Fuel Fight!
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Fuel Fight!

So, last summer when my friend Brooklyn and I were at Eyeo we sat at a bar talking about her Nike Fuelband, which is awesome and cool and from the future. But at the same time, for something that you are supposed to wear all day, every day it doesn’t exactly go with a lot of outfits. Seems like a silly thing to be worried about, but really the issue is a matter of personalization of wearable technology. It’s great that these things are becoming more mainstream and common but, unlike our phones which have a ton of cases in various shapes and colors, it seems there aren’t a lot of personalization choices for these extremely personal items yet.

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Anyways, so we talked about how we could make a bunch of different bracelet encasements for the band. Talked about design ideas. Brooklyn gave lots of valuable insight as a user since I didn’t have my own yet (covering it entirely like in the sketch wouldn’t work). Maybe it could be a Kickstarter or something. Talked about some sketches. And then I moved to SF in July and things got put on hold. After a few months I bought my own Fuelband (and love it).  And a few months later I finally received the 3D printer I won from Instructables. And then I moved into a house where one of my roommates, Serge, happens to be a bona fide mechanical engineer. And then we had the week off for Thanksgiving. It takes a long time for things to magically line up right for things to actually happen. But after months of waiting/putting it off we have a prototype! (Photos below)

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Connecting things

Sometimes I think about my brain like its the internet. When I’m trying to figure things out  I often think “If only  I had a good search algorithm.” There’s just so much information in there that needs to be processed and combined. Sometimes it seems like creativity is just the ability to do a proper keyword search between two seemingly unrelated things in your brain and finding out where they overlap.

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.” ~ Steve Jobs

I went to a Dorkbot meeting a few weeks ago where Tiffany Shlain shared her films about connectedness, technology, and the interent. In her latest film she compares the internet to a child’s brain. I think my favorite nugget of advice for nurturing our collective internet brain is “Paying attention to what we’re paying attention to. Attention is the mind’s most valuable resource. Every interaction counts.”

There are still some loose ends here. This post feels very half-formed. But there is something here that is still waiting to get connected to something else. I’m just not entirely sure what yet…

HCI: Humans, Computers, and Improv

How could pretending to be at a funeral as a scuba diver with the last spartan* make for better user experience design?

Improv

The last few months I’ve been taking improv classes at End Games Improv. I really really love it even though (or especially because) I’m not that good at it (yet). But really, what’s not to love about playing make believe other adults for 3 hours every week? This is a great (sort of long) video about improv as described by one of my favorite teams, Upright Citizen’s Brigade:

The first minute probably explains a lot about why I’m particularly drawn to it. Describing improvisors, they use the words: nerds, not the loudest, asocial or socially awkward, adult children, collaborative people, good listeners, nice, hyper intellectual, goofy, and comedy nerds.

That’s pretty much me though I wouldn’t call myself a comedy nerd (yet). But I would call myself a collaboration nerd. For me, the fact that it’s funny is sort of the awesome end product, but I think the ultimate draw is in this bit at the end of the video:

You make something much better with the group mind that you could never create on your own and I think that’s what you’re always chasing, that high… that magic moment when it happens, it’s very satisfying.

Improv Off-Stage

A lot of people talk about the connection between improv and collaborative group work and that sort of thing. You know, sitting around a table with post it notes and whiteboards doing the “Brainstorming Design Thinking” stuff. Or coming up with story ideas at Pixar. Because obviously it’s helpful if co-workers aren’t always shooting down each other’s ideas and suggestions.

But for me, the fun part is seeing this connection between improv and interaction design. But what is the connection beyond the “yes, and” rule? As I’ve been learning these past few months a good scene involves A LOT MORE than just saying yes to everything, so how can we use these other elements of improv as a frame for creating new experiences?

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Blinded

Blind Self Portrait from Kyle McDonald on Vimeo.

Kyle McDonald’s Blind Self Portrait will make you draw a self portrait with your eyes closed. Even though I know the computer vision is tracing the face and causing the gears to move the board around, it still feels like magic. Here’s this non-living thing that can see me and analyze me and guide me to do something I could never do on my own. How is that not supernatural? Could a computer program be considered a higher power?

Long before the trademarked Ouija board there was planchette writing, also known as automatic writing. This was a process of allowing spirits to take control of your hand  in order to write out answers or messages, which were usually then interpreted by a medium. What if we thought about programmers as sort of modern-day mediums? Sure, programmers write the programs that get executed by a computer, but that seems not terribly unlike spiritual leaders (of any variety) who are praying for a particular outcome to be executed by something more powerful than themselves. In a way, aren’t programs just like prayers with logic?

Of course, this isn’t exactly a new idea. In Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs the process is likened to sorcery:

People create programs to direct processes. In effect, we conjure the spirits of the computer with our spells.

A computational process is indeed much like a sorcerer’s idea of a spirit. It cannot be seen or touched. It is not composed of matter at all. However, it is very real. It can perform intellectual work. It can answer questions. It can affect the world by disbursing money at a bank or by controlling a robot arm in a factory. The programs we use to conjure processes are like a sorcerer’s spells. They are carefully composed from symbolic expressions in arcane and esoteric programming languages that prescribe the tasks we want our processes to perform.

The question now is, what kind of spells do we want to cast? What kind of magic should we make?

Northern Spark Notes

It was the night after Eyeo and we were chasing each other in giant twisted balloon costumes and running away from giant spirit monsters.

This was all part of Northern Spark, a city wide evening arts festival in Minneapolis. After having spent the past few days talking and looking at screen based projects it was great to see and interact with a variety of physical installations that ranged from low tech to high tech. But the two pieces that stood out were the ones that actually didn’t need any technology at all. They also would have been just as enjoyable any time of the day, which is a constraint I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

Palace of Wonder by Patty Mitchell and Robert Lockheed was, as our friend Steven said “the happiest happiest time of my life.” It consisted of a large colorful motley palace (in the background above), some monsters, and these large wearable twisty balloon sculptures/costumes. When people talk about immersive experiences, they often talk about projected “caves” or like virtual reality or some other form of highly virtual experience. But you know, wearing these things and embodying the characters was the most immersive experience of the evening. They enabled participants to slip into an imaginary realm within the tangible world. Simple, fun, and highly interactive.

 Swing Hall, Swing All by Keetra Dean Dixon was playfully chaotic, and another great example of how tweaking one simple constraint can entirely change an experience. In this piece a long corridor is lined with evenly spaced out playground swings, except in this case they all swing in the same direction, front to back, in one long line. It starts out in an attempt to coordinate the rhythm of the swinging with everyone, but pretty much always ended in collisions. But it encouraged collaboration and interaction with your neighbors. And it was just a lot of fun.

Technology can definitely create some magical moments, but it’s also important to consider other ways in which we can create memorable and enjoyable experiences for people. Sometimes just putting a Kinect sensor in front of a projection isn’t enough. Not that I don’t love the Kinect (I have several Kinect project ideas in the works) but it seems a lot of the Kinect projects that have been proliferating lately are sort of one trick ponies. What can we do other than wave at the camera?

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Eyeo 2012

Last week, we left the Eyeo Festival bubbling with insights, inspiration, and new ideas. And a couple new friends. This is an attempt to highlight some of nuggets that stuck (or at least the things I managed to scribble down in my notebook) before they fade away in memory. I know it’s long and wordy, some things deserve more than 140 characters of reflection…

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