Sunday, March 23, 2008

Online Relationships Mirroring In Real Life Relationships

After hearing Nina Fefferman's talk about the World of Warcraft virus, our group discussion focused a lot on how virtual worlds can replicate the real world. The WoW Virus gave epidemiologists an opportunity to study how virus transmission works. This is very difficult to study in real life, but the virtual world closely mirrored how things work. We brainstormed a few areas where virtual worlds also resemble real life. E-commerce is obviously a major part of how people purchase goods these days, and e-mail is similar to real mail.

However, one area where we had some contention among the group was how well online social networks emulate real life social relationships. Some others in the course felt that relationships forged entirely online could never replicate those made in the real world. Others felt that there was no difference between the two. Since we are all in college, many of our friends from High School live much too far away to stay in touch with in person, and are relegated to the realm of Facebook wall postings, e-mail, and phone calls. Can a social relationship start and thrive merely through these non-real-life mediums?

Major Distraction

To isolate the issue of electronic vs. long distance, let's look an experiment I conducted when I first came to college. Intriguied by the idea that my friends and I were about to disperse from my hometown and meet hundreds of new people, I decided it was a pretty good situation for everyone to make some pen pals. On the premise that it would hinder productivity, I named the experiment "Major Distraction", and created a website where my friends could sign up to get a pen pal. Everyone who signed up (including a few people that had no immediate connection to anyone in the group) was paired with someone else, and both people were told to write letters to each other.

It worked great. Everyone wrote to their penpals, and vibrant new relationships were formed - for an average of two letters per pair. Then communication died.

Why did no one stay in touch beyond the initial few letters? I think that the ultimate problem was the activation energy required to communicate. You had to write a letter (slower and more time consuming than a quick IM or wall post), find an envelope and stamp, and get it to the USPS. That meant a non-trivial time investment that most people just didn't want to make as they were starting college. Taking the time to explain to someone we didn't know how our lives were going on paper was just too much effort. Is a high-effort friendship with a stranger not worth it?

Natural Selection

To constrast this "I'm not willing to put time in" situation, let's look at another experience I have had. While I was in high school, I played Natural Selection, a first-person-shooter meets real-time-strategy online multiplayer Half Life modification. In online gaming, it is common for players to organize themselves into team groups called "clans". Clans play against each other in organized matches as part of online leagues. I was a member of a clan called BS, which didn't really stand for anything, but occassionally stood for "Brotherhood of Steel".

We had a rather sophiscated organizational system. We all hunt out in an IRC channel (#nsclanbs on gamesnet, I think), scrimmaging against other teams during our free time. For a little while, we even had access to our own practice server, where we could play against each other to improve our skill and refine our strategies. We weren't the best players at the game by any stretch of the imagination, but our creativity in strategy is what stood us apart. We were ranked in the Top 8 among NS clans for a little while, and were able to hold our own.

Since we chatted online so much and played intense games together, we all become what one member of the group called "e-friends". Since voice chat was a big part of the game, I grew to recognize everyone's voice, and understood each member of the clans specific play styles, strengths and weaknesses. The guys from the clan I remember are: bit, un lapin, amelek, the giving tree, the killing tree, riotingnerd, ev0x, and deimos. There were definitely more, and people wandered in and out of the group over time, but we were definitely a cohesive entity. I've met ev0x in real life, and am Facebook friends with a few others.

Are these people that I still have close friendships with? Not really, but I definitely look back on my days playing NS with them fondly. We still talk occassionaly, and I would say I am as close with these people as anyone else that I stopped being friends with during early high school. Just because I met them and knew them online doesn't mean that my relationships with them are any less real than anyone else I have ever met.

In Conclusion

I think that "e-friends" can play just as large a role in someone's life as real friends. They may only exist on the other side of copper, but you actually get to know these people as you play or work with them. It isn't as though you chat with someone once online and you're instantly best buds, but over the course of years, you definitely establish a real relationship between real people.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Architecture: Where art meets engineering.

When the ideas of art and engineering were discussed together, the first thing that came to mind was architecture. Buildings should be aesthetically pleasing, but also structurally sound. Now if that is not a perfect example of the collision of art and engineering, I don’t know what is. There are many examples of modern art and engineering coming together such as this building.

