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.

Staying in touch

I really loved the article Losing Our Touch and its historical account of the way human senses were perceived and valued in the time of Plato and Aristotle. I think we are at a similar Platonic moment in history where we are now very much obsessed with visual experiences, especially in our digital devices. However, I believe the next step for us, as was the case in ancient history, is a rekindling of real touch experiences.

My opinion is that Aristotle's argument in favor of touch as the most intimate sense couldn't be more true. There is a certain immediacy associated with touch that cannot be attained through any other sense. As we have now been using touch screens for almost a decade, we are beginning to feel the glass beneath our fingers, and we desire something more fulfilling.

Wearables do offer so much in this regard. They are on or close to our bodies, they can be used to detect truths about our bodies, and they are full of contextual cues, emotion, and cultural associations that give them great potential to expand the boundaries of what interfaces can be.

Wearable tel-empathy

I created a prototype of a wearable device that lets the wearer receive real feelings from another person, in their chest and gut. I was inspired by how often we have strong feeling that originate in that region of the body and yet we have no real way to convey them except through words or actions. This device would, for better or worse, duplicate the feelings experience by another person through transfer of exact muscle contractions, synapses, and neurons.

The device is about 6.5" x 4.5" and fits securely on the chest. The top most section is thinner and should fit in the concavity near the sternum. It's very thin and almost imperceptible to the wearer. It attaches to the body using a special adhesive that stick to skin but does not cause irritation. The skeleton of the device is a series of components that actuate neurons in the corresponding region of the chest and stomach.

Here is the first version of the prototype. It is slightly smaller than what I had envisioned because I could only find a 4-pack soda ring instead of a 6-pack. Ideally there would be holes in it to increase its breathability and decreased its footprint on the body.

Photo journal

I used to work in film and television production so whenever I see a shoot I get a little misty. It's the kind of thing where you forget the bad parts, e.g. the 14-hour days and the low pay, and you remember the camaraderie, that magic of making a film, and the memories that only come from spending hours on end with people, some who you barely know, who turn into good friends. I can't help identifying with this and I always feel the need to share it.

This wall is on West 4th Street opposite Washington Square Park. I have walked that block more than a few times and never noticed it, but it is one of the most ornate facades I've seen in the city. If I never noticed it, I figured other people may not have, so that's why I felt it was worth sharing.

I found this pin in the lobby of Bobst Library, as I was eating a breakfast sandwich on one of the benches. I think it is Islamic in some way, though I don't think it's the flag of a specific country (or at least I couldn't find the country it represents). It was very shiny and I left on the bench for someone else to find and/or claim. I probably shared this photo because I don't know that much about Islam and finding this flag pin reminded me of that somehow.

This pup is a temporary companion of mine, and this face was too precious not to capture. I think there is a gamesmanship related to cute pet photos; everyone wants to take the end-all cute photo but it is in fact impossible. Just when you think you've seen the cutest possible photo, along comes one that is cuter, and the cycle continues. This was my most recent contribution to that cycle.

I love this photo and was very eager to share it because it's a perspective not often seen (and isn't that what we all strive for in our photo sharing?). I was on the E train and the door to the driver's compartment was open. I was able to snap a photo of the interior of this compartment, which is not normally in public view. As a transit fanatic, I appreciate this because I'm always looking to better understand how the systems work.

Useful applications of custom cellular networks

Rolling your own cellular network would be really useful for custom applications involving sensor arrays out in the world. I have worked on a few noise mapping projects and having sensors communicate to each other while placed out in the world is usually difficult. Controlling the full GSM network would mean that you could potentially customize the way that your sensors communication with each other and with the base station. This could improve the efficiency of data collection.

My series of projects called Sonome were originally envisioned as standalone sensor modules that could either connect to the Internet using cellular data or run through wireless radios back to a base station that had an Internet connection. I think a custom GSM setup would be really great, except for the large startup budget necessary. I thought using XBees was expensive but the lowest-cost GSM base stations are around $700. However, for a project with a larger budget, I would definitely consider it.

Simmel on fashion

Georg Simmel's treatise on fashion as a social system was fascinating for its comprehensive understanding of the various mechanisms that create the dynamic flow between the elite and the mass, rooted in imitation. Simmel's definition of imitation is wonderful:
"We might define it as the child of thought and thoughtlessness. It affords the pregnant possibility of continually extending the greatest creations of the human spirit, without the aid of the forces which were originally the very condition of their birth."
It is this ability to access an original invention that intrigues me about fashion, or any other meme for that matter; that we can appropriate and disseminate an idea without needing to start from scratch. Fashion or memes take hold and move through whatever medium in which they live.

