Design Meets Disability

Reading Response to excerpt from Design Meets Disability by Graham Pullin

I really enjoyed this weeks reading assignment about the design of tools used by those with physical disabilities. Pullin describes how most assistive devices are designed to draw as little attention to the device as possible. Prostheses illustrate this example clearly; they are usually flesh-colored with a texture intended to imitate skin. What I found interesting was his commentary of how glasses have bucked this trend. He explains how glasses used to be treaded as medical apparatuses, but have more recently become something we wear as opposed to use. He contrasts this to how we think of hearing aids. What I found lacking in the text was the reason why glasses have become a fashion statement and accepted – even envied – by non-glasses wearers.

I think I have an idea. I don’t claim to have studied this or to have anything other than anecdotal evidence, but I think the reason glasses have passed into fashion accessory territory has to do with what we associate with glasses themselves. Glasses seem come with a stigma representing nerdiness, or sometimes elitism. Growing up, the geeks and nerds portrayed in movies and on tv always wore glasses. But now, nerds are cool! And anytime something becomes cool, people want to emulate it. Even the classic styles that were popular before glasses were cool are coming back into vogue. As a glasses wearer, It’s very interesting to observe.

So where do we go from here? I think an amazing trend in society is our increasing acceptance of disabilities. I loved the example of Aimee Mullins and her different legs for different occasions. For someone with a physical disability, there are options now to show their unique style instead of just trying to be “normal”. With the cost of rapid prototype machines and supplies (like 3d printers and cnc machines) decreasing rapidly, I could see small shops setting up to make custom-designed pieces for traditionally boring “invisible” medical devices, turning them into pieces that fit the style -and functional lifestyle – of their wearer.

Let’s get ready to RUUUMMMBLE!

No more mister nice thumb

A few assignments ago in physical computing, I had the idea to make a thumb wrestler with a homemade force detector. I’ll talk about that more below.

Ever since that lab, I’ve used what I’ve learned to build onto that project adding LEDs, a servo, and a piezo buzzer. Here’s a short video demonstrating the final prototype:


Processing catch-up post

I haven’t posted any of my ICM homework to my blog yet, so this post will take care of it in one shot! Here are a few of the projects I’ve worked on recently.


Move the mouse inside the window to create sparks!


The inspiration for this one was an equalizer. I ended up spending way to much time thinking about the math of the line heights


click inside the box to start drawing.

The Phantom of the Arm

I read an excerpt of Visual Intelligence: How We Create What We See by Donald D. Hoffman that spoke to the fact that there is evidence our brain constructs what we see and touch. The chapter discussed medical studies that were performed on patients who had limbs amputated but could feel the sensation that the appendage was still there (Phantom limb syndrome). Hoffman used this as an argument that even the sensation of touch is something created in our brains, not necessarily imposed through outside influences.

It’s something I’ve never thought about with regards to touch before. I’ve though about whether or not people see things the same way I do (physically, not metaphorically), or how my colorblind father and sister see the world, but I always just assumed sensations of touch were relatively universal. Is it possible to “spoof” a feeling of touch? I’m not sure if scientifically there is a way to make materials change their physical feeling yet, but that would be an interesting development. Or maybe a sensor in our brain that corresponds with a material. Wouldn’t a trackpad that changes texture depending on the application or game be really interesting? Maybe an e-book that could simulate the texture and weight of pages while still using a display. This really makes me rethink what could be possible for the future of human/computer interaction.

Physical Computing hits and misses

Physical Computing’s Greatest Hits (and misses) -Tom Igoe

I loved looking through this list of different types of physical computing projects. Some were very inspiring (mechanical pixels, fields of grass), and others I’ve seen many many times. what I really like about both the mechanical pixels and fields of grass are the scale and response given to a user. Seeing so many objects working together in harmony is mesmerizing and hypnotic. I think these ideas are great for art pieces or interactive displays, but I think the usefulness degrades when I try to think of “practical” uses (whatever that means).

One trend I’ve been seeing a lot recently is the use of the Kinect in projects. I think its fascinating to use our bodies as a controller and interact with digital objects on a screen (or other objects). There seems to be a market for it as well since there are other competitors making similar products (Asus and Leap Motion are both interesting examples). I don’t think these are the epitome of human/computer interaction, however. I think the problem is in the feedback. I’ve played some games on with the kinect on the xbox. One game, for example, you block dodgeballs with your arms legs and torso. But where’s the feedback? How do I know I blocked one? I don’t feel anything on my arm or leg, or anything anywhere. I think that’s an opportunity for improvement. There should be resistance and feedback built into the system in order to achieve a more life-like feeling.



Maker Faire NY 2012

On Saturday I volunteered at 2 booths for Maker Faire NY. I’ve been to the faire in California 3 or 4 times, but this was my first in New York! It was a ton of fun and I got to meet and work with great people.