This photo was found at

Or this building

Which was found at

Or even this one

Which was found at

Also you should check out this website and check out old posts as well. (Also explore other genres other than architecture which are listed at the top.)

However, what really interested me as both engineering and art feats were cathedrals. Over winter break I spent a few weeks traveling through Europe and I saw many old and beautiful cathedrals. These building posses so many features of great art and of great engineering and they beautifully play off of one another. One cathedral that we saw was the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence Italy. This cathedral has a very Gothic feel to its outsides, but its main feat of engineering is the very large dome on the top.

The outside of the church.

The dome of the church.

This dome was the largest dome at the time of its creation. It is 42 meters wide and it is created by making two concentric domes. Brunelleschi, the dome's creator came up with the idea of how to build the most massive dome as well as the tools he needed to create the masterpiece. This was a great task for an engineer to tackle, but it was also a great task for an artist. Brunelleschi had to make the dome something beautiful and interesting for the people of Florence for years to come. I truly think that he accomplished this task very well and created a great work of art and of engineering. Although the interior was completed by other artists, the interior was also a magnificent feat. Frescoes (plater based paintings) cover the inside of the dome. Frescoes must be painted quickly before the plaster dries or they are destroyed. Therefore the entirety of this dome interior took years to complete.

The inside of the Dome.

Another cathedral that is a great combination of art and engineering is none other than the Basilica di San Pietro. It was designed by the great artist and architect, Michaelangelo. This cathedral contains the largest nave and tallest dome of all Catholic Cathedrals in the world. It is unbelievable to behold both from an engineering and a artistic point of view. I cannot begin to explain the magnificence of this great building, but here are some pictures which capture the greatness of the art and engineering that went into this cathedral.

The dome of St. Peter's Basilica. A view from the roof.

The furthest point of the church from the entrance. Here you can see how the art work and the architecture are one and the same and cannot be separated. Look at how the support pillars frame the sculpture on the back wall. Also all of the gold you can see on the ceiling is mosaic tiles. The artwork and the engineering are greatly incorporated here.

Again you can see how the architecture plays into the art of the building. The shapes and designs cut into the structure of the building are so intricate and purposefully made. This building is such a perfect collision of the two worlds.

Here is a view of the church from the base of the dome interior. Look at how massive the building is, every inch of which appears to be covered in artwork. Even the flooring has intricate designs inlaid in it. Here you can see the support pillars which are not only there for engineering purposes, but add greatly to the beauty of the church.

As you can see, St. Peter's Basilica is a great example of how beautiful architecture can be. This building is a masterpiece of art and engineering and carefully combines the best elements of both to create one of the most unbelievable places to behold.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Fashion Lecture: Replacement for Sticky Ideas

Last week I went to the lecture on Clothing: the Portable Environment. And I absolutely loved the lecture. I am greatly fascinated by clothing, fashion, and clothing design, but this lecture took the things I am really interested in to a new and interesting level. The lecture was thinking about clothing as a portable environment, meaning all of your life support etc is contained in your clothing (think astronauts), which is something I have never before thought of as fashion. But more importantly, the lecturer addressed the importance of the user and the others impacted by the clothing and the many small level design decisions that go into all of the clothing we see today. These two points are not things that I have thought about as much as I should have in my short experiments with fashion design (I have made a few garments from scratch from my own designs). The reason I have not explored these areas is twofold: (1) I typically design for myself (so I am my user) and there aren't too many people that are impacted by my designs (I guess some people might find some of the cuts I like offensive, but I am not worried about this as the user) and (2) all the fabric and materials I use have been previously manufactured. I am not starting completely from scratch, nor do the designs I create require materials that are not manufactured before I get them. I have been drawing basic garment designs for about 4 to 5 years now. However, I never thought that I could make my own clothes until I had spent a semester at Olin and after becoming addicted to Project Runway. I don't think one or the other alone would have caused me to start experimenting with my own clothes. But together they gave me the nudge I needed to try something scary and new. I now absolutely love designing my own clothes and wish I had more time to do it. The experience of designing from scratch (even for myself) has been a challenging, but fun and rewarding experiment into my capability as a designer and garment constructor. There is nothing better though than getting compliments on something you made from scratch.

