[eroft week 1] 24 hours in (zelda) nature meditation

My electronic ritual is standing on a mountain in the videogame, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, for a full 24 hour day in-game. Besides creating a transparent ploy to play videogames for homework, I decided to make this ritual as a way to experience the effects of meditating in nature without having to actually be in nature.

It took 24 minutes to run through 24 hours in the game, starting at 10:00 pm. I had my character, Link, stand on a lush mountain, and I looked around by moving the game camera around, without moving Link around at all.

I watched the moon move through the clouds, and then I watched the sun rise from over the sea. At night, it was cold enough to see Link’s breath. The wind blew grass and other small things around, and the colors and the light changed throughout the day.

It’s the first time I’ve sat so long intentionally in a videogame without moving my character around or otherwise “playing” it as intended, but it did somewhat succeed in creating a feeling of being in nature, moreso than if I were more focused on running around killing monsters or fulfilling a quest. It also got pretty boring after awhile in spite of its beauty, which is in line with what I feel when I sit in one place in nature as well.

There was an interesting effect of feeling like I was actually in two places at once — I listened to the sounds of the crickets and the wind in the game, but also the sound of cars honking outside my real window. When I’m normally playing a videogame, I don’t feel like I’m “in” two places – I just block out whatever else is going on. But just sitting quietly, a little bored, allowed me to hear both things at once.

 

[arcade week 1] Princess Mononoke Forest

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(Try walking around in the forest here.)

The assignment this week was to try to jump into Unity by recreating a scene from a movie in 3D. I decided to go with the forest from Princess Mononoke, which looks something like this:

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This was a challenging assignment for me, probably because “recreating” something meant that no matter what I made it would be far from perfect. This is especially frustrating for a scene as beautiful as the one that I picked.

There were a lot of things I didn’t know how to do, like change the size of the entire area, create lightbeams, and adjust the terrain on a micro level.

Another difficult part was in trying to make these guys:

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I ended up making a bunch of white glowing spheres, but I didn’t know how to mass place them semi-randomly around the terrain. I’m sure this could be easily done with code, but I didn’t get into that this week.

Anyway, you can try it here. Only works in Safari and Firefox.

[live web week 1] Interactive self-portrait

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(See my interactive self-portrait here.)

I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get this first homework assignment done in time, given that I fell horribly sick this week (as I couldn’t help alluding to in the homework itself), but thankfully I managed to pull it off today. The code will probably not win any awards for efficiency, but I’m happy to have done a simple exercise in “pure” (non-p5) Javascript, HTML5 and CSS.

https://gist.github.com/nicolehe/cb6facf4ddac8e03049a.js

[live web week 1] Response to “Living on a Stream: The Rise of Real-Time Video”

This week, we read Steven Levy’s “Living on a Stream: The Rise of Real-Time Video,” and were tasked with betting for it or against it. Levy says that in 10 years, over half of the videos we watch will be in real-time, while his friend Kevin Kelly bets that it will not be true.

It’s funny that Levy uses the app Color as his example of what the future will hold, as Color notoriously turned out to be one of the biggest and most embarrassing start-up failures in recent memory. Technology changes fast and is often quite unpredictable, which is one of the points of the piece, but the unpredictability factor works against the author, even just four years later.

Of course, I’m sure that if Levy wrote the article now, he’d cite Twitch as his top example, the popularity of which is certainly real and points to some kind of trend. I don’t know if I’d still bet on his side, though. I think there are some things that are suited for live consumption, like news, sports (and other competitions), award shows, pageants and panda cams, but most of the things that are happening in real-time are just not that interesting to simply watch as they’re happening. Improved streaming quality and technological advances don’t make mundane things compelling.

But I do think that if video chat is within his definition of “real-time video,” then maybe he does have a point. We enjoy looking at the faces of our friends and family as we speak to them, and that is an area that I think could overtake simple phone calls if the technology improves. Also, once video-conferencing gets even better, I’m guessing more employers would be willing to have employees that work remotely if there isn’t much of a loss in productivity.

In general, though, I’d go with Kelly.

[nothing week 1] F for Fake

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The first thing I wanted to do after watching F for Fake was to go and look at its Wikipedia page to search for the real “truth” of the film, whatever that means. There were some details I dug up on the internet that added some color to what I just watched; for example, the relationship between that young Minnesotan bodyguard and Elmyr, and the fact that Oja Kodar was Welles’ partner.  I find my experience of a film is more full if I know more of these “truths” in the media I just consumed, which is why movies “based on a true story” often have more of a hold on me. Of course I am not the only one who feels this way, that knowing something is real makes it feel more valuable and interesting than if it were not. This might be at odds with one of the key points about the film, which is that none of this stuff about what is actually real matters that much.

