Tree Museum

Sidewalk markers include tree name, along with dial-in details for the audio Circular markers embedded in the sidewalk beside each tree provide the tree name and  dial-in details for the corresponding prerecorded audio segment.

The  Tree Museum is an outdoor public art project created by Irish artist Katie Holten to commemorate the centennial of the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. The Museum’s purpose is to celebrate the diverse ecosystems and communities of the Concourse, with trees as storytellers.

The outdoor museum is comprised of one hundred designated trees scattered along the Grand Concourse. Circular placards embedded in the sidewalk dial-in number to listen to a stories about the Bronx, the trees or the Concourse. These prerecorded segments are narrated by current and former Bronx residents from all walks of life.

After a quick stop in the Bronx Museum to obtain a map of the Tree Museum, Tree #31 was the first tree I encountered. I called the number as instructed on the sidewalk marker, and heard about two seconds of the recording before a bus pulled up to the bus stop a few feet away from the tree, making it pretty much impossible to hear the audio. And there was no rewind function, so I had to redial the number! I unraveled my bluetooth headset in the hope that it would enable me to decipher the audio, but with pretty heavy traffic on Grand Concourse that evening, my efforts were pretty much in vain, so I decided to take a picture of the tree and listen to the recording at home.

I checked out about ten of the trees, and crossed Grand Concourse a number of times – which, at rush hour, felt a bit like crossing a highway.

The sound quality of the phone, coupled with the number of daytime minutes used in this type of activity made me wonder why a podcast wasn’t available. (Update: Looks like the Tree Museum is now offering a handful of downloadable audio files here.)

While I felt that celebrating Grand Concourse through the perspectives of its current and past residents is the kind of idea that was right on the money, the experience of visiting the Tree Museum was a little unwieldier than I had hoped.

Fantasy Device

For this Physical Computing assignment, we were tasked with coming up with ideas for fantasy devices that we’ve always wanted. These devices didn’t have to be physically possible, but they were required to have a physical interface.

At first, coming up with ideas was trickier than I expected. While time machines and memory erasers would certainly be handy, I wanted to come up with something a little more (even if not entirely) feasible.

I figured that a list of Things That Suck might be a good place to begin:

  • Laziness; procrastination
  • Forgetfulness; tendency to lose things, e.g. keys, umbrella
  • Waking up tired; oversleeping
  • Lugging heavy stuff around, e.g. laptop, books
  • The after-effects of overindulgence
  • Inability to decide what to wear
  • Knowing from past experience that something is a bad idea… and then doing it anyway

Using the above list, I came up with the following devices that I think would make life easier:

Fantasy Device #1: “Virtual” Laptop (or Pocket Notebook?)
I lug my laptop and charger to ITP every day. They’re bulkier and heavier than I’d like them to be, and I’d appreciate something smaller, lighter and far more portable that performs all the functions of a laptop. And no, a phone won’t do – I want my full-size keyboard, and a nice big display.
Solution: This ultraportable, compact device houses the necessary hardware and software of a laptop (data can be stored remotely to reduce size – what else can be stored remotely?). Instead of a keyboard and display, this device incorporates a projector that displays “screen” image on a light-colored surface (in a pinch, use a sheet of paper). A second projector creates a “virtual” input device, e.g. keyboard or graphics tablet, with an embedded light/motion sensor to sense user input and wirelessly transfer it to the computer.

Fantasy Device #2: Good Morning Sunshine
In big cities with bright lights (and late nights), blackout blinds are a necessity for citizens seeking a good night’s sleep – but waking up in darkness can cause us to press the snooze button – possibly multiple times.
Solution: There are “morning light” alarm clocks out there – but we could also take advantage of the actual daylight outside the window. When the snooze button is pressed, this device is activated, and over a set period of time, it gradually draws back the blackout blinds. When the alarm goes off again, the blinds are open, and daylight is pouring in – hopefully encouraging sleepyheads to start their day.

