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DePaul Idea Realization Lab Updates – May 2018

Last month we started tracking visitor data to the Idea Realization Lab, and as a part of that data logging I also began writing a report about our various successes, stories, and goings-on. Here’s the final report for the school year of 2017-2018 at the lab: https://public.3.basecamp.com/p/zGU9khM3KrsLu2rBaErQjhja


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

Ubiquitous Computing and Environmental Interaction

Abstract

The way we interact with computing technology has dramatically changed over the last half-century. From their origins as stationary devices that sit on our desks, computers have evolved to embed themselves in our daily lives by permeating the spaces that we live in. They now control our thermostats, track our heart rate from our wrists, run our cars, and collect sensory data through complex arrays out in the field. This shift is often referred to as ubiquitous computing: the idea that computers are invisibly all around us, passively observing and interacting with groups of people, individuals, or the broader environment. As we continue to embed computers into our daily lives, it’s important to understand how they affect our behavior, the way we perceive the world around us, and how we interact with others. Further, as developers for these new forms of technology, we must understand how to design for embedded, ubiquitous computer systems to fit in with our pre-existing behaviors as we navigate our environments. This research review looks at how computers, when set within the broader context of an environment, influence the way we behave, and the considerations that designers need to take into account in order to integrate these systems in unobtrusive and intelligent ways.

Introduction

Several major themes emerge when looking at how researchers measure the effectiveness of ubiquitous computing devices (also known as embedded systems) with environments, individuals, and larger groups. Furthermore, designers of embedded systems have several unique problems that they must take into account than if they were simply developing a physical product, or if they were simply creating a purely digital product. Devices that are ubiquitous in nature bridge the digital-physical gap and occupy a hybrid space that demands a slightly different way of thinking about design and the design process than traditional products. This is intrinsically tied to the idea that ubiquitous computing artifacts occupy multiple spaces (physical/digital) simultaneously(1)Crabtree, A., & Rodden, T. (2007). Hybrid ecologies: understanding cooperative interaction in emerging physical-digital environments. Personal and Ubiquitous Computing,12(7), 481-493. doi:10.1007/s00779-007-0142-7.

One of those themes has to do with how designers and users understand the relationship between ubiquitous computers and the contexts that they reside within. In ubiquitous computing (ubicomp), understanding the physical state of the individual, understanding the emotional state of the individual, and understanding environment that they exist within are critical to designing a device that engages users in context (2)Okada, M., & Tada, M. (2013). Understanding spatial contexts of the real world under explicit or tacit roles of location. Proceedings of the 25th Australian Computer-Human Interaction Conference on Augmentation, Application, Innovation, Collaboration – OzCHI 13. doi:10.1145/2541016.2541018. This involves understanding how space is divided up by location, but as well, by clusters within those locations. It also involves understanding the significance of space to the user as they interact within it. That is to say that space is only given meaning within the context of the actions that a user takes within it. Therefore, space, and the meaning that the user gives it, is a significant factor that a designer must account for if they want to create unobtrusive, useful artifacts.

Second, testing ubiquitous computing devices is incredibly challenging as the devices allow for both explicit and implicit interaction (3)Tan, C. S., Schöning, J., Luyten, K., & Coninx, K. (2013). Informing intelligent user interfaces by inferring affective states from body postures in ubiquitous computing environments. Proceedings of the 2013 international conference on Intelligent user interfaces – IUI 13. doi:10.1145/2449396.2449427(4)Gomes, T., Abade, T., Campos, J. C., Harrison, M., & Silva, J. L. (2014). Rapid development of first person serious games using the APEX platform. Proceedings of the 29th Annual ACM Symposium on Applied Computing – SAC 14. doi:10.1145/2554850.2554969. In other words, users can interact explicitly and directly with a device similar to how we interact with many digital and physical products today. Alternatively, however, users can interact passively with ubicomp devices through sensors that detect motion, body posture, eye gaze, and other factors. Implicit interaction creates challenges for both user and designer. For users, it’s often unclear how they are interacting with a system when they aren’t intentionally and directly engaging with it. For designers, understanding how people navigate space, and how to design systems that respond to a user’s behavior in such a way to provide actionable, useful information as it’s needed is a challenge that requires intensive, and often costly, research.

