The Uncrosser

In order to determine a way to make people in close proximity more intimate, I imagined a social situation in which nonverbal communication would be of great importance: a party, crowded with people who you both like and dislike. I also used The Nonverbal Dictionary to refresh my familiarity with the nonverbal methods I learned in Speech and Debate class in high school.

The arm-cross is a classic nonverbal cue that is "unconsciously used to alleviate anxiety and social stress." A study on college students even found that "women use open arm positions with men they like, but cross-arms with men they dislike." The study concluded that men show no difference in this regard, but I beg to differ, as I know I cross my arms when I'm talking to people I dislike.

Since the goal of this week's project was to increase intimacy, it would make sense that a reduction in arm crossing could facilitate more intimacy. My design prototype is a shirt with a pressure sensor band underneath the fabric across the chest, which would detect the presence of the wearer's arms in a crossed position.


When pressure is detected, a light shock is applied to the wearer's arms, causing them to immediately release their standoffish posture. A few times of this shock therapy is all that's required for a more intimate social experience. The results can be seen below:




A new model for healthcare

I enjoyed this week's article, "Reframing health to embrace design of our own well-being".  It is a call to action for the redesign of every aspect of the healthcare system to allow those who we today call patients to become tomorrow's users of a participatorily-designed structure focused on true well-being, not just being free of disease. Or in the words of the the World Health Organization, health is "a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being."

I agree that we need to empower people to take control of their own healthcare. There is a recognizable trend in this direction that I believe started with the rise of the Web – simply having access to more information turned a lot of people off to the traditional model and on to the DIY, holistic side of things. There are merits to both strategies, of course, but we need a merger of the two to really get the most advantage.

The article is also inspiring because it brings the concepts of good design to an area which might not seem hospitable to design practice. Though we usually think of good design in the form of objects or structures, design thinking applies to pretty much every construct in the world, tangible or otherwise. This is why Dubberly's brief introductory paragraph is so inspiring – "wicked problems can be 'solved' only by reframing, by providing a new way of understanding."

PanHandler - a Tone.js plugin

For my midterm I developed PanHandler, a Tone.js plugin that pans an arbitrary number of inputs in interesting, random ways. To showcase its abilities I built a simple visualization which can be controlled with the keyboard.


I love music that takes advantage of aural space so I wanted to create a utensil for panning multiple inputs at the same time. PanHandler has two main functions that handle panning:

  • shuffle() - randomizes the pans across the aural space (e.g. a random value between 0 and 1)
  • flip() - reverses the pans and their respective magnitudes across the aural space (e.g. 0.9 becomes 0.1, 0.6 becomes 0.4, etc.)
Additionally, each of these methods can take an argument specifying the time to ramp the pan (e.g. shuffle(1) would randomize the pans of all of the inputs over 1 second).

In order to visualize the inputs moving across the aural space, I created grayscale bars for each one (in the demo there are four inputs, so there are four bars). These represent each distinct sound/note. As you use PanHandler to manipulate the pans, you can simultaneously see and hear the movement of the sound.

PanHandler code: GitHub

Final project: GSM paper fortune teller

Jia, Jason, and I created a GSM paper fortune teller that sends you a text message containing a fortune. Inspired by grade school fortune telling mechanisms, this project uses a GSM module, and Arduino, and conductive paint to put a new twist on a classic form.



Jia and Jason handled most of the fabrication, while I wrote most of the code to handle the GSM module's interaction with the Arduino. We used a software serial connection to communicate with the module, and used a series of basic commands to initiate the sending of an SMS message when one of the black symbols is squeezed by the user's fingers.

One of the key things to remember is to send the AT+CMGF=1 command anytime the GSM module has restarted. This command sets the module's SMS mode to text, allowing the subsequent command to send the message, AT+CMGS, to function properly. If you don't do this, you will be unable to send messages at all.


Self and identity

This week's readings all dealt with the notion of selfhood, from very different perspectives. The first highlighted the fact that we can be uniquely identified simply by wearing an item of mass-produced clothing that's been worn down based on our body and activity. The second discussed living forever in the context of transferring the human brain to a surrogate. The third showed that virtual and augmented reality can make us question our own concept of selfhood.

My strongest response came from the second article. I have been a follower of Kurzweil for a few years now, and have read his latest book How to Create a Mind which discusses the possibilities of whole brain emulation, storage, and access. I am convinced after reading this book that it will definitely be possible in the future to release ourselves from our biological "homes." Everyone knows by now that the brain is a massively-parallel processor. It works much slower than the average computer but its simultaneity of processing achieves a far higher computational output. Eventually our technology will progress to meet this demand, and then we will have the serious conversation about what to do with our bodies.

I think the third article ties into the exact spot where the second leaves off. If we're able to transplant/copy/emulate our brains for use with a virtual avatar, we will have essentially jumped into the virtual realm, never to return. And as virtual reality gets more "real" by the year, it seems logical to predict that we could be fully immersed in an alternative reality that is imperceptibly different than our current physical reality.

I don't think there's any question that this will happen, but we need to decide soon what kind of future we want for ourselves, and how to achieve it.

Sound(e)scape

This week's wearable exploration centered on sound and hearing. I have always been fascinated with the idea of controlling our personal aural environments. There are a lot of sounds in the world that are not only annoying, but damaging to our ears. Most of the time you have no choice but to plug your ears with your fingers or just simply grimace through it.

To deal with this problem, I designed a hood with a built-in decibel meter. An LED attached to the hood illuminates when the sound around you reaches an unsafe level, urging you to put your hood up. The hood itself is designed with an internal air pocket to reduce the amount of sound vibration that reachers your ears.


Ideally the hood would be made out of a lightweight, breathable fabric, so that it's main focus is not to keep you warm, but to block sound. The LED could be improved by locating it in a more obvious location, or incorporating light into a different area of the garment.

Final project ideas

My group and I discussed three possibilities for our final project. The first is a general GPS tracker to learn more about the transit infrastructure in New York. We could develop a simple GPS module and move through the city with it, gathering location data that could then be visualized on a map. Another possibility is developing a low-cost, throw-away version in order to track things that we cannot physical be a part of.

The second idea is a randomized messaging system, wherein the user "rolls dice" or somehow uses probability to send a message to another person. If the messages were all pre-established, it could be a fun way to add unpredictability to the social text message scene.

The third idea is a goTenna-inspired project in which we try to create a way for two people to communicate off of the commercial networks. This one is less developed and would require significant hardware skills, which is why it might not be best suited to two-week timeline.