Mobile Me(dia) Final: Spontaneous

My first Android app is just about ready to go! Tentatively entitled Spontaneous, my final project in Shawn Van Every’s Mobile Me(dia) class is an app designed to encourage users to make the most out of their free time by doing the things that they have been meaning to do but haven’t quite gotten around to.

Currently, Spontaneous allows the user to:

  • Add a Spontaneous activity to their list. This part of the app allows users to enter the thing they’d like to do, e.g. go to MoMA, and the amount of time they expect the activity will take. The activity and amount of time entered by the user are then written to a SharedPreferences file on their Android device for later retrieval by the app.
  • Do a Spontaneous activity from their list. When a user has some time available, this part of the app allows them to select from a dropdown menu the amount of time that they have available, then brings up the activities on their list that fit into the amount of time they have available.
  • View the full list of Spontaneous activities. This view allows the user to see all of the activities on their list. Currently, the activities come up as buttons; when the user hits the button, they are given the opportunity to cross the activity on their list, or leave it on the list.

Here are some screenshots – just click on the thumbnails to see the full image.

There are a few things I plan to do before putting Spontaneous in the Android Market. I want to make the interface more aesthetically pleasing, make navigation a little more straightforward, and figure out how to limit the results in the ‘Do a Spontaneous Activity’ section solely to the activities that fit within the time that a user has available.

Rest of You final proposal: Breathe

Breathing is body activity that can occur unconsciously or consciously. Without thought, we breathe automatically, but with practice, we can learn to breathe more effectively. By breathing properly, we can better manage stress and stress-related conditions that are not advantageous to modern life.

My final project proposal for Rest of You is a light sculpture that aims to curb stress by encouraging deeper, controlled breathing by providing the user with visual feedback. Here’s the initial sketch:

The light sculpture is controlled by a breathing sensor, comprised of a piece of stretchy conductive material attached to a strap of non-stretchy material that is worn around the ribcage. As the user inhales, their ribcage expands, stretching the sensor and increasing its resistance. The increase in resistance causes the LEDs on the sculpture to turn on, one by one, from the bottom to the top of the sculpture. As the user exhales, the LEDs turn off, one by one, from top to bottom. As the user continues to breathe, the sculpture reflects their breaths. If the user fails to breathe deeply, the sculpture won’t fully turn on. It is my hope that the user will want the sculpture to fully light up, and therefore breathe deeply to make this happen.

Research indicates that curbing the stress response has the following positive effects:

  • Reduces stress hormone production
  • Balances O2 and CO2 in the blood
  • Lowers blood pressure and heart rate
  • Increases physical energy
  • Promotes calm and wellbeing
  • Reduces lactic acid build-up in muscle tissue
  • Improves immune system functionality

My goal for the final is to get the breathing sensor and light sculpture up and running. Once these parts are complete, the next step will be to make it wireless. I plan to do this with XBees.

Mobile Me(dia) Final Proposal

There are so many fun things that I want to do, that I “sort of” plan to do in the future, but I never get around to doing many of these things. Going to the Cloisters, for example. I keep meaning to do it, but I never get around to it.

These aren’t the kinds of activities that belong in my Tasks or To Do list. These are the kinds of things that I can do spontaneously when I have some time available.

To this end, I’m planning to make a mobile app for the Mobile Me(dia) final that allows me to enter these types of activities and the time needed to do them. When I have some free time available, I can consult this app, input the amount of time I have and allow the phone to suggest what I can do with the time.

Here’s the draft wireframe.


Thesis Prep: Optical Devices

Continuing my exploration of the themes of optics and eyesight, I made some optical devices of my own.

I popped the lenses out of an old pair of sunglasses and got to work with some construction paper and thread to make seven designs to affix to the glasses in place of the lenses. I tried wearing the glasses and noted my observations, and gave the most interesting ones to some friends who generously volunteered as test subjects.

Sketches of the experiment


The most interesting designs were the one with multiple small polka dots (#4), which created an odd sense of depth, an interesting blur effect and made the wearer more aware of their eyes’ focus; the one with a single larger dot on each eye (#3), which gave the wearer peripheral vision only; and the one that was all blacked out except for three small holes on each eye, which blacked out most of the field of vision, forced the user to move their head to see, and they were only privy to viewing three small areas within that field of vision, without being able to see what was between them.

Below are images from the experiment. Next step might be to convey what the scene looks like to the person wearing the glasses.

Android SMS app

I’ve been getting cosy with Java, Eclipse and the Android development platform in recent days. After making the Hello World application, I played around with the xml file where the Android layouts reside and made some buttons (with different brightly colored text on each!) that change the screen color when clicked on.

I was glad to learn of the existence of Android intents, which enables applications to pass requests along to other apps to handle tasks. We can leverage intents to get other applications to send emails, SMS, use the camera, etc. as part of our app without writing a new and separate client to do so.

I used an SMS intent to get my app, InstantSMStoFriends, to send pre-written SMS messages to my friends when I click on their names.

Here's the landing page for InstantSMStoFriends. There are four buttons. The user clicks on any of the four buttons to send a text message.

SMS intent has been launched! Here's the screen that appears after I click the "Text Amy" button.

