ICM Week 8: Midterm! My fortune telling, Magic 8 Ball calculator

Fortune Calculator

Last week we discussed ideas for our midterm and I presented something I’d been thinking about since Week 4. My idea was to create a calculator that doesn’t work…or works more like a Magic 8 Ball than a calculator. It actually does add and subtract but what you get are strings, not numbers.

When I started working on it, I was going crazy trying to figure out how to create a class for every property that a button would have – rollover detection, button press detection, the value of each button, and how to store the value of each button so that you could actually do a calculation. Then, it was suggested that I use a library to create the buttons. (Duh.) I chose ControlP5. Admittedly, using the library was a revelation and it helped me progress my work forward by at least a week. I think I would have lost it if I had to create an entire button class in a week, and figure out how to make the rest of the calculator work.

So after all that, I again got help adding the buttons and creating the first of 2 switch statements to determine button press. The second, I made on my own. But, eventually I was able to do a lot of work alone, creating the array of strings, calling the functions to print the strings, creating outlines for the buttons, and adding the ability to subtract. I also added buttons to the calculator that have nothing to do with math at all. Like a ‘Q’ button, an ‘&’ button, and a ‘?’ button. I may create put in other mathematical operators, ‘*’ and ‘/’ so that it seems more like a true calculator…we’ll see.

I am disappointed that the ControlP5 library doesn’t have much in the way of customization of the buttons. The text is really tiny and I’d prefer to make it look more calculator-like. Eventually, maybe I will end up creating a button class and then be able to modify the look a little bit better. For now, I’m happy that I have a calculator that (mostly) works.

If you use it, remember that it can only add or subtract two numbers. If you do a compound calculation, like ‘N + Y – R & S’, you’ll get results from the last operator used, in this example ‘&’. It also works best if you ‘Clear’ your results after each calculation.

Fortune telling, Magic 8 Ball Calculator

Comm Lab: Audio/Sound Editing

Last week or the week before, I recorded some random sounds. I live in a basement, which helped me get sound clips free of unwanted noise.

Some sounds I collected were:

  • A tape measure.
  • A jar of peanuts.
  • A pill bottle.
  • A water bottle.
  • A discussion between my roommates and I.
  • A hallway with an echo.
  • A street near Tisch.
  • An elevator.
  • A bowl of Raisin Bran with milk.

Then I imported them into Soundtrack Pro and messed around a bit. I did use a few tracks in the program to augment my sounds, such as the electricity surge, rain and drops of water from a cave. It took a while to create, but that’s mostly because I got really into it. And, it was fun.

Here’s my soundscape. To get the full effect, turn up your sound at least halfway. It’s only super loud a few times, which I did on purpose.
extended4.wav (full)

Samples from the full clip:


M5 Bus assignment

For our Applications of Interactive Technology course, we were assigned to ride the M5 bus from Houston and LaGuardia Place to the end of the ride, around 185th St in Washington Heights, then write a 5-page essay about our experience. Well, I went on the ride, I took pictures, I took notes, and I thought about what interesting things to say.

In the end, I felt that I didn’t really have enough of any one thing to write about. So, I wrote three things: a descriptive essay on the trip, a reflective piece about my former living experience in Washington Heights, and a fictional essay about a highly phobic man on the bus.

At the same time I thought about how could I make the essay more engaging. Well, we could create any type of media we wanted. Another student turned in a book of photographs for her picture essay. Anything with film, sound or images would have required yet another bus trip, and 185th St is far away from Houston. But, I did like the idea of doing something unique with my essay.

I’m not exactly sure of where the idea came from, but the idea of putting my essay on cubes just seemed right. And, so I took about 2 days to create a set of 9 paper cubes. On three sides of each cube I pasted my essay, which I prepared first in Illustrator. On the reverse side for each cube I pasted clues, like colored pieces of paper or drawings of a flower growing petals. When you put it all together, there’s only one arrangement of the cubes that allows you to read the essay and also see the clues in the correct order. It turned out to be a lot more difficult for people to put together than I intended, but it seems like they really enjoyed trying to figure it out.

I also built a box to hold the cubes. Seemed appropriate since I needed a way to turn the cubes in without them getting crushed. Sadly, I think I deleted the photos of the box when I was in a mad fit of hard drive frugality. Well, it still exists (I hope), so photos will appear eventually.