Finally, since ubiquitous computing devices operate in a hybrid nature (in that they bridge the digital-physical gulf), they resultantly exist in a fragmented environment(5)Andy Crabtree , Peter Tolmie, A Day in the Life of Things in the Home, Proceedings of the 19th ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing, February 27-March 02, 2016, San Francisco, California, USA(6)Crabtree, A., & Rodden, T. (2009). Understanding interaction in hybrid ubiquitous computing environments. Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Mobile and Ubiquitous Multimedia – MUM 09. doi:10.1145/1658550.1658551. That is to say, instead of objects being connected with one another, they are connected to the Internet. This changes the feedback loop that users typically rely on to understand how they are affecting the state of a system, as the feedback is no longer directly and meaningfully mapped to the object of interaction. As a result, designers must consider how to provide feedback to a user that makes sense given the actions that they’re taking. Further, users must be able reconcile their interactions with devices to real outcomes.

Taking all of these factors into account, we begin to see a picture take shape where ubicomp devices challenge the way we navigate space and design for users who are navigating space. These problems require a deeper analysis into how changing contexts, modes of interaction, and analyses of fragmented environments affect these new forms of technology. Along the way, we’ll look into the methodologies that some designers are developing to try to address these challenges.

Review of Research

Contexts

One of the challenges for ubiquitous computing is understanding when the user is confused and providing meaningful feedback to put them back on track. This requires some sense of being aware of the context (environment, state of mind, etc.) that the user is working in. The things that people interact with (both in their homes and in public environments) are seated within a larger context of other types of things which must also be taken into account when researching how the user interacts with ubiquitous computing (7)Andy Crabtree , Peter Tolmie, A Day in the Life of Things in the Home, Proceedings of the 19th ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing, February 27-March 02, 2016, San Francisco, California, USA.

In addition to the types of things that surround ubicomp devices, when designing for ubiquitous computing and IoT devices, one must consider the order of things in the home. That is to say, one must consider the spaces in the home, the zones within those spaces, how a user navigates those spaces in their daily routines to create meaning, and how to compliment those spaces and activities with ubicomp devices(8)Andy Crabtree , Peter Tolmie, A Day in the Life of Things in the Home, Proceedings of the 19th ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing, February 27-March 02, 2016, San Francisco, California, USA.

These things are further complicated by the physical and emotional contexts that users maintain as they engage with ubiquitous devices, and how those devices sense things like state of mind, gaze, and other psychological and physiological responses. For instance, researchers have investigated utilizing eye tracking as a way to determine what users are concentrating on at any given time. If the right time, place, and action can be discerned by a system through these forms of tracking, then the correct information for that time can be given to the user(9)Jalaliniya, S., Pederson, T., & Mardanbegi, D. (2017). Symbiotic attention management in the context of internet of things. Proceedings of the 2017 ACM International Joint Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing and Proceedings of the 2017 ACM International Symposium on Wearable Computers on – UbiComp 17. doi:10.1145/3123024.3124559. Physiological recognition in the form of posture has also been explored, where embedded systems can detect when it might be necessary to provide feedback to a user. In addition to locational data, the state of things can be measured by analyzing the body of the individual for physical cues that might indicate things like frustration, confusion, and delight(10)Tan, C. S., Schöning, J., Luyten, K., & Coninx, K. (2013). Informing intelligent user interfaces by inferring affective states from body postures in ubiquitous computing environments. Proceedings of the 2013 international conference on Intelligent user interfaces – IUI 13. doi:10.1145/2449396.2449427.

Finally, context is important as it relates to how users expect an interaction to fit into their current working models. Bill Buxton’s story of the “door cam” at Xerox PARC is one such example. Door cam was an extension of a larger system of cameras connected to desktop computers throughout the offices of PARC at the time. The cameras were used in such a way that they could be accessed by anyone, at any time, to dial in and talk to someone at their desk. Problematically, this (to some) felt like an intrusion of space. So, additional cameras were implemented directly outside the door of each person’s office, which simulated what we would do if we wanted to approach someone in their office and talk with them (we would first look in the office to see if the person was busy)(11)Bill Buxton. “Living in Augmented Reality: Ubiquitous Media and Reactive Environments,” 01 Nov 1997.. By affording people the ability to do things that they would also do in real life – and by being aware of contexts and social standards – designers can create ubicomp devices that situate themselves within the current working models of users.