Welles asks the same question a number of times throughout the film: “It’s pretty, but is it art?” I get the impression that his answer would pretty much be, “who cares?” He explores this idea with the documentation of Elmyr’s life, in questioning what it meant for falsified work to be accepted as real. Of course he also reveals the idea with medium of the film itself, showing the production and film cutting, as well as the “fake” scene at the end with Oja.

Some of the questions raised I thought were poignant. Does a false Modigliani become a real one if it’s hung in a gallery and everyone can’t tell the difference? What does it mean for an artist’s work to be acclaimed if he can never sign his own name? How much does a forgery actually hurt an artist’s legacy?

Other parts of the film I found excruciatingly pretentious, but hey, perhaps that’s expected for a film made 40 years ago about Men Getting Away With Doing Bad Things. I’m sure there was an artistic purpose to all the parts about Oja walking around and being naked, but I’m not entirely convinced.

 

[animation week 1] Storyboard

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It’s halfway through the semester, which for me means that Animation has begun! We’re really jumping into it fast.

Jamie and I did the storyboards this week for our stop motion animation. As you can tell, neither of us have much ability to draw at all, so we’re using fruit as our characters and objects. The story stars a lonely banana at the fruit prom. We’ll see how much it changes when it comes time to shoot…

[video & sound week 1] Plagiarism, originality and remix readings

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This week in Video & Sound we read and watched four pieces of media: Jonathan Lethem’s The Ecstacy of Influence: A Plagiarism; b) On the Rights of the Molotov Man: Appropriation and the Art of Context; c) Allergy to Originality and d) Kirby Ferguson’s Embrace the Remix. The common thread between them all is the idea that no art or work is truly original or creative, and that this isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s inevitable, and it should be celebrated because we progress collectively through the efforts of the past.

Ferguson’s talk cites a quotation from Henry Ford: “I invented nothing new. I simply assembled the discoveries of other men behind whom were centuries of work.” And, as Lethem writes, “Finding one’s voice isn’t just an emptying and purifying oneself of the words of others but an adopting and embracing of filiations, communities, and discourses.”

I agree with the sentiment that our culture stands on the ability to borrow and remix ideas, and that openly acknowledging our influences as artists or inventors is important. But I’m also sympathetic to the people whose work gets “stolen” as well. Ideally, we could live in a world where everyone openly admits to using other people’s work and happily allows anyone to use theirs as well. But because it’s so difficult for artists to make a living to begin with, our flawed copyright laws sometimes serve as the only kind of protection they have for their income. It’s hard to fault an artist for feeling protective in an imperfect system, which is why I found Susan Meiselas’s rebuttal sympathetic and a necessary perspective.

 

[video & sound week 1] Reaction to “Her Long Black Hair”

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This afternoon I took the train up to Central Park with my iPhone and my headphones to… listen to? experience? walk through? Janet Cardiff’s sound walk, “Her Long Black Hair.” I really enjoyed it.

There was something surreal about the way that the recording overlapped with the sounds of the city. Immediately as it begins, you’re sitting facing the street traffic as the cars whiz by, and you’re not sure if the sounds of tires and horns is coming from your headphones or from the street in front of you. (The reality is that it’s both.)

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My favorite moments throughout the whole piece were like these, where it almost tricks you into thinking a sound is coming from the outside when it’s actually in the recording. There was a part when I was walking by some tall rocks with children climbing all over, and it took me a second to realize that the voices of children I could hear talking to each other about climbing did not belong to the ones in front of me.

I also enjoyed the semi-linear, ambiguously fictional tone of the piece. It almost made it feel like a kind of proto-virtual reality, or even a type of videogame — after all, you follow her directions and feel rewarded whenever something lines up between the recording and your reality. Like when Cardiff describes the bird on the head of a statue, and you see it in front of you.

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One of the most poignant moments on my walk was under a tunnel. In the recording, there is a man singing. On my walk today, there was a man drumming. As she has you linger and listen, the two pieces of music lined up in my ears as an experience that was uniquely mine.

 

[icm week 1] Draw a portrait using code

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(TL;DR — See my final drawing here!)

As a person with no experience with either art or programming, our first ICM homework assignment to draw a portrait of our classmate using code felt quite daunting.

