mac key font

I made a font that looks like the Mac keyboard to use for demo posts for my class blogs.  I had been wanting to use something like that for a while to give key commands for using Photoshop and other programs in my intro classes.  There were a few already existing, but I didn’t like the aesthetic of any of them, I wanted something where key character or phrase was the negative space so I could change the color of the key rather than the character, like this:

Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 10.08.57 PM

I’m using it for my two BMCC classes this semester.  Here’s the GitHub repo to get the font and CSS to implement it.

maker projects round up

Here’s a collection of some of the projects I worked on during my time at the Intel store with Maker Education Initiative.

December 30, 2013:

I spent today working on that circuit using some parts from a clock radio Emmanuel brought in and built a little Intel puppet with the audio synth as a voice.

December 28, 2013:

today I used one of the motor circuits I worked on yesterday, and, using a motor from a printer, a volume control from a cd player and an old cell phone power supply, I made a circuit to change the speed of a motor, and then attached a cute Hello Kitty balloon toy made by Shelley.

December 27, 2013:

Today I found a printer in the recycling bin and took it apart to see what I could find. I found a bunch of little components, 4 DC motors and a stepper motor. I built a new circuit based on some of the 555 timer stuff I’ve been looking at on Make Zine but burned out one of my 555s. Oops! Hopefully tomorrow I can make something cool with all those motors.

printer

December 18, 2013:

A reindeer with salvaged motor control draw with the help of a couple of experience agents.

December 16 2013:

A speaker circuit made from salvaged cd discman and a printer mother board.

December 14, 2013:

A cupcake game made with the help of Mohammed, Alex, Milo and Noah.

maker ed audio synth workshop

I’m on the way back from a great experience at the artists residency at Contemporary Artists Center at Woodside in Troy NY, and finally getting a chance to write a recap of the workshop that I led at Intel on January 2nd.  I had spent a good amount of time working on different ideas for circuits using easily salvageable materials and simple analog circuits.  After working in the store for a month and interacting with different kinds of people in the store I had the thought that understanding simple analog circuits is a great way to get people interested in electronics and making.  Using more complex technology like Arduino and Raspberry Pi are really great, but there’s so much you can do without having to use expensive products or a computer, which are required for Arduino based projects.  Arduino is a great tool for prototyping ideas and making quick projects, but its an expensive thing to use for a project that you want to be permanent or need multiples of.  There are a lot of projects using Arduino that could just as easily be done with simple electronics and integrated chips.  I found the 555 timer chip to be really versatile and easily available at Radio shack (for two bucks) or online for cheaper.  So I experimented with many ideas, audio, motor control, as I will recap in another post, and eventually settled on audio circuits.  I felt that making a simple audio oscillator would really connect people to the physical properties of sound and have a very clear demonstration of how they can control electricity.  I had a great reaction when working with Coral, who at first was very confused by what we were building, but when she first heard the sound she immediately connected it to her interest in electronic music and had a real understanding of why the circuit was cool and how it relates to the music she likes.

circuit

The circuit I came up with was a modification of one that I found on circuitdiagrams.org, and had some similarities with things I’ve seen on Make Zine.  The parts, other than the 555 timer, were all things that I had salvaged at some point during my time in the Intel store.

Here’s a page with some notes that I created for the workshop, with more info.

On the day of the workshop there was a blizzard, the beginning of the storm called Hercules apparently, so the turn out for the workshop was a little lower than I had hoped.  I got enough materials for 10 people to make circuits, and ended up having 4 people who were there for the full workshop and built the full circuit, and a few more who passed through and listened.

The participants that did come, including some college and grad school buddies of mine, and a couple of Intel store regulars, were great though and I think they all had a fun time working on the project.

Here’s a close up of Jenny working on her circuit:

jenny

 

Jenny, Nick and Tak working:

jennynicktak

Nick has finished his!

nickcomplete

cupcake video game

Today at the Intel store there was a cupcake making event, and so I got help from a few kids who came through the story, Mohammed, Milo, Noah and Alex to make a little game using the Makey Makey.  Here’s a work video of our work:

It’s a little out of focus, and the cupcakes had all been eaten, but this is the basic idea.  Milo, Mohammed and Noah drew characters on some pieces of cardboard that were left over from the boxes the tools came in, and then cut out their characters.  We made image files and inserted them into a Processing sketch using the Makey Makey.  I grabbed some code from fellow tech disruptor @carlynorama Carlyn’s GitHub and we modified it so that we could move our characters around the screen and change character by pressing cupcake buttons connected to the Makey Makey.

intel

There’s a shot Mark took of us from outside where Mohammed and Milo are helping me decide what interactions to give our characters.

