Saturday June 22, 2013

Research Design

Shortly after the Lit review I had the second assignment for Research Methods to do. It sort of crept up on me, and I wound up doing most of it the weekend before it was due. It's probably not as academic as it was supposed to be. It was supposed to detail research paradigms and methodologies and make references and all of that stuff that I suppose academic institutions expect. I gave a brief mention to that and talked about the things I hoped to achieve over the next few months. We were supposed to talk about that too. While I can understand how research paradigms are applicable to academic study, especially more stablished fields, I find a lot of that stuff highly distracting and much of it pointless. I really don't care if that's not the view I'm supposed to hold. I could have chosen from a bunch of vague and overlapping-but-for-some-mild-distinction methodologies and shoehorned my research in. Categorising my methods, instead of just doing. Yes it's great that you can categorise what you are doing and analyse it and work out if it's valid and how it fits into some overall epistemology blah blah blah... But it stops me from just doing. It's a distraction. I will of course have to give it more attention in the final exegesis and I better start that now really. But I was knee-deep in learning the fundamentals of JavaScript and Python when once again I had to drop it for an essay. I got thoroughly sick of that in the undergraduate years. I received the advice from a research supervisor (who wont be there next semester anyway, I have to find a new one) when speaking of how I had to go back and learn some stuff before I could build an app, the advice was just produce something. I've always been a bit annoyed by that ethos in some sectors of the BCT. Just make something. Don't learn how to do anything properly first, a bit of cardboard and tape and a nice conceptual statement to justify the useless crap you've made will suffice. Not for me. If I want to make a thing that actually works I'll need to learn some skills first.

A classmate in research methods who is actually a tutor of web development in Media Design School has lent me a couple of books, one a reference book on Javascript and another on JQuery. I've done the complete Code Academy course on Javascript under his advice and have started the Python one too. The JavaScript one did fill in a few gaps in knowledge that I had. I had either forgotten something, never learnt it or it didn't exist when I first learnt Javascript. Literal notation and some stuff around it - including stuff about objects mainly. Of course I better get to and use this knowledge in practice outside of the tutorials.

Python though... I'm not far into it because Code Academy seems to be having server issues. It times out every single time I submit my code, and now I have to copy and paste it a second time. this has slowed my progress and made me do anything but use the site. To make it worse, I don't think I like Python much. It uses white space as part of it's syntax. What the hell. How was that ever thought to be a good idea. It has a reserved word called elif as if there was something wrong with every other language's elseif. It insists Boolean's be capitalised. There were a couple of other things, I'm only on the basics atm but the white space thing bothers me. I guess in some ways it forces the programmer to write neat readable code, and that might be the motivation. But it seems wrong to me to put meaning into spaces. Code Academy's timeouts with that though make it unbearable to learn.

I started tonight to look into CakePHP, a MVC framework that uses PHP (obviously). I'm more familiar with PHP though there are small things about that language that also irk me, namely that it seems to have an unending number of functions and some of them seem too similar to be worth their own existence. But I will muck around with that too a little bit.

Fed up with Python and being a bit skittish at the moment I decided to look at Ruby too. It's always been a mystery but it suddenly looks enticing. It seems to share an equal footing with the much acclaimed python, has a highly regarded framework called rails, and the very first thing I've read about it is that it's very "nice". Also it would demystify Jeff Atwood's latest project, Discourse, which is written in Ruby. I'm interested to see how that will work out. Also the server doesn't appear to time out on the Ruby lessons.

So I'm mucking around with lots of things to see what gets traction the fastest. According to the timetable that I submitted as part of my Research Design project I should now be working on developing that first app that I started a few weeks ago and then dropped in order to learn the basics again. I really just want to learn frameworks etc but I will adhere to my timetable I suppose. I will also squeeze in the learning.

I really wish I didn't have to work, it doesn't just suck the time that I'm actually at work it just kind of sucks all the tim around it too because it's kind of taxing. And my body decided a couple of months ago that it will not cooperate with me on sleeping at the right time.

My literature review got me a B+ which I was happy with considering that I had miscalculated how much time I had for it (due to the way iCal displays a week that is intersected by 2 adjacent months, making it appear as 2 weeks) and wound up rushing it in the last week. I don't believe I will do so well this time but I simply don't care. I doubt I'll fail so a pass will carry me over acceptably.

Oh yes, and now it turns out that my elective for next semester has been cancelled. There was a dearth of acceptable/interesting electives in the first place so I don't know what I'll do there.

    Saturday May 18, 2013


The degree finished, we graduated, we partied and I've kept in contact with a few friends thankfully. Over the break I worked on a few websites, one for a friend and I updated my own one keeping in with the design that an original collaborator wanted for it yet still using webstandards. I'd improve it but I think content is more of the issue there. But the domain is mine and may as well stay that way. I also edited a film for a friend that I shot in November. I think I also attempted to learn Objective-C again in preparation for the year ahead. I'd been pitched a project last year for postgraduate study, a mobile app for Documentary Edge. That fell through before I got to look at it properly right on the cusp of starting the new academic year which was really helpful. Oh yes, and the last thing I did was move this blog to my own host and in Wordpress. The idea was to merge my portfolio into the same site. It's a work in progress, the site currently looks almost exactly the same as the blogger one and the portfolio has most content uploaded but no real stylesheets or functionality. In time...


Creative Technologies was always an interdisciplinary degree and quite difficult to define to outsiders, and it was supposedly part of no one faculty though it seemed to align itself with Communications and Art and Design. This year it sits under CoLab, a research arm of AUT that is also interdisciplinary. It draws from Communications, Art & Design, Engineering, Maths & Science and Business. The postgraduate students can select research areas that CoLab might be interested in or industry partners might be interested in. This gives you something to study with some purpose, industry gets something out of it and you may get your study funded. Being one of the first students in this new arrangement, I took interest in a possible project that CoLab might want of it's own; a CoLab app. My research question had changed a little bit, I was interested in Native vs Web applications because recently Mozilla has been getting a bit of news time due to releasing a Firefox OS. I suspect this innovation could change things to some degree in the mobile ecosystem. I'm also interested in social applications but had no real formal question that was totally applicable to the project, but I did have a big question that needed answering: Just what is a CoLab app?

