Public Interactive Design

Like many ITPers, I live in Brooklyn.  Therefore, I have gotten to spend quite a lot of time riding the subway to and from school.  There are few interactions as equalizing as riding the subway; the homeless and the very wealthy all have to buy the same card from the same machine, wander the same tunnels, wait for the same train, and sit or stand in a cramped car .  With an estimated 5 million rides per day, the subway is as public as an interaction can be.  It’s goal is to provide efficient mass transportation to as many people as possible, on time, to every major part of the city, in as simple a way as possible.  And yet it’s very intimidating to visitors, and confusing still for residents.

I want to focus on the ticket machines.  The only way to get on the subway is to buy a ticket, almost always from an automated machine.  The machines will seemingly always be unoccupied whenever you already have a ticket, but backed up with customers when you’re in a rush.  People struggle to find the right options within the menus – I want a new card, right?  Do I just need a SingleRide?  Why do all of these say “+1” on them?  The credit card readers are often very problematic as well.  There isn’t time to have to try your card 10 times when there is a growing line forming behind you.  This is not completely the machines fault; it is still a struggle to understand why the US refuses to adopt the chip technology prevalent throughout the rest of the world.  If a single ride is $2.50, why isn’t there an option to purchase based on number of rides, so that you don’t invariably end up with leftover money on your card?  As an aside, looking into this led me to MetroChange, a fantastic idea where you can donate your leftover card change to charity.

So you finally end up deciding you need a $25 card.  You spent a few minutes navigating the touch screens, which, for all our technological advancement, feel as antiquated as an automated phone system.  Maybe you got your card to work, maybe you paid with cash because the reader was malfunctioning.  You’re then dispensed a thin paper ticket.  For a rare user, this may make sense.  But for purchasing unlimited monthly passes, something a little more substantial would be nice.  In my opinion, there should be an option for a more substantial plastic or composite card, less susceptible to wear and loss, offering more encouragement to be refilled.  Your whole transaction probably took 3-4 minutes, which doesn’t sound long but can feel eternal with a lot of anxious travelers behind you.  After your purchase is completed, you then enter the confusing tunnels to find your train – but that is a different discussion.  Something as large and complex as the subway system will produce inherent difficulties and confusion.  But simply getting a ticket to get into the subway should be an easier process.  It may be simple to someone who has lived in the city for a while, but, more importantly, it needs to be equally as simple for a first-time user, a tourist.

ICM – Working with Classes

click to interact

Homework for week 3 ICM.  Solidifying concepts in Object Oriented Programming.  Chose to work in particle systems with partner Gladys Chan (HUGE thanks to her for her help this week).  Proved to be a bit of a struggle, but after abandoning work with colliding particles, came to this abstract sketch with regenerating tear drop shape resembling smoke.  Looking to expand this in the future to model surreal landscapes like those by Naoya Hatakeyama.

Cradle to Cradle: Rethinking Design

When discussing current design practices, “Efficiency” is one of the first and most common concepts mentioned.  Few people think past the surface of saying design should be “efficient,” whatever that means.  The underlying assumption in saying you’re making a design more efficient, is that it’s current system is correct, and now it just needs optimization.  But can you truly say that is the case for something like the auto or construction industry?  Is making your car able to achieve 40mpg vs it’s current 25mpg the right solution?  Is it even the right question?  Shouldn’t we instead be asking why your car still needs to run on gasoline?  William McDonough and Michael Braungart set out to change the way people see design, framing it in a global, connected context.

Quick sidenote: Bill Mcdonough was featured in this episode (9:30-16:20 mark) of the PBS series design: e2.  I highly recommend the series to anyone with even a passing interest in design (and especially those who are unfamiliar with the idea of ecological design).

In the system we all know, you buy a product.  This product is wrapped in packaging that is immediately thrown out.  The product itself runs its course, usually one of planned obsolescence, and is typically thrown out as well.  Then its replacement is purchased.  Little regard is given for the toxic content of its ingredients.  Plastics and styrofoam packing unable to decompose litter the landscape, while the product itself can physically degrade during use, dispensing even more chemicals and particulate into the environment.  The product can contain any number of toxic, hazardous chemicals, dyes and materials.  The factory this product was made in most likely was constructed by razing the local landscape, built with no regard for or adaptability to the surrounding environment.  Consider clothing or carpet manufacturing, where the leftover scraps from production can be labeled as hazardous, but not the finished product itself.  Or any electronic device, full of harsh chemicals and heavy metals, tossed into the garbage without a second thought.  Even when you recycle something, it is more often than not being “downcycled” – used in a lessor form, because it cannot sustain its structural integrity to be reused for the same purpose.  Plastic bottles are repurposed as park benches, not as new plastic bottles.  They lose their technical qualities over time, eventually to nothing.  This “cradle to grave” approach isn’t one that will work for our world.

