Irene Posch and Edru Kurbak are artists and designers who that integrate handmade textile making with computing. They refer to their work “Macro Electronics” in that their technology isn’t hidden in a black box, but rather, visible and with stories to tell. Their hope is to inspire their viewers to explore computing themselves and ultimately to diversify who makes technology.
I’ve recently recommitted to the habit of listening to one or two chapters of Rick Hansen’s Hardwiring Happiness each morning. In the (audio)book Hansen offers 21 focal points for mindfulness practice. As the title suggests, he argues that if you practice these meditations, you can carve new pathways in your brain so that when you are experiencing a challenging emotion, like fear, for example, your brain will make a connection to a positive emotion that will ease that fear. This theory that you can rewire your brain is called neuroplasticity. While I’m not a 100% believer, I do find this book very helpful.
The focal points are organized into three categories that target three different parts of our brain:
SAFETY – Brainstem, focused on avoiding harm (reptilian)
SATISFACTION – Subcortex, focused on approaching rewards (mammalian)
CONNECTION – Neocortex, focused on attaching to “us” (primate/human)
Today will be a fun art-making day. This morning I’m meeting my students at the new makerspace in our public library to fabricate their designs on a laser cutter.
And this evening I’ll start a mezzotint short course hosted by Cayuga Arts Collective. Mezzotint is a 17th-century printmaking technique in which you manipulate the roughened surface of a copper plate. The media affords soft gradients and a painterly effect unlike printmaking methods before it which are more line based. I’m looking forward to learning more about it.
Affordances is a term made popular by Human-Computer Interaction theorist Donald Norman. The term refers to the actions that an object or system enable the user to take. A knife enables the user to cut. Thus, one affordance of a knife is “cuttability.”
I like to make a distinction between the actions that certain tools and objects enable vs the actions that tools and objects want to enable. Sure, a wrench can be used to hammer a nail, but it’s not what it was designed for. Hammering is not what a wrench wants to do. Not that you shouldn’t use a wrench to hammer a nail if that’s what you need to do and a wrench is all that you’ve got. Just remember that it’s important to understand that hammering is not what a wrench is designed for.
I have a controversial stance on the affordances of some digital fabrication tools. For example, in many cases, people use 3D printers for low batch production of identical parts. Yes, low batch production of identical parts is an affordance of a 3D printer – a 3D printer can do this. But it’s not what the tool wants to do. It’s quicker and easier on the machine (which is often a shared machine) to use a 3D printer to make a mold and do your low batch production using a mold rather than running the printer for 500 hours (and dealing with all of the hiccups) to make your ten identical parts.
I also believe that laser cutters afford cutting. Yes, they do etching really well and many a laser cutter owner uses their machine to run an etching business (think trophies). But etching, compared to cutting, is really slow. And if you are using a laser in a shared space, it’s advantageous to lean into what the tool really wants to do: lighting quick cutting. Don’t use a wrench to hammer a nail if you don’t have to.
Haystack Mountain School of Crafts on remote Deer Isle, Maine was founded in 1950. I had the pleasure of visiting it recently and was delighted to see that they are exploring the intersection of digital technologies with craft.
Glass Instructor Helen Lee is using a microcontroller with an accelerometer that gives audio feedback to glassblowers as they learn to level their rods (upper left).
MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms has implemented a Fab Lab – the only fab lab in a school of craft. They are building a 3D printer for ceramics (lower left), exploring digital mold making, as well as other opportunities for infusing traditional craft with digital tools.
Metalsmithing Instructors Arthur Hash and Elliot Clapp are integrating circuitry and electronics with jewelry and other wearables.
All of this magical exploration is set on a coastal mountainside overlooking the sea. A place of dreams.
Artists and inventors transform dimension. They make a 2D sketch, then build a model of that sketch in 3D. They build a 3D environment, take pictures of it to use in 2D images. Autodesk 123D had a feature that took your 3D model, sliced it up into 2D pieces that you would then cut from a flat sheet of material and reassemble in 3D.
This toggling between 2D and 3D gets even more interesting when you introduce soft materials. In the example above from Prosthetic Knowledge, they are making 3D models in CAD, processing them to generate a one-piece cut pattern for fabric, then using a jig (of that same cut pattern) to attach zippers to the patterns’ curvy edges so that it can be reassembled in 3D. The result has a topographic quality that is really beautiful.
Another take on this process was explored by Josh Jakus, a textile designer and fabricator, who used a similar approach to create some gorgeous felt bags a few years back. His bags employ “simpler” cut patterns and the results are less topographical and more sculptural.
Pebble [smart watch] is dead and hardware buttons are going with it: The future is all touchscreen, for better or for worse
Eh not so fast. Sure, it’s true that touchscreens are the status quo for interface design. But as with anything status quo, the players that are invested in it are well positioned to defend it. It’s easy to confuse their power with permanence.
But the status quo changes. There are plenty of artists and inventors working on tangible, gestural, and conversational interfaces that don’t involve touch screens at all. While these inventors acknowledge the economics and reality of the status quo, they don’t let it limit their imagination or their drive to change it.
Dr. Sabine Seymour is the Founder & CEO of SUPA. SUPA designs a modular system of trims (like zippers) that performance apparel companies can integrate into their product line to give it sensing and data tracking capability. Wanna make an impact? Design modular systems with emerging technologies for companies that already have distribution.