It's mid-May. I've been here several weeks and have just completed a literature review. Now I can finally get stuck in to developing something. The general idea is that I'll build a series of mini-single purpose apps to see what sticks and get more ideas. The literature review turned out to be helpful; one piece of literature spoke of a game on a large screen display controlled by mobile phones.

Creative Technologies and Communications moved into a new building this year. WG is purpose-built with a large social area at the bottom and giant displays. I want to use them in an initial app to draw people in. Utility functions of the app can come later. I'm exploring a multi-user mobile/social experience utilising the facilities - namely the large displays - of WG. Before I explore that I have to explore javascript in more detail. I'm rusty. Using a JQuery plugin for touch, I demonstrated an app last week to our small postgraduate group that simply had a ball on the screen that you could move. Unfortunately it wasn't written from scratch and was merely customised from an existing app that demoed the plugin. I had limited time this last week and that was about as far as I got. This week I intend to demonstrate the same thing doing what I originally intended: the ball controls something on an external display connected through the web. I also intend for the code to be written by me or at least intelligently repurposed from something else.

I intend to keep this blog updated from now on, but we'll see how that goes. Postgraduate is better for it's focus. I don't have electives draining my time. Well I have one, but it mostly feeds back into the project. Research Methods. I'll have another one next Semester. I have part time work of 20 hours a week now too, it's in my old profession so it pays well. But it's hard to juggle my time because the work doesn't fall on a weekend, but in the evenings, after Uni. But having enough money to live more healthily is something I've missed.

    Tuesday November 6, 2012

Studio Contextual Statement

This is a long one. I had to post my statement here as well as submit hard copy. The original had references but I've taken them out here.

Coffee Date - Contextual Statement

(Kitchen sink version, 5,760 words)

CoffeeDate was an individual project, as such I conceptualized and executed every facet of the project from beginning to end. I did however take on board suggestions, ideas , thoughts, discussions and input from tutors, friends and classmates. Sometimes incorporating that feedback wholesale or in part to experiments, tests, iterations or even the final outcome of the project. Ideas people gave me ranged from conceptual, theory or even technical or implementation.

Technical Considerations

In order to achieve the application itself, an iPhone app, I needed to learn to create applications in Objective-C and Interface Builder on the Mac. More specifically I needed to learn how to send information to and pull information from a remote server, implement a secure registration process and login process, a chat client, use location services and table views. However the project was not about just creating an an iPhone app and when it became clear that I risked spending a semester learning how to build an incomplete application, I explored the possibility of implementing CoffeeDate as a web application. It turned out that iOS supports web applications quite thoroughly an it was a feasible solution. Along with ease of development, this also bought with it other advantages such as the application being cross-platform, clients always being up to date and not having to submit the application to Apple’s app store.

Creating a web application is not simple either though. I still needed to create the backend, using MySQL and  PHP and then I had to create the pages that would be served up as screens on the mobile phone. While I have some experience in web development, I am not and never have been a web developer. This project required me to learn about SQL and PHP. I wanted to create an interface that was both visually and functionally similar to a native iPhone interface but there are elements that simply do not exist in the web world. For instance, the segmented control on the iPhone has no visual equivalent on the web, though it is functionally similar to radio buttons. Because of this I chose to use radio buttons and style them later with CSS. I created the bare bones HTML of the first registration page and was left with a nagging feeling about styling of the radio buttons. I didn’t want to move on until I knew how it could be done, in case it couldn’t. The search for a method of doing this consumed several hours before my search took me to JQuery Mobile. This was a Javascript framework that abstracted certain workings of a mobile web application development (namely the interface) away from the developer who could then concentrate on developing the actual application. It provided the segmented control with clever use of CSS and Javascript and I was able to move further on.

Essentially the application is built on HTML (5), CSS, Javascript and JQuery Mobile, certain proprietary extensions in mobile Safari (in order to get a splash screen and app icon), PHP 5.3 and MySQL. I used Dreamweaver to code with and MAMP for local testing sever development. I purchased an iPhone3GS to test the site on (This is not the only reason why I purchased it of course, but it certainly helped me to make the decision). With anything I didn’t know, I adopted mostly a “learn as you go policy” aware of the limited time I had available to me. The look of the app and the artwork used in the app icon and splash screen were - and at the time of writing still are - only for proof of ability to execute, and very much subject to change at a later date.

I’ve had to learn a lot about various technologies, but there is a lot of room for improvement. The PHP is messy and could do with being rewritten into classes. It does however currently perform it’s function.

Conceptual Framework


The project has evolved somewhat over the year and different things have interested me at different times, though some things have remained constant. On a purely technical level, I just wanted to build a dynamic and secure website that used a database and had users. Dating websites also interested me in particular because I joined 2 New Zealand sites briefly in early 2009 and what struck me was that for such popular websites they were either ugly or lacked what seemed like rudimentary features. One example is that filters were not reciprocal. So if a user ruled out a specific demographic for example, that didn’t stop that demographic from seeing and bothering that user. Another thing that immediately stuck out to me was that one could find people that they knew on the site and I considered that this might not always be something that a user wanted. I considered that if one could log in using Facebook then the site could automatically hide Facebook friends from each other (and state clearly that that’s all it was going to do). It was this initial experience and that at the time I wanted to move on from my current occupation that first made me consider building an alternative dating website. I felt that I could implement better features and a “nicer” user interface, though my web development skills were basic and as a worker with already did a technical job in a different industry. I didn’t feel up to spending my free time learning more technical skills for something that might never come to fruition. I valued my free time for other and more social pursuits.