The essay is here.(PDF)

My (relatively short) response on Understanding Media, by Marshall McLuhan

Text: “Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man : Critical Edition”, by Marshall McLuhan, 2003.

In Chapter One, McLuhan points out that modern media focuses on action more than the content of the communication message. He brings up “somnambulism”, or sleepwalking, which in the context of how it’s used – i.e., “Apple pie is neither good nor bad; it is the way that it is used that determines it’s value” – I take to mean that he is pointing out that new media evolutions allow people to become less and less engaged in the meaning of the message and, perhaps, focused more on the form or even perception of the message. “Concern with effect rather than meaning is a basic change of our electric time…”.

I can see the truth in that. Communications post-internet do tend to be content that fits its intended media, as opposed to what people might expect to be meaningful content. In addition, communications media tend to move at a faster and faster pace. He also asserts that light bulbs are a communication media that, though they are full of information, are actually void of an actual message because they move too quickly for “sender” and “receiver” to communicate. I liked his comment that with technology it could be said that egg invented the chicken to get more eggs.

In Chapter Two, he gets into a fairly confusing discussion on hot and cold media, and hot and cold cultures. I think that if people were not again using “hot” to describe things that are “cool”, which at one time were known to be “hot”, this discussion would be less confusing. In addition, I felt that he lacked a full description describing “tribal” societies and could have added more specific information to describe the types of people he was referring to.

Generally, though, this was a very short introduction to McLuhan. I think if I had read farther into the book, I would have a more substantial opinion of the text.

Phys Comp – Week 6: Serial Communication, Part 2

Working with an accelerometer for serial communication
Working with an accelerometer for serial communication

For our second lab exercise with Serial Communication (which I’m doing early because it seems fun), I got to use an accelerometer for the first time. (Borrowed temporarily from another student.)

In the first half of the lab, I was able to get the ball to move around, and added the smooth(); command to Processing to make the edges of the ellipse to smooth out.

In the second half, I had trouble. I actually couldn’t get the call and response connection to work. I’m not sure what happened. I got the hello as we’d programmed from the Arduino, but as soon as I picked up the breadboard and got input from the accelerometer, the serial monitor seemed like it wasn’t sure if it should be outputting bytes or ASCII and put out both numbers and letters that sometimes made sense as words(?).

I’m not sure what the issue was, but hopefully we’ll go over this in class. I’ll raise my hand and ask, for sure.

Peaking, at Chez Bushwick

Peaking is a four-person exhibition of video by Janet Biggs, Heather Cassils, Molly Davies, and Andrew Sroka curated by Maya Ciarrocchi. I attended on October 17, 2009 at Chez Bushwick, in Brooklyn, NY.

While all the videos were impressive, my favorite was by Janet Biggs. A clip called ‘Performance of Desire’, from 2007. In this short video, Biggs cut shots of cadets from The Citadel practicing and then performing a drill using rifles with bayonets, with inverted shots of two synchronized swimmers practicing.

I think what I enjoyed about this film was the distant look of concentration in the cadet’s eyes. In one short clip he looked in the direction of the camera, but it didn’t quite register. I also liked the fact that the synchronized swimmers were in their underwater environment and if distraction was a possibility, they would be virtually immune, except that they had the added distraction of coming up for air.

If you’re interested, you can find a clip of that video on her website. Performance of Desire.

Observation of the self-ticketing machines at the movies

What: Self-ticketing machines at movie theaters

How they were used: I expected that people would use them to purchase their tickets. But, I also noticed that people used them to see what movies were playing. And, sometimes they tested the machines to see if they could purchase tickets for a movie that was sold out.

Overall take-away about self-ticketing machines Most of the time we use technology we’re not being watched by people whose opinions we actually care about. Given the context, it seems like the self-ticketing machines are in an environment in which key members of your social group are around you watching you use a machine that could possibly make you look stupid. If I were designing self-ticketing machines, I would keep in mind that clarity and ease of use are important to users, so that they don’t look stupid to the people who are important to them. For the most part that’s true, except in the purchasing part, which is the part that actually matters.

I. Difficulties

Responsiveness of the machines: At the Loews Theater on 3rd Ave, the machine didn’t respond to very well, which prompted the person using the machine to touch the screen repeatedly.

