DMS8013 Log#2; Study Buddy

| May 28th, 2017

The first and perhaps most difficult of the three artifacts asked for as part of DMS8013, was the ‘Study Buddy.’ A arduino device that was fairly simple on the outside, but the interior of which took some wrangling to get work.

Study Buddy, ver.1

The basic idea behind the Study Buddy was a small device that could be kept on a desk or bedside which would provide uplifiting and perhaps even helpful phrases to those struggling and stressing over exams, assessments, and general university life. This would be achieved with a simple interface and LCD screen linked to a pair of breadboards and arduino.

The first issue to overcome was a matter of flickering encountered on the LCD screen. As it turns out, rather than having a set contrast, the LCD instead dedicates one of its pins to controlling it. This pin, if simply provided with nothing but voltage, creates negative feedback that causes a distorted and constantly flickering screen. Usually this can be controlled using a potentiometer, however I simply wanted it set to maximum contrast at all times. There was no need in the design for it to be alterable. This problem was soon overcome through the use of a voltage divider gate, using a set of 10k and 220 resistors. This not only ensured the voltage and display was constant, but also stopped the feedback and eliminated any flicker.

Next, an interface was needed. In the original design I opted to use a potentiometer that would allow users to “point” to a green, yellow, or red LED to signify whether things were going good, fair, or badly respectively. By setting up an analog read with the potentiometer, and then mapping that result to one of three integers, it was possible to selectively make the LCD display different messages depending on which LED was being pointed at. The LED itself would, naturally, light up when pointed at to signify which choice had been made. The next step was to create a bank of responses which would be randomly chosen so as to not create a stale experience that would quickly lose its effectiveness. However, aspects of the interface designed bothered me. It was difficult to tell exactly where the potentiometer was being pointed, there was no default or ‘resting’ position, and overall it did not feel very intuitive to use. Testers would look at it, and dial the potentiometer too much, causing a smattering of messages that lost their effect when being so jumbled up.

Study Buddy, ver.2

Aside from changing up the orientation of the LCD in relation to the rest of the device, it now also uses a series of three buttons instead of a single potentiometer. These buttons do not require any sort of read feature in the code, but did instead need a larger array of integers to track whether they had been pushed or not, and to cycle through responses. These additional integers (what digital pin on the arduino they were connected to, the current switch state, previous switch state, and reply) form the bulk difference in code between versions 1 and 2 of the study buddy. Happy enough with the design, it was time to create an actual bank of responses.

The bank required use of the switch/case function which allows for a variety of different code to be executed depending on the pre-set conditions. In this case, when one of the three buttons is pressed. To actually randomise the result, the function of the same name would be used to select a random number, inserted that into the reply integer and pick a response based on that reply. Each button ended with three different responses, and though each one was longer than the 32 characters the LCD screen can display at any one time, through the use of delay functions and resetting the screen, it was possible to have a sort of scrolling message. After the message was done, the LCD would revert back to its default screen, asking how the user and presenting them with three options that lined up with the buttons and LEDs. Much like with the first version, the LED would light up when its respective button was pushed.

The responses themselves needed to be a mixture of encouragement and hopeful messages. It felt only proper to make the red and yellow (the ‘bad’ and ‘fair’ choices) the longest and most detailed, since it would be those that were struggling and stressing the most that would have the most use for the study buddy. However, praise for a job well done is also very important to encourage continued good work. It was for this reason that a ‘good’ response was included at all.

Assessments are due in less than two weeks and I am scared. The prospect of creation has always been a daunting one for me; my skills are amateurish, rarely have I ever had an audience to appreciate, criticize or even provide basic beta feedback, and I often have a hard time expressing what I actually mean and intend. Part of the appeal of writing, and partly why I’m drawn to it as a primary creative medium, is because it allows me time to properly reflect and articulate what I want to say, something I can rarely do in person. I am a poor and cowardly speaker, but have no such restrictions when writing.

What added to the terror of the dreaded assessment was the need of a linked theme, and the annotated portfolio to go with them. I often struggle with theory, both in understanding and getting invested in it, so much of the provided literature on the nature and use of annotation has done nothing but make me panic more. However, though at first I figured I might try and tie the theme of the assessment to my primary medium of writing and story telling, it occurs to me that this fear and frustration might in itself be a good concept to try and explore and better visualize. ‘Storytelling,’ is an amazingly interesting phenomenon, practice, thing, but is also a bit vague for my purposes. I need something stronger and more specific.