Starting this degree enabled me to pursue a range of other skills however. The project became incredibly interesting as I read various articles and forum posts from sources with certain credibility such as, otherwise known as Hacker News. y.combinator is a seed accelerator, it incubates startups, provides advice and investment in return for 6% of the company equity. The forums attract entrepreneurs, programmers and tech pundits. Over the years there has been no shortage of discussion on what makes a good dating website, what the problems are with dating websites and various models they are based on as well and many outside links to other articles and discussions. This was a great starting place and provided me with a huge list of ideas for improvements of a theoretical dating website. I was able to compile a basic list of what seemed like fundamental flaws that prevented dating websites being effective for their users. I presented these in semester 1, but in the interests of completeness, I’m going to summarise my findings here: 

Dating websites reduce people into attributes that will fit into a database. This is the criteria users will search and can be searched on, so it becomes important data even though it’s not really the data one may use in real life. This creates a certain amount of superficiality. Other interesting things that were clarified for me included that sites with their anonymity promote misrepresentation and bad behaviour. Another interesting aspect of the sites were because they were dating focused, they caused users to concentrate on some sort of endgame rather than just talking to people and getting to know them. The experience was terrible for both men and women but for different reasons:

Research in Semester 2

In June 2012  Jon Millward, a self-proclaimed specialist writer published the results of a 4 month experiment called Cupid on Trial. He set up 10 dummy accounts, answered 25 questions the same, used similar sounding user names and wrote the same profile for all the accounts. The only differentiation was the photograph. For that he used 5 males and 5 females that 4 independent judges unanimously agreed on a ranking of attractiveness. He set this test up in 5 different cities in the States and 5 different cities in Britain. He then waited for unsolicited messages. After 4 months the results were stark. Two women had full in boxes (around 500 messages) and received 83% of all the messages. It only took 2 months for their inboxes to fill up so at that rate they could have received twice as many messages. All the women except one had more messages than the most popular man and 3 men sat within a margin of error.  Also interesting was that one in three men who viewed a profile sent a massage, while 1 in 10 women who viewed a profile did the same. While this experiment raises new questions (such as the content of the messages received), it clearly demonstrates that women will get bombarded with messages and they have no hope of filtering them, while males will send messages and can generally look forward to no response. In any case finding a match on a dating website (and OkCupid has a good reputation at least amongst the community of Hacker News) is something of a lottery.

Dating website experiments

Through out semester 1 my research consisted of a lot of reading, mostly non-academic but incredibly useful. In semester 2 I felt that along with reading, I had to be more hands on with my research. This would of course include the thought processes that I seem to have while making something - the mobile app - reading more academic material and experiments of my own. As the second semester started, I joined 3 dating websites. NZDating, FindSomeone and OKCupid. I was hesitant about this for a few reasons. One reason is that I’m not particularly interested in being on a dating website. The whole time I’ve worked on this project, I’ve had to battle with the suspicion that my end goal is to find dates of my own. This project has nothing to do with me, it started before BCT with certain financial motivations and a sense that I could do such a site better (by certain metrics). Then, when it became a project it became an interesting subject. Another reason that I was hesitant is that my own research told me that it could have a potentially negative emotional impact. Even as a researcher, I would be putting myself up on the site, my pictures, my description of me. If I send messages and one in ten get answered, it wont be a nice feeling no matter how detached I am from the process. Also, I didn’t intend to be completely cold - I was not planning on sending messages randomly, but to people that I might actually find something in common with. Last of all, visiting these sites turned up something interesting: I was being matched with friends and acquaintances. I did not particularly like the idea of being visible on a site to people that knew me, and could read my profile. I pushed on but did not send any messages for a while, until a classmate (while getting coffee with them funnily enough) told me that I need to “get amongst it”. So I did.


I was perhaps rather fortunate that the first person I chose to send a message to messaged me back (user name melonpop). We talked a little bit but in the interests of my mobile application that clearly puts focus on meeting people, I kept conversation to a minimum with the hopes of actually meeting the person. The “date”, 2 weeks later was terrible. It wasn’t a date, and in fact I discovered that I had crashed her friend’s “leaving for England” drinks at a sports bar. I had to deal with her incredibly annoying friends. Things also fizzled a little bit when there was the revelation that I was a student (this was clearly stated on my profile) while she expressed some sort of hostility towards higher education. We never met up again.

This left me slightly reflective about any form of online dating, even my own application that was different. However there were a few factors at play. One is that this person had no idea that while I was genuinely interested in meeting her, I was also just performing research for my project, which happens to function very differently from the dating website that I met her through. The basis of my application is meeting people for during small breaks in the day, coffee breaks for example, which is totally different from meeting someone at a bar on a Friday night. The meetings either way would ideally be conducted one on one, and this particular meeting was less than ideal in many ways. The setting cannot be blamed on the website, but the person who chose such a setting in the first place. None the less this single example dampened my enthusiasm for a couple of weeks. A few subsequent messages sent through NZDating were met with no reply and this along with the general seediness of the site itself pushed me further away from wanting my application to be a dating app. The 3 different sites that I joined had different vibes around them and produced different results.

There are other things that I picked up from NZDating. A lot of women end their profiles with statements along the lines of “I don’t want to see your [genitals]!!” or “if you are just after sex, then don’t message me!” A smaller number of women complain about couples contacting them or males continuing to bother them after they haven’t replied and essentially made it clear that they are not interested. I lament that I  haven’t read male profiles to see if there are similar patterns in complaints, though at the time it just seemed slightly weird for me to be checking out male profiles. All of this points to the bad behaviour and that it’s entirely permissible on NZDating. On one hand this makes the site open to all kinds of people, on the other it gives license to people prone to using that freedom to annoy other members. For that reason I imagine that it becomes exceedingly difficult for anybody relatively normal to start a normal conversation with anybody else relatively normal.

I did send more messages to people and would occasionally get responses. I asked one person (user name nix86) who in her profile had hinted that she has had some interesting encounters online on the site, what some of the most interesting messages she had received. I’m not terribly comfortable repeating her top three responses, they were quite extreme. She did however say “And keep in mind that these came from people with relationships profiles, and appeared relatively normal lol.”.


Findsomeone I should say I didn’t get much from because one cannot send messages without paying a monthly subscription fee which I was not willing to do for a number of reasons, quite separate from the study. I’m essentially opposed to financing their site. That said the quality of the experience is somewhat different to NZDating. NZDating feels like a wasteland, it’s like visiting a Las Vegas back road, or closer to home, K Road. Findsomeone by contrast has certain standards. People already in relationships are asked to not join. Pictures are vetted by real staff and the main picture must be a face picture with no sunglasses. The site promotes an image that gold members (those that pay) are actually serious about dating and I suspect that people do buy into that idea despite the unavoidable fact that this serves the site’s bottom line.