In doing this, I also learned how to take these awesome Android screenshots using DDMS in Eclipse!

Exploratory projects

To begin my thesis explorations, I decided to focus on why I feel that eyesight and visual perception are relevant to me.

I did a 20-minute sketch of a personal story.

When I was about seven years old, I discovered (to my surprise) that I needed glasses.

Then, I sketched my proposed plan to go outside and try and capture the world a little differently than I might normally do.


What can I do in two hours?

After drawing this, I was a little scared to go outside without the perfect vision afforded by contact lenses. But I was wearing my glasses, so I'd be fine.

It was Halloween – a chaotic evening in the Village. My goal was to go outside wearing glasses, and take them off at regular intervals to see what I could/couldn’t see – and then take some pictures that might capture the feeling of having less than perfect vision.

My photos of Halloween are below. Here are a couple of observations from the exercise:

  • I can everything perfectly in the camera’s LCD display when I hold it in front of my face.
  • Lights look awesome when you are near-sighted, but the huge blurs they create make it really difficult to see anything else.
  • I’m more sensitive to sound when I can’t see very well.
  • It’s terrifying to walk down the street unable to see where you’re going. Especially on Halloween amidst a merry crowd of costumed revelers.



Thesis prep, Step 1, Take 3

How does eyesight affect visual perception? That question, however obscure at this point, is my starting point for thesis exploration.

I’ve made a couple of attempts at expanding upon ideas that I wasn’t very into, and toyed around with others. Productivity (in the broad sense) and self-marketing/censoring through images (hello, Facebook profile pics) have both ended up in the unused ideas pile. Now I’ve come up with something I think I can get behind.

Beginning with the question, “How Does Eyesight Affect Visual Perception?” I grabbed my markers and explored the question by jotting down word associations along with proposed forms, materials, affects/emotions, verbs, colors, motivations, proposed audiences and contexts for the thesis piece.

This overarching topic is way too expansive, so I decided upon two 20-minute projects and one 2-hour project to help me explore the idea, which I’ll document in my next post.


Museum Manifesto

I’ve visited one or two museums per week for two months. Based on these experiences, here’s the “museum manifesto” I wrote up detailing what I think makes for a powerful, interactive learning experience in a public setting.

  1. A museum should immerse visitors and encourage them to explore and discover for themselves. Visitors should feel like they are wandering and finding their own path through the exhibits.
  2. Didactics should be easy to find and present information clearly and in bite-size chunks so that information isn’t overwhelming. The American Museum of Natural History and the Bronx Zoo do this well.
  3. Museum employees should be informed and friendly.
  4. Exhibits should be beautifully designed and well-maintained.
  5. A museum must provide visitors with access to something they wouldn’t ordinarily have access to, or provide them with information and content in a new way. They should feel as if they have gained exclusive access to the content. If something isn’t normally seen up close, bring them closer to it.
  6. You are the center of your world. A museum should enable visitors to see themselves, personally relate to the exhibit or provide opportunity to change the exhibit in some way as a result of their interaction with it. The solar panel at Cooper-Hewitt that looked like a series of mirrors had me transfixed for a while, and the didactics in the Bronx Zoo made me aware of the issues facing animals in their lives, and how certain animal features relate to things in our daily lives, e.g. “a beak is better than a Swiss Army Knife.”
  7. Technology should be seamlessly integrated into exhibits so it doesn’t look like the museum is using technology for technology’s sake. The technology should be well-maintained.
  8. Memories, personal stories and emotions play vital roles in how people experience a museum. Some museums should try to trigger these emotions to provide a richer, more memorable visitor experience.
  9. A visitor should leave the museum with some understanding that they’ve personally gained something – knowledge, memories, or a feeling of accomplishment.
  10. Exhibits should be designed with photo opportunities in mind. Parents love to take pictures of their kids in front of dinosaurs, tigers and huge pieces of art. Teens and young adults may be seeking interesting Facebook profile picture opportunities. For example, there are always two queues of tourists on Wall Street waiting to have their picture taken with the bull. In my experience, the queue at the back of the bull waiting to have their picture taken with his backside is always much longer than the queue waiting to have their picture taken at the front.
  11. There should be “breather” spaces between exhibits or sections of the museum, with natural light and seating, that enable visitors to take a short rest if needed, catch up and talk after the exhibits.

Thesis Prep

I often have a tough time figuring out what to do for projects, so I’m taking Thesis Prep this semester in the hope that I’ll be able to focus on doing, rather than thinking about, my thesis in Spring 2011. Watch this space for Kat’s soul-searching, mind-mapping fun and games.

Breathing and Posture are Important (right?)

I’ve been dabbling around with a bunch of biofeedback sensors recently in an effort to figure out what to do with them. What personal data do I want to collect, and what data would actually be interesting to work with? I’ve played with heartrate, GSR, light, temperature and now I want to collect data on my posture and breathing. I’m thinking that I’ll just make the sensors wearable, add a datalogger, wear them as much as possible for a few days while recording my mood and what I’m doing, and maybe my location, look at the data and cross my fingers to find some idiosyncrasies that I wasn’t previously aware of.

Below is a sketch of my basic idea and schematic. I plan to build it this week.