Fear and frustration is something close to me, and, I like to think, close to many students and people in my situation. Constant gnawing doubt at being unable to comprehend the professor’s words; being utterly lost in the thesaurus-loving papers; looking at your peers, especially the younger ones, and burning with envy and shame at their wonderful creations; how they continue to take great strides in building wonderful lives and careers while you struggle to gather the energy and courage to take one feeble shot at something. All of these are experiences and great sources of stress and, exactly because of that, I think, excellent subjects to try and make a related portfolio of.

The tools and technologies I currently plan to use for this portfolio are as follows:

  • Pivot Animator, a very simple but user-friendly 2D animation program, the basics of which can be picked up very quickly.
  • Arduino, which needs little introduction. Basic electronics platform.
  • Blender, 3D creation engine. Likely to be used for modelling and printing.

All the above are open source, free to use technologies. The current plan is to make an story ‘arc’ revolving around the pressure of study and performance, the fear, frustration and self-loathing it can lead to.

Sound Walk Goodies

| February 4th, 2017

 

 

 

Recordings taken during the sound walk. The first if of an elevator and a silent corridor beyond it. The second is what I tried to get from a power box or generator thing, but which didn’t come through very well. The third is a visit to M&S and the soudns of buying some croissants.

Final Thoughts and Documentation

| January 20th, 2017

This is slightly last minute documentation, but in true student fashion I only recently came up for the idea as to what I wanted to do for the manifesto. Sooner still that I actually sat down to write it, which happened in a single session. For a long time I brushed it off and focused on the other aspects of the assessment, but it eventually hit me; a sort of genesis, biblical account of what I consider important “virtues” of post-truth behavior and thought. I’ll admit not all of them fit perfectly (but I like to think I have a degree of artistic license in these things) but for the most part I find them to be a part of the problematic mindset that causes post-truth to even be a thing. In order of their use throughout the manifesto; ambition, cooperation, favor, resolve, ignorance, willfulness, audacity, contempt, privilege, and finally pride.

Though it was a slightly reluctant choice, the “story” was built to mirror the rise of Trump. Reluctant because I feel, in some ways, any attention whatsoever, good or bad, just makes things worse. He feeds on it and it helped him. So I will say no more on that subject.

The choices of the virtues came about mainly from further reading of Harry G. Frankfurt, an author I feel has a very strong grasp on the subject, its causes and problems. Ignorance, Willfulness, and Contempt I feel are the most fitting and those that require the least explanation. Privilege and Audacity on the other hand, I flopped back and forth on whether to include or try to think of something else. In the end, however, I feel they were appropriate thanks to my pal Frankfurt. In his followup to “On Bullshit,” the equally aptly named “On Truth,” he discusses and eventually concludes that the world and society cannot, ultimately, survive on a diet of lies, fake news, manipulation, etc. Unless, that is, one already has substantial power. Now, most people of the UK would likely not consider themselves in a position of power. Compared to some, they are not. Compared to millions of others however, they are. It is okay for them, at least in the short term, to leave the EU. It is okay, at least in the short term, for many in the States to vote for Trump. It is those that already suffer as minorities that will get shafted even harder by post-truth smearing and fear mongering.

Bullshit

| January 14th, 2017

“Is the bullshitter by his very nature a mindless slob? Is his product necessarily messy or unrefined? The word shit does, to be sure, suggest this. Excrement is not designed or crafted at all; it is merely emitted , or dumped. It may have more or less coherent shape, or it may not, but it is in any case certainly not wrought.

“The notion of carefully wrought bullshit involves, then, a certain inner strain. Thoughtful attention to detail requires discipline and objectivity. It entails accepting standards and limitations that forbid the indulgence of impulse or whim. It is this selflessness that, in connection with bullshit, strikes us as inapposite. But in fact it is not out of the question at all. The realms of advertising and of public relations, and the nowadays closely related realm of politics, are replete with instances of bullshit so unmitigated that they can serve among the most indisputable and classic paradigms of the concept.” – Harry G. Frankfurt, On Bullshit, (New Jersey: Raritan Quarterly Review, 1986)

I still feel quite strongly that what we know of post-truth, at least it its core, is not a new concept. It is a devil that has worn numerous coats over the years, that certainly give it varying degrees of appearance and flexibility, but which ultimately remains the same toxic process; the manipulation of, willful ignorance of, and in some cases contempt for, the truth, often in the pursuit of personal gain for the individual or the movement they support.