My experience with OKCupid was more positive. The site has a relatively functional design and used algorithms to match people based on questions and personality tests that a user could take (voluntary). This in some ways goes toward resolving the problem with shoehorning a person into a database. The design of the site made it feel like a nicer place to be. It seemed to promote a certain standard of interaction without constant intervention from site administrators. I mostly lurked on the site but eventually decided to be more active. I sent and received a few messages (which I made a point of always answering, though perhaps that’s because I’m not receiving an average of 50 messages a day) and inadvertently have made a few online friends/acquaintances, all of whom know that I’m working on a project related to dating websites and a mobile application. I have received some odd messages however. One from a person who claimed to be “looking for love”. In hindsight I probably shot this person down a little bit. I responded to that with “okay...” which was probably dripping with “are you for real?!”.

Development of project

I had started with the intention of creating a new dating website but there were 2 factors that came into play very early on Semester 1. One is that I also wanted to explore mobile application development, more specifically, native iOS development using Objective-C and the Cocoa Touch framework. The other was that I had considered the idea that using location awareness in a mobile phone was somehow appropriate for a dating application. These two ideas worked well together and as I examined the information I had about dating websites I realised it also tied in as a potential solution for many of the problems that my research had raised with dating websites in the first place. A consideration with mobile phones is that information has to be condensed and simplified into a suitable format for their small screens. This was a useful for a dating website because dating websites presented far too much irrelevant data in the hopes that it would make up for the fact that they cannot really capture the essence of a person, even with an algorithmic approach such as OKCupid. As Dan Ariely said (paraphrased), “people are more like wine, and you can’t describe wine with a database”.

Dating websites I had decided collected far too much irrelevant data on a person because that played to the strength of the technology used. But people are not a collection of statistics. I am not my height or weight or eye colour and I imagine that these are not the things that one remembers or even notices about me. I personally have certainly never become interested in a person from data that one could enter into a database about them. Dating websites encourage a user to interact with this data, perform searches on it and when they find someone, to sit behind the computer and talk to another user. This certainly has it’s merits, but it touches on a wider concept that a lot of social networking technology actually sits in between the user and interferes with the social. Dating websites on one hand enable people to meet other people but on the other hand go some way to preventing them from actually meeting. On one hand they enable interactions that probably would otherwise not happen, but on the other hand they shape those interactions unnaturally. By contrast my application didn’t collect much data on a person and it followed that one could not search for data that didn’t exist. The application was about real interaction. My hope was that my application would facilitate interactions between users and then get out of the way.

My experience with dating websites turned me off the idea of CoffeeDate being a seen as dating application. A strength I touted in Semester 1 that it was not a dating website so therefore didn’t have the same stigma associated with it. But this didn’t go far enough in semester 2. I have begun to question how relevant a user’s picture is in the application. Is this a relic of a dating website or does it serve a purpose beyond that of online dating? I personally believe that it does serve a purpose but it should not be a required element, so the application has evolved accordingly. The only information a user is required to enter is a user name, an email and a password. This simply makes their account functional. I will get back to this further on.

I went to Dev World in Melbourne in September. One talk in particular seemed relevant to my application and a general interest of mine. It was called “App UI Usability”.  A lot of what was spoken about already made sense, but there were a few things in the talk that made me re-evaluate the layout of the application. An example was to not crowd a screen with too many form elements. As a result I decided to investigate spreading  the registration from and options across more screens. In the talk it was discussed that users don’t generally like entering information into a mobile phone so forms should populate themselves as much as they possibly can with data that they get from elsewhere on the phone. This is more of a technical problem for me at the moment, though I intend to deal with it once other bugs and problems are fixed.

Another concept I considered but never really got to develop further was the gamification of my application. I wanted to make iterations of the application and find methods to turn meeting people into a game. The idea behind that was to make the app more fun for users and remove certain frustrations if it wasn’t really working out for people. An idea that I’m not entirely familiar with but I started to think about was that games are social and that they bring people together. This could possibly have been used to  further the intentions behind the application in a fun way. I did not develop this idea at all because actual application development consumed the time I needed to try this out.

More experiments

I set up an experiment where people in the BCT could sign up to have coffee with a random person that they have never spoken to who is also in the BCT. While there are certain flaws in the experiments, such as everyone in the degree at least has the degree in common, I wanted to find out what people made of the concept, and the people of BCT were the most available to me in the time frame that I had. Participants had to write their name on a slip of paper and one interesting thing about them as a conversation starter. This mirrored the “about me” box in the current iteration of the application. Incidentally there is a tight character limit in the “about me” box in the app. It’s meant to be sort of line a one liner to start conversation or be a signature of some sort. The slip of paper also had space to enter what year a participant was in so that when I matched up the names, I mixed people from different years up to ensure that they didn’t know each other. Otherwise the matching was random. They put this paper in a box and at certain times I’d take names out and pin them up in pairs. There was then another form that they were to fill out, asking them question about the experience. I was not entirely sure what I wanted to know specifically at this point but I thought some preliminary research might help me find that out. The questions were as follows:

  • What was the experience of having coffee with someone you (probably) don’t know like?
  • Would you do this again (have coffee with a random person)? 
  • Do you think you’d ever use a smart phone app whose sole purpose was to meet new people for a coffee break?
  • Describe what you were expecting before you entered in to this, was it different and how?
  • Do you think you might have made a new friend/acquaintance you might not have otherwise made? Why?
  • Anything else to add?

I posted about it a few times in the BCT Facebook group and on the white board at the entrance, pointing to the box and a small A4 poster that I had made. My concern was getting participation and this turned out to be well founded. While the idea seemed like a popular one but it wasn’t a particularly high priority for students concerned with getting their work done in the second half of the semester. This experiment might have fared a little bit better in the first half of the semester, had I considered it at that time. Around 16 people signed up, but only 2 pairs actually met up and had coffee, and only one of those pairs filled out the form. The second coffee date actually happened at a bar in front of a crowd of us celebrating the last day of Studio, and while it was interesting to watch, it was not really representative of the intention of the experiment or the application The feedback I received from the pair that did do the experiment properly was positive however. They enjoyed talking to someone new and both believed that an application facilitating such a thing had its place.