Confusion when using the credit card swipe: Both at the Loews and at Regal Union Square Stadium 14, I observed at least two people becoming confused when trying to use the credit card machine. At Loews, I was too far away to notice read the screen to see what particular problem the woman was having, but the effect was that she tried to swipe her card about 4-5 times before she finally completed her purchase. At the other theater, the difficulty another person experienced with the credit card swipe had to do with the fact that she kept swiping her card in the wrong direction. Eventually, she was able to figure it out.

Even myself, at yet another theater, City Cinemas Village East, I had difficulty using the machine, too. Twice. First, I used my debit card to pay and when I got to a numeric keyboard display, I assumed that what I needed to press was my PIN, when I actually needed to press my zip code. The result was that I canceled the process. Then when I tried again, I got this screen. It’s a very accurate picture, as you can tell.

Inconsistency within the self-ticketing machine.
Inconsistency within the self-ticketing machine.

II. Completion time

When used correctly, the machine takes less than one minute to operate, from selecting a movie to picking up your tickets. I observed someone using the machine in under a minute. Actually, it was probably more like 30 seconds. (I looked away so that the people inside the theater lobby wouldn’t think I was stalking them. When I looked back, the person had finished.) At any stage during the process, it seems that you get about 1.5-2 minutes to complete a step before it asks if you need more time. With continued inactivity, it cancels the process and returns to the “home” screen.

III. Context of use

There were a couple of things I noticed about people using these machines that were affected by the general layout of the theater and the general social atmosphere of the environment at the movies.

Theater Layout: The Regal Cinema at Union Square had the most issue with layout affecting self-ticketing machines because at the Loews Theater on 3rd Ave, most people purchase their tickets from the person in the ticket booth outside, so they have their tickets before entering the theater. The biggest effect layout had on people using the self-ticketing machines had to do with crowding. This effect was exacerbated by the social context of people going to the movies.

The crowding effect – In the ticket machine room, there are about 15-18 machines. Most of them are grouped underneath the light board showing the movie titles and schedule. If you’re like me, when you walk into Regal Union Square Stadium 14, the first thing you do is turn right into this room, because it’s faster than waiting in line. I observed that as soon as people walked into this space they tended to stop a few feet from the entrance to the room in order to read the board. Stopping in front of the entrance, of course, blocks anyone else from coming in…which blocks people from using the machines.

(Solution!) To fix this problem, my thought was that if the board were on a different wall, this would get a better flow of people through the space. Particularly if it were on a back wall, since the majority of the people didn’t come more than two-thirds into the room.

Social Context of Use If you’re not like me when you go to the movies, this probably means you have come to the movies with at least one other person. When people arrived at the theater, they often came with friends and family, or they came alone and then met up with another person. So pretty much anything that a person does at the theater, they do with another person or more. When people are interacting with the self-ticketing machines, what really happens is that there are at least two people standing at one machine watching the screen while one of them actually touches the interface. I also noticed that even when there are more than two people are at the theater together all of them stand around the machine while to purchase their tickets.

This is why I feel that it’s very important that these machines not make people look like they don’t know how to operate a machine. Their friends are watching. Their date is watching. It’s not cool to make someone look dumb when they’re out on a date.

(Even President Obama knows this! President Obama apologizes for messing up journalist’s game.)


My last two observations to note are: “Proximity to the machine” and “What else do people do in self-ticketing space?”.

Proximity: When purchasing tickets, I noticed that when a person reached the point of purchase, he or she took a step closer to the machine. Maybe this behavior is just to get close enough to actually swipe their credit card effectively, or maybe it’s just that people feel better when they’re standing closer to the machine when paying for their tickets. Anyway, getting closer to the machines can be difficult in a crowded theater.

Sometimes, people also had a tendency to sort of play with the machines. Occasionally, a person who clearly did not intend to purchase a ticket would go to a machine and touch it as if they were going to purchase a ticket. When people did this, they often stood a little farther away from the machine, so that the machine was not really too much in their personal space. They also stood at an angle to the machine, so that they were not “squared off” in front of it – shoulders and hips aligned on top of each other so as to create a square, directly facing the machine.

What else do people do in the self-ticketing space: Aside from waiting around and chatting with their friends, the majority of people were using their cell phones. It seemed sometimes that maybe 50% of the people in the space were on the phone. They used their phones before and after purchasing tickets, perhaps to see what other movies were playing nearby, and possibly also to purchase tickets via their phone.

Alone again at the movies, I think I was the only person watching people use the self-ticketing machines.