Physical Computing Lab #2: Analog In

This week’s PComp lab assignment introduced us to the concept of analog input to the Arduino microcontroller, using variable resistors. Once again, I found myself tinkering around a bit to get the circuit to function properly – but once all wires were properly in place, the LED brightened and dimmed as I adjusted the potentiometer.

Analog In from katherine keane on Vimeo.

Reaction to Walter Ong

Upon reading the first four chapters of Walter J. Ong’s Orality and Literacy that comprised our first reading assignment for Communications Lab, I baked a loaf of traditional Irish brown bread.

Until not long ago, baking bread was an integral part of daily life in the majority of Irish households. Recipes and other wisdom were passed down orally, or by “apprenticeship,” from each generation to the next – unsurprising, for a place Ong describes as “a country in which every region preserves massive residual orality.” Unlike my predecessors, however, I find myself looking up the recipe for brown bread every time I set out to bake it – or, more specifically, I ‘google’ it.

At this point, I should easily remember a simple recipe that I’ve followed on no less than fifteen occasions in the past year or so – but why even bother, when the information is right there at my fingertips? It’s pretty ironic that in an era dubbed ‘the Information Age,’ we exteriorize information.

Ong notes that primary oral cultures retain “equilibrium or homeostasis by sloughing off memories which no longer have present relevance.” Literate cultures, on the other hand, can gather and store information and ‘look it up’ for subsequent recall. Today, the term ‘to look up’ has become pretty much synonymous with ‘to google.’

The Internet provides us with instant access to an overwhelmingly vast amount of information: sounds, images, movie clips, information – just google what you need, and you will most likely find exactly what you seek. While I welcome search engines such as Google as methods of sifting through it all, I’m a little envious of the ability of primary oral cultures to shed irrelevant information to retain only what is necessary – that is, their capacities for memorization and simplification.

One last quick thought: instant message applications such as AIM and Gchat enable near-real-time communication and interactivity via the written word. Can we consider such applications to bridge the gap that Ong defines between orality and literacy?

Sensor walk

For this assignment, I meandered around my neighborhood in search of interesting interactions with sensors, i.e. devices that detect stimuli such as light, motion or heat, and produce an analog or digital “reaction” to that condition.

First stop: the gym. Millions of sensors in that joint. Pretty ironic how easy everything is, considering that expending energy is the reason for being there in the first place. I guess the purpose of a gym is to make exercise safe, convenient and easy (as opposed to rock climbing, running outside, finding heavy things to lift) – and that’s the purpose of all these sensors!

Located at the gym check-in desk, this sensor reads your fingerprint, matches it up to the corresponding profile in the system and checks you in.
Located at the gym check-in desk, this sensor reads your fingerprint, matches it up to the corresponding profile in the system and checks you in.
This touch-sensitive control panel on the treadmill allows users to adjust incline and speed, and also offers preset speed options.

This touch-sensitive control panel on the treadmill allows users to adjust incline and speed, and also offers preset speed options.

Second stop: Trader Joe’s wine store – there appears to be a couple of types of sensors here:

Sensors on mat detect feet of individuals about to enter/exit the store, and doors slide open accordingly

Sensors on mat detect feet of individuals about to enter/exit the store. Doors open accordingly.

Sensors above door detect people in front of it

Sensors above door detect people in front of it. Doors open accordingly.

Physical Computing Lab #1: Christmas in September

Not long ago, the idea of a Physical Computing Lab was daunting – and perusing the contents of the lab kit did nothing to lower my anxiety levels. But upon completing the lab assignment for week 1, it became evident that hands-on experience, troubleshooting and patience are key factors in learning how to build circuits.

In this lab, we connected a digital input circuit and digital output circuit to an Arduino microcontroller. When connected to the Arduino, the first LED would light up, and when the switch was turned on, the first LED would turn off and the second LED would light up. I selected red and green LEDs for seasonal appropriateness, as I initially suspected that it might take me until Christmas to get this thing to work.

My biggest challenge was getting the hang of using the tools, particularly the wire stripper – I managed to accidentally cut wires more than once. But upon connecting the components and running the Arduino program, it worked!

Switch turned on

Switch turned on

Switch turned off

Switch turned off