Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year

Here is a short video that I created to wish everyone a very happy new year. May 2010 bring much success, wealth, fullfilment and enjoyment to all of my friends, colleagues, and readers (if there are any of you out there). All the best to you and your families.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Creating a Collaborative Storytelling Experience

As luck would have it, I was assigned to present in Red's Application class during the last week of school. Needless to say, I was dreading having to juggles multiple final projects with this important assignment. This anxiety was only heightened by the stories of suffering from many of the groups that preceded us.

Now that I have lived through this insanely busy time I am happy to report that I thoroughly enjoyed working on this project. It gave me a chance to collaborate with an awesome group of people, we were provided with the opportunity to respond to a very interesting speaker, and we were able to create a fun and collaborative way to end of semester.

Our task was to create a response to Jake Barton's presentation, which focused on collaborative storytelling installations and projects. Here is a link to my detailed notes from this class. To get started working on the presentation we met right after Jake's presentation. We quickly settled on a general direction - creating a collaborative experience that engaged the entire class in a storytelling exercise.

Development and Execution of Installation

After meeting with Todd and holding some additional brainstorm sessions, we decided to focus our response on creating a platform for first-year students to contribute their ITP stories for the development of a meta-narrative. After additional discussions we decided to keep things low-tech, and to limit the activities to the time and physical space of the class itself (we did not want to give other student's "homework" during finals).

The design of our installation was focused around a physical timeline, to which students would add their own stories using stickies or by drawing directly onto the surface itself. To inspire our peers we added a few initial elements to the timeline and we created a video featuring work from first-year students developed throughout the semester. Below you will find a short video overview of our development process, along with the video we developed for the event itself, and some pictures from the event.

Video Featuring Work from 1st Year Students

Pictures from Collaborative Storytelling Event

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sunnyside Animation - Learning After Effects

For my final project in Comm Lab I partnered with Tamar Ziv to put the finishing touches on our After Effects animation. This project was inspired by Brazilian graffiti, old Library of Congress photos, and music from Deerhoof.

The graffiti images were all curated from a large selection of pictures I have collected from my trips to Brazil (here is a link to some of the original source materials); the LoC pictures were found on flickr; the Deerhoof track comes from Tamar's meticulous selection of this band's releases.

It took us two weeks and about 40 hours of work to put this 30-second piece together - I never knew how much work it took to put one of these together. The first week was extremely frustrating, we spent most of the time struggling to learn how to use After Effects. The second week was much more productive and effortless. I was actually enjoying working in After Effects when we wrapped up this project.

The biggest problem we encountered was associated to synching the music with the animation. To get these elements synched as best as possible we exported individual animation sequences and then put them together in Final Cut. In the coming weeks I plan on sharing my early notes and learnings regarding After Effects and Final Cut.

Cats vs. Bat Game - My Final ICM Final

Now that finals are finished I finally have some time to devote to this journal. Needless to say, a lot has happened during the last month that I have not yet shared here. Let's begin with an update regarding the ICM final.

Over the weekend I finished my final project for ICM, which is an updated version of the fangs invaders game that is titled "Cats vs Bats". This updated version of the game is almost unrecognizable from the previous one. Here is a link to an online version of the game (please note that you need to have a fast internet connection to play it because it is not web optimized), followed by a brief description of the game coupled with a list of the latest updates.

You can also download the game here: mac version | windows version.

Project overview: cats vs bats is simple space invader-like game. In this game, a small oriental shorthair cat named Sasha is our only hope to save the world against a swarm of diseased bats.

Though currently this project is screen-based only, I am working on developing a cat toy that will be used in conjunction with this application. A single joystick controller has been created that can be used to control either or both of these projects (so that you can play the game and with your cat at the same time). Also, the proximity of the cat to the toy will enable a player to earn bonus points in the Cats vs. Bats game.

Main updates: Here is an overview of the main updates that I have been working on over the past several weeks. Over the winter break I plan on delving deeper into a few of these areas (such as use of vectors to drive bat motion).
• Improve game scoring logic and add score to game play environment.
• Create an online high-score database.
• Improve animation by making flight patter more random and natural.
• Update look and feel of the game by adding back images and improving design.
• Include bonus points opportunities.
• Add stages with increasing levels of difficulty.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Creating Movement for the Cat Toy

Over the past couple of days I have struggled in my attempts to set up a stepper motor. Late last week my struggle continued as I tried to set-up three new stepper motors that I received for the cat that I am building. Having come home defeated I decided that the best course of action was for me to do some research regarding how stepper motors work so that I can improve my understanding and conceptual model of this component.

In the last hour I have discovered two really good overviews of how steppers work. The first is Mike Cook’s overview on his instructional blog; this is the second time that I link to Mike’s blog, he has a lot of great content for beginner's like me. This tutorial helped me finally understand how the coils are arranged and organized within the motor and how the stepping sequence is able to move the motor rotor through different positions. In retrospect it all seems obvious.