Nothing in nature functions in this manner.  Everything in nature has a calculated purchase, giving energy back to the system it takes from, and usually more. Instead of using brute force to “overcome” nature, we need to harness its power.  Some intelligent design and foresight can remove the need for excessive heating and cooling by using physics and natural air flows.  Naturally occurring plants and animals can filter water better, easier, and cheaper, than a treatment plant laden with chemicals.  By changing the way we look at design in all facets, products can be made to, upon completion of their useful life, be fully reused.  Parts of the product can be made to return as biological ingredients through decomposition, while the others can return to the production process as technical ingredients.  When companies know products going out the door will eventually return as raw materials to go back into the cycle, it works as an ecological and economic benefit.  The idea of designing for “cradle to cradle,” to ensure products are reused for their intended purpose is a long and complicated one, but one that is especially important.  Blatant disregard for natural resources and landscapes is not sustainable for this world.  By thinking in a long-term scope instead of looking for a profitable quarter, we will begin to ask smarter questions, and make smarter decisions to develop ecologically sustainable, and economically viable systems.  With so many in ITP involved in product creation and various forms of design, we need to be conscious of the decisions we make, from idea generation through final iterations.  What is your product made of?  What does it take in, and what does it give back?  One-way relationships are not sustainable in nature, nor are they sustainable in the ITP community.  So why would they work for the design of our lives?

Creating Sound


Our first project for CommLab Video & Sound was an open-ended assignment to create sound.  No real constraints were given, only for it to be “…environmental, create space or mood, or tell a story through sound.”  Kate Sukpisan and I decided to create a natural sound environment (we chose a rainforest) using unnatural sounds.  Our sounds included a running refrigerator (ambient background filler noise), dripping water, a running sink, and a sink running into a full bowl of water, fans (crickets), wooden benches (random animal sound), and childrens toys (cicadas), we were able to create what we hoped to be an immersive sound environment.  

The Machine Stops

“The Machine Stops”  gave an interesting look into the dystopian future EM Forster imagined in 1909.  The human race has been forced underground, with every person living in a sort of isolation chamber.   People are described as almost looking like mole rats – pale, weak, completely adept to subterranean life.  “The Machine,” the all-powerful computer system built by man, now provides man with whatever they need inside their chamber.  Food, water, beds, knowledge, communication and more are all available at the push of a button.  Moving beyond the confines of your pod is growing increasingly rare and discouraged.  The human race has become completely and utterly dependent on the Machine.  As people have mocked and almost completely forgotten about traditional organized religions, the Machine begins to take on a god-like status among people.

It is surprising to note this story was published in 1909.  Many of the descriptions have a prophetic quality about them.  Reliance on digital communication and experiences as opposed to in-person meetings and being outdoors are themes discussed quite often today, for good reason.  It’s only natural that, as new technologies arise to assist communication and daily life, people should and will take advantage of them.  You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who would argue that being able to Skype a relative across the globe isn’t as advantageous as exchanging a letter or two every year at best.  But there is an appropriate balance to strike.  Being in a social gathering when everyone is glued to their iPhone will make that quickly obvious.

Forster intended for his story to be science fiction, and it is, but there are erie looks to the future.  I in no way think this is a realistic future for Earth, but the lessons are absolutely applicable.  Computers are fantastic, extremely powerful machines.  They have revolutionized every aspect of life, fundamentally altering communication, business, art, music, government, and really any other sector you can name.  Our reliance on them grows as quickly as they find a new way to be ingrained into our lives.  Because of this, it is important to maintain some sort of separation.  That is an interesting statement for me to make seeing as I have been sitting on my computer for the past 9 hours straight.  Like most people, and especially so here at ITP, my computer is central to almost everything I do.  I make it a point to spend a large amount of time away from my computer in my free time.  Almost all of my hobbies involve being outside, completely disconnected.  I think that separation is healthy and extremely beneficial.  The feelings and benefits of face-to-face and outdoor interaction are intangible, but, in my personal opinion, invaluable.  Understanding that the computer is a tool to further the creativity of humans is important.  Without us, they accomplish nothing.

Processing Weave Animation

Weave animation done in Processing.  Ellipses with trails move at varied speeds, slowing down and speeding up to pass above and under other lines, forming a weaving pattern.  Current iteration grew out of a desire to increase complexity from a simple 2×2 grid.  Sketch is far from perfect though – there are spacing issues with some of the trails where ellipses are too spaced out, and ideally the weave would be uniform – over, under, over, under for every line, like a true knit.  Also, with so many iterations, we never had time to tidy up our code.  It could really use an object-oriented rewrite.  It is definitely a project that can be pursued further.


