Jentian [Jenna.Gavin]

This has been a three-year blog journey into a Bachelor of Creative Technologies at AUT, NZ. And it's a place I now hang my random thoughts and creativity in progress!


It is hard for me to be proud of this project, when I felt I didn’t have control of the direction or concept that “we” the group were heading. It seemed like every one of us had a different idea of the project, a different opinion on what we should do. The concept is ALL over the place. There IS NO CONCEPT! Like Daniel said, it’s simply a series of technical solutions looking for a problem. It is too literal. The group is not a good fit. Three of us are too laid back and one is too controlling. Leadership, planning, organisation and implementation was owned by Marty, and personally I was very uncomfortable with the process and the final result (which didn’t work, and I knew it would happen). I have been biting my tongue for so long because I don’t want to demoralise the group more than we have been, and because I don’t want to cause more friction and tension than there already is.

Ooooh but I DID learn a lot about electronics. And some self-reflection on how I handle and communicate with others. So I guess that counts for something.

Selected pics of my journal sketches, outlining concept of immersive mixed reality ant game.

Silly cardboard packaging for my electronics. Oh if only I’d had more time to build a real helmet!

How to kill screen!?
This is a PICAXE plugged into my mac USB port. Not exactly what I was hoping for, but I’m way out of my depth so I don’t know what it means.
Back to school.
Rather be killing this screen.

How to kill screen!?

This is a PICAXE plugged into my mac USB port. Not exactly what I was hoping for, but I’m way out of my depth so I don’t know what it means.

Back to school.

Rather be killing this screen.

Detour: Horror Lane

I got sidetracked while doing research on media and anxiety. But it is actually relevant to networks, so I call that a net gain.

Excerpt taken from journal article "The scary screen: media anxiety in The ring" by Kristen Lacefield.

Toshiba was already at work on developing the SuperDensity Disc, or DVD as we know it today, the format that would eventually make the VCR yet another in a long series of dead media. And from the perspective of narrating mass mediated horror, The Ring’s cursed videotape seems to cause more problems than it solves. If Sadako’s curse had somehow bound her reproduction to the ether, as in the broadcast lore of old, she would in theory have access to every television set in the world, waiting in the ether to manifest in the aerial and static of a hapless viewer’s set. Invisible and ethereal, she could go global. What, then, does her transfer to videotape add? Here The Ring anticipated that the mediated horrors of the future would be less about the superstitions attending technological devices than emerging social practices of networked circulation. In this respect, The Ring is less a late entry to the “haunted television” genre than a harbinger of a new paradigm in horror, one that would abandon the discorporative fantasies attending wireless infinity in favor of the more targeted terrors of viral transmission.

Circuit construction for picaxe, compass, radio transmitter unit

PICAXE Radio Transmitter and Receiver

This is the working prototype for the wireless compass unit.  A digital compass is sending a bearing to a radio transmitter, via a Picaxe 08M2 microcontroller (RED SIDE), while the radio receiver waits for the signal and sends it to the computer via another Picaxe (YELLOW SIDE), through the serial cable (not shown).

Compass Direction

The Electronics Plan

HMC6352 compass -> PICAXE 08M2  -> radio transmitter -> radio receiver -> computer serial input.

The radio transmission will send the compass bearing in 2 parts. The transmission also needs a header and a checksum on the end.

Over the last 2 days, I think I have succeeded in getting the compass connected to the picaxe and the bearing into my computer. I borrowed some code from the picaxe forums and it seems to function as expected. I am getting 2 numbers, and as David J Barnes explains,

"These readings come back as a high and a low byte. Ie b0=1 through 14 and b1=0-255. After playing with the numbers for a few moments it became obvious. 14 x 255 = 3570 or ~3600 which makes for simple math."

Now I need to get cracking on the radio transmitters and receiver. I’ve had some help from tutor Julian Priest on how to send and receive serial data and implement a checksum.

To Do

Three weeks left in the semester, and I think I’m at the point where I’m ready for the break.

I’ve got 2 things to do this weekend: Philosophy and Studio. For our paper Theories and Philosophies of Technology, we have to pose a question and explore it either through a 3000 word essay or another type of media. Such a broad scope. I’m working with the talented Emile Drescher on a question about media consumption. We have decided to do some comic strips / panels discussing various issues and philosophers. So I have to come up with a few ideas. I feel like most of the class has not been engaged with the critical and philosophical side of their arguments. Hardly a philosopher has been mentioned! I wanna crank out the big names like Michel Foucault, Jean Baudrillard, Emile Durkheim, Noam Chomsky….

The other thing is to make some progress with Studio. It’s been an uphill battle getting anything to work and I feel like so much time has been spent on finding technical solutions and not enough time on WHY we are doing the project and WHAT the CONCEPT behind it is. I want to love what I’m doing and I can’t. Anyway I’ve bought 3 digital compasses and some picaxe microcontrollers and I’m hoping I can pair the two together, and then attach some radio transmitters so I can send the bearings wirelessly. That is the plan, but I don’t know if it’s possible yet! The end result *should be* that you can have a compass on a helmet on your head, telling a remote computer what direction you are facing.

Indoor Positioning/Tracking System

We have found some progress on this network project finally. We want to create a virtual reality mapped to a physical environment. This requires us to track people within an indoor space. I figure this is a suitably challenging project in itself! It’s harder than it sounds because GPS only works for large distances, and smartphones have trouble with accuracy when calculating distance travelled.

