Author Archive

May 3, 2012

Computer-supported Social Creativity

by dharris63

During the poster presentation today, I listened to one of my classmates give a literature review on social creativity. He commented that there hasn’t been much work in the area, and tried to tie together the few frameworks that have been proposed. It was clear from his talk why this area has little published work: social creativity is really difficult to instigate or measure. Creativity means vastly different things to different people, so it’s difficult to find a solution that can harness each persons’ unique abilities.

One take at computer-supported social creativity is the remixing of video games and animations. Andres Monroy-Hernandez started the Scratch project, a system that helps kids make simple (and sometimes complex) games and animations. Andres gave a talk at the Berkman Center discussing his project and its overwhelming success. You can download Scratch for free if you want to check it out: What I find most interesting about Andres’ talk is his emphasis upon understanding existing user populations and their actions and motivations. He talks about Creative Commons rules that govern the creation of content, for example. Only once he understood existing systems and his target user base did he begin to build the system.

Link to Andres’ video at the Berkman Center:

Another system is Pipeline, was developed by PhD candidate Kurt Luther here at Georgia Tech. We used this application during our collaboration making the recycling fashion show. All group members signed up for the system, and several group members left comments in the system early on. Once the actual work started, however, Pipeline was abandoned. This doesn’t mean Pipeline is a bad system. It just wasn’t right for this group for this project. Our group members divided into several groups. Each group met in person to complete a portion of the project. Since we weren’t collaborating over the web, Pipeline was not designed to help us.

Pipeline video preview

I’m an HCI student. I’m constantly being told by professors and other students that it’s important to consider the user when designing a system. I think that this is just another example of how important this mantra is. When applied to creativity, I think the takeaway is that it is just as important to consider place as purpose. We were collaborating on a project that Pipeline could have facilitated, but because we did not collaborate via the web, Pipeline was not useful. Maybe a future project could help facilitate interaction and compilation of separate pieces of a project that were created by in-person groups.

May 3, 2012

Mixed reality experiences

by dharris63

Where does the real world end and the digital world begin? The divide seems to be shrinking. Consider the following video:

Hatsune Miku is a totally synthetic pop star in Japan. Her appearance is obviously fake, but it’s interesting to note that the sounds she makes are all generated grammatically then tuned for pitch. Using simple lighting tricks, it appears as those this computer-generated personality exists in the real world. When someone becomes a ‘fan’ of a virtual character, are they a fan of the multitude of people necessary to create this personality, or are they a fan of the digital Hatsune herself?

At Coachella Music Festival this year, this process was improved upon again. Tupac is dead recording artist whose label has been releasing his tracks long after his death. He was once again brought to life using this same technique, but with actual video footage and his real voice instead of a synthetically generated character. I won’t link to the video here because of the explicit nature of his lyrics, but you can find it on YouTube. It’s almost disturbingly realistic.

In these two examples, the mixed reality experience can only be viewed from afar and at certain angles. But it seems like only a matter of time until these holograms can move among us. I don’t think that we will be mistaking them for people any time soon, but it does beg the question: how do we decide what is “real?” Can digital artifacts have fans? Is Tupac really dead?

April 18, 2012

Musical Instrument Competition

by dharris63

Earlier this semester the 2012 Margaret Guthman Musical Instrument Competition was held at Georgia Tech. This is an international event to gather people interested in designing new musical instruments and interfaces. This year there were twenty-four inventors selected to compete.

I was interested in this competition because I always want to hear more about how technology can enable unique artistic experiences. The lab I work in here at Tech works with tangible devices, so this competition is related to our research goals. Here are two performances that I found intriguing and how they can relate to GT’s work in tangible and embodied interactions.



This first video allows the user to manipulate sound by interacting with multiple cubes. You can rotate the cubes to change properties such as tempo. Perhaps more interestingly, placing certain cubes next to other cubes can trigger a unique reaction. I think that this is what makes this idea challenging to implement and interesting to use. The system will likely need to impose enough structure to keep the sound recognizable as a song. However, the cubes also allow the user to experiment a lot with how their relationships to other cubes can influence the piece. I like how the designer currently implements this (triggering new sound effects and changing musical instruments), but I would be interested in further experimentation in this space.



This second video is an example of embodied interaction (kind of). I really like the sound that the artist is able to produce with this instrument, but I’m not comfortable with the idea that embodied interaction should be limited by the “pockets” that the user is using to constrain his movements. It seems like he might just be imposing the structure of more traditional instruments on a new technology. I’m still on the lookout for an instrument than can produce the musical structure of a more constrained instrument, and allow for a full-body experience by the performer. If anybody has any good examples, please let me know!

April 17, 2012

Reimagining computer art

by dharris63

Lately I’ve been wondering how programmers can work together with artists to create visuals for mobile applications that are more complex than sprites or polygons, such as simulating paint strokes. Today I was shown a video on an interactive “Starry Night” animation:

Starry Night

See the link above for a video of the animated "Starry Night."