Context is critical to how we navigate space through ubiquitous devices, and how designers create ubicomp devices to reside naturally within our environments. It is also, notably, incredibly expensive and time-intensive to design artifacts that meet these requirements, as they require real, physical spaces with individuals navigating them in order to provide valid tests. Nevertheless, understanding how people navigate space, zones within those spaces, and their physical and mental states as they do so is important for embedded devices. Further, due to the challenging nature of designing these devices well, an overwhelming amount of research suggests that current ubicomp devices don’t naturally fit in with the flows of user behaviors(12)Andy Crabtree , Peter Tolmie, A Day in the Life of Things in the Home, Proceedings of the 19th ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing, February 27-March 02, 2016, San Francisco, California, USA.

Explicit and Implicit Interaction

The way that users engage with devices can be explicit or implicit. Explicit means of interacting with a device involve intent, in that the user must actively and purposefully engage with the device. Implicit interaction, on the other hand, is where the user is simply going about their daily lives, and sensors actively collect information and respond to their behavior(13)Gomes, T., Abade, T., Campos, J. C., Harrison, M., & Silva, J. L. (2014). Rapid development of first person serious games using the APEX platform. Proceedings of the 29th Annual ACM Symposium on Applied Computing – SAC 14. doi:10.1145/2554850.2554969. As we continue to embed computers into our daily lives, the explicit nature by which we interact with things is being changed and shifted toward more implicit forms of interaction.

Implicit forms of information require the categorization and classification of types of behaviors that can occur within a space, then tracking where people are in space, and what types of things they are doing while in the space. Categories might include things like interacting with appliances, furniture, toys, media, and so forth(14)Andy Crabtree , Peter Tolmie, A Day in the Life of Things in the Home, Proceedings of the 19th ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing, February 27-March 02, 2016, San Francisco, California, USA. Perhaps surprisingly, when tracking an individual and analyzing what types of things they are doing in a space, the majority of things they are doing defy categorization(15)Okada, M., & Tada, M. (2013). Understanding spatial contexts of the real world under explicit or tacit roles of location. Proceedings of the 25th Australian Computer-Human Interaction Conference on Augmentation, Application, Innovation, Collaboration – OzCHI 13. doi:10.1145/2541016.2541018. This could include things like walking (moving about space), standing and thinking, and other non-critical interactions. Designers, therefore, must be able to discern a critical interaction from a non-critical one, and design objects that fit these needs.

The challenges provided by examining implicit interaction lie in the processing and computational requirements it places on machines attempting to track eye movement, body posture, and other similar physiological indicators. As Jalaliniya et al. note, in order for ubicomp devices to wayfind a user to the action they need to do, a system requires strong connections between multiple devices that can read a user’s behavior and reinforce the kinds of subliminal cues necessary to aid them in completing a task [8, 9]. This is not to mention the inherent dangers in the assumptions and biases we have about what the actions of a user mean, and how a computer’s interpretations of those actions might be erroneous and even dangerous.

Implicit interaction is another influencing factor in the way we perceive and design for space through ubicomp devices in that it requires a designer to create a model that they believe fits with a user’s expectations. In doing so, the designer is making assumptions about how users navigate space, and attempting to influence the user’s behavior through subliminal messaging or other means. It is, in effect, the main differentiating factor between ubicomp devices and other non-hybridized artifacts that users engage with, and presents a strong challenge when it comes to designing objects that can remain unseen while simultaneously providing meaningful feedback to their owners.

Fragmented Environments

Fragmentation is built into the very nature of physical computing devices, as it is into other hybridized forms of media, and requires the user to reconcile that fragmentation. Fragmentation emerges when one does not directly receive feedback from the thing that they’re interacting with, and therefore do not immediately see how a system or object is responding to their behavior(16)Crabtree, A., & Rodden, T. (2009). Understanding interaction in hybrid ubiquitous computing environments. Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Mobile and Ubiquitous Multimedia – MUM 09. doi:10.1145/1658550.1658551. In other words, since ubicomp devices are not physically interconnected, but instead connected and mediated through the Internet, the nature of that connection is not whole but instead fragmented. This creates a seemingly disjointed system that both influences how users navigate space, and places responsibility on a designer to consider who that user navigates through their space.

