Process

I had a really interesting conversation today with the research practicum today. And it got me thinking about how to document the work that I do, because so much of it is invisible, its code and planning, and maps. I really feel like the process of what I do is as much the work as the final output. Maybe even more. I’m starting to think that I’d like to make a catalog or small book of my time here. Things I’ve read, things I’ve built, and take some really nice photos of my work space, and diagrams. Maybe ask one of the photo ppl here to help me out with that.

There’s always the question when you make digitally based ephemeral art, which is what are your artifacts? What do you display? What do you keep for the record.

Anyways, a small book. Might be nice to do some design things again in that vein. A way to tie my past as a graphic designer into things I’m doing now? A way to do some more visually based stuff around the work I do which is very not visual at all.

Something to chew on this weekend.

Lake Lousie

Its a beautiful shitty place. I am not gonna lie, I do take some weird pleasure in describing such a visually stunning spot as shitty. But the chateau, and the rich folk, and the lack of accessible activities, just combines to make this not a great place. In the summer, you can hike far away from the people, which is a bonus. But in winter it just feels weird, and sort of like The Shining hotel except with too many people, like waaaaay too many people.

It was here that someone charged me $19 for a plate of wings (that were bad and had no side), and also I noticed an $1100 bottle of wine on the menu. Not my scene.

Pretty though!

Not A Studio Day

Sometimes I don’t sleep well and I’m not productive. On those days I grumble a lot, and then spend some time reading in my room drinking tea. I’ve got a few on the go, but this one is pretty fun.

I sometimes feel this pressure that I should spend every waking moment in the studio, but I realize that’s not always realistic. Whether here, or at home. There are days you just don’t want to be in a room or a building anymore no matter how nice it might be.

How A Spoons Engine Works

Granted, this is a first stab at this kind of thing. Which means I’m relying on some programming that I’ve done in the past. My original prototype SAD Blender used the weather to create its mood. But one thing that really bothered me, is that it doesn’t HOLD its mood during the day, and relies a lot on random numbers. I realized I wasn’t going to get AWAY from using random numbers totally, but maybe I could jig the spoons engine to rely on them a little less, or at the very least, in a more controlled manner.

A lot of the programming I did was mostly augmenting numbers through if/else statements. I realize its not elegant, and that maybe in v2.0 I’ll look into some more data science based techniques, but for now, if/else works pretty consistently. It was also the method I used in SAD Blender.

As it stands, the first end of the engine is done, which is the set state. Or the part of it that runs at the start of the day and sets the buckets (stress, physical state, mood, perception, and eventually spoons).

The Spoons Engine output

In the case of stress. I’m defining stress as EXTERNAL stressors. These are things that happen outside of your own body. I’m doing a few things to generate this score. I still start with a somewhat random base number, and I’m still looking at the weather to influence stress. But I’m also checking what events and unread emails I have waiting for me currently. This adds to a busy function, which further augments it. All my buckets are out of 10, which is a bit arbitrary, but mostly because it makes it easy for me to adjust the number (eg: if shit is terrible, upgrade your stress by 2, etc). Except for spoons, which is out of 100 and based on percentage. I’ll get to that later.

Physical State is a combination of internal influences based on your body, in particular sleep and illness. Again I start w/ a random base number, and augment it based on those states. But Physical state is also influenced by stress. And so I’m using the stress score to further augment the physical score.

I think by now you can catch the drift of what I’m doing and how. I continue to pass stress and physical state into a mood function. Mood isn’t random, it starts as neutral each time (so 5). And is augmented by stress and physical.

After that I pass all three into perception. And this is where I assign a rating scale of good / bad / terrible. There’s some weird language moments like “stress: [6,’low’]” is bad…but y’know first stab, because I had to keep the descriptors the same for further functions.

When we get to spoons I kinda flip to generating a percentage out of 100. My reasoning for that was, when considering actions or tasks that the device will have to perform throughout the day, it might be easier to adjust the variables based on 10, but the overall spoons on a percentage of X number. So for example, if you’re starting with 40 spoons (or basically operating at 40% capacity), it might make more sense to say that “automating the lights needs 5% of your spoons). I could be wrong, and in practice it might change. But for now, I’m going to try it. In this case, I’m not really looking at increasing spoons. Just taking from them, as when you’re sick, even GOOD things take their toll, and the idea is that you have to decide what to spend the spoons on.

I’m just starting to think about how this is going to work. Which is going to be my update in week three.

Banff 2003 vs 2019

I will admit that I lived here in I think 2003, maybe 2002? It was right after undergrad, and I had reached a point where I needed to leave my roommate situation, and was also really burnt out. I came to Banff for six months, and it was pretty hard. My grandfather was dying at the time, and I had to make some emergency trips back, it was a difficult time for me mentally and personally. Plus there’s a big difference between going somewhere for a residency, vs living there. I also wasn’t living on campus at the time. I was curious to see how things had changed, and how they haven’t. I was also interested to see how I would feel being back. Its interesting for me because I’ve already done a lot of the hikes / outdoor stuff / etc. to be done here, so I wondered how it would be different for me coming back.

looking over the campus JPL on the left, Kinner on the right.

For starters, the Centre is a lot less wild feeling than it used to be. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, but its certainly gathered itself up over the last decade and a half and it took me a bit by surprise. There are definitely some stronger rules afoot, and as far as I can tell BNMI got rolled into the rest of the centre and things have gone through a massive rebranding. The campus too, has more facilities, and its pretty nice inside and out. That said I sure do miss the crusty bar I used to drink at on campus, The lack of one is a bit annoying, tho I’m sure in summer there’s still a lot of “I see you took X and wandered into the hills”. JPL is pretty much the same, the Kinner centre is super new, and it seems like a chunk of rooms got an upgrade, tho the chalets I assume, are still the same inside.

Lloyd Hall got a serious reno in the past few years.

It feels weird being in a place with such amazing facilities, but not really needing to use them. I admit that my needs are very self contained. i mostly just need internet and a computer, and a calm environment to plot and program and read. But sometimes the point isn’t facilities, sometimes its just taking yourself out of your routine and putting yourself into a new one.

JPL still feels the same, right down to the sketch elevator in Glyde Hall

I think what’s different this time around is that I feel immediately part of something right off the bat. I’ve gotten to know my cohort pretty quickly because we’re always around one another, that’s not a thing I got when working here. It took more time, and I had to commute up and down the hill every day. But I admit I’m also in a better place with myself, and I have a reason to be here, and something to study and produce. Which is very different. I’m also not burnt out. I spent my time right after my graduate degree applying for things and not making work for a bit. I just couldn’t, it was too much of an ask after spending a year writing 100 pages and producing a body of thesis prototypes. I showed stuff, and did panels, and talks. And now I’m in a good spot to start making things again.

The boat in the woods

Banff itself as a town, hasn’t changed that much. There’s still a lot of turn over in the population from season to season, and let’s face it, there’s like 4 liquor stores in town. So y’know that’s still a thing here, which I do enjoy. Its like every bar just becomes a watering hole after 10pm, and I’m partial to dives. That said its still weird, and interesting, and has some of the classic tourist town dichotomies going on. I thought it would be much colder here in winter, but its apparently been pretty mild this year. The elk also aren’t as aggressive in winter which I will admit is nice.

Making a Spoons Engine

When I was working on my thesis last year, one of the thing that really stuck out for me was Norm White talking about his project The Helpless Robot. I remember reading a text in which he stated that when you’re creating a personality, you’re just never really finished, and that really stuck home with me when I started working with personal assistants. They exist in a current state of constant flux. Never really done, growing, but incomplete. And their personalities, well, they leave a lot to be desired. So rather than focusing on trying to GIVE an Alexa a personality, so to speak, I decided to try and focus on moods. Lots of things can have moods. Moods are, to a degree, attainable, at least from a systems approach. There can be many things that affect a base mood.

Before leaving, my lab head Alexis Morris gave me two articles to consider. the first was Depression as a systemic syndrome: mapping the feedback loops of major depressive disorder and the second was an older article of his called A System Dynamics View of Stress. Both dealt with the concepts of stress and depression, but from a systems dynamics approach. It was interesting seeing a system dynamics map, and without even really knowing HOW it was put together having it click. I decided I would give this a shot in making the depressed alexa while at Banff.

I started off with just whiteboarding some ideas, and trying my hand at some loops. That was alright, though I do admit, I’ve never been a great planner. I tend to sort of do a little planning and then when I feel I have enough to start, I start, letting things kind of develop from there. But here were some of the thoughts I had going into this.

Starting to think about loops
Thinking about flow or how to start
Thoughts around influences

Eventually I settled on some basic buckets like Stress, Perception (negative, positive, or neutral outlook), Physical State (things like illness, and sleep), Mood (good / bad etc), which would all contribute to the overall idea of Spoons. Or basically how resilient the device will be during the day. Spoon Theory comes from a 2003 article written by Christine Miserandino as a way to describe Lupus to someone who doesn’t have it. Its since been used to describe the struggles involved with many kinds of invisible illnesses.

The basic idea around spoons is: You only have so many spoons to spend in a day. So things like waking up, brushing your teeth, going to work etc, all cost spoons. Once you’re out of spoons, you’re pretty much done. Some days you might have a lot of spoons, other days, not so much.

Taking this idea, I decided spoons would be an interesting way to influence what my depressed alexa would be able to handle during the course of 24 hours. So I set about in the second week of Banff to make a spoons engine.

Start of the spoons engine

Arrival and Week One

After a long day of flight delays I finally arrived at the Banff Centre to do a 5 week residency called Digital Promises.  The first week was mostly meet and greet, getting to know my cohort, and getting setup in my studio. Which I have to admit is pretty amazing. I’ve never had a space like this in my life, not even in grad school. It was weird deciding what kind of kit to bring with me. But I decided in the end to bring some specific IoT items I use a lot.

The project I’m working on here is building a depressed alexa, and I’ll talk more about that in future posts. But its basically a second iteration of one of my thesis prototypes called SAD Blender. Its nice coming to a residency with something I’ve already started, because it gives me some wiggle room to read, and document, and focus on where this might go, versus just always producing.

The other nice thing is that we share the floors with the BAIR artists who are here doing self directed work. Its a good cross section of people.


Panoramic of studio at Banff
The View

Anyways. Its pretty amazing. We didn’t really get into working mode until Friday, but that’s fine. Its good to get an info dump / people time off the bat now and then.

The Point

So, this is the start of a new blog. I’m going to be using this to record my thoughts, ideas, and projects around technology. I’ve been tooling with tech for a long time, but it hasn’t been really until the past two years I’ve considered what I do to be research.

Eventually I’m going to gather my posts from my 2018 Thesis (Working With Useless Machines), and my independent study, and merge them into here, as well as making new posts about what I’m currently doing.

As for the current title, a friend mentioned it in a comment thread about various kinds of craft beer. Then noted it was from an Edsger W.Dijkstra article, and it kinda stuck with me.

I love technology, but also consistently note that its made of gum and strings. But that’s one reason I do enjoy it. You sorta know that whatever you’re doing, no matter how well planned, will generally become “well it seemed like a good idea at the time”.

And maybe that’s the point.