On the other hand, it makes me sad that much of the imitative dynamic is rooted in class hierarchy. Fashion as a means of expression is a pure endeavor, but the truth of Simmel's analysis is that without this hierarchy there can be no fashion as we know it. His example of 14th-century Venetian nobles illustrates this point; they dressed in a way to maintain a low profile, lest they be discovered by the populace at large. This, however, ran contrary to the "visible differentiation from the lower classes" necessary for the propagation of fashion.

Process music

I used SuperLooper to create three compositions. In SuperLooper you can click around the screen to make sound, but you can also use the top row keys (Q, W, E, R, T, Y, U, I, O, and P). I decided to compose a few songs using words made from the letters in the top row keys, typed sequentially, while retaining control of syncopation and timing, for all instruments. I found it interesting to mix the normal operation of a computer keyboard with the musical triggers of this web app. It gives each respective word a unique melody and mood.

T-O-R-T-U-R-E – listen
This composition is very upbeat and almost showtunesy, which is quite ironic given the word which inspired its creation. This track adds each instrument separately to build the composition, whereas the others just jump right into a full ensemble.

P-O-W-E-R – listen
This composition is a bit on the dark side. A minor key is at work, along with some repetitive tones due to holding down some keys for longer than normal. I like this one because it does feel like "power" to me, albeit in a darker sense.

P-R-E-T-T-Y – listen
This composition is melancholy, and its hook is kind of Top 40-ish. It doesn't scream "pretty," although maybe in a longing way, of something beautiful that is now lost.

Clothing photojournal

After documenting what I wore for (almost) a week, it became clear that I like the color gray. I already knew that I liked it, but the evidence is even more damning. To sum up my clothing preferences, I like things that are comfortable, that could be considered moderately stylish, that have NO brand markings, and that are easily interchangeable so that I don't have to spend a lot of time picking out an outfit. I wear a lot of the same clothes every week, which are a small fraction of what's in my closet. I should really clean it out.

Saturday – I did not leave the house but was extremely productive. I wore one of my favorite t-shirts; I have three of the same kind but in different colors. They fit extremely well, are soft, have a very subtle color pattern not unlike Funfetti® cake, and have a front pocket which I enjoy even though I rarely use it. My black jeans are Levi's 510. They are a bit rougher material than my other jeans but they fit the best out of any. My slippers are Uniqlo and they keep my feet warm in the apartment.

Sunday – Shirt is Uniqlo HEATTECH, pants are also Levi 510 but not really denim, more of a canvas material. I love both of these items, they are very soft and comfortable. The HEATTECH shirt is warmer than the average undershirt which is nice on cold days. The pants are the softest jeans I have, I think because they are very worn (they used to be a lot rougher material). They are also slightly too short for regular shoes so I only wear them out with boots. Or at home when it doesn't matter.

Tuesday – When I go to school, I usually wear a button-down shirt. This one is Hawkings McGill (Urban Outfitters), one of my favorite shirts because it goes with anything and fits well. The pants are my black Levi's and my boots are Clarks. I only wear one pair of shoes outside of my home, these are them. They are dark brown which means they go with mostly anything.

Wednesday – This is my all-time favorite shirt. It's a Uniqlo flannel and it is so soft. Often I will wear it at home when lounging around just because it's so soft. The pants are my canvas Levi's.

Thursday – This is a new favorite outfit of mine. Uniqlo chambray shirt, Uniqlo HEATTECH long sleeve, black Levi's, and Clarks. I think this is the most style-forward of the five outfits, though that might not be saying a whole lot. The chambray is my second favorite shirt besides the gray flannel.

GSM encryption algorithms

There are at least seven different encryption algorithms used in the GSM protocol. However, I could only find information on three of them. This may be because the remaining four are not publicly known.

The first, A5/1, was developed in 1987, before GSM was used outside of Europe. Initially proposed to use a 128-bit key, the strength of encryption was argued over by European NATO countries. Germany was a proponent of very strong encryption because of it's proximity to the Soviet bloc. Britain, however, wished to more easily eavesdrop on cellular communications, and advocated for a weaker implementation. The firs implementation ended up using a 54-bit key but this was increased to 64 bits later.

1994 was the first time that A5/1 was compromised. Researcher Ross Anderson first demonstrated the possibility, and by the early 2000s the A5/1 could be decrypted in "less than one minute of computations" using only "a few seconds of known conversation."

A variant, A5/2, was used in export markets, mostly in developing countries. It was much weaker than A5/1, "so much so that [in 1999] low end equipment can probably break it in real time." A5/2 is now prohibited for use with any GSM network worldwide.

A5/3 is yet another variant, but much stronger than A5/1 because of its 128-bit key. It is also known as KASUMI; kasumi is the Japanese word for mist, and the algorithm was based on another algorithm called MISTY1. Several researchers have managed to break A5/3 or the protocol surrounding it, but none so far have compromised it in real-world settings.