Working on Processing with these guys was a lot of fun.  They picked up certain concepts very quickly, like variables (Milo was really excited about variables) and if then statements, which they helped me write.  At a certain point, when  we decided we wanted to switch characters, I realized we were going to have to make a character class, so I started explaining the idea of object oriented programming…. and then I lost them.  But I was able to get that done while they were making cupcakes and go back to fun variables and if then statements, so it turned out okay.  I remember it being pretty tricky to understand classes and objects when I was in CS101, so I don’t blame them for losing interest at that point.

Here are the characters, Milo, Mohammed and Angel Derp by Noah.

milo mohammed angelderp

teaching design

This fall I began teaching at The College of New Jersey as an adjunct.  I didn’t see myself going into teaching until midway through my experience getting a masters at NYU, when I started thinking about careers beyond freelancing and being an artist.  The College of New Jersey job happened pretty randomly—I wasn’t getting called back from the majority of jobs I applied for and was scrambling to get a some teaching work at the Borough of Manhattan Community College where many ITP alums start out.  There are a lot of things that are inconvenient about the TCNJ job, mostly the location and resulting commute, but I am also pretty lucky to be teaching at competitive four year school in a an art program.

I teach to sections of a class called Web 1, which is part of the Art and Art History program, and required for graphic design students.  It’s an anomalous class, one of the few in the program that requires students to learn computer based skills that aren’t Photoshop or other Adobe software platforms.  It seems like it would fit more in the Interactive Multimedia program which shares the same building, but at some point in the last decade, someone decided graphic design students should be versed in web design and I’ve become the most recent in a series of adjuncts to teach the class since the original professor left in 2009.

The funny thing is, I’m not a graphic designer.  I’m an artist who uses tools that designers also use, and while at NYU I often found myself in courses where my sensibilities and the sensibilities of graphic designers were directly at odds with one another.  I find much of the history and practice of graphic design really interesting and informative, and I somewhat accept that there is an overlap between graphic design and art, especially when looking at movements like Dada.  But the objectives of design and art, to me, are inherently at odds.  Design is meant to present information in a captivating and alluring way.  Which is why design and advertising feel like synonyms.  Marcel Duchamp, one of the Dadaists, wrote about “retinal” art, art that is meant to be aesthetically pleasing and nothing more.  His work was meant to be conceptual, to provoke thought and reflect on life.  This captures my feelings about art.  My feelings about design are more cynical.  I really like the writing of designers like Josef Albers and Johannes Itten, but I often find their work, as captivating as it can be, lacking any reflection of the real world—it often feels like they are hiding behind forms and aesthetics in order to make art devoid of meaning and therefore able to avoid judgment.  Contemporary practices in design often operate in a similar or even more nefarious way, especially on the web, where designers work to make the difference between advertising and content, or what is referred to as content, more and more ambiguous.  Good design might then be the most effective way of tricking a viewer into absorbing information about and eventually purchasing a product.

I feel like I can defend design as a way to communicate information, which is inherently valuable.  I feel less certain about my role as a web design instructor and the skills that I am introducing to my students.  When I walk around the halls at TCNJ I see examples of student work, most of them designs for products, fake or real, advertisements for movies and television shows and other branding exercises.  Of course, these college students are trying to learn skills to get jobs in the real world.  But it feels absurd at the same time, that we are only able to express ourselves through appropriated corporate branding.

Last week I gave a lecture on Internet art.  I talked about Dada and Duchamp.  I realized that it was as impossible for me to explain the impact of Nude Descending a Staircase on the art world, which is hard considering how difficult it is to understand the context of the art world 100 years ago when the painting was first introduced, as it is to explain the impact of the Internet on art or design.  They are so used to looking at things on the web, so over saturated, that the history of the web, and the development of web aesthetics, are completely taken for granted.  So of course my lecture, while it had its moments, also started to feel like some droney professor out of touch with his students.  I don’t expect these kids to adopt my ideas about art and design, but I do hope to make the thing I find exciting about the Internet feel exciting to them.  So I’m struggling with how to present this information, whether to talk about the influence of corporations of web development, or the history of art at all.  But it’s nice that, being in the Art and Art History department, and having control over the material and syllabus, I am in the position to debate about these conflicts at all.