It has modernized, to be sure. “Post-truth” occurrences hide not just in black and white print (though it still slips on that disguise to be sure) but now also runs free and naked through the digital realm, tweeting and posting with zero restraint, laughing in the face of the very concept of editors or filters.

Election Day

| January 11th, 2017

For the past few weeks I have worried about the presentation segment of the assessment. Presentation as it turns out is a bit of a deceptive word. It hearkens back to my undergraduate days where presentation meant stand in front of a crowd with some powerpoint slides and talk about some facts and things you’ve learned. But this creative arts. They’ll have no such dull thing here. So my fears about what I’m actually supposed to present have been cleared up somewhat and there’s far less constraints on it than I thought. It still has to follow the theme and topic of post-truth (which I’m still not terribly fond of, or think was necessarily a good idea to assign to specific a theme) but at the very least I now have ideas whirling around my brain. The hard part will, as always, be the actual implementation. The idea however is to host a sort of election/presidential debate style event. The class will be broken up into two teams with specific goals and agendas and restrictions to help shape their answers to pre-made questions I’ll be asking of them. I also plan to keep a pair of tally counters on display that record their “score” though this will mostly be arbitrary and “points” will likely be awarded to whoever appeals most to what I, or whatever presenter style persona, want and believe, rather than anything factual or actually indepth.

 

I still need to brainstorm a good set of questions and set up the agendas of each team, but I’m fairly confident this can be done quite quickly. The counters and cards may end up a bit crude. Ideally I’ll be able to get a proper system in and have actual card-backed bits of paper, but failing that so long as they’re functional and can be read it shouldn’t be a problem.

Truth-Machine Notes

| January 10th, 2017

With several assessments looming and having only just escaped a busy holiday season, I don’t think I’m going to be able to enact all my plans for the Truth-Machine. So instead I’ll put them down here.

Aside from the obvious sculpture bits I’ve managed to achieve with the Truth-Machine (a fun little assembly of scrap electronics), the plan originally was also to make it partially interactive. Nothing too complex, but to perhaps have a little button on it that would be hooked up to a hidden speaker that would spout things. At first I thought maybe of recording some lines or noises myself and then have them on a speaker, but I was also introduced to the possibility of www.arduino.cc – small, accessible and easily programmed circuit boards that are handy for just such projects. Using paper, card, or perhaps even a 3d printed cover to hide the old tv screen, I could hide the board underneath and have the button trailing out of the bottom or top.

I considered several possibilities for what sort of sounds could be “produced” by the Truth-Machine. A popular one in my head was to hook it, either online using the “scraping” technique or create my own offline database, of news article titles from this past year. The real clickbait-y, sensationalist ones that just scream terrible, word-of-mouth journalism that is either poorly informed or downright fabricated for a few cheap bucks from resulting ad revenue. There was also the possibility of using pre-recorded lines, as mentioned, of some fictional election perhaps.

Another idea was to use a tablet or something similar to cover the old TV screen and have that playing a slideshow or video on repeat of a relevant topic. Though interviews of brexit or trump would be easy ammunition, I still maintain that post-truth is an age old phenomenon in new clothing. I won’t argue that this past year especially hasn’t seen the practice of fabrication, concentrated attempts to discount and disregard the truth, and the reign of ignorance become more prevalent. This article (graciously shared and linked by fellow student Ashley Bowes) mentions the the term “yellow journalism,” a term which rings true with many of the issues that cause our current climate of post-truth. This term also happens to go back to the late 19th century where wars were fought between newspaper companies. Their aim was not to inform the public: it was to sell as much of their product as possible, undercut their rivals, and make money.

