Author Archives: Samuel Wander

Team Flux – Week 3

Reiteration of our goals:

Encourage contemplation of nature in an indoor/outdoor urban space by amplifying the presence of nature in the space. Bring more personality to the space via elements of intrigue and interaction. Transform the space to be more welcoming at night.

Our experiment this week:

Our next steps last week were to understand how the effects might work in the space itself and identify the environmental factors (natural light and wind) that will affect the product at night.
We went to North End Way with a medium size sheet of Mylar (approx 6′ x 3′) and a flash light (500 lumens). We learned that there are multiple locations that light can reflect to cause different unique effects; it can reflect off the brick walls on both sides of the building and on the glass windows behind the seats when the shades are pulled down. It can reflect on the walls as well as the floor. The light that is in the space isn’t too overpowering and allows our light source to reflect a large amount of area. The more material we have and the brighter the lights the more space we can cover.

The space is much quieter and darker at night. It’s actually somewhat eerie to walk through the long, quiet corridor. As such, we believe there’s an opportunity to make it more attractive and interactive. Through our experiments we also found that the shimmering light enhances the surroundings by playing with the wind and provide a source of intrigue. Since evening hours are less busy, people have more time to stop and interact with the installation.

Passers-by certainly seemed intrigued, and we’ve had no trouble with security yet!

Using the space:

We’re focusing on two options, one at each end of the passageway.

Seating_Wall Shake_Shack_Wall

For our next ideation we can discuss through our findings at the space how we want to play with interactions with light. We can test this by setting up a structure in the studio that uses multiple IR sensors connected to multiple lights and as people walk through the studio and pass our space the light that reflects off the material will change. Our device will also be placed near a window to use the wind for naturalistic light effects.
We can test this with both the old material and the new more reflective material. Does being more reflective and more mirror like cause people to want to come up to the device? The higher order thing here is to play with switching between the regular / predicable and the irregular / unpredictable? That could be the mirror concept, or having motion affect the light source – which seems to be the stronger and likely more effective idea at this point. But how we achieve it is unknown – do we want a strip of LEDs, or a moving light, or a stationary light that rotates?

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Team Flux – Current Thinking

Defining our user

Our primary users are passers-by and customers for the services inside North End Way (a hotel, a cinema and a number of restaurants). The space is under-utilized at night, and we want to make it a more attractive place to go – with greater personality. In light of this we’re focusing on a non-business audience including tourists, restaurant patrons, hotel guests and movie-goers. What can we do to bring the space to life for them?

Creation myth

One day Narcissus was walking in the woods when Echo, an Oread (mountain nymph) saw him, fell deeply in love, and followed him. Narcissus sensed he was being followed and shouted “Who’s there?”. Echo repeated “Who’s there?”. She eventually revealed her identity and attempted to embrace him. He stepped away and told her to leave him alone. She was heartbroken and spent the rest of her life in lonely glens until nothing but an echo sound remained of her. Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, learned of this story and decided to punish Narcissus. She lured him to a pool where he saw his own reflection. He didn’t realize it was only an image and fell in love with it. He eventually realized that his love could not be addressed and committed suicide.

Defining our intervention: as thing, base sense, content delivery

Reflective objects only become sources of vanity when observed. Our object utilizes and in some ways toys with its own core property – reflectiveness. As it moves, bouncing light becomes fractured and ambient, responding to the elements in the environment. Through the material we manipulate the way light passes through the space.

Two potential new interventions

Mylar has a great organic quality but it’s hard to control when it’s not stretched taut or pinned at corners. Through our experiments we learned that people react well to reflecting and bouncing light in a open space. One way we’ve been able to achieve this effect is through mirrored tiles made out of Mylar that act as pixels/facets.

  • We want to explore ways to both emphasize and undermine the reflective properties of our object in relation to people / observers. By making our object cease to function as a mirror in the presence of people, it compromises on its expected purpose, it becomes a “shy mirror”. This is one avenue for creating playful interactions and engagement, and responding to our creation myth.
  • We want to expand upon the effect our material can create – multiple lights, wider field of reflective material, colors, and projected images could all act in parallel with the elements in the environment to create new and surprising ambient light effects.