Fragmentation influences how users navigate physical space by putting the onus on them to both discern and seek meaningful feedback from the actions that they take. This could take the form of confirming that a light has turned off after giving a command to a speech recognition device, or checking the temperature of one’s home after activating a geo-fence that enables temperature control in that home. By widening the gulf between action and response, fragmentation forces a user to seek meaning that emerges from the ubiquitous computing systems that they interact with.

This is only further complicated when we’re forced to consider multiple users interacting within a fragmented environment. Testing ubicomp devices becomes even more complicated as multiple individuals are both implicitly and explicitly interacting with ubiquitous systems, requiring a system to mediate concurrent behavior that requires overlapping feedback(17)Zilz, R. (2011). Specifying concurrent behavior to evaluate ubiquitous computing environments. Proceedings of the 3rd ACM SIGCHI symposium on Engineering interactive computing systems – EICS 11. doi:10.1145/1996461.1996540. Because of fragmentation, concurrent users can also influence the behaviors of other users interacting with a system by altering the state of the system and, thus, confounding the expectations of others.

By using the Internet to mediate their connections, ubiquitous devices are capable of taking advantage of interconnection and information abundance. At the same time, the fragmentation that emerges from decoupling physical inputs with feedback creates new forms of interaction that influence how users navigate space, and how designers create for those spaces. Understanding how fragmentation changes the way a user (or users) perceives the space around them should strongly influence the design of any ubiquitous computing device.

Conclusion

Ubiquitous computing devices are inherently tied to our navigation of space, and the ways in which we navigate space are tied to how designers create embedded, ubiquitous artifacts. The three primary design challenges of ubiquitous computing devices – context, modes of interaction, and fragmentation – influence how a user navigates their space, and how a designer understands their work within the larger stage of the environment in which it sits. As designers and users continue to adopt ubicomp devices, they should pay close attention to the influence that computers have on their behaviors and attitudes.

As further models are developed to measure the contextual use of ubiquitous artifacts, and how people interact with them, designers should take care when approaching such sensory and wayfinding methodologies as gaze tracking, body posture, and subliminal perception. At the same time, users must be critical of the devices that they engage with, and strive to understand the underlying systems that these fragmented artifacts run on top of.


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

References   [ + ]

1. Crabtree, A., & Rodden, T. (2007). Hybrid ecologies: understanding cooperative interaction in emerging physical-digital environments. Personal and Ubiquitous Computing,12(7), 481-493. doi:10.1007/s00779-007-0142-7
2, 15. Okada, M., & Tada, M. (2013). Understanding spatial contexts of the real world under explicit or tacit roles of location. Proceedings of the 25th Australian Computer-Human Interaction Conference on Augmentation, Application, Innovation, Collaboration – OzCHI 13. doi:10.1145/2541016.2541018
3, 10. Tan, C. S., Schöning, J., Luyten, K., & Coninx, K. (2013). Informing intelligent user interfaces by inferring affective states from body postures in ubiquitous computing environments. Proceedings of the 2013 international conference on Intelligent user interfaces – IUI 13. doi:10.1145/2449396.2449427
4, 13. Gomes, T., Abade, T., Campos, J. C., Harrison, M., & Silva, J. L. (2014). Rapid development of first person serious games using the APEX platform. Proceedings of the 29th Annual ACM Symposium on Applied Computing – SAC 14. doi:10.1145/2554850.2554969
5, 7, 8, 12, 14. Andy Crabtree , Peter Tolmie, A Day in the Life of Things in the Home, Proceedings of the 19th ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing, February 27-March 02, 2016, San Francisco, California, USA
6, 16. Crabtree, A., & Rodden, T. (2009). Understanding interaction in hybrid ubiquitous computing environments. Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Mobile and Ubiquitous Multimedia – MUM 09. doi:10.1145/1658550.1658551
9. Jalaliniya, S., Pederson, T., & Mardanbegi, D. (2017). Symbiotic attention management in the context of internet of things. Proceedings of the 2017 ACM International Joint Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing and Proceedings of the 2017 ACM International Symposium on Wearable Computers on – UbiComp 17. doi:10.1145/3123024.3124559
11. Bill Buxton. “Living in Augmented Reality: Ubiquitous Media and Reactive Environments,” 01 Nov 1997.
17. Zilz, R. (2011). Specifying concurrent behavior to evaluate ubiquitous computing environments. Proceedings of the 3rd ACM SIGCHI symposium on Engineering interactive computing systems – EICS 11. doi:10.1145/1996461.1996540