Another website that has content that is worth checking out is The tutorial here does not provide as thorough an overview of the inner workings of stepper motors. However, it does a better job at providing guidance for figuring out the proper wiring sequence of a stepper motor.

So what the hell did I learn about the topics mentioned above? Here is a brief overview but for more in-depth information check out the two links above.

Structure of the coils inside the motor
The coils in stepper motors are wrapped around a structure that surrounds the rotor. The number of times that the coils are wrapped around the rotor determines the number of steps required for the motor to make one full rotation. For example if the coils are wrapped around 48 times, then the motor would take 48 steps to complete one full rotation. Here is an image from Mike Cook’s site that illustrates this design.

To move the motor the coils are energized in sequence. Motors can be used in two different modes: full-step and half-step. When two coils are energized at any given time the motor moves in full step, which provides greater torque but less precision. When the motor is energized one coil at a time it provides greater precision of movement (twice the number of steps per rotation) but less torque. Here is another image from Mike's blog that demonstrates how full-step movement works.

Now that I understood how stepper motors work, I had to figure out the proper step and wiring sequence to get the motor to work properly. I started by re-checking all wire connections to ensure that I attached the leads from the motors to the appropriate control pins (via the transistors) and power source pins. This was a good thing because I realized that I had attached one of the power wires to a control pin.

Once I the wiring was set-up properly I was still experiencing issues with the stepper motors. They would turn on and spin for 10 to 20 seconds, then they would stop working. I met with Xiaoyang, one of ITP's residents, regarding this issue. He recommended that I test the power source voltage and amperage. The motor’s rating is 5 volts at 1 amp. Based on Xioayang’s advice and my research online, I decided that I needed to find a power source that delivered twice the current required by the motor.

I purchased a 2 amp transformer from Radio Shack that can be set to output between 3v to 7v. It is a great little tool, and it brought my motors to life! I was dancing around the table when this happened. It seems like I may actually be able to bring my cat toy to life. My next challenge was getting multiple motors to run smoothly together smoothly. The code samples that I've found and the stepper motor library are not appropriate for controlling multiple motors - more on this on my next post on this subject.

[note: most of this post was written during last weekend on December 4th]

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Jake Barton Presentation Notes

So this week I am on the hook for Red's class presentation. Earlier today I attended class and got a chance to watch Jake Barton, founder and principal at Local Project, whose presentation we will need to respond to. Here are my notes from tonight's class. I'm keeping the presentation ideas private for now.

Local Project is a design firm that is focused on developing collaborative storytelling experiences using spatial and virtual media. Company focuses on media design portion of the equation; they partner with architecture and installation design firms to develop the physical design of the experiences.

Overview and reactions to key projects:

(1) Caring Aspiration - J&J Pavilion at the Beijing Olympics: Installation featured a series of stories told by people from many different parts of the world in their native tongue. Each story was captured in video in a vertical format and featured subtitles in two languages. The stories had been professionally video-taped and curated in the months leading up to the Olympics.

Reaction: this exhibition was Jake's least inspiring work in large part because the interaction has a strong top-down control structure compared to his other projects (e.g. StoryCorps, and 9/11 Memorial Museum). The stories that are featured are small in number and have all been recorded in a similar style. Due to the highly curated nature of this installation it is not able to reach collaborative storytelling platform status - it remains in the category of collaborative storytelling "installation".

(2) Official NYC Information Center: This city-funded information center was created to help tourists explore New York City. It was designed to bring an enhanced version of online-like browsing into the physical world. The space features numerous tabletop interactive maps, physical computing icons that represent virtual information, and other large screen displays (of course, all of these devices support eight languages). At the end of the experience tourists are able to get a customized NY guide or information printed, emailed, or sent via text message.

Reaction: I like the idea of this project because it focuses on leveraging physical space to help people navigate, interact with, and understand information related to New York City. I also appreciate how the project enables people to take with them a digital product of their interaction with the devices at this highly specialized location. I look forward to visiting this information center in the next couple of days.

(3) Brooklyn Historical Society: This project focused on highlighting Brooklyn's relationship to the abolition movement by highlighting specific locations in the neighborhood that have historical significance. These points of interests were used as sites for projections of pictures of residents of these areas from those times long past.

Reaction: I felt that this is one of Jake's less inspired projects. It's focus is primarily on the augmenting these locations with information about the past, there is no collaborative element in this piece.

(4) Jewish-Polish American Museum (? not sure about this name) - multiple exhibitions. The two projects that caught my attention included one that explored stories of Jewish immigrants to America with a focus on their reasons for migrating; and a second that created a space for museum goers where they could have a mediated interactions with others in their community to discuss important questions.

Reaction: I am really impressed by the second project that mentioned above because it totally changes the role of a museum within a community. It makes the museum a much a more progressive institution that embraces the community in a conversation about the current state of our society - rather than a space that offers an singular (even if sometimes varied) institutional perspective.