If you go through the video, you can see that there are thousands of small paint lines that are constantly redrawing on the scene to create what look like motion “whirlpools” across the scene. The user can also touch the visualization to extend a “whirlpool” or change its direction.

I did some searching to see whether I could find any similar examples. One that struck me as interesting was a film working with da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.” Using the original painting, film maker Peter Greenaway played with lighting different areas of the painting to highlight different features and give the illusion of movement.

"The Last Supper"

Peter Greenaway's film of da Vinci's "The Last Supper."

I think that in order to create more artistic visuals in the future, software developers will need to move away from existing modeling techniques. This visualization of “Starry Night” suggests that an early path of exploration may be to recreate physical techniques such as painting using digital “paint strokes.” One could perhaps simulate another existing technique by dispersing pools of color to simulate watercolors. Eventually, though, the goal would be to create new art styles that are unique to the affordances of a computer screen.

February 23, 2012

Hand Fashion Show

by dharris63

When we started the recycling fashion show project, I admit that I was puzzled as to how this would relate back to the course topic. Yes, it was creative, but was there more to it than that? In retrospect, I found this reading particularly appropriate: Collaboration in Design Teams: How Social Interaction Shapes the Product by Brereton, M. F et al.

Getting a bunch of creative people to agree on a united vision for a project is difficult. Several group members were hesitant to accept the ideas of others. Some of these group members were less motivated to contribute when the group did not choose to work on their idea. At one point, I was worried that the project would not be completed. However, each and every team member came through to create an interesting final product. Although some parts of the project were finished at the last minute, I think the group had a shared vision and produce and very creative fashion show.

I am still left to wonder about the elusive nature of creativity. If it can come so quickly when we are under a deadline, why can it seem impossible to think of an idea when the deadline is more distant?

February 18, 2012

“Insight, Fixation, and Incubation” and a related project idea

by dharris63

I really like the story about Archimedes realizing that he could calculate volume by using water displacement. The philosopher/mathematician’s royal relation wanted to know whether a commissioned crown had the density of gold. Archimedes realized one could find the volume of any object by measuring water level before and after the object is submerged in water, and noting the displacement. It was interesting to me that this was compared to the behavior of monkeys reaching for bananas. It seems to me that the “strokes of genius” all share the common trait of being straightforward ideas that solve the problem with a small number of steps, but from a direction that had not been considered previously. This makes me wonder if these insights are limited to “simple” ideas, and if there is a limit to the complexity of an idea that is the result of one spark of inspiration.

I also found it interesting that the common brainstorming technique of recording as many different ideas as possible supported Brown’s 1981 study that claimed “output interference can explain inhibition of retrieval from semantic memory. As we’ve mentioned in class, engineers often latch onto the first solution that makes itself visible. I wonder if perhaps these students have a harder time bypassing the blocks your mind imposes after it has generated an acceptable solution to a problem. I think that engineers and left-brained people (myself included) can really benefit from brainstorming activities that attempt to pull more items from semantic memory.

Creating a system that would take specific problem space and help users work past cognitive blocks would be an interesting final project for this class. For example, if the prompt was to create the a method that tried to determine whether an x, y coordinate existed within a two dimensional shape, the system could ask the user to build a function that solved the problem by determining whether the point was within the shape, then write a second function that decides whether the point is outside the geometric shape. By trying different solutions, you could arrive at a more logical or more efficient algorithm. In the example above, it turns out it’s actually much simpler to prove the point is outside the shape then it is to prove it is inside.

February 6, 2012

Michael Arad’s WTC Memorial

by dharris63

As a CS undergrad and an HCI grad student, I’m not very familiar with architecture. I was a little leery of Michael Arad’s talk beforehand. This was quickly stifled when Arad began to talk, using common language to describe his motivations and goals. The absence of technical jargon made the lecture much more accessible. I also appreciated all of the images of drafts and prototype construction over the course of this eight year project.


Wall with digital artifacts

Another architect's proposed design: veneer of tech over a design that doesn't not consider space or purpose


I was struck by Douglas Allen’s comment that Arad’s design stood out because of its simplicity and directness. Looking at Arad’s design, it is clear that the problem preceded the design. Some of the other finalists seemed to awkwardly tack on technology without designing for the space itself.


Finalist design for WTC memorial

This design is aesthetically appealing, but from a glance it is not clear what the purpose is. I could easily believe it was for the flagship office of a tech conglomerate. Where is the emotion?


Others designed a pretty structure that had no relationship to the previous buildings. These designs were aesthetically appealing, but there was no sense of loss, of remembrance, of solidarity that one might expect from a memorial on the site of the World Trade Center. This is what Arad’s design had that others lacked: 1) a design that would not allow viewers to forget what had occurred at this site, and 2) a plan that allowed for tourists to visit and also for locals to use in their daily lives, a site where people could come together as a representation of strength but also to show that terrorism will not deter progress.