Another thing was happening around the time that the experiment was taking place. I was building the actual location awareness and table view of other users at the time (the registration and authentication parts took a disproportionate amount of time) and as mentioned I was also discovering how much I dislike dating websites, particularly NZDating. The experience was best described as seedy. I started wanting to distance myself and my application further away from a dating focus. I had already done this a little bit at the binning of semester 2. I removed sexual orientation from the application and I had been considering whether the preference of displaying males or females only was in line with an application that was not focused on dating, though I kept it in for the meantime, partially because I wanted solve it as a programming problem. As I mentioned, adding photos serves a purpose, but I have been considering what it’s removal would do to the application, and how one could adequately replace photos with something else. Being able to add photos in easily from a mobile web application has in fact only been possible with the advent of iOS6. Previously web applications have not had access to the Camera. I’m not yet certain about Android or other mobile operating systems, but there would need to be a way around it, and it would probably require a clunky work around such as having to set up certain parts of an account from a desktop web browser, though this could also work in one’s favour if the application was to become more complex after all.

In some ways I felt that I had come full circle in my Studio. I had spend about 5 weeks in the first semester floundering around with a project that would have something to do with social networking and meeting new people in a way that current social networking websites cannot. I had moved into dating websites because I had a side project and it seemed to be a lot more interesting to me and had some thing that I could actually get stuck into technically. Now I found myself building a mobile application focused solely on meeting people.

The name of the application has been a point of discussion and contention amongst tutors, peers and it is something I have personally thought about a lot. In Semester 1, I wanted to position the application as something that was about meeting people but surreptitiously giving a wink to it’s dating potential. This led to discussion about what the application was actually about. Was it an innocent way to meet people or was it a dating app? What kind of message was a I giving? Perhaps the message was too mixed for the app to find success. My feeling on the subject was that it’s dating potential is what would sell the app but the pretence of just meeting people is what would make it popular and useful. On reflection I think the imagery that I used was possibly too overt even for that positioning of the application. As I’ve moved away from targeting it as a dating application I have considered a name change. None of the names have been as satisfying as CoffeeDate, and after discussions with various people finding opinions and my own thoughts, I’ve decided that CoffeeDate is a generic term for meeting up with someone for coffee, and it’s dating connotations are only as strong as the imagery surrounding the words let it be. CoffeeDate has a nice ring to it, and it’s up to me to come up with good artwork and layout along with a good description of what the application is about.


I’ve been asked why coffee had to be part of the name. The short answer is that getting coffee with someone is a social thing. In the work place I’d occasionally find time to meet up with friends nearby for coffee and it was really just a catch up as well as a break where we got to drink coffee. The coffee and the social meet was a double shot pick-me-up before heading back to work. In the BCT it slowly became tradition amongst friends to go and get a coffee together. We’d usually go in pairs, and it was as much about getting some fresh air, spending some time together and discussing whatever was on our minds as it was about getting an actual coffee. It’s almost like a modern-day cigarette break in a few ways. It’s social. It’s a drug that picks you up and some would consider it a vice. It involves leaving the premises and getting outside. Last of all it can get expensive. It is rather a lot healthier though. The word date is used in Lunch Date and Dinner date. Using the modifier changes the meaning of the word from being about dating to being about a more innocent social or business meeting between friends, acquaintances, business partners, clients or even strangers. A Coffee Date is short and informal and simply means that 2 people are meeting at a certain time on a certain date.

I came across the name Sherry Turkle early in the year must have thought it was relevant to something for I discovered her name typed into my iPhone Notes application but I don’t remember when I did that. I heard her name again in a seminar on mobile technology in education, and some of her books sounded interesting. Her latest book “Alone Together” sounded like it was incredibly relevant to my work and my own personal interest in social technology, so I borrowed a copy of the book and have been reading it. A quote from early on in the book resonates with my own feeling on social networking, mobile technology and even dating websites and what it all has become:

These days, insecure in our relationships and anxious about intimacy, we look to technology for ways to be in relationships and protect ourselves from them at the same time

Social technology has a dark side, much of it seems like unintended side effects of a utopian vision where technology actually connects us and some of it perhaps as a result of our capitalist system and our consumerist bent. We’ve become more connected with each other through computer and mobile networks, our laptops and our smartphones and our tablets. We can keep in touch with more people from further away then ever before, and we can do so instantly. We can gain insights to each other’s current events and thoughts through status updates, photos, instant messages, email and gain context with technologies like geo-tagging. Despite all of this more and more people are acknowledging that the very technologies that connect us over their wireless networks are disconnecting us in the real world. Facebook can put one in reach of an old high school friend yet it also winds up replacing real meetings with closer friends because it’s more convenient. This is not a new phenomenon, but it’s prevalence has become more obvious with new technologies. Dating websites with their messaging systems lock many unwitting people into an endless message cycle. People are more comfortable replacing real life interactions with interactions that they can control in time, but at the cost of not actually connecting with people in real life. Text messaging keeps people at arms length, and we can control when and how we will respond and as a result are sometimes afraid of real conversation. We’re more connected but less connected. Text messages with their small character limit  also point to another phenomenon that is deeply related to our disengagement with real people. We are being more distracted. More and more people look to their smartphones for a new distraction. A new text message, email, Facebook message, status update, tweet and the list goes on. We’re unable to pay attention to one thing for long enough to be properly engaged. Our minds are always elsewhere. We can’t even have real conversations with people because we are busy checking our phones. We can’t read a book or even an article online without flicking to another tab for a new distraction. Social technology has given rise to a population with a low attention span and a certain anxiousness about being alone yet afraid of any kind of real intimacy.

It was my aim for this project to use technology where it is useful, to enable real life connections to be created, but then to step out of the way completely, rather than replace those interactions. It started out as an answer to traditional dating websites, but it has a place in a wider context. I wonder what the role of a dating website actually is, as it seems to leapfrog over the process of just meeting people and straight into meeting a partner. My feeling that the largest problem with dating websites was that it reduced people to figures that fit into a database completely skipping the substance of a person, and aiding a new kind of superficiality as people were searched upon by that criteria proves not to be to biggest problem with dating websites. Well, it is for the sites themselves, but the biggest problem by far is that dating websites promote the endgame. They want to short out the process of just talking to people, making friends, being social and the entire journey. Yet it’s the journey that is the fun part.

    Sunday October 28, 2012

Final Comp - Mish

Mish waveform

This is sort of doubling as a contextual statement for my tutor. Yes, I know it's not good form to talk about time constraints and other projects, but that's the brick wall of reality and it gets on my nerves an awful lot, in fact it's the overriding theme to everything about uni life, so why can't I talk about it?