(5) StoryCorps [Link to Project Page]: This is an awesome project that was developed to capture stories about the lives of everyday american people, from their own perspective using physical installations in high-traffic areas. It provides two friends or family members with a recording booth for 45 minutes, offering the chance for one participant to interview the other. At the end of the session the two participants leave with a DVD copy of the conversation, and the recording is saved in the Library of Congress. All of this takes place in a relatively small recording booth that lives in kiosks located in several major US cities.

Reaction: I have known about this project for a long time from NPR, it is truly an amazing idea. I actually always wondered who had created StoryCorps. It is one of the coolest and best executed collaborative storytelling projects around. The physical aspect of the execution is a crucial element to the success of this project. The context adds a lot of meaning (importance) to the conversation.

(6) Make History 911 [Link to Project Page]: This is a web-based collaborative storytelling project about the history of september 11th. It allows users to add their stories, pictures and videos to the tapestry of stories that already exist on the site.

Reaction: This project has successfully provided people from all over the world with an opportunity to share their experiences related to september 11th. In the process each person has the opportunity to take part in writing the history about this important moment in our shared lifetime. I think this is a pretty cool way to change the way that history is written. It is definitely a storytelling platform.

(7) September 11 Memorial Museum: This large project features some interesting combinations of environmental media and collaborative storytelling. I was specifically interested by the way in which they are integrating the ability to post verbal comments (a behavior that is common only in virtual spaces) into the physical space. I also appreciate the plans to have people's interaction with the exhibition, and current events, to automatically impact the exhibition itself. This creates a much more dynamic experience that repositions museums as I previously pointed out).

Key Concepts:
  • Notion that we should use a collaborative approach to creating a public history.
  • Difference between a collaborative storytelling platform that enables people to tell their story to an installation that features small selection of curated stories.
  • Need for physical interfaces to be "walk-up" ready - this means that first time users are able to interact with the interface with little difficulty or embarassment.
  • Museums should look for ways to extend the experience beyond their walls by giving people something to take with them, such is information in a cell phone.
  • Museums re-envisioned as interactive spaces where communities can communicate about important issues and in the process impact the space (installation) itself.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Sao Paulo Street Art Experience

I have been a fan of graffiti for a long time. Since the 80’s I’ve been interested in urban culture with a special passion for graffiti. I am in no way an expert in this realm but I have enjoyed taking friends and family on graffiti hunting excursions in every major city that I visit.

I have long taken pride in opening my friends’ eyes to the art that can be found on grimy street corners and dilapidated buildings (not to mention the sewer, though I’ve never toured one of those). Sao Paulo is one of my favorite cities for street art, its graffiti is brimming with colorful excitement and wonderful storylines.

Concept: To share my experience of standing on the streets of Sao Paulo in front long expanses of wall covered with graffiti, I would like to create an outdoor installation in New York that features the sights and sounds of Sao Paulo.

Mechanism: I have not finalized the vision for this project so here is an overview of its initial form and processes.

The source material for the exhibition would be created during my trip to Sao Paulo from late December through mid January. Assets will include pictures that can be stitched together to create continuous renditions of bombed walls, sounds from each location will be recorded to capture the happenings and mood of each locale, and videos of interviews with local residents and artists.

The interviews with residents would focus on their perspective on this art form. The interviews with artists would also encompass an exploration of their inspirations from the streets and other media such as music, video, art, design, etc.

All of these assets would be used to synthesize two separate experiences. The installation would be designed to re-create immersive life-sized experiences of the graffiti. There would be two to four separate locations that could be set in the same space or spread throughout the city. For maximum effect the audience will be surrounded on two sides by video screens projecting specific locations in Sao Paulo.

Each location would feature art and sounds from specific neighborhoods coupled with Brazilian artifacts and delicacies such as street foods, beverages, signage, and even garbage. I would also like to explore enabling the audience to interact with the photos by casting shadows, or by touching the panels to leave imprints and their own “graffiti” on the pictures.

The online experience would feature all of the pictures and sounds from the installation. They would also be able to view the new “graffiti” added to the panels by gallery visitors. Videos that feature the interviews and other behind the scenes content would also be featured online, uploaded through YouTube or another similar service (, vimeo, etc).

A short list of ideal locations for this installation idea in New York include: roofdeck of the New Design High School, the lobby of the AIC Center (unlikely unless I take the big screens class), Bar 89, Rooftop Films (summer only).

Why Sao Paulo? I have to come clean and admit what most of you all already know: I am biased towards this city because I am originally from Sao Paulo and my family still lives there. It is also interesting to note that graffiti culture has thrived in Sao Paulo for a long time. Recently graffiti outnumbers outdoor advertisements in this city, since outdoor ads were banned a few years back (within city limits).

Next Steps: To create the my full vision will take several months of planning, however, I would like to do a mini trial run during my trip to Sao Paulo in December. Here is what I got take care of before I take off: enroll my cousin to join me on this project, contact the Choque Cultural gallery in SP to make initial contact, map out neighborhoods to scout for project.