Instead I figured to perhaps include images of the Reichstag Fire of 1933. To stay true to Godwin’s Law, I’m bringing up the subject of Nazis for my argument. The Reichstag Fire was, as the name might imply, an arson attack on the Reichstag Building in Berlin, Germany, 1933. Though the exact details and facts aren’t entirely clear, the two biggest theories are that a lone individual was responsible, or the Nazi party started it themselves to reap the benefits of a climate of fear. Regardless of who did actually start, the fact remains that a almost certainly fake story about communist revolution was pushed and, through this manipulation, a fascist gained a great deal of power. Something we of 2017 can no doubt relate to.

Facts, facts, facts

| December 30th, 2016

https://www.christiancentury.org/blog-post/fascismfactchecking

Assembly

| December 23rd, 2016

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Tape was not working so well. I didn’t figure that it would, but its a lot less messy and hazardous than this stuff. So instead I’m going to have to resort to good ol’ super glue. Possibly should have gotten a better or bigger bottle, but I don’t want to spending too much on this project. Christmas and all.

 

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Regardless, though there was some difficulty with things appearing to be stuck in place but not actually being firm, for the most part things are steadily moving along. The sculpture is starting to take shape and I can only hope and pray to some higher power that when I get back from the holidays everything will have held and I won’t have a scrap heap on my hands.

I’ve also put a bit more thought behind what it is I’m actually trying to do: a Wondrous Limited-Edition Miracle-Working Truth Machine™. In a lot of ways I’m building on this idea of Deep-Thought from Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, just with far more snakeoil running the gears. The idea being that you push some of the buttons, maybe turn one of the wheels and it’ll eventually, after a great deal of thorough calculation, will one day construct the truth to the question.

Obviously it doesn’t actually do this. It’s a bunch of scrap parts glued together. But the idea – which might depending on how good that glue is, might be all I have at the end of the day – sprung about from discussions I’ve had with Lewis and Tom on what exactly post-truth even is. At first I jumped to the loose wikipedia definition that fell more in line with anti-truth; any old bullshit made up to appeal to the hearts of the ignorant.

But that doesn’t seem to ring quite true with other thinkers. This idea of ‘construction’ of truth jams and provokes more thought on the matter. I’m probably simplifying to an extreme and possibly butchering it, but this concept of truth being manufactured and the methods by which that happens seems to fall more in line with the idea of post-truth.

Contrary to what Tom has suggested previously however, I’m still not fully convinced that post-truth is such a necessarily new thing. It hearkens back to the age old use of ‘spin doctors’ and deliberately using elaborate methods and tactics to alter and manipulate the truth. I suppose I’ll just have to read up on it some more.

Progress!

| December 19th, 2016

Post-Truth Assessment, Student Log#3

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Success! Eventually came to peace with the idea that diplomacy was simply not going to work. Thus, with a liberal application of brute force, I managed to get the casing to come undone. Inside was all my hopes and more; a real treasure trove of bits, pieces and all sorts of wonderful stuff. I have very little idea how any of it works, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that they look cool.

 

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With that darned casing out of the way, my real plans could roll on ahead. I needed the radio’s guts, and though they put up some attempts at resistance, I gradually managed to start cutting them out piece by piece. In a strange, unexpected and actually quite disgusting development, many of the parts are oddly sticky. The masses of dust I expected and have no issue with, but I really wish I had brought a pair of disposable gloves. Don’t really want to think how it got to be like that.

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It was a good fight, but my mission has been accomplished and the radio is now a literal hollowed shell of its former self. Every screw, wire and board is now mine to do with as I so please, for whatever mundane or artistic purpose takes my fancy. Quite exciting times, actually. The only injury sustained on my part, aside from a few bouts of frustration, was a very small cut received from some sharp solder.

 

And here is a very brief and rough mockup on the final product. Sadly the television itself is off limit for surgery, due to concerns of latent charge in some of the components that might “blow up in your face.” It can still be used for a set piece however, and that’s the plan; I’m going to dress it in all the scrap electronics from the radio (being draped in the innards of its brother, if you want to get grim and humanize these poor residents of our studio) and create a marvelous post-truth device.

I’m still debating how much, if any, functionality it’ll have. Ideally there’ll be some small degree of interactivity, eg. you push a button somewhere and it plays a sound, or it blares out newspaper headlines from the past year every so often, but all that really depends on how much I can actually physically do by myself. I’m not an electrician or programmer, so I’ll give it a go but may end up cutting the idea if I can’t get anything functional.