But once I jumped in, I had a lot of fun, even though I definitely didn’t go about the process in a particularly efficient way.

I started by doing a (very rough) sketch on paper based on the picture I took of Isabel in class. Then I tried to code her hair using the curve() and curveVertex() functions.

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This did not go very well. I quickly realized that graphing out my sketch would make it much easier to plot exactly where I needed to place the curves and other shapes.

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Forgetting the existence of graph paper, I drew out a 30 x 20 graph, which multiplies out nicely to my 750 x 500 canvas size. I then redrew my sketch and plotted out coordinates. I made an Excel sheet to quickly multiply my sketched points by 25 to fit my canvas size, which was helpful for both my calculations and for remembering how to use Excel.

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I’m sure this would have been much easier if I used Photoshop or some other tool to tell me what position each pixel was at, but I went ahead and used the ol’ pencil and paper method anyway. And also a lot of trial and error.

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I still don’t feel like I fully understand how to use curves. More specifically, I don’t fully understand how the “control points” interact with and change the curve. I also still don’t know how to change the angle of a curve in the middle of a long curveVertex() sequence. If you look at my code below, you’ll see that I kind of hacked it by putting a bunch of shapes together in the background.

I also had some trouble with arc() to begin with because in order to get the eyes angled in the way I wanted, I had to remember basic trigonometry. I ended up figuring out that you could multiply the radians in the code, and so the angles of the eyes came out like this:

[javascript]arc(325, 198, 50, 54, PI + ((1/10) * PI), TWO_PI); [/javascript]

And I added some flashing rainbow colors for fun:

[javascript]rainbowColor = color(random(0, 255), random(0, 255), random(0, 255)); [/javascript]

Overall, I enjoyed this exercise a lot and felt like it was a good way to dive in to the basics of programming, and taught me how to look things up and ask questions.

I’m pretty happy with the result!

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Note: this is a gif version of my sketch so it looks a little weird, but it gives you the idea. See the final sketch here.

The code is below.  Continue reading “[icm week 1] Draw a portrait using code”

[pcomp week 1] What is physical interaction?

After reading the first two chapters of Chris Crawford’s The Art of Interactive Design and Bret Victor’s A Brief Rant on the Future of Interaction Design, the question “what is physical interaction?” reminds me of another question I’ve been trying to answer a lot recently, which is “what is ITP?” With both, it seems that the more you think about it and the more you try to come up with a solid answer, the more inadequate your definition feels.

Crawford addresses this subjectivity, but nonetheless puts forth a definition of interactivity as a conversation “in which two actors alternately listen, think, and speak.” He describes interactivity as something that exists on a continuum rather than in absolutes, and defines it also by what it is not: reaction and participation, for example. Upon first thought, a conversation makes sense to me as a starting point for thinking about how to define interaction. A conversation isn’t static or predictable; it’ll change and adapt according to what each participant says in each turn. Sounds interactive to me!

But does it still count as interactive if there are no humans in the conversation? The video above showing two AI chatbots talking to each other is certainly a conversation (as well as a pretty cool piece of digital technology), but I wouldn’t classify it as interactive because people are not a part of the actual interaction. At least until we consider robots as people, which as far as I know, hasn’t happened yet.

Victor’s rant, similarly, encourages us to consider people when designing for interactivity. This is where the physical part kicks in. His blog post rages against the prevailing vision of the future that’s entirely screen-based, or as he calls it, “Pictures Under Glass.”

“We live in a three-dimensional world,” he writes. “I believe that our hands are the future.”

Physical interaction necessarily involves the body. Of course, as Victor argues, hands are under-considered as tools in design, but we should also think about the ways we can use other parts of the body to creative physical interaction. And to consider this in terms of sense, what else can we use besides touch? It’ll be interesting to design for interaction by sound, sight, smell and taste too.

What makes for good physical interaction? Maybe it’s what McLuhan considers to be “cool media,” or something that requires more active participation on behalf of the person or user to get something out of it. Or maybe it’s the other way around—something that gives you a wider array of output depending on how you interact with it. Like the way that light switch that turns the lights on and off is less of an interactive experience than a dial that allows you to change your lights to all colors of the rainbow.

But does more interaction mean good interaction? Does it make it a better interaction if you end up with stronger feelings about the experience? Or does that just make it better art? Maybe, the best physical interaction is one where the output is an experience tailored completely uniquely to your input, like a conversation. (Between humans.)