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Team Flux – Prototype #2

This week we explored some new materials. Sam C suggested we consider Mylar (AKA biaxially-oriented polyethylene terephthalate) for its reflective properties. It’s also very thin, so would blow dramatically in the wind. We wondered if we could utilize each of these properties to (continuing our nature theme) create a water-like effect in light?

Luckily the material is relatively cheap, we acquired 50ft for less than $40. Shining direct light on the material while it’s moving creates an array of compelling effects we’re only just beginning to understand, and a small piece of material can create a surprisingly large light effect on nearby surfaces. We tried crumpling it, cutting it up, shining images or colored light onto it… it feels like there’s lots of potential.

This evening we placed a small construction by the window, where it would blow in the breeze. We then shone a theatrical light on it. Here is the effect:

Our next steps are to understand how the effects might work in the space itself – there are quite a few environmental factors to consider at North End Way. How will natural light affect it? How will the wind affect it? Will we be able to create a more convincing effect at night? Will reflections appear clearly on the glass walls or ceiling?

We also need to explore how we involve people more. We have some early ideas, but these all depend critically on how the reflection effect works in the space – so we’ll need to gain a clearer understanding of that first. We’ll be returning to the space for experimentation very soon.

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Final Project Prototyping – Sam C & W, Jeff, Mini

This week we revisited the site, came up with a new “kinetic art” concept, designed an early prototype, and experimented with a range of materials and light positions to find the best option for our concept.

Photo Oct 19, 4 28 04 PM

When we returned to North End Way we realized that, as Luke pointed out in class, the presence of water so close to the location is really compelling. We started to think of ways to translate the dynamic qualities of the nearby water into the arcade. Initially we were thinking of pure audio or perhaps a wave pool to emulate the sound of moving water. Then Sam W. noticed that there is a diagonal grid created by the paving stones in the arcade and mimicked by the glass panels above. Jeff brought up the idea of “walking on water” and I brought up the work of Reuben Margolin, whose kinetic sculptures leverage the mathematics of water eddies and waves to great effect.

We were considering a projected light effect, but thanks to Michael’s feedback we realized that the ambient light in the space would probably be too much for that to be visually compelling. We decided to play on the idea of shadows instead. By shining a strong spotlight through our kinetic sculpture we would be able to broaden the reach and perceived size of the installation.

Photo Oct 24, 2 29 13 PM

Once we had a general idea of the shape we started to experiment with different dowel diameters using one of the department’s high-intensity photography lighting rigs. We learned that the closer the object is to the ground the more crisp and clearly defined the shadow is, and also that as the dowels move farther away their outlines blur significantly. We also found that we could create a shadow wave even when moving all of the dowels simultaneously along the same path, a finding which should simplify our eventual installation. We had a few hiccups involving the material we used to suspend the rods from the main axis (thread had too much “give” and resulted in a jerky motion) but we know that the core concept is sound. Our next step is to integrate a motor of some kind and begin refining the whole apparatus.

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Levi’s Stadium Presentation – Sam W, Trent, Sarah, Mini

Here’s a link to our presentation on Dropbox:

49ers - SamTrentSarahMini – Cover.001

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49ers Goals & Parameters – Sam W, Mini, Sarah, Trent


The social connection amongst football fans – and tension between opponents – is a core part of the experience. Though fans are (mostly) strangers they have a common cause, and shared interest. With the high running emotions typical of passionate fans, there’s a tangible bond amongst crowds – be that at the stadium, in a bar, or just at home.

The fans at the stadium are the epicenter of the far wider distribution of fans watching elsewhere. They hold the strongest connection to the stadium, the team and the unfolding events. They even – arguably – have the power to influence events by jeering the opponent and backing their own team. This effect is amplified for a home team, given the majority of seats belonging to home team fans and the bias of the stadium (e.g signage, jumbotron content, announcements, music). This effect is a key component of the