My composition had several different ideas that on their own could have been the basis of their own possibly more successful compositions of perhaps a slightly more conventional nature, but these are avenues I might explore later when time is not a serious constraint.

I didn't want to throw away ideas - though I did chuck a couple out. I even wound up with a couple of iterations of the final piece. There were more but I didn't start saving them as separate pieces until quite late in the development of this composition, the ones I have saved are really rather similar comparatively speaking. So anyway, I attempted to find away to mix all of these different ideas together. I suspect that exporting each track out of Ableton Live and importing them into Soundtrack Pro or Audition might have enabled a better arrangement. I would perhaps like to have tried that, but I've already gotten too carried away and used days that I wanted to devote to my Studio Project. Also I'm not completely convinced it would have resulted in something significantly better, though I would have tried it under different circumstances. Of course under different circumstances I'd probably just have split the composition up into several different pieces and build around each piece with new material.

At first I felt my library of recordings was a bit bare, but then I made the very deliberate decision (as opposed to just taking the path of least resistance, though that was helpful) of just using what I had so that I could be more minimalist and creative. Even with the minimal material that I have, the resulting piece is very busy. It as busier at points. One can open up a huge sonic world with just the sparsest materials. This of course is obvious if one thinks about it and it relates to everything creative. The most elaborate pieces in any art can consist of few materials or media. Likewise, too many tools can overwhelm and give one too much choice. Ableton Live did that; on my way to creating one thing I'd be struck by something else instead.

The piece could still do with a lot of development. There are elements that do not really add a great deal to the piece and one element in particular is mostly an a single control on an effect. But I liked it and didn't want to remove it. But the more I heard it the more it just sounded like additional clutter and something that had been tacked on by a person discovering knobs and sliders, which I guess is kind of what it was. But I wanted to keep it and perhaps incorporate it better. It also makes the spectral view (from Audition) look interesting. That's the picture above.

I created the piece though headphones and then connected my mac to my stereo, a Sony rack system that is about 15 years old with 125W floor-standing speakers (I replaced the the original 100W cones last year as they fell apart) and 40W sub. I put each track though compressors and EQ carving out their own spots in the mix in an attempt to stop the mix from sounding muddy and bring out a couple of tracks that were getting lost at times. I realised some of the reverse dings that I sequenced with midi don't really work. They were completely out of place. I had already deleted a couple of tracks, so these ones I just turned down in most of the mix. They were the first tracks I created when I started composing the mix, it felt wrong to get rid of them entirely. I wasn't entirely sure about compression settings so I used some of the presets that Live comes with, listening to them to see which sounds better. To listen to the mix through the stereo, if I want to sit directly in front of the speakers, I have to sit on my bed with the mac, which means I'm stuck with only a trackpad. So I didn't really want to delve to deeply into compression settings, I find the trackpad clunky for precision work. I might re-arrange this room at some point. Or buy some monitor speakers -I've always wanted some, and and this project might have helped to kick off my Live journey. I then put a final compressor on the master track. All of this compression and EQ boosted up the mix a lot and I wound up turning down some of the screeches, but overall it made the thing sound better. It also made some of the faults a bit more apparent, like the looped watery sound which actually started life off as a very quiet recording of my room and the ambient noise of cars going past on the motorway nearby.

I've been naming all previous work as "Experiment" and a number sequence. When I named this piece, because it had no particular theme that I was creating it to (it just had to sound interesting), I started thinking up names that were descriptive of certain qualities, mainly the messy arrangement. I kept choosing names that do it no favours such as "Sonic Mess" and "What the hell". The name of the final piece is sort of along the same lines though not as obviously bad: Mish. As in Mish Mash. Also I suppose as in Mission, which is what it started to become. I'd still be working on it right now if I didn't feel that I really need to move on to the next thing now.

So what I set out to create was something interesting. Something that would not leave the listener waiting for it to just end. I wanted create something with rich sonic qualities... I'm not sure I really created what I set out to. It feels unfinished and undeveloped.  It feels like the idea pad for several other things. If feels like some ideas need to be scrapped or changed significantly. That perhaps certain elements get too much time. That some elements are in the wrong "song".

And because of all that... I'm starting to like it.

Listen Music Files - Listen Audio Files -

    Saturday October 27, 2012


I haven't mentioned what's going on in my head when making my sonic soundscapes. So lets talk about some music I like and how that affects what I am doing for my Emerging Practices composition.

Well I have a range of different likes within music, some probably representative of my age and background, though lets set the record straight here. When I say that I mean stuff that that anyone would like, y'know, like the 60s and 70s greats, Doors, Jimi Hendrix blah blah... Not um... I dunno what do people my age with no taste like? Limp Biscuit probably. Yeah nah.

But that's not influencing me much here really. Nor is funky party music, nor is the deep warm sound of analog recordings of the 70s (Split Enz Mental Notes had some of that). Nor is... I dunno....

I've always liked what I used to call as a kid "soundy" music. So the 80s was good for that with all the synths etc.

A favourite artist of mine was/is The The, here is an example of a later album of his (sort of one guy):

But in the late 90s and early 2000s, we had progressive house and trance, one of my favourite albums that I still listen to on occasion, had cranked up in the Studio (through headphones) was the Northern Exposure 2 album:

I used to frequent gigs put on by a couple of friends Tom and "Snitch", Analog which was "tech house". Like a lot of dance music genres, that name has been evolved to a bunch of slightly different genres so it's hard to pinpoint what I mean when I say tech house. Whatever Snitch plays when he isn't playing Breaks. A little bit later there were was Breaks, and the Breakers Delight nights, but that is a bit different. I first heard Breaks at a trance gig and was wide eyed about it all (though that might not have been just the music actually).

Recently a friend of mine who I kind of met through that whole scene put on one of her favourite musical outfits one night while I was over and we listened to it in the background the entire night. It was Coil. I knew about Coil and my friends like of them for the whole 10 or so years I've known her but I'd never actually heard complete examples of their work until recently - specifically that one night, she had an unreleased, alts and demos album on. A track in particular that stuck in my head was called Elves.

Now when I put my mix up you can marvel at how it sounds nothing like nothing like any of the examples here and say to yourself "wtf?".

But perhaps this gives some idea as to where I'm coming from. Even if the crap I produce sounds nothing like it. My composition has been spat out in a short time and within a certain brief and I'm quite happy to stick to it given that I can't afford more time -  as much as I'd like to mess with it more. the brief says it's not meant to be musical though we can produce what we like. I'll stick to the not meant to be musical part because less can go wrong.

Last words, 2 of these examples have religious sounding tones to them (in the beginning anyway) - though they don't really so much if you actually listen to them... I just want to point out I'm very much not religious at all.

    Friday October 26, 2012

Audio Production Assignment 2

Assignment 2, worth 60% was again to produce the soundtrack to something. This time it was a video game movie trailer. The game appears to be set on a spaceship. I haven't really paid attention to what the game is...

The last project was supposed to have "silly" sounds and not really be realistic (though I kind of went down the realistic route for the most part), but this project is about making it realistic as possible. Except not really, because otherwise when the hanger door opens on the spaceship you'd hear nothing. I seriously considered doing that but decided it's probably not meant to be that realistic if I want marks.

So I sourced appropriate sounds, our tutor helpfully sourced a lot for us too which I wasn't so impressed with, because I can do that myself - the more he does for us, the less distinction I have from other people in the class.

I spend a solid and uninterrupted few days on the project, one part that took a disproportionate amount of time was trying to achieve the doppler effect for the elevator scene in Pro Tools. Thousands of dollars worth of software and would you believe it, you can't without spending hundreds more on plugins. So I faked it, and it works well enough. The faking took minutes to do. What took hours was exhausting all possibilities of doing it properly.

We had to add a music backing track, the test in that was that the music isn't long enough and we had to chop it up and make it fit, along with making it fit in with the action. That was actually pretty easy, though you are limited in your options of fitting it in with the action.

Hardest was getting levels not to redline, and the compression settings recommended to us made compression ineffective at that task. So I cranked up the attack time on the dialogue which was by far the biggest culprit. I recorded my own dialogue and completed the project with 2 weeks to spare before hand in (because I have bigger fish to fry) and then we got dialogue emailed to us along with some tips. So everyone else gets my work and skill for free damn it. So I changed it.

I'll add the result to this post once I've handed it in.

    Wednesday October 24, 2012

Emerging Practices Final Comp

I've been working on the final composition the last couple of days, in the middle of the night. It took me a while to get into it but I'm rather enjoying playing with Ableton Live. Though I have a limited library of sounds, I chose to use that to my advantage rather than go and record more sounds. I find the recording process a little bit tedious when I don't know exactly what I want to record, and even if I do. I live in a smallish room with lots of crap and it's a pain to set up anything, and when I do record stuff I think about how it sounds like everything else. I mean really, I recorded a microwave, and it sounds much like a dryer, a car, a road.. and any other man-made piece of machinery. It's just hum and with the  right filters and EQ and whatever, every hum can sound like every other hum. I have instruments I could record. A guitar. Why would I record a guitar though really? I have an Omnichord that I have forever contemplated recording and throwing in some music. But I'm not making music, I'm making a sound composition. It's 4:25 and trucks keep going past on the motorway nearby. This is a sound-polluted place. I don't want to make a composition about car noise or drunk idiots and derelicts having fights outside my gate (I live in an "interesting" place). But I've been throwing what I have together and I'm enjoying it. I'm not sure how good it sounds, but I like it... well I like what I think it will become. It's not finished. Far from it. I'm caught between wanting to get it just done because I have a LOT of work to do for my studio project and wanting to spend some time on something creative and fun. Though it's for a grade and that is all a bit subjective and in some regards so pragmatically speaking, will several more hours than I intended to spend equate to better marks? What if it equates to worse marks. How cheated would I feel. I'm already upset with the Animation -> Smart Systems debacle, that has really screwed up my record. But at least it's out of the way, it should never have been in my way in the first place, putting the papers I actually chose to do this semester at risk of lower marks. I've worked harder on everything this semester, but the 4th paper was just a pain in the arse.

What I'm enjoying about this mix up is a couple of things. It's real sounds but I'm mashing them so much that it's almost like electronica. A great way to mix two worlds of sound that I like. The other is I've decided to let go and use midi effects like arpeggiator to get the sort of sounds and rhythms I was looking for. I can sit back and let technology do that work for me. And for once I'm not feeling like it's cheating or like it's less creative. I don't have to create complex steps by hand, and the fact that I'm not entirely sure what the arpeggiator will sound like before I apply it doesn't mean I'm not being creative either. I'm allowed to try, mess with then use. Yes, sounds obvious I guess but I've always had a thing about originality. I'm making a cacophony at the moment, and I'm still adding bits. Then I guess I'll start taking away or changing things. Then I'll mess with certain automation. Then I'll equalise and master it though my good stereo, up loud. I still hope all of that is done by the end of the week though. I really have to get on to studio. I want it to be the first time I present without reading notes. Oh and a complete product (and awesome conceptual framework and questions).

    Tuesday October 23, 2012

Audio Production Assignment 1

Never updated on this paper either. I did the first assignment and it was a bit of a pain because I had to sit upstairs in the lab that had Pro Tools machines. Pro Tools was a bit painful too, I'd accidentally change some setting and wouldn't know what I'd done, but now nothing worked right. The assignment was a slapstick movie from 1916 and we had to add a soundtrack. We were supposed to make it very slapstick and comical with crazy sounds but I made it mildly realistic with odd stabs of comedy. I wanted to make different versions, perhaps a macabre version to see how that would work but I struggled with protools too much for how much time I had to give the assignment and all of my other work. Had a sound library to draw from though I couldn't get a few sounds that I wanted.

I got good marks for it though.

    Wednesday October 17, 2012

Smart Systems End

Well whoops, I overlooked updating the blog on this paper. What I ended up doing was my third idea, I threw it in at the last minute and my tutors happened to favour it. It was a game for iPhone that I had come up with a while ago as something I might develop next year outside of the BCT. Mainly because I could see it failing if it was a project, especially now, as it's beyond my current skills. It was a sort of laser tag using iPhones (or other devices). It made sense though when I considered that it was location-aware and I was already going to build a location-aware app for iPhone for Studio. So I could merge the knowledge  Well, we know how that unfolded, I dropped Objective-C to make it a web app and never got far enough along to start re-coding in Objective-C.

The paper had 2 assignments, one was an annotated bibliography, which is something I had never done before. I didn't enjoy the process so much, mainly because this is the 3rd elective so I sort of resented the time sunk when I had papers that I had actually chosen at the beginning of the year to do. This semester could have been so cruisy for me if it weren't for the animation paper screw up. And I should have contested it, I took way too much responsibility for a marking schedule that just wasn't there when it should have been. I was able to compare it to outside papers that told me in the first week what the marks were, the breakdown and when it was due. all of that was essentially missing but for some mystery bit of paper floating around. We have an online system called Blackboard and it should have been there. That 30% that Jackie had mentioned to me and I had decided to flag it... 2 things there: One is it turned out to be 50% that I was flagging, and the other is that I could have just handed it in a day later or even a week later it turns out (for less marks but still). Some students get chased up, but I didn't. Normally I'm not someone who has to be chased up, but this one time it might have been nice. The actual animation -  the main part - that I handed in got a good mark. But that's no good when it's onlt worth 50% of the final mark and you get 0 for the other (useless) bits. So through out the semester, as much as I liked the idea behind smart systems, I just found the position that I was in incredibly annoying.

I did get something out of the annotated bibliography though, as painful as it was to do. It helped to connect the academic research, conceptual ideas and actual making of something into one package. This helped me with my Studio project. It's always been a stumbling block for me (and others) connecting concept with practical. Last year Anneke and I attempted to create a security system that networked to other security systems and even perhaps connected to a social network in some way. But we also did a whole pile of conceptual research that at the time seemed nothing but a distraction, particularly as we couldn't really connect it with what we were doing in a way that didn't frankly seem like bullshit. The links were tenuous and one didn't really inform the other. It was like 2 projects in one, to appeal to arty tutors when it wasn't an art project. Nor was it supposed to be a thesis on the state of the self in modern society. It was a bloody alarm system.

However, something clicked somehow with the annotated bibliography and perhaps with the way our tutor described things. Andy comes from a mathematics and sciences background, but can grasp the BCT conceptual thing very well, so actually manages to connect the dots in my head more. I'm still not sure if I could really make a more solid link between Michel Foucault and an neighbourhood watch alarm that is truly meaningful without being flowery but it was a step in the right direction.

I looked at augmented reality and urban gaming mostly in my annotated bibliography. Mainly because I downloaded way too many pdfs and those were the first ones I opened. They all happened to be about the same thing. And I was finding hard going and running out of time (had been working hard on Studio then I realised the bibliography was due in something like 4 or 5 days and had to drop what I was doing... which I always find a painful thing to do).

I was happy enough with the mark I got back, it wasn't amazing at all, but my expectations were not as high as they usually are so it was pretty okay.

The next step was to build something. This was an excruciating idea because my idea was complex anyway then and I have to implement it in Objective-C which seems to be a major stumbling block for me. So, it's like, not only do I have to learn some Astro physics, fine... but I have learn it in Italian. Yep. Objective-C reminds me somewhat of AppleScript. It looks nothing like any other language I know and doesn't make sense despite being in your face in plain english. It's just... too abstracted or something. AppleScript was impossible to learn because it was so natural language that you couldn't determine what was allowed and what wasn't. Computer languages that actually look like computer languages are easier, at least you can see how it works. I find the program flow in Objective-C hard to determine and all the button and UI stuff is hidden away. Sure you can connect buttons to events. Okay... so what is the app doing when no button has been pressed? Where is it looping? Hell, where does it even start running? What the hell is an App delegate? Developer docs don't actually make that much clearer for me. Am I stupid or are explanations that don't actually tell you what is happening good enough for most people?

I also just have too much on my plate (aside from the other 3 papers) and this is the hardest and most frustrating given that I'm doing it because I was cheated from an animation mark (yes, I'm bitter). And other stuff...

So with less than a week to go I finally had time (not really but now it was the most urgent) to look at my smart systems project. And I had no idea where to begin. Whatever I did it would not be up to my standard. But having said that I find little of what I do up to my standard. But this would be a new low. I spoke to Andy though to ask how I could mitigate the disaster somewhat.

Today I presented. I didn't feel like going, but I had to, it was a summative assessment. I'd had a weekend and a couple of days to do it and I've never been so demotivated. A cross between resentment at doing 3 electives, the difficulty of the task I'd set myself and just some personal issues invading my headspace (constantly lately, and it's driving me up the wall). When I did try really hard to work out how to create a game concept at the very least I drew blanks. I realised I had to try to make something before I could design the game, I seem to work like that. But it's in bloody XCode so I can't really (I have enough experience of how slow and sometimes backwards things go here). I decided to finally look at what is already out there. Oh look, my game idea has been done before. I also decided to try something that I'd never bothered with before. Git Hub. I didn't realise it was an easily searchable repository of open source code.

What I wound up presenting was the process I'd gone through and how much of it didn't work. This semester has been a mess in a few ways and last semester was the catalyst for the mess (the personal stuff too). I don't know how I'll do, I imagine I will still pass (just) and that is enough for me now. I got an A last time I did Smart Systems.

[update] I passed at least...

    Tuesday October 9, 2012

Final Formative

We had a final critique session last week. I seemed to have a few breakthroughs and spent many hours building the registration, the location awareness and writing that to the database and then the listing of people nearby. As the assessment loomed closer I kept working on the app. I should have perhaps worked more on some of my conceptual underpinnings of the project, but I really wanted to be able to demonstrate the app. I spent a lot of time scratching my head and searching for answers to bug that just should not have been happening in the first place. Some really basic form validation to make sure that certain fields (username, password and email) were actually filled out. Further validation was done on the server, but javascript took care of the initial validation. It kept returning false (saying they weren't filled out) no matter what I did. I tried so many different things and the code should have worked. So I sort of suspect the bug wasn't mine. Not the first time this has happened, I couldn't get user authentication to work properly and I think it boils down to Mobile Safari and something about it's cookie handling. Despite these problems I worked around them to produce something that sort of worked to a script and I demonstrated it. I also cobbled together my many thoughts on the app and the landscape surrounding my reasons for producing such a thing and some of the non-development research I've been doing. I'll post more on that a bit later.

The crit went rather well.