There are a couple of approaches that are proven, one using cameras and a fair amount of clever programming (by Nils Siebel), the other using ultrasound and triangulation (MIT Cricket Indoor Location).

We have a month to research, experiment and get something functional. I feel a lot better about our position now; it seems to have fallen into place as soon as we moved from the digital realm to a physical space. It’s just a lot of work to do now.

Also it’s New Zealand Sign Language Week so… party on!

Network groupwork

Thoughts on the Network Group Project so far.

Let’s start with a confession: I am struggling to stay motivated with this project. I haven’t managed to find an equilibrium between developing my own individual ideas and dedicating my mind to groupwork. My state of mind is uninspired, and I think that’s because the group has not come up with a proposal that will be sufficiently interesting. We barely have any ideas about what to produce as the end result. The general feeling is that although we get on well enough, the group’s ideas are incompatible. Each individual’s ideas do not interest the rest of the group enough for everyone to jump on board and shout “YEAH LET’S DO THIS!”. It’s very draining, every day.

It’s a matter of leadership. The brief did not provide a single direction to go in, and our team doesn’t have a leader to move forward with a proposal, which leaves us floundering.

This brings us to the current situation. The Ant program that I put together in a matter of days was well received by the tutors, James essentially saying to me to continue with this and develop its depth. I have a vision for a kind of art/interactive installation and I believe it is very achievable by June. Maybe it is too achievable, and only needs 1-2 people to take it to completion. I don’t know. But it is now the one solid project that we have and could present as a proposal next week in the critique sessions. I guess that puts me in the leadership (and programming) role to make sure it is achieved.

I’d like the group to take it further, and think about other ways an ant colony model could be used and morphed. Is it possible to do it physically rather than through a virtual program? Could we use electronics? Could we take it to the street with GPS and iPhones, like some kind of geo-caching game?

The issue? Ant colonies interest me, while I know that the rest of the group are luke-warm on the subject, and probably want to keep experimenting with senses/unity/perception/something else entirely.

You are an ant. Idea for a networked ant colony driven by human ‘players’, with the ants on the ground trying to find food (leaving trails), and the server recording the trails from a top-down view. Ant view is modified from a 3D landscape by Ryan Darge  (3d Camera Movement). Inspired by ant colonies that make routes with pheromones.

Blind cooperative drawing

All week the group has been trying to use senses to explore networks and communication. Yesterday we spent some time creating a drawing together, to see how losing the sense of sight would affect our function and our communication.

The first experiment all four of us closed our eyes to draw a city together. There was no pre-planning so it came out fairly organically. We tried to connect a road completely around the edge of the paper, which was almost achieved. I liken our blind selves to a distributed network topology, each of us independent and communicating freely with each other. There was no greater plan, no leader, no restrictions.

The second experiment was to mimic a centralised network topology. One of us (me) would be able to see the paper and direct the other three where to draw. My hypothesis was that the city would turn out more organised and unified. Was I wrong? It was harder to control three independent blind nodes than I thought! They were not communicating with each other anymore, only me, so I felt overloaded and they felt under-utilised. Discussing it afterwards, we all felt that the overall result was less satisfying. The three blind people lost the relationship to their own drawings, because I had taken control of their hand positions. The map in their heads was not as successful because the control and communication had been handed over to someone else. The design of the city became “somebody else’s problem”.

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Idea: Triggering Unity

Idea: Triggering Unity

High-level Description: What catalysts / triggers cause a breakdown of an existing network into the permanent or temporary formation of a new topology? Specifically what transforms a decentralised or distributed network into a centralised network? 

We are interested in the unifying nature of centralised networks, and how these come to exist through an event or trigger. There may be many ways of triggering unity, through fear, panic, authority, fun, common goals or experiences, rewards, re-routing.

From L. Roberts and B. Wessler: A centralised network has a single hub/point which acts as a conduit to transmit messages. All nodes connect to this point and thus it provides a common connection.

(Roberts, Lawrence G.; Wessler, Barry D. (1970), “Computer network development to achieve resource sharing”, AFIPS ‘70 (Spring): Proceedings of the May 5–7, 1970, spring joint computer conference, New York, NY, USA: ACM, pp. 543–549, doi:10.1145/1476936.1477020 .)


The theme for the semester-long project we have been given is “Networks”. The requirements are flexible and in a group we have the choice to create / document / experiment with any kind of network we find interesting. The toughest thing is to try and nail down an idea that we can all agree on. It’s also hard when there are barely any constraints.

My group consists of Jenny, Jim and Marty. We formed out of a desire to work with different people than in our previous groups.

Initially I struggled to generate ideas (are networks really that relevant to what I want to explore?), but I built up some steam and some motivation. Here are the networks that sparked my interest:

  • Food distribution network
  • Around Auckland: farmers’ markets, bike tracks
  • 6 / 2 degrees of separation
  • Public transport (e.g. real-time bus location system)
  • Illegal drug networks
  • Internet memes
  • Trees and branches (plant structures, like mushrooms)
  • In-game networks (paths and relationships between resources, etc )
  • Tracking messages / concepts through person to person contact
  • Ancestry, genetic network (time dependent)
  • NZ data from govt websites (e.g.  geolocations)
  • Musicians/artists collaboration and touring networks
  • The networks of warfare
  • Ant colonies
  • The network of corporations
  • Religious structures
  • The Deaf community and sign language
  • Films with interconnected storylines
  • BCT: connecting students more personally and professionally
  • Football teams - players working as a network