The frustration of knowing something is not working

So apparently last night my Mac didn’t die; it’s just that the blinds were moving so slowly that the AJAX frontend thought the installation was not running.

But right now something really isn’t right: The last status message the web backend received was from 4:32pm. That was when I headed out to Active Surplus to buy some pulleys (which I never got to try installing because my professor was using the room when I came back. Sigh).

So, judging from that timestamp, I most likely had just forgotten to restart the python script. Or maybe the Mac really overheated this time, since the ssh process seems nowhere to be found either…

Virtual vs physical experience

(The live web page with the real installation in the background)

So I have been standing here, outside 240, filming the installation for the past half hour, and I just want to say that ths experience is entirely different from the experience I had inside, let alone the virtual experience on our web site.

The tweaked installation runs incredibly slow, almost imperceptibly slow. On the site that would be unbearable, but outside, on the actual official viewing spot, it is calming.

Well, the site is not even working. My old Mac must have overheated… Sigh…

The biggest hindrance to making progress in our project

Our professor was suggesting that we could document our experience of having a geographically separated team designing our gizmo for our installation. But I have this feeling that our biggest problem isn’t really our geography, it’s the simple lack of access.

Our biggest progress was made approximately during the last one and a half weeks, yet we saw several days where Angela was in town but we could not do any work on our installation either because the room was in use all day, or simply because the office separating the elevator lobby and our classroom was locked and no one was available to open that door for us. We literally wasted at least four days because we physically could not get into our own classroom (in a building we were told would have access 24 hours a day, 365 days a year).

It’s not the remote aspect; it’s the “last mile”—or, in our case, literally, the last inch (that is, the thickness of a locked door).

So I could not even mount a set of information panels I freshly made yesterday because when I got back (from the cold, outside, in Butterfield Park, because students in our program apparently have no access to proper, ventilated studio spaces, and for obvious reasons I was not going to use rubber cement or spray fixative in the only studio space I actually have access to—I don’t want to literally blow up the studio we all love) the door was already locked.

In hindsight, during our group meeting yesterday we could have easily defended our (unreasonable, I admit) slowness—we could not make any progress not because Angela was not in town, nor because I could not understand her code until I got my own Arduino, nor because of the steep learning curve of figuring out how to drive the stepper, nor even because the wheel was slipping and we could not make it not slip; we could not make progress simply because we could not get into the classroom to work on the installation.

This has to be the stupidest reason ever why work could not be done, but it’s true, and it’s sad. And it has absolutely nothing to do with us allegedly treating this “real-world commitment” as mere “schoolwork.”

And I fear this will repeat in our next installation, because 49 is another space we simply cannot get in.

The third point

Yesterday I finally remembered. I was talking to the professor a few days ago and thought there was a third point that I forgot, and indeed, there was a third point that I forgot.

So here it is: We keep talking about agile, but agile values “working code.” And one way people doing agile keep their code working was to use TDD (test driven development) or BDD (behaviour driven development) techniques. They iterate quickly, but they don’t iterate in a vaccuum. Before they code, they write the test first. (Or at least that’s my understanding after taking that Coursera course.) To do agile, we have to first have our success criteria—a fluid set that changes over time, of course—set down.

Success criteria, however, are sorely missing in our case: We just don’t have them. We know something is wrong, but we haven’t really defined what we mean by right. So no matter how short our iterations are, we still can’t be doing agile; if there’s a word for what we’re trying to do, we can probably call it hacking.

And yes, this came out of that project too.

Looks like UEB is more semantic than Unicode

Unified English Braille distinguishes between many things that Unicode doesn’t distinguish. For example, UEB distinguishes between the seconds (of an angle) sign, the inch sign, and the double prime, whereas Unicode use the double prime for all three.

How, then, can an automatic translator from Unicode to UEB be designed? Wouldn’t this require artificial intelligence?

iPads not as usable as first thought

Ever since I found out that it’s impractical to read PDF files on a laptop on the train, I have been thinking that’s the use of tablets and smart phones. So I tried taking a tablet and see how well it would work out.

In short, it works, but not too great.

To make it clear, the reading part was absolutely fine. I was able to read at the bus stop, on the bus, and on the train. No problem at all. The problems were with the highlighting.