Fashion designing for me goes through many stages:

I. Drawing Phase

A. creation of basic shape

B. decision of color

C. plans for details

D. plans for construction (sometimes these aren't written down though).

II. Shopping Phase

A. selection of fabric in the right color

B. selection of detail elements (beads, ribbon, etc)

III. Construction

A. finalization of all details (any edits necessary to make garment feasible for creation)

B. measurements and cutting

C. sewing and multiple fittings

I am crazy with the way I design and I realize it's infeasible for a good fashion designer because I do not draw a sewing pattern and I don't pin to a mannequin (mostly because I don't own one). Therefore I measure myself a ton and cut a basic shape, then use myself as a mannequin stand in and finish the way I want to attach the fabric by pinning it while I’m wearing it. This causes some interesting dilemmas, but I still love the process!

Here are some examples of clothes and original sketches I have made in the last 3 years.

Here’s a sketch I made. Notice the dimensions which are what I used for the final construction.

Here’s the final construction. The front is pictured on the top and the back is pictured on the bottom. Notice the design changes I made when you compare the sketch to the final construction. The orange fabric no longer parts all the way down to the blue and there is only one button instead of three. Other than that it holds fairly true to the sketch.

Here’s an image of me wearing the shirt! Yay!

For this garment I made two separate sketches which I combined in the final design. The figure on top was used mostly for color whereas the one on the bottom was used primarily for shape.

Here is the final construction of the dress. The front is pictured on the top and the back is pictured on the bottom. Notice the design change in the straight cut of the bottom of the dress and the lack of beading on the front.

This drawing is interesting because I had already maintained my “fabric” in the form of an men’s extra-large tie-dye t-shirt and planned to add in the black material and cut the neck and shape the body.

Here’s the final design. Again I changed the design so that the neck was high in the back instead of coming to a v. The front is pictured on the top and the back is pictured on the bottom.

Here’s me wearing this shirt as a Halloween costume!

So far in my experiments with fashion design I have not put too much thought into the type of material I have been using. However after hearing the lecture today I am very inspired to think about the material as well as the weave of the fabric. I have made garments that do not work quite as well as I had hoped due to the fabric choices I have made. From now on I will be much more conscious of the decisions I make, even on that scale of design.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Teaching Creativity

So one of the things that arose in our last talk was "can't teach creativity". Which struck me as interesting, as my mom teaches a class in EXACTLY THAT! She always calls it her creativity class, but the actual name is "ORG 680/MGT 682: Creativity" at Oakland University in South Eastern Michigan.

This week I've taken some time to go through
1) 3 powerpoints from the class
2) the syllabus
3) "critical questions"
4) a description of the project

My mom has mentioned many times that teaching this class is particularly difficult because its "full of engineers." She says the most challenging part of that is engineers expect a "right" answer and she does not teach that there are "right answers" in the creativity class. I think this is an interesting concept, particularly related to UOCD and creativity classes.

If there isn't a right answer, how do you judge things?

Anyway, reflecting upon the syllabus:

The texts required in the class are:

Management and Creativity by Chris Bilton, 2007, ISBN-10: 1-4051-1996-9, ISBN 13: 978-1-4051-1996-2, Blackwell.

The Imagination Challenge by Alexander Manu, 2007, ISBN: 0-321-41365-2, New Riders Press.

Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, Publisher: Random House (January 2, 2007), ISBN

which is interesting, as this class has already had us reflect upon Made to Stick. I originally found out about it through my mom's course.

These books, along with the description, make the class seem much more about creativity in management and business, rather than straight up creativity. I think it's much more feasible to teach creativity *in* something rather than alone, because it provides a much firmer context to provide examples within, rather than defining an abstract (nebulous?) concept. So I would title the course something more along the lines of "Practical Creativity (innovation?) for your everyday life." This ties into one of the projects being redefining the MBA program at Oakland based on what you've learned in the class, or creating a scenario related to some other school or work situation to use creativity.

One other thing of note in the syllabus was that readings were front-loaded and deliverables back-loaded. This implies that some background information is needed to be creative. I found this paralleled with UOCD readings before the phases. Perhaps creativity is generally taught in an uncreative way? This would be further echoed by the powerpoints that contain text based on books on creativity- valuable information, presented in a standard format to get it across to allow to spring to the next location.

On the whole, I'm still reflecting on this concept of "traditional means to teach untraditional topics so that people can work outwards on their own".

Is this a topic we could use spiral learning with?

Friday, March 7, 2008

Arts vs. Engineering, A study in Bissociation

In our UOCD class, we have reading every two weeks. Usually rather dull, one passage stuck out to me-- a passage about bissociation. Bissociation is taking two unrelated ideas, and then trying to think of an idea that involves an intersection between them. We will get to the examples soon (for those not in the know), but the point remains: bissociation is a powerful tool for ideation, and after the book example where the author generates almost a half a dozen patentable ideas in a number of minutes, I had to try it.

As far as I know, bissociation is largely unregulated and undirected. However, I tried to apply it in particular to the last lecture, which contrasted art with engineering. So I generated 15 "fields" in arts and engineering. They were paired up down the line, and the ideation began. Here are some ideas for your consideration.

painting + computer
How about a touch screen computer that recognizes a number of stylus-type tools that are touching it. They could represent different users in collaborative work or multi-player games, or they could represent different brushes in art/drawing programs.

drawing + application
How about if mouse gestures were used commonly across an operating system, or at least in the document explorer and all major applications. They're handy for firefox, but I want more.

sculpture + webapp
Famous work of art at museums could have small cameras located near them that show, online, who's viewing the art, who's drawing it, who's sitting down at that bench in the middle of the room, who's running around... or who's stealing it in the middle of the night (MFA heist, anyone?).

modern art + embedded systems
For a cool gallery exhibit of art, try this: The gallery is darkened, but upon entering, each user is given a headset that has an infrared beam shooting straight out in front of it. Sensors pick up the IR and light up the works near where they're looking. Alternatively, the whole environment could be structured to react to be pitch black with no IR, but alive and lit with IR.

kinetic art + circuits
Initially I thought of trying to represent circuits as cars. It seemed good until I realized that voltage would be something like "tail-gating and pressure from other drivers to speed". No component, either in traffic flow or in circuits, seems directly translatable to something in the other realm. Let me know if you think of one.

composing + signals/systems
It would be cool is some program let me make MIDI synths (or alternatively, actual synths) by viewing the Fourier transform of the wave and then dragging frequency responses for various frequencies to greater or less amplitudes.

dance + materials science
Lauren (yes, the Lauren we know and love) helped with this prompt. We thought of a spectacular dance show that was inspired by cool materials:
  • tap-dancing on pools of non-newtonian fluids
  • tango with suits made of color-changing-with-temperature materials (ie moodring jumpsuits, which is a cool band name, b-t-dubs)
  • blind-folded capoeria.
The rest of the pairings, which I will leave as an exercise for the reader (ie put 'em in the comments) are...
graphic design + robotics, writing + urban planning, screenplay/drama + mechanical design, film + vehicles, rock/modern music + buildings, musical + manufacturing, landscape architecture + interface design.

I realize I left out a wide variety of both arts and engineering topics, not to mention fashion design and poetry. Another exercise for the reader I suppose.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Simulations for Ecomimicry

After discussing the World of Warcraft viruses I was left to pondering what other ways to create ecomimicry would be. Apparently it’s realistic to have people manipulating virtual simulations- likely because people continue to act in the same ways that they would in the real world. I think it’d be difficult to mimic human behavior because it’s so unpredictable due to the wide variety of psychological impacts.

However, I got to thinking about other ecological systems, and animals and plants tend to follow more set cues based on their needs and survival instincts. As I was thinking about it, I remember something that my Sibb (an Olin term for a freshman you work with), Jonathan Reed and his partner Jacob Izrealevitz made a matlab simulation of something I view as “ecomimcry.”

So I had him send me the code, and I’ve been looking through it and playing with it. The main parameters that you can change at the beginning of the simulation are how many of each type of organism you create and the amount of food in the system. The simulation has three different types of organisms- foragers that look for food, cultivators that grow more food, and reproducers that make more cells.

This obviously isn’t a perfect system, because very few organisms make their own food, and things very seldom perform a singular role in society. However, it is a very basic tool for ecomimcry, and even this small model takes almost 600 lines of code. When the simulation runs it provides output in the form of a graphical display- it runs “turns” of organisms each performing an action and you can watch food appear and disappear, organisms grow and shrink, and the opacity change based on how much food is around them. The color of an organism indicates the role it fulfills.

So there are a few snapshots of the system, and I’m going to spend some more time making a list of ways the system could be made more realistic (hopefully simply) and perhaps trying to modify it. If you’re interested in seeing the code, let me know, and I’ll send it your way!

This is a system in flux- there are a few organisms of different types and sizes, and lots of food. Depending on how they take turns, it could go anywhere.

This is a system at the end, after all the organisms have died. See how sparse the food is? They exhausted their available resources.

Finally, this is a system with a ton of foragers. These cells all went and ate all the food being created by the green cells.

So, this has been a fun evening playing with the only ecomimetic system I have access too.
Stay tuned for updates on me trying to figure out more of the code and find improvements!


1) More different types of cells, or cells that go through series of actions- that is for awhile they feed, then reproduce, or something, based on a lifecycle, rather than simply favoring one action.
2) Cells that work to benefit each other or hurt each other, a predator-prey concept.
3) Other things- like geographic locations etc. so cells behave differently based on their location
4) Evolution so that cells slightly modify behavior or do a combination of small amount of things each time.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


Steve Gold talked with us about this vague, ambiguous concepts of "Sticky Ideas." His definition was that personal ownership and the conferance of value from the object to the person is what makes ideas sticky. Value was the "glue" that makes people and ideas stick to each other. I don't know how much I agree with this but I do know that there are certainly some things that are "stickier" than others.

As I was going through these last couple of weeks, I was trying to come up with a list of fads at Olin.

  • whiteboards
  • hating Bio
  • propped doors
  • Timbuk 2 bags
  • linux
  • Windows bashing
  • "Outlook runs my life"
  • Checking e-mail all the time
  • nalgenes
  • leathermans
  • Robots
  • Bashing Babson
  • Complaining about UOCD
  • sustainability
  • baking
  • bunny ears??? (why am I seeing these all over the place?!?!?!)
  • Guitar Hero
  • Project Runway
  • SigSys Parties, UOCD Parties, Etc.
  • sleeping in lounges
  • "stealing" cookies from d-hall
  • calling it the d-hall
  • mid-afternoon snack
  • not wearing seasonable clothing
  • not getting enough sleep and bragging/complaining about it
These are just a few of the weird cultural idioms that we have at Olin. What is it that makes these ideas stick to so many of us. Taking a cue from UOCD, I have decided to find an interesting way to group them.

I guess you could say I am taking this idea of stickiness and working backwards with it. How can we use these sticky ideas to find out more interesting things about Olin students.

In grouping these ideas I came up with a couple major themes.

1. This idea of being tough and "hardened" by the workload here at Olin
  • hating Bio
  • Timbuk 2 bags
  • linux
  • Windows bashing
  • "Outlook runs my life"
  • leathermans
  • Bashing Babson
  • Complaining about UOCD
  • SigSys Parties, UOCD Parties, Etc.
  • not wearing seasonable clothing
  • not getting enough sleep and bragging/complaining about it
2. This desire to be social, a little a-typical from the traditional engineer
  • Propped doors
  • Checking e-mail ALL the time
  • Guitar Hero (believe it or not, some video games are about the social. DDR is another example. This ties into lounge culture in general)
3. A desire to be creative and a little out-there. We are still engineers after all and I think we really resonate with that idea
  • Whiteboards
  • Robots
  • Sustainability
  • Baking
  • Bunny Ears
  • Project Runway
  • calling it the d-hall
4. And then of course there are physical needs that we solve in perhaps more unusual ways due to our environment.
  • Nalgenes - kind of a new england-y thing I think
  • sleeping in lounges
  • "stealing" cookies from the d-hall
  • mid-afternoon snack
From this little exercise of mine, I think I can give at least one reason why some things are sticky. The ideas that resonate most with a person or a certain group of people are those that fulfill some of their basic "needs."

Wow, i am actually learning something in UOCD! That is pretty exciting.