leverage this data for various purposes ranging from behavioral change (e.g. tracking your runs for performance improvement, as in Nike+ ), to scientific research (e.g. making available personal data for aggregate analysis) and artistic self-expression (e.g. capturing data for lifestreaming, a la Nicholas Feltron).

These various new technologies provide us the opportunity to understand more about, and to impact, our current behavior at individual and community levels. However, the existence of these technologies is not sufficient to drive positive change. we must now design and discover compelling and effective ways to implement these technologies to help individuals and communities to achieve their goals. Articles in both Wired and Make magazines showcase examples where the sharing of data, and the development of games related to this sharing, has helped drive change for individuals and communities.

As we look for opportunities to dissect and analyze our life with these tools we need to be mindful that not everything can be parsed into measurable units for tracking and monitoring.

Life is much more than what can be grasped and measured by our rational mind. We need to remember that all the optimizing in the world is not the solution to make us happier or more fulfilled. If we reduce our experience of life and reality to metrics (in the form of numbers and words) that our mind can easily classify and optimize we will miss out on an important part of the experience of life, which is unmeasurable. At least that is my half-assed new age-y spiritual beliefs lead me to surmise.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Always Addicted to Being Always On

I am spoiled and I can't blame it on my parents. Over the past several years I have become accustomed to having constant access to my own and others' information from anywhere at anytime. More than being spoiled, I am an addict. I am part of a large and growing community of addicts from throughout the United States and other developed countries who have adopted the habit of being "always on".

Actually, we've taken this one step further. We have bought into the belief that being "always on" is an important evolutionary leap for mankind, not to mention a basic human right. I (sorry, I meant we) demand the right to have immediate access to answers for all questions, no matter how useless, and to be able to stream information about our lives, no matter how boring. I became aware of my sorry predicament during a month-long trip through Asia and Europe this summer.

I wish that this insight had surfaced through a moment of stillness and clarity. However, it was actually crystalized through the experience of several moments of techno-rage. This included multiple instances where my wife had to talk me off the proverbial edge. Actually, it was my iPhone that was on the edge of getting smashed against walls, tables, windows and other parts of various hotel rooms.

Everyone of these moments were instigated by my struggle to find and remain connected to the internet. Moments where I asked for nothing more than the ability to exercise what I believed was my inalienable human right to remain "always on." No matter how much I prayed to the techno-gods, or how many Balinese style offerings I conjured up for them, it was all to no avail.

In the end of it all, this experience helped me realize once again that being "always on" is just as bad as it is good. That is not to say that I overcame my addiction. Just like any good addict I love my addiction and have made every effort to remain "always on" since I have arrived in Brazil to visit my parents.

iPhone's Lackluster Performance as Communication Hub for World Tour

The first and longest part of our world tour is now officially finished. During this part of our trip I used a jailbroken first-generation iPhone as my personal communication hub. I chose this device because it is extremelly portable and I believed that it would enable me to capture snapshots, lo-res video, and audio snippets, it would serve as a platform for the posting of journal entries, it would support the tracking of our budget, and it would allow us to take a good amount of our favorite music and videos with us on the trip.

I knew that there were many downsides to selecting the iPhone as my communication platform. The main ones of which I was aware were limited functionality and application availability compared to a laptop or netbook, and small form factor which makes it tiring to use for development of longer form content (I guess the content I developed is more like mid-form content).

So how did the iPhone do? The results were mixed and if I had to do it over again I would definitely bring along a netbook to complement this device as a communication hub.

The shortfalls were many. First and foremost, much of the iPhone's functionality is dependent on the availability of wireless internet connections and does not support connection to online via ethernet ports. This was an issue due to the scarcity of wireless connections (both cell-based and wifi) throughout the trip. Thus, when I would write blog posts using the notes application there was no way for me to transfer this content to computers that had hardline internet connections. This was by far the biggest issue I encountered.

Other inconveniences included the lack of cut and paste functionality, problems with the video application on my phone, and issues related to storage space (which I was eventually able to overcome using the terminal application on the phone).

On the positive side, the iPhone featured applications that met most, though not all, of my requirements - the picture, blogging and financial tracking applications were usable and useful. The jailbroken phone also worked well with local GSM sim cards, enabling me to stay in touch with my friends throughout the trip.