Archive for July, 2008

This silent language …

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

In his book The Silent Language, anthropologist Eward T. Hall analyzes the many aspects of non-verbal communication. He analyzes the way people “talk” to one another without the use of words. He proposes that the concepts of space and time are tools with which all human beings may transmit messages.


As I focused on the chapter “how space communicates”, I find intriguing the way Hall compares cultures and their reading of non verbal communication cues. He particularly states that the distance between individuals differs and can drastically affect the dynamics of space interaction. For instance, an American needs to take between 20 inches to 36 inches in a neutral conversation for a personal subject matter. Apparently in Latin America the interaction distance is much less. This claim was also proposed in his other book, The Hidden Dimension. This seems like a pretty large distance to me!

I was wandering, as we are becoming nomads, or neo-nomads –term created and analyzed by Dr. Yasmine Abbas, now that we travel constantly, I wander how these distances of interaction and non verbal communication cues have evolved. Is it possible that we absorb most of these social interactions in our everyday routines, and that after each travel, each interaction, we come back “socially transformed”? Would these non verbal communication cues become more obvious to us?


In one of his other book, The Dance of Life: The Other Dimension of Time, Hall explores the way humans are intrinsically linked to the rhythm of life, how being unsynchronized can disturb them and even bring them into depression! He explains, based on observations, how people are tied together and yet isolated by hidden threads of rhythm and walls of time. Time is treated as a language, organizer, and message system revealing people’s feelings about each other and reflecting differences between cultures. He claims that repetition is not appreciated or that Americans are not trained to appreciate repetition. Through repetition comes learning, comes depth of understanding, comes rhythm. He proposes that the invisible rhythm is not widely recognized, that rhythms are only presented on stage by talented performers! Hall assumes there is a relationship between rhythm and love. Basically it affects our entire being. Synchrony in life seems strangely related to rhythm in music. The pattern of our movements can translate into a beat. Without this rhythm, we are not synchronized and we loose our contact with life …

Posted by Cati Vaucelle @ Architectradure

[tags] PhD, MIT, research, interaction, theory, book, anthropology [/tags]

How to design a reconfigurable artificial sensate skin?

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

For the technical area of my general exams lead by Dr. Joe Paradiso, I read Gerardo Barroeta Pérez’s very inspiring thesis in which he presents S.N.A.K.E.: A dynamically reconfigurable artificial sensate skin as well as a series of related work.

The idea is to design a device that inherits the characteristics of human skin. Surveying prior work in materials, flexible electronics, sensing matrices and sensor networks, Gerardo presents a new type of artificial sensate skin: low power, scalable, mechanically flexible, and that extracts a rich set of multi modal sensor data. Also each node in SNAKE is capable of changing its behavior by changing its code. One can use SNAKE as a scalable smart material that covers interactive surfaces!

This Skin is composed of one or many Skin Patches which in turn are composed of one or many Skin Nodes. Each node is able to measure Strain, Pressure, Ambient Light, Pressure, Sound and Mechano-reception. Each Skin Patch can either work as a stand-alone device or as a data extraction device if this is attached to a Personal Computer through a different type of device referred to as Brains. Each Skin Node and therefore each Skin Patch: is Dynamically Adaptable meaning that they can adapt to external stimuli by either modifying their behavior or by completely changing their code. Construction of a sensate skin in such a modular fashion promises intrinsic scalability, where peer-to-peer connections between neighbors can reduce local data, which can then be sent to the brain by the high-speed common backbone.


Paradiso observed two general trends in sensor networks: Either the individual sensors are routed to a central processing unit or as completely decentralized sensor networks. So in SNAKE, data can be processed locally because each node is given processing power. Each node can also be connected to each other to create a skin like surface to react to the same kinds of stimuli that our skin encounters. The idea of a communication link between nodes is inspired by how our cells communicate with one another. When stimulated they generate an electrical pulse, informing our brain, while also releasing neurochemical transmitters received by neighboring cells.

Each skin patch in SNAKE is a sensor network composed by sensor nodes. Each node is made of a multi layer, flexible circuit substrate that sense six physical quantities: Stain/Bending by using two orthogonal custom made strain gages. Proximity/Activity by using a piezoelectric cantilever. Absolute pressure by using a quantum-tunneling effect material. Ambient light by adding an integrated sensor. Audio by adding a MEMS microphone. Temperature by using an integrated temperature sensor.

Related work in the field

Paintable Computer designed by William Butera for his PhD thesis at MIT. Paintable Computing is: “An agglomerate of numerous, finely dispersed, ultra miniaturized computing particles; each positioned randomly, running asynchronously and communicating locally -Butera”.

Tribble designed by Josh Lifton is a tactile reactive interface built by linked elements assembled in a sphere made up of tiles. The advantage of this work is to be a completely decentralized network; each node is capable of processing its own generated data without the need of a centralized processing unit. The cons is probably its shape, fixed, preventing it of being a scalable smart surface. Also it is power hungry!



Pushpin Computing
The project developed by Josh Lifton & Michael Broxton consists of a hundred of peer-to-peer wireless sensor nodes freely distributed over a table-top interface.



Recreating the sense of touch have been explored by many other researchers, but all of them rely on a centralized processing unit to process the data extracted from the sensors. For instance, Lumelsky’s sensitive skin, a prototype of a skin patch with infrared lights and receivers used as proximity sensors. Hakozaki created a flexible robot skin to cover wide robot surfaces. Rekimoto presents a capacitive “smart skin” sensor for use in interactive surfaces.

Also prior work as shown artificial sensate skins not implemented as sensor networks but as sensor matrices: each sensor must be individually routed to a central processing unit. This is the case for instance for Takao Someya and his large flexible sensor matrix with organic field effect transistors or for M. Sergio’s textile-based capacitive sensor array that can be used as sensitive skin.


Takao Someya’ sensor matrix

An artificial sensate skin needs to be flexible. The innovative work of Stephanie Lacour is probably the most prominent example. She has created a new conducting material that can be stretched and still retain their electronic properties this by depositing thin gold layers on elastic rubber substrates. Also one can refer to the work done on the e-paper by Jacobson, micro capsules, filled with electronically loaded white parts that were dissolved in a dark colored oil.

-> Link <- to the .pdf of Pérez thesis.

Posted by Cati Vaucelle @ Architectradure

[tags] electronics, PhD, MIT, research, textile, technology, interaction design, robotic [/tags]

Yard sale treasures

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

This summer is the perfect period for yard sales! I have a few secret collections that are building up! All of them related to my research of course. One of my recent find is this vintage electronic kit for children, “discover the magic and mystery of electronics in minutes”. Working in a group that researches on a seamless and tangible relationship to digital information, I find this child’s game particularly of interest.



Each block represents an electronic component. As the child assembles the blocks together, the child designs a circuit. All the pieces have a magnet underneath. They can be assembled on a metallic large plate, plate that works as the circuit ground. The game is about electronics, analog electronics, but the iteration process of electronics discovery is “tangible”. The child can relate to the kit like a puzzle and by this is invited to experiment with each piece. Many authors have claimed that the understanding of electronics is hands-on. Making this process connected to the learning of electronic symbols + offering a puzzle based interaction to circuit design is very exciting! Now there is a consequence to the connection of the pieces, where the electronics knowledge starts and the children are empowered in the design, focusing essentially on their component and how they spatially fits. Later on they can move on to working directly with the components …

I have a more recent version of an electronic kit that shows directly the components, not the symbols. The connection is made by inserting wires between each component. I much prefer the puzzle based approach that welcome easy improvisation and experimentation with circuit design.

Posted by Cati Vaucelle @ Architectradure

[tags] children, electronics, PhD, game, collection, research, tangible, interaction design, toy [/tags]

The work of the imagination by Paul H. Harris

Monday, July 14th, 2008

Dr Edith K. Ackermann, professor in developmental psychology and one of the three readers for my PhD general exams -contextual area: psychology- recommended me a book that I am currently reading:
The Work of the Imagination by Paul H. Harris. The author demonstrates how children’s imagination makes a continuing contribution to their cognitive and emotional development. This book is fundamental in synthesizing the research done on children’s imagination and development.

Paul L. Harris is Professor of Developmental Psychology, Oxford University, and Fellow in Psychology, St. John’s College, Oxford. He is the author of Children and Emotion, and co-editor of Developing Theories of Mind, Children’s Understanding of Emotion, and Imagining the Impossible: Magical, Scientific and Religious Thinking in Children.

This entry will be a repository of my notes on the book, as summaries chapter after chapter.



The author reminds us on the human radical evolution 40 000 years ago, during the Upper Paleolitic era. The observation was made that even if we could not analyze the brain modification, we noticed a radical change in what humans did with their hands between the Upper Paleolitic era in contrast with the Neanderthal era. These created artifacts testify a cognitive change, a change in temporal organization and planning. The artifacts resemble children’s props for make believe, helping participants to be transported out of reality into some imagined settings.

Chapter 1. Bleuler in Weimar

In 1911, Bleuler distinguishes two modes of thinking: logical or realistic thinking and autistic thinking.

For Bleuler, autistic thinking is not a pathology confined in a group of children, children who exhibit a withdrawal from other people and the external world (as in Kanner, 1943). For Bleuler autistic thinking is a normal mode of thinking in both children and adults. It is evident in dreams, pretend play and reveries and in the fantasies and delusions of the schizophrenic. It is a mode of thought dominated by free association and wishful thinking. In logical and realistic thinking, affective and emotional considerations are tempered by what is recognized as faisible. Then sometimes autistic thinking override logical thinking in normal adults. In Bleuler, at the difference of Freud, the ability to conceive of alternatives to reality is not a primitive process but something relatively sophisticated. For Bleuler, reality-directed thinking comes first and autistic thinking comes later.

For Piaget, autistic thinking is suppressed with the development of logic and the child becomes more rational and objective. Children early on speak from their inner world and this is not yet adjusted to the external world, to the need of their listener. Vygotsky tried to analyze and compare Bleuler and Piaget’s theories and explained that a child learns to make a clean separation between speech for communicating and speech for the service of thinking. It does not mean that autistic thinking is egocentric speech referred by Piaget.

For Piaget, pretend play is an opportunity for the child to secure via fantasy what is not available in reality. “For example he describes how his daughter Jacqueline, having been told that she could not play with the water that was to be used for the washing, took an empty cup, went to the forbidden tub of water, and made pretend movements saying, ‘I’m pouring out water’.” For Piaget, pretend play is a temporary phase of maladaptation.

The author of the book criticizes Piaget in thinking pretend play is a primary mode of thinking nor will it be supressed in the course of development. 1- Pretend play only appears with the 2nd year of life 2-Great apes only do sporadic pretend play so pretend play is only a function of human childhood 3- Pathology studies show that the absence of early imagination is pathological. One syndrome in early childhood autism is the abscence or impoverishment in pretend play.

When children are in pretend play, they draw casual understanding of the physical and mental world. Also adults are absorbed in novels and films… Children’s ability to entertain counterfactual alternatives to an actual outcome is critical for making casual and more judgments about that outcome. So Bleuler’s autistic thinking remains a constant companion to reality based thinking.

Chapter 2. Pretend Play

Pretend Play allows children to offer a way to imagine, explore and talk about possibilities inherent in reality. Piaget, in Play, Dreams and Imitation (1962) describes how in 2nd year children’s pretend play becomes more elaborate (sustained and complex series of pretended actions) and flexible (less dependent on the support). Even though Piaget acknowledges the developmental process of the child through pretend play, he still sees it as negative and destine to give way eventually to logic and rationality. The author argues that this is especially wrong for joined pretense when two children share and communicate on a common make believe object. In joined pretense, the child gives cues of the shared pretense to the partner. For instance, if a cardboard becomes a tap, the gesture of opening water from the tap creates a shared understanding. These pretend objects also have casual power: they can deliver water! The perspective is situated within the pretense framework.

Pretend episodes include casual chains with an unfolding structure much like a narrative, all understood by a 2 years old! It is the same cognitive work as we do in a literal mode. Through studies the author found that for two years old, once a prop has been assigned a make believe identity by a play partner, children produce pretend actions towards the prop. He also found that 2 years old understand the casual power associated with a stipulated entity and use that casual knowledge to use out the consequences of a pretend transformation in their imagination.

The author wanted to know if children will use the objective truth (what is actually there) or the make believe truth in describing a pretend object. In the study, children selected mainly the imaginary outcome, as opposed to objective ones. They used the references used to construct the imaginary world.

Pretend play can incorporate casual chains. Casual chains in which an initial event enables conditions for a next are understood by 2 years old children. For this children need toenvision the outcome of an initial action, for instance, I turn the tap to get water, because of the water the Teddy bear will get wet, and then I need to dry the Teddy bear with a towel! The author’ study showed that two years old can sustain a casual chain in their imagination and describe its outcome.

The author proposes that 2 years old understand some of the essential ingredients in drama and fiction. They recognize that events occur in a make believe framework and not in the real world. This is very different than Piaget who states that pretend play is a representation of reality, that what is being signified is reality itself. However the act of pretense is not to signify. It is only inspired by reality. Children are like novelists, they are inspired by actual events and everyday routines, all material for their imagination. Pretend play or make believe is also different than re-enacting a particular action carried earlier. The author claims that children do possess a genuine imagination while Piaget would see it as a subjective assimilation of reality. When a child would pretend being half a dog-half a bird crawling on the floor, Piaget explained that it cannot be seen as part of children’s imagination but a distortion of the real world. On the other end, the authors claims it is truly imaginative as much as novelist are inspired by reality to create fiction. The author concludes that pretend play is the first indication of a lifelong mental capacity to consider alternatives to reality.

Chapter 3. Role Play

Children incorporate animated being into their pretend play. The author examines children’s ability to imagine and act out the role of a person or creature. This role playing happens with friends, a key form of interaction between friends. Successful cooperation in this type of play calls for considerable sensibility and flexibility. In all cases of pretend play, the child uses or not a prop and uses or not herself as a prop. In role play, a sub category of pretend play, children temporarily immerse themselves in the part they create. They talk from the point of view of the creature, taking the mood and tone of voice that is appropriate, give expression to the emotions, sensations and needs for the adopted role. When children engage in role play, they do not simply remain off stage, directors or puppeteers, they enter into the make believe situation they create and adopt the point of view of one of the protagonist within it.

At 2-3 years old, children can invoke a creature, an imaginary person that becomes a companion for the child, this without the need of prop.

An invisible character, named and referred to in conversation with other persons or played with directly for a period of time, at least several months, having an air of reality for the child, but no apparent objective basis -Svendsen (1934)

Marjorie Taylor (1998) reports that 2/3 of a sample of American children had either an imaginary companion or one projected onto an external prop before age 7. There is no evidence of difference in personality or behavior between children with imaginary companions and children without. However there is an intriguing difference. Children with imaginary companions proved to be more skilled in assessing how people might feel.
For instance, at 24 months BT pretended he was a kitten after having visited his grand mother who had a kitten. Until 36 months he was “meowing” and licking milk. At 30 months his best friend was a dog, an additional role of his.
When a child plays out a particular character, she needs to have a set of meta-theories: theories about the theories that the character holds. Children reproduce routine aspects of human mentation in any character they enact by recruiting their own knowledge base. Studies show however that children do not understand that pretense initially depends on a well informed representation of what is being pretended. With pretend play, children can notice the gap between representation of reality and reality itself, therefore it will facilitate their understanding of mental states. All pretend play involves mental representation so it is helpful for understanding mental states, however only pretend play with animated objects (versus an airplane for instance) correlate with good performance on belief tasks. The absence of mental states at 18 months is associated with a late diagnostic of autism (Baron-Cohen et al, 1996); autistic children perform poorly on false belief tasks compared to normal or retarded children.

It is then role play rather than pretend play that facilitates mental states understanding and autistic children are especially limited in role play. Children who engage into role playing have a predisposition to better be able to view a situation from another person’s point of view. What happened as children get older? When enacting a role, children imagine the world from the point of view of another person. We do the same when we reada biography, an historical novel. We locate ourselves inside the world of the novel rather than the real world and we share the same spatial and temporal framework than the protagonist.

Posted by Cati Vaucelle @ Architectradure

[tags] autism, children, imagination, PhD, pretend play, psychology, theory, research [/tags]

Film assembly using toy gestures

Friday, July 11th, 2008

July 2008 Picture This! Project by Cati Vaucelle

My full paper Picture This! Film assembly using toy gestures has been accepted as a full paper for the technical conference on ubiquitous computing: UbiComp 2008. With an acceptance rate of less than 19% for technical papers in the field, it is very encouraging!


We present Picture This! a new input device embedded in children’s toys for video composition. It consists of a new form of interaction for children’s capturing of storytelling with physical artifacts. It functions as a video and storytelling performance system in that children craft videos with and about character toys as the system analyzes their gestures and play patterns. Children’s favorite props alternate between characters and cameramen in a film. As they play with the toys to act out a story, they conduct film assembly. We position our work as ubiquitous computing that supports children’s tangible interaction with digital materials. During user testing, we observed children ages 4 to 10 playing with Picture This!. We assess to what extent gesture interaction with objects for video editing allows children to explore visual perspectives in storytelling. A new genre of Gesture Object Interfaces as exemplified by Picture This relies on the analysis of gestures coupled with objects to represent bits.


We connect to our world using our senses. Every one of our senses is a knowledge shopper that grounds us in our surroundings [1]: with touch, one feels the texture of life, with hearing one perceives even the subtlest murmurs of our existence, with vision one clarifies their instincts. But human senses are not only about perception. We use gesture to apprehend, comprehend and communicate. We speak to ultimately translate and exchange with others. We visualize, record, and playback events using our memory to reflect on our history and to be immersed in experience. We as children and adults are engaged in everyday pretense and symbolic play. We embed and later withdraw from the world, using imagination to project ourselves into situations [35]. Our mental constructs are necessary to reach a deeper understanding of our relationship with our environment [3]. Children are offered stories by adults and are driven into fantasy play. They use toys to externalize and elaborate their mental constructions [8]. With character toys they create interrelationships and plots, a means to expose their social knowledge: knowing about human beings and social relationships [33]. If the toy has an immediately accessible visual perspective, a new world is opened to the child. The toy brings her into exploring visual and narrative perspectives of character props, expanding the discovery of her environment.

We imagine a world in which people play, create and exchange visual narratives with ease and transparency. Motivated by the playful improvisational environment of child storytelling with toys, we have developed a new category of video editing tools progressing towards the child’s natural expression of play. In Picture This! we combine the activity of play with the video making process. Whereas play emphasizes spontaneity and improvisation, video making necessitates structure and composition. We were inspired by the theater play of Goethe’s childhood [35], investigating what technology could add to the narrative and play experience. We use technology to offer visual feedback regarding how the scene looks like from the point of view of an imaginary audience. The child storyteller enters the world of the movie maker. Cameras become part of a toy system showing how things look from a toy’s point of view. They can be integrated in Lego people, car drivers, and even coffee mugs! The video process, supported by gesture induced editing, benefits children in practicing social interrelationships and visual perspective taking.

More about the system ->here<-

Posted by Cati Vaucelle @ Architectradure

[tags] project, design, toy, MIT, Media Lab, personal, technology, mobile, video, gesture object interfaces, children, play, storytelling [/tags]

Light based communication networks

Wednesday, July 9th, 2008


I attended the talk by the Talking Lights company at the MIT Media Lab. They work on light based communication networks associating information with specific locations in a building and then use that information to guide, monitor and get information to people as they move from place to place. I was fascinated by their inexpensive way to enable context aware computing and the idea of associating information in a building directly through the components already existing in the building, in this case a common light source.

So for instance, a person wears a box-link (basically a photodyode with Bluetooth) so that the system knows precisely where this person is located. The communication between the box-link and the building is created by modulating the light from an ordinary light fixture to encode information. Where GPS technology does not operate accurately and Wifi triangulation does not “detect” walls, the signal in Talking Light is constrained by walls, offering a more precise indoor localization. As the user moves in the building there is a discrimination between light sources in the area. It takes the maximum amplitude, e.g. last light, last amplitude. The light can also transmit radio quality audio, even thought this is can be done through power lines.

Also the company offers researchers the possibility to outfit lights with the communication capability or to create multi-light network for application -> here <-

Posted by Cati Vaucelle @ Architectradure

[tags] light, communication, technology, medialab, culture, MIT [/tags]

The new MIT Media Lab under the 4th of July firework!

Sunday, July 6th, 2008

MIT Media lab

Happy independence Media Lab!

Posted by Cati Vaucelle @ Architectradure

[tags] MIT, MediaLab, fireworks, 4th of July [/tags]

What’s next for fitness centers?

Tuesday, July 1st, 2008

I read an issue of Art in America -featuring the amazing work of Janine Antoni on the cover and discovered a past work of Antal Lakner: home transporter (from the passive working devices series).

Skewering a vain leisure society that “labors” pointlessly on exercise equipment, Lakner designs workout machines like the “Forest Master” (a saw) and the “Home Transporter” (a wheelbarrow). Each is accompanied by a didactic photo of a worker using the prototype tool.

I find this work actually very marketable as a neat idea for making fitness centers more fun! I know it is not the point and the work is remarkable, but it is also an amazing interface design for transforming fitness centers. Instead of trying to hook up a rowing machine to a virtual boat in a video game, why not connecting the actions with meaningful activities!



Posted by Cati Vaucelle @ Architectradure

[tags] art, body, culture, fitness, design, vision, inspiration [/tags]