Completed with my partner Pamela Liou.

Continuing in Physical Computing

Last class, we built off of our floating pin problem for our assignment. Eamon and I built a circuit using two levels of interaction to control a motor, an on switch and off switch.



Double switch setup on breadboard to power motor

We used this to control a zoetrope.  We spent most of our time trying different control methods, so the actual zoetrope is pretty underwhelming.  But this gives an idea of how it would work.

Simple Zoetrope from John Farrell on Vimeo.

Beginnings in Electronics

After our first lecture in Physical Computing, we were ready to begin early work with electronics.  About ten of us gathered in the physical computing space to work together.  Almost all of us were complete beginners, with a few experienced souls sticking around to go through the process with us and offer some pointers.  While we were breaking into our Arduino starter kits, the Arduino board itself wasn’t being used.  We were starting with the basics, building simple circuits on our breadboards.


Getting Started

First up was building a power jack.  It was an optional step, as a 9V battery adapter was included as a possibility for power.  But it was a good exercise in learning to solder, something I had never done.


First solders!

That went off without a hitch, and soon I had a power source.  Power in hand, it was time to get an LED to blink, the proverbial first step in Physical Computing.

LED blink from John Farrell on Vimeo.

After blinking through a button, I switched out a potentiometer, which acts in a similar manner to a wall mounted light dimmer.

LED potentiometer from John Farrell on Vimeo.

After running multiple LEDs in parallel and series circuits, the labs continued onto switches and transistors with motors.  The final lab resulted in using a switch and potentiometer to control the transistor.

Spinning Motor from John Farrell on Vimeo.

In one of the final labs, Michael O, Dan M and I ran into a problem.  One of the diagrams was missing a ground, leaving a floating pin.  This caused the motor to get stuck being turned on.  The transistor needs to be in a grounded or voltage state, and the floating pin left it unable to decipher what state it was in.  With some work (ALL credit to Michael O) we arrived at a solution.  A path to ground allowed at outlet for the current, allowing the transistor to function properly as a switch.  This was a big breakthrough, one I am still working to fully understand.



Ownership and Originality

Ownership and Originality have long been murky concepts in the world of art.  Where ownership of property is clear, defined, and visible, ownership of shapes, concepts, musical tunes, and the like are harder to establish.  Can you really own and patent “rectangles with rounded corners“?  Patents are defined as “…a set of exclusive rights granted by a sovereign state to an inventor or their assignee for a limited period of time, in exchange for the public disclosure of the invention.”  A copyright is very similar, affording protection for artistic and literary work instead of inventions.  But at their core, they rely on the same premise of offering protection to someone who created something new, never before seen or done.  Protection from what?  The idea is that you now “own” your arrangement of music, collection of words, or drawing, and nobody else should be able to use it in any way without compensating you for that.

This calls into question originality itself.  How can an idea truly not have any previous influence?  Every idea, on some level, is the result of a percolation of life experiences and knowledge.  Whether or not you explicitly remember hearing a certain melody when writing a new song, that knowledge is in your head, working through your subconscious.  And, I believe, that’s ok!  The point was made several times that art, and human progress as a whole, is a collective endeavor.  We stand on the shoulders of those before us.  It’s how artistic and creative movements come to be.  And that’s not a revolutionary point.  Influence is good, blatant reproduction is wrong and shouldn’t be allowed.  It’s the gray area where, maybe you took part of the melody and reappropriated it, as Vanilla Ice famously did for “Ice Ice Baby”, that gets tricky.  While he slightly changed the music, there is no mistaking where it came from.  While I can understand the reasoning of those who argue against that, I believe it is still ok.

I am a proponent of the “Everything is a Remix” ideology discussed by Kirby Ferguson.  Art builds off of itself, and trying to lock everything down through copyright ignores the fact that A) The copywritten work almost assuredly is taking elements from something else, and B) that art is supposed to be a collective endeavor, furthering an ideal.  Art doesn’t exist in isolation; quite the opposite in fact.  It can only work with everyone buying into the system, living and working in a collaborative environment.  There’s a reason the ITP floor isn’t filled with long rows of cubicles.  But as easy as it is to discuss the world in those terms, at the end of the day people want to get paid for their work.  You should be compensated when someone sells prints of your drawing, or uses your song in a commercial.  It’s your exact work, and it is critical to the success of whatever the other party is trying to accomplish.  But someone using elements of you work in their own, out of context and rearranged in a totally different way, should be encouraged.  I thought the quote by Thomas Jefferson did a fantastic job elaborating on this point (as well as demonstrate this battle is not a new one).  Jefferson said “He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.”

You lose nothing when someone samples from your work.  The prideful artist likes to deny people this opportunity, feeling that their work was the result of a stroke of genius, removed from the artistic quagmire that it no doubt emerged from.   But no one produces in a vacuum, and to think so is naive and selfish.  There should be some sense of pride and honor in the fact that someone thought your work was so good that they want to incorporate it into something they are putting their own name on.  Quentin Tarantino is notorious for consuming a huge amount of work in a given genre, and using elements and styles from those movies in his own work.  As noted, Bob Dylan was a famous sampler.  Andy Warhol took preexisting photos, products, and objects, and turned them into some of worlds most iconic art.  Those men, and all the men and women who have sampled throughout time, followed a path described by Jefferson, to the betterment of their art.  Something they heard or saw sparked them, and they ran with an idea.  The original idea exists in its entirety, a wholly separate entity from their work.  But there is a common connection, a thread of influence.

If I had to sum up my thoughts on the matter, it would be that an influence or borrowed element doesn’t negate originality.  The notion that “nothing is original anymore” is easy, and lazy.  It’s always easier to be cynical about the state of things, looking at the broad surface of movie sequels and reproduced graphics.  So maybe you have to dive a little deeper to find the inspiring, fresh content you’re supposedly looking for.  I would contend that those people complaining about the staleness aren’t actually looking.  They just want to complain to complain, and are fine with the status quo.  Because the people who truly look to make art, and change the environment around them, could never be bored or sick of things.  They are constantly looking, searching, copying, remixing, borrowing and inventing.  And that is why good art will continue to be produced, to work in phases and evolve out of itself, layer on layer, from artist to artist.




Our assignment for week 1 was to create a static sketch in Processing.  I came up with the following:

Space Oddity


I had a tough time nailing down what I wanted to accomplish on this assignment.  I started off looking to make an abstract drawing involving some triangles, beziers and rotated objects.  I was getting somewhere but never totally satisfied.  Also, apparently I don’t know how radians work, so I need to put some more time into that.  Then I changed course to some kind of space drawing, which I eventually stuck with.  A few series of randomly generated stars in different colors, sizes and opacities set the backdrop for an astronaut man and alien ship.  Originally I was working on a sort of gas cloud/nebula to occupy the lower left area, but could never get it to a point I was happy with.  Instead I decided to make the ship shooting some lasers, but I will be continuing to work on the nebula idea as I gain a deeper understanding of Processing.


int x = 75;
int y = 75;
int w = 375
size(500, 500);
//stars 1
for (int i = 0 ; i < 1000; i++) {
float diam = random(0, 8);
float locX = random(0, 500);
float locY = random(0, 500);
fill(255, 255, 0, 175);
ellipse(locX, locY, diam, diam);

//stars 2
for (int i = 0 ; i < 1000; i++) {
float diam = random(0, 8);
float locX = random(0, 500);
float locY = random(0, 500);
fill(255, 255, 0, 90);
ellipse(locX, locY, diam, diam);

//stars 3
for (int i = 0 ; i < 250; i++) {
float diam = random(0,8);
float locX = random(0,500);
float locY = random(0,500);
float r = random(0,255);
float g = random(0,255);
float b = random(0,255);



fill(255, 65);
ellipse((x+300), y*2, 68, 70);

ellipse(x+300, y*2, 48, 50);

//outer eyes
fill(0, 255, 163);
ellipse(w+13, y*2-10, x/5, y/5);
ellipse(w-13, y*2-10, x/5, y/5);

//inner eyes
ellipse(w+13, y*2-13, x/10, y/10);
ellipse(w-13, y*2-13, x/10, y/10);

bezier(385, 155, 375, 164, 370, 164, 365, 155);


line(w, y*2.3, x+300, y*3.3);


ellipse(x+10, y+15, 50, 50);

fill(52, 198, 58);
ellipse(x+10, y+5, x-55, y-55);

fill(255, 0, 0);
ellipse(x+8, y+5, x-73, y-73);
ellipse(x+12, y+5, x-73, y-73);

ellipse(x+10, y+30, x*2, y/2);

fill(255, 0, 251);
ellipse(x+10, y+30, x/10, y/10);
ellipse(x, y+30, x/10, y/10);
ellipse(x-10, y+30, x/10, y/10);
ellipse(x+20, y+30, x/10, y/10);
ellipse(x+30, y+30, x/10, y/10);

//death rays