Michael Arad's winning WTC memorial render

Michael Arad's design is a serene respite from the city, but the soothing pools are a subtle reminder of the events on 9/11.


Even though I do not design buildings or landscapes, I think I can learn from this situation. A core tenant of HCI is the process of creating a solution based on the needs of effected users instead of finding the shortest path from point a to point b. Just as an architect needs to consider who he intends to use the space, an experience designer needs to design software that caters to a specific audience and build in constraints and affordances accordingly.

January 29, 2012

The Irony of Creativity

by dharris63

I was surprised when the readings from this week built my understanding of creativity and constraints from last week. I disagree with Gardner’s nomothetic methodology, but I do appreciate his attempt to classify intelligence into categories such as logical-mathematical and bodily-kinesthetic. Once he found ways to classify intelligence, he was able to describe artistic output as a function of a person’s strengths and weaknesses in these categories. I really like the idea that a creative person is often the result of an unusual combination of intelligences. I think that’s what makes the area of computational media special: a combination of logical-mathematical and spatial or musical intelligences seems to be rare, but there is such potential for output in this area with advances in computational ability in the past few decades. There is still room for new styles of painting, but computational media is so new that there aren’t even any styles yet defined.

I was also interested in Gardner’s notion that creativity is bestowed upon an individual by society. A work is deemed creative only when is has been accepted by the majority and seen to extend existing aesthetic or scientific works. Maybe this is what people mean when they say there is a thin line between genius and insanity: they’re actually the same thing, but recognition of work as genius is only given when people can understand the work. Gardner explains that people recognized as creative have a “fruitful asynchrony” with the rest of society. I think the word asynchrony is apt because designation as asynchronous means that people understand work well enough to designate it as outside the norm. If work isn’t understood well enough to make this seemingly trivial classification, it has little hope of ever being accepted into the mainstream. It seems ironic that we can only understand creativity when its product is familiar enough to compare to existing works.

January 29, 2012

Creativity and Constraints

by dharris63

Two ideas stuck with me after our discussion on constraints and creativity. I was really interested in the idea that an artist’s style can be represented in logic by a set of constraints. Harold Cohen’s style consists of simple shapes and large swaths of color. The clean lines lend themselves well to systemization. Cohen seems the logical place to begin a study in the creation of art through logical constraints. I think it is human nature to immediately attempt to extend this experiment to more complex cases. Could one also represent the works of Picasso or Duchamp through equations and constraints? Can creativity be distilled into something cold and mechanical?

Sometimes I think people don’t want to admit that our brains are (incredibly complex) machines themselves. Given additional processing power and more complex algorithms, why shouldn’t machines be as creative as people? We call a human action “random” when we don’t understand the chain of past events and experiences that led to a given reaction. Modern computers use a simplified version of this artificial randomness, gathered from a natural event such as date and time, because computers do not have a body of past experiences and knowledge from which to make decisions. But I think that we’re beginning to see this kind of randomness in machines like Watson. Most of the answers Watson gives to inquiries are correct. However, sometimes it gives answers that we might describe as random, such as naming Toronto during a question about U.S. cities. This randomness is based on the vast body of knowledge Watson has access to—not dissimilar to the large body of knowledge humans make decisions based on.

I think that in the future, there will be more work done to understand the nature of “randomness.” Like we discussed in class, I don’t think there is anything that is truly random; it’s just a matter of dissecting a huge amount of data to understand the chain of associations that led to an event. It might not be comforting to imagine that creativity results from a similar process. It seems equally likely, however, to be the result of some complex mental-machine process that we have yet to understand, but which is nonetheless completely straightforward and even logical once the associations have been mapped out.

January 18, 2012

Unit Origami Diagram

by dharris63

This assignment began innocently enough. I’m not very skilled with origami, but the structure that Dr. Do showed us seemed simple enough to recreate. I learned the hard way that it can be very difficult to render three-dimensional objects in two-dimensional diagrams. IKEA does a pretty good job, after all.

As if the assignment wasn’t difficult enough to begin with, Dr. Do presented us with an additional challenge: could we show someone how to replicate the origami pattern without using any words. I tried, failed miserably, and then compromised by using as few words as I possibly could. Looking back at the finish product, I observed that some of the words were probably not that important after all. I considered erasing them, but then I thought: why shouldn’t the diagram include words? It is an interesting to challenge to convey a message or instruction without using words. I think it’s interesting, however, to note that in some situations, pictures can be more powerful than words, such as the famous photograph in Tiananmen Square. But words can be even more powerful when the message being conveyed is less tangible. That’s why movies remakes can never capture the thoughts or emotions of a character transmitted so effortlessly in the book.