I couldn’t highlight individual words. When I tried highlighting phrases, the highlighting would often spill over to neighbouring words too (often starting from the left edge of the page). Perhaps it’s an Adobe Reader problem, but the highlighting was extremely imprecise.

The bigger problem, however, was when I took the train back home after the Tyler Bruler lecture: When there’s not a lot of space around you, the sleeve of your jacket would often be the thing that touches the screen. It was very difficult to click (often the screen would zoom in instead). It was even more difficult to highlight (even if I managed to highlight something as soon as my sleeve touched the screen the highlighting would go completely berserk. I had to be so careful touching the screen that even the trackpad on a laptop was easier to use.

So, if even someone wearing a winter jacket had so much difficulty using a tablet, I can’t imagine touch screens being the solution to all problems.

Back from AFT, and the TTC related quads

Just back from a talk on the history of stained glass that was held at AFT’s North York campus—I was surprised the walk back home took just about 20–25 minutes or so. Obviously, I wouldn’t have understood everything. (Actually I doubt I would have understood everything even if the talk were in English.) But then I went there really mainly as a useful kind of distraction, or inspiration… something like that.

It’s ironic: Back when I was actually an AFT student I would never go to these talks because they would always clash with my classes. (And the one time my teacher actually decided to have the whole class go to a presentation on translation I missed class because I was too tired after returning from AIGA Pivot and fell asleep.) Now that I’m not an AFT student, I’m starting to go to these talks—at least to those that are art related.

I probably only got 50% out of the talk, maybe less, which is, I guess, a good way to remind me that language is a real barrier. But I would really be skeptical if someone went to me and told me that a machine of some sort would solve this language problem.

But the other thing, too, was about my being 10 minutes late. As it turned out, since my walk back home only took 20–25 minutes, my walk there should also have taken just 20–25 minutes, which means that had I not trusted in TTC’s NVAS system, I would probably have gotten there on time. The NVAS, essentially, is worse than useless. GPS can’t solve reliability issues. No one is working on those NVAS related quads, but this means that if anyone actually worked on those quads the final design artefact would be pretty much just as useless as NVAS itself…

Design and research

Both the AIGA and the RGD were holding webinars today—at exactly the same time—, and since the RGD one seems to be directly related to my studies, I opted to go to the RGD one.

What I got out of this: I have seriously underestimated the amount of work I need to do to finish this week’s assignment. Not that I wasn’t aware of that yesterday when I went to the library to do a good read of the course material, but if there is no established database and no established list of design journals in existence, then I’m pretty much screwed unless I started last Thursday, which I did not.

Or unless the bibliography I should come up with would appear in a journal in a “related discipline,” which again is not going to be the case.

I don’t know what I’ll be able to come up with, but whatever I manage to do will, as it stands, not be very good.

Design and social change

I went to the “Navigating the World of Design (w/ Zahra Ebrahim)” forum today, without really knowing what it was before I went. So it was a really good discussion (not really a “presentation” in the usual sense of the word), and Zahra turned out to be really friendly and approachable. Too bad I have never been good at coming up with good questions to ask.

But in any case, the career related stuff aside, two things really struck me: how much her vocabulary overlaps our program’s (“disability” and “social impact” in particular, and probably a couple more, but I bet she’s unknown in our class), and her assessment on the state of graphic design.

A few days ago—in fact last week after that class that “accidentally” happened—Brandon was talking about graphic design being “dead.” I was not convinced. But today Zahra also mentioned the fact that traditional design firms—even large firms—are failing, and this is something I was not aware of. Her conclusion—if I am not mistaken—the value of designers is in design thinking and our process. (Ok, am I allowed to say “our”?)

Which is exactly what AIGA has been saying for the past two years. (And Ric Grefe calls it “craft.”)

So, there, perhaps this is why we have such divergent views: Brandon views graphic design as print; print is “dead” (or so they claim) and so graphic design is “dead.” But I view graphic design as more than print: My idea of graphic design includes print, web design, environmental grapic design, and video, and I was never convinced that graphic design is “dead” because even though people might argue that print is dying, web design, EGD, and video are obviously not dead.

But the essential question remains: Can I say I “get” the process? Can I say I “get” design thinking? I really don’t know but I suspect I might not like the answer.

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