ITP Classes (old posts, page 2)

Understanding Critical Design

In class we learned about something called critical design. The idea was completely foreign to me at first but after discussing the practice with Marina I now have a better understanding. In a way it kind of reminds me of science fiction. A good science fiction story will change something about the world and then build a story around it, examining the consequences of the altered world. The story itself can help us see our current world or potential future from a new, critical perspective. Similarly, critical design can help us gain a new critical perspective of the world through the design of new objects that are not necessarily useful beyond their ability to make us pause and think. This is closely related to design fiction.

I'd like to do a critical design project for my light pollution topic because doing something like critical design is outside of my comfort zone and I know I learn more when I do things like that.

Let's do this.

First I need to brainstorm some critical design ideas. I thought about it for a while and come up with these ideas:

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Asemic Writing

This week we learned about Asemic Writing. This is something that has the appearance of writing but isn't composed of real, meaningful words or text.

I wanted to do more than a bunch of letters; I wanted the letters to be grouped together in words and the words grouped together in paragraphs. To do this I had to think about spacing between letters and words and line heights. Rather than pick arbitrary values for this I learned about Gold Ratio Typography. In theory it makes the text more pleasing to the eye. In the case of the below sketch, the line height, font heights, and font widths are all functions of the P5 canvas sketch width.

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Ongoing Research

I am continuing to do research on Light Pollution and am learning a lot more about this field.


I met with Margaret this week. Definitely good use of my time. In addition to helping me research light pollution she gave me good advice for the research I am doing for my Redefinition of Art class.

The biggest problem I have right now is sorting through all the information and narrowing my scope. I know from my meeting with Gregory Dobler that the subject of light pollution can be subdivided into four subtopics:

  • Loss of enjoyment of the night sky

  • Limits astronomers' access to stars

  • Ecology problems and bird deaths

  • Human health impacts such as phase shifts of circadian rhythms and cancer

Of these four, the first most strongly resonates with me. I'm going to narrow my research focus to pursue this subtopic.

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Writing on the Grid

For our first assignment we experimented with a JavaScript-based terminal emulator. In the early years of computing, terminals were the main interface for computer users. They provided a text-based interface for entering commands and receiving the results.

I wasn't around back then but as a kid when I started learning about computing one of the computers I used was a Commodore 64. During Allison's lecture I was reminded of the kinds of programs I wrote with that computer. It was a limited machine but with some effort I could program it to create simple games. One kind of game I made many times challenged the user to navigate through a maze. For whatever reason I was fascinated with mazes and created many versions of this theme over the years. For this assignment I had the opportunity to make yet another one, and I jumped at the chance.

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Constraint-Based Daily Practice

This week I did 7 days of a constraint-based daily practice and I interviewed my first expert, Gregory Dobler.

Constraint Based Daily Practice

The main idea of a constraint-based daily practice is to challenge ourselves to explore our topic by making some kind of quick sketch or janky prototype every day for 7 days.

My topic is light pollution. A major cause of light pollution is outdoor lighting that emits light skyward because of light sources that are not shielded. A typical bare light source will emit light in all directions. Light that is emitted straight up into the sky rarely serves any purpose but contributes to the light pollution that prevents us from seeing the stars. Putting a cover of some kind above a light source can keep this from happening without noticeably diminishing its usefulness.

It happens I have 7 light sources (lamps, etc) in my apartment that partially illuminate the ceiling. It doesn't do me any good to illuminate the ceiling because I don't do anything up there. Is it possible for me to modify each light source so that I can continue to use the them without illuminating the ceiling and without inhibiting my ability to live there? Experimenting with this will help me understand how much of an impact proper lighting design can have on reducing light sources that emit light skyward and contribute to light pollution.

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Topic 2 Begins

Research on my second topic, light pollution, is well underway.

Project Statement

First, a clear statement of the problem I am addressing.

My intent is to study light pollution and the ways it is impacting the lives of the humans and animals on this planet. I would like to understand how our city infrastructure contributes to the problem and the kinds of modifications that should be done to mitigate the damage. I would like to learn about the scientific research being done on the subject to quantify the extent of the current and future consequences. With this knowledge I would like to educate others about the issue so that more people can be advocates for this cause.

The big question on my mind right now is what I can do as an individual to work towards a less light polluted sky. Anything? Can I do more than raise awareness about the issue?

And as far as milestones go, I'd like to have a working prototype of some art project that addresses this issue by Thanksgiving. Within a week or two I would like to have a good foundation of research completed so I have a good idea of what knowledge is out there available to me. And by the middle of November I would like to be experimenting with different ideas for what to do with the information I am gathering.

My ideas for experimenting involve nighttime photography and planetary maps showing global light pollution. Also, disseminating information about infrastructure changes that would be necessary for reducing light pollution.

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HDR Photography

For our last assignment I experimented with HDR photography. I used my CHDK-hacked Canon camera to take the photos and Luminance HDR to create the HDR photos and perform the tone mapping from HDR to regular LDR photos.

I did quite a bit of experimenting with my camera and the software to understand how all of this works. I also read all of the Luminance HDR documentation. The documentation clarified a lot of details about HDR photography and helped me understand all of the steps to making photos like this.

All of the below HDR photos were created with 8 photos with exposure settings ranging from -3 to +4. The HDR photos were created using the Debevec model with a Gaussian weighting function and a Gamma response curve. I used Mantiuk '08 to tonemap the HDR images to the LDR JPG image format. There were other possible choices for these settings and although I did experiment with them I don't claim to have a full understanding of what they are or what they do. I used these settings because I was happiest with the results. I will have to look for other online resources provided by professional photographers to get better guidance and intuition about how to use these tools.

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Final Field Guide and Topic Two

The final-final version of my Field Guide is finally(!) available. I made some improvements to it based on my thoughts from my previous Field Guide Reflection post. Most importantly, I made it more clear who the intended audience is. In the introduction on the inside page, I added this:

Jumpstarting home ownership in low to middle income communities is an important component of community development that you as a community leader need to recognize. As you read this guide, consider how government policy can encourage home ownership and make it accessible to people who don’t have the resources to pursue it on their own. Critically, people need access to fairly priced mortgages and financial literacy information. Additionally, think about how government policy can confer the same benefits to renters and other people who don’t or can’t buy homes.

I think this improves it quite a bit because I make it more clear who I am addressing and that the content is intended for the development of low to middle income communities. Improving high income communities isn't something the people living there need help with beyond what they can accomplish on their own.

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