First up was the Nerdy Derby. The idea was dreamed up and made into a reality by fellow ITP students and it was awesome. It’s basically a no-rules pinewood derby race. There were supplies provided for kids to make cars on the spot and then race them on our track. I had a lot of fun talking to makers, registering their cars and then helping run the races. Here’s a video that someone took with a camera attached to the car:

It was a blast! The part I loved seeing the most were parents encouraging their children to make things and not stepping in to do it for them. I loved seeing all the creative ideas for cars and parts and the thought that some of these kids put into their vehicles.

The next half of the day I volunteered at the Arduino booth. I did some small workshops showing how to make LEDs blink, but mostly talked to people about Arduino and all the possible uses. It was fun to talk to people with a wide range of experience with microcontrollers (I had questions from “what exactly is a microcomputer” to “Did you know the preprocessor is broken?”) I had a great time and enjoyed volunteering for a cause I believe in – helping people understand electronics using an open platform.


Week 2 Observation

For this assignment, we were asked to pick a piece of interactive technology out in the wild, and observe people using it. I chose something that frustrated me at first, but as I’ve now memorized the actions needed, it no longer bothers me: The MetroCard vending machine.

The first issue I found (and observed others making the same error) was to assume that the  two sizes of machines function the same way. This is not the case. At the smaller machine, (which does not take cash, by the way), you have the option to add money to your card directly after inputing your desired language. On the larger machines, you need to first select “MetroCard” then add fare.

I watched as tourists and locals used the machine. Most people who looked like locals to me were able to navigate the menus to their desired destination relatively quickly and confidently. Others, who I judged as less experienced with the machine, seemed to have troubles. They would stumble around the menus for a bit going back and forth and then look to their companions to see if they knew where to go or ask the attendant (if there was one present).

Another issue seemed to be the accuracy, or assumed accuracy of the touch screen. The touch layer is actually raised off the surface of where the information is projected by about half an inch maybe. Depending on the height of the user (and the angle they are looking) I saw many people miss buttons the first or second time. After reading Design of Everyday Things, this is an area where it seems like more affordances could be given. Instead of the touch screen that works some of the time, with squares as buttons, the machine could have actual buttons and a mapping to those on the screen.

Things that appeared clearly marked were how to insert a credit card and the MetroCard itself. I saw very few people put those in backwards or upside down, since the machine has very clear pictures on the proper way to insert them.

All told, the machines seem to function fairly well for those who use them often. Just from observation, and without knowing their actual usage patterns, it seems that the larger machines should have a quicker way to add money to an existing metroCard. From my observations, that was the most-used function. One potential solution I would propose is the ability to insert your MetroCard right away without pressing any buttons and take you directly to a screen with options for an existing card. Another way I would speed up transactions would be to assume the user wants to use English, but put a small icon with different flags in the corner for those who wish to use another language. The machines  could even record usage patterns and assume a different language for machines that are used the majority of the time in another language.


Enter the Arduino

Bike safety lights – Arduino switch from brett peterson on Vimeo.

This lab assignment was to make something using a digital switch connected to an Arduino. I thought of a system that would turn on lights attached to a bag when you put it on. I think if I were to do another iteration, I’d make it so you have to buckle the front straps  of the backpack, because I really don’t want lights blinking every time I put on my bag.

Ketchup Switch

ketchup_switch from brett peterson on Vimeo.

For last week’s assignment we were asked to create a simple switch that, when closed, would turn on an LED. After watching my daughter spread food all over her highchair tray one night, I decided to try and use ketchup. Peep the video above for the results.

I wasn’t sure if the ketchup would conduct electricity at first, so I just decided to try it. I also found that the resistance of the ketchup was great enough that I could take the 220 Ohm resistor out of the circuit and still safely light the LED.


For our first assignment in Video and Sound, We were asked to read a few articles and watch a couple videos on the topic of original creativity and copyright.

I really enjoyed the TED talk by Kirby. I had previously seen his series “Everything is a Remix” and found myself surprised by the many influences music artist in particular drew from. In the TED talk he references patents held by Apple Computer. I find it very interesting and timely that the court case of Apple Vs Samsung over these referenced patents has recently taken place. The Jury found Samsung guilty and placed a value of one Billion dollars on the infringement. Link

This isn’t an easy issue to understand and solve. subsequent media interviews of the Jury foreman show that they didn’t fully comprehend the law or the implications of sustaining these patents.

I sit somewhere between both extremes in my opinion on copyright law and patents. I do feel that they’ve been abused by corporations and are used to stifle innovation and restrict competition. I can also understand the position of content creators that look to earn an income from their work. Software patents in particular are very interesting. I think there needs to be serious patent reform such as limiting the term of the patent to a much shorter timeframe, but I’m not sure about abolishing patents completely as some have suggested.

As for appropriation of media samples to remix or otherwise combine and create new work, I think those uses should be allowed. They won’t be confusing end consumers because the product is decidedly different, and the user benefits from the new creation where they might otherwise not be served by the copyright holder.