The Walkman and Unlearning

Sometimes our expectations of what a thing is, or rather, what it should be blind us to the possibilities of what it could become. These expectations can prevent us from understanding the true potential of an object, and lead us to miss out on opportunities for development. This is where the idea of unlearning — of tossing aside old biases and preconceived notions — fits into the design process.

A good illustration of this point comes from Personal Stereo, a book in the Objects Lessons series about the development of the Sony Walkman and other portable sound devices:

Whatever its genesis, there is consensus that most of Sony’s employees were distinctly unenthusiastic about the idea. The reasons for this are worth dwelling on for a moment. The main reason was that Sony employees doubted that anyone would want a tape player with no recording function.

It may seem patently obvious to us now that a portable listening device would not need a recording function (though obviously, all smart phones have both), but imagine living in a time where the past five decades of market demands indicated otherwise. Personal stereos emerged out of the development of the portable recording device that was used by the military and for corporate needs. Adapting it for mass consumption did not change, in an engineer’s mind, the device’s primary role in our lives.

We all have these kinds of biases about how a thing ought to be used and ought to function. This can be incredibly useful for purposes of expediency and understanding the world around us, but it can also be to the detriment of our creative potential. It’s important to remember this, and consider the process of unlearning essential to our creative work.


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

The Electrical Outlet and Musings on the Design of Things

Hacakday posted a piece recently about the creation of the electrical outlet and how it came to the form factor that we know today. What’s most interesting about this piece is how the mixture of market forces and arbitrary aesthetic opinions come to shape an object that, today, we take for granted. More than that, it got me thinking about how infrequently we ask ourselves why a thing is designed the way it is, and question whether or not that design is still relevant.

For instance, here’s an excerpt that explains why the pins on a plug are flat:

The device worked well, but the manufacturer and businessman in Harvey saw problems. Foremost was the costs behind those round pins, which would have required machining to achieve the tip and detent. Harvey would have known that parts stamped from sheet metal would be cheaper and easier to manufacture, and so he scrapped the round pins in favor of flat metal blades in 1904.

What struck me as interesting about this is that designed objects like the outlet have the ability to subsequently influence the design of other objects. Seemingly small decisions about the design of things have the ability to influence how others design with, or on top of those things in ways that the original creator could never anticipate. An inability to generate round pins (a lot less difficult now than at the turn of the 20th century) has lasting implications.

Also interesting:

For reasons unknown, though, Hubbell altered his design in 1912. The two blades were no longer in a line; each blade was twisted 90° to form the familiar parallel arrangement we see to this day.

In other words, perhaps sometimes there is no divine inspiration behind the design of a thing, and that decisions are made arbitrarily (or seemingly so). These decisions can still have a lasting impact, however, as numerous forum posts on how to rotate an outlet 90 degrees suggests.

Human designed objects are often made to solve an immediate problem, but with little ability to predict the impact or implications of the decisions we’re making on the future. We do the best we can now, taking into account our knowledge of market forces and aesthetics, but there’s no telling how a future generation might look back on these limitations as quaint and arbitrary. And yet, it’s more important than ever to understand why these decisions were made so that we can go back and re-evaluate their validity, and assess whether they’re still necessary, or no longer relevant.


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

Expanding on Making Custom Game Platforms and Badges

Last week I gave a talk at CrowdSupply’s Teardown Conference that expanded on the Thotcon 0x9 and 0x8 game platform work that my creative partner, Rudy Ristich, and I have been working on together for the last couple years. As a design talk, it focused on the affordances of developing interconnected, embedded game systems. It also expanded on my ideas of where I hope some games (particularly, computer games), and game developers, move toward in the near future with developing custom platform hardware. I wanted to expand on a few of the ideas briefly here:

As I stated in my talk, custom platform hardware has the potential to change how game designers make games, and how players experience games, by giving both groups newfound ways to interact and communicate with each other. By no longer having game experiences mediated through consoles under tight control of large corporations, game developers could have the ability to express themselves in ways that have been, up until now, limited by things like market demands, terms of service, and guidelines on allowed speech.

While we currently see some of this in showcases like GDC’s alt-ctrl, the games represented here are kitschy at best: one-off experiences tenuously wired together with prototyping platforms that are not meant for broader consumption. This brings me to my second point, which is that in order to represent a true change in the gaming landscape, custom game platforms must have the ability to be more accessible and affordable. This is, in essence, an issue of scale.

Up until recently, scale challenges have plagued the development of game platforms (and other hardware platforms) due to the cost of expertise (engineering time) and rapid advances in technology. For anyone breaking into the hardware market, a substantial amount of capital is necessary to prototype, test, and ultimately manufacture a mass-quantity of product.

Yet hardware continues to become more accessible through prototyping platforms like the Arduino, ESP8266, and other microcontroller devices. This makes engineering expertise less necessary and costly. Furthermore, as Moore’s Law slows and the cost of components continues to drive downward, more advanced, inexpensive technology is being made accessible to developers.

The Thotcon 0x8 and 0x9 badges are a great example of this. Badges for both conferences cost under $30/unit to fabricate, and were manufactured at a scale of 1,500 and up — fairly inexpensive and large scale for a custom game platform. The games were initially prototyped on an Arduino and ESP8266, respectively, and subsequent test units were created at a minimal cost. Conceivably, this kind of operation could be scaled up with additional units, and cost (per unit) could be driven down as a result, creating a template one could follow for mass-manufacturing custom game platforms.

Additionally, the game on the 0x8 badge in particular represented a dramatic shift from traditional game consoles. Instead of using a screen, it used four RGB LEDs, and instead of using a traditional game input (a d-pad and buttons), it used three potentiometers to control directionality. Conference-goers have commented on the playful, toy-like experience that the interactions driven by these simple inputs and outputs created. As an aside, I think this has a lot to do with the fact that the badge didn’t have an LCD screen on it, therefore didn’t resemble a game experience they’d seen before, and therefore eliminated the baggage of expectations set by prior experiences.

The shift in accessibility for developing custom game platforms, as well as doing so at cost, portends a possible shift where more people will not only have the ability to create, but to distribute, large quantities of their own devices. What that possibly looks like could take many forms, but my own personal preference would be a device dramatically divergent from what’s currently on the market. Perhaps something that requires less of our senses and breaks down the walls that video games have erected to shut us off from the external world while we retreat into our screens. Computer game platforms can be devices that exist more harmoniously in an integrated environment.

Anyway, a future in games where we have the control to make and edit not only the software, but the hardware, that our work is mediated through is interesting. If you’d like to watch what else I have to say about this, check out my Teardown talk.


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

Sierra Club Trip Proposal

Some of you may know that I have been training to become a Sierra Club trip leader over the past ~6 months. A Sierra Club trip leader role is exactly what it sounds like: someone who volunteers with the non-profit to take people into the wilderness. I have to plan the multi-day backpacking trip, the food, the safety plan… the whole thing. It’s really a fun process; something I’ve been doing for a long time informally with friends, but am happy to do for such a good cause and non-profit like the Sierra Club.

Anyway, part of the leadership training process is putting together a trip proposal. Most of these proposals (like the trips I traditionally go on) are backpacking trips. After all, John Muir himself (the founder of the Sierra Club) was an avid hiker and camper. Some of my best memories are being on backpacking trips, and yet…

I’ve always enjoyed water. I was a competitive swimmer for over a decade. Have been a kayaker for longer than that. Sleeping by the water, hiking along it, fly fishing in it, relaxing beside it… all of these things hold special places in my memories. It brings me peace that I have difficulty finding in other places.

And so, for my first Sierra Club trip proposal, I decided to buck convention. I’m not planning a backpacking trip, but a canoeing trip along the only undammed river off the Lake Michigan watershed: the Perre Marquette.

The trip should run in 2019 (if I complete my training to satisfaction, and if everything goes well). I’ll be taking around 10 folks along with me during the river’s salmon run for almost a week of fishing, canoeing, and day hikes. The trip really promises to be something pretty special, I hope, and will show people the dramatic negative effects that dams have on our wildlife.

In preparation for the trip, however, I need to do some scouting. To that end, I plan on taking a small group of friends on an exploratory expedition this Summer. This will be a good opportunity to become familiar with the waters, fishing holes, and beaches. It’ll also be a good opportunity to take some friends of mine who’ve never been on this kind of trip along and learn with and from them. A few people have already committed themselves to joining me, but if you’re up for a fun expedition in June of this Summer, and can afford to take about a week off meandering the rivers of Michigan (or if  you’re interested in staying informed about the 2019 trip) drop  me a line.


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

Progress

File this under: demand generating more demand. Our consumption of things only necessitates further consumption. The system requires it:

Twenty years later, and electricity suppliers faced a problem: there were pronounced peaks and valleys in the demand for their electricity. Electrical consumption rose slightly in the early morning, fell to almost nothing during the day, and then peaked again as it got dark in the evening.

However, to meet morning and evening demand, suppliers had to continue generating at peak level output throughout the day. Big power stations can’t be adjusted up or down from hour to hour, and storing the quantities of energy they generate wasn’t (and generally still isn’t) practical or economical. Thus, a way to increase demand outside of peak hours was needed, and electrical appliances proved successful at doing just that. If you can’t, or don’t wish to, cut back production, then try to manufacture demand—the story of the twentieth century?

In the early 1900s, AEG (now known as the house-hold appliances manufacturer AEG-Electrolux) was primarily a generator of electricity. In 1907 Peter Behrens, perhaps the first industrial designer, was hired as a consultant to find ways to increase demand for electricity during the day. His solution? The first electric kettle, developed for AEG and produced in 1909. That year is also considered by those in the know to be when the first commercially successful electric toaster was launched by the Edison General Electric Company, the model D-12.

from Thwaites, Thomas. The Toaster Project: Or A Heroic Attempt to Build a Simple Electric Appliance from Scratch

The implications for this can be seen all around. Accumulate too much stuff? Get a bigger house. Can’t afford the bigger house you want? Work more to generate more widgets to accumulate wealth to buy a bigger house. Bigger… more! Progress. At some point, we’ll have to understand that the progress we perceive is not progress at all; that consumption is not progress. Progress comes from within. It comes from leading an examined life.

The Toaster Project really is an excellent read. I’d highly recommend it to anyone interested in the current state of manufactured things.


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

DePaul Consulting Group

The DePaul Consulting Group is working on their first project! I’m happy to say that I’ll be advising the group along with DePaul professors Terry Steinbach and Nate Matteson, and that the Idea Realization Lab will be the new home for the group, where they’ll have an office in our former “breakout room.” Yesterday, Jake Juracka from the group came down to Spacelab to work with Rudy Ristich (Workshop 88) and I on getting the ESP8266 boards we’re using for the project. Jake learned to solder and breadboard circuits, and we also got a dogs102 screen working with the ESP8266 using the u8glib2 library for Arduino.

If you’re looking for a group of very talented students to help you on your next corporate project, please reach out!

 

 


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

Buy STEM Learning Kits by Margalus, LLC

Margalus, LLC’s first electronics learning kits are being released today both online and at the first ever Naperville School District maker event! Sarah and I have done a lot of work and research on these over the past year, and are happy to present the first batch of STEM Standards kits: “DIY Electromagnets.”

Each kit includes a set of NGSS Learning Standards aligned with maker centered concepts (copyrighted!), instructions, and tools for educators to incorporate learning into their classroom. If you’re interested in checking one out, you can get them on our store.

And if you’re interested in hiring out our company for consulting and development work, visit our website.


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

Instead of declaring victory, leaders of successful efforts use the credibility afforded by short-term wins to tackle even bigger problems. They go after systems and structures that are not consistent with the transformation vision and have not been confronted before. They pay great attention to who is promoted, who is hired, and how people are developed. They include new reengineering projects that are even bigger in scope than the initial ones. They understand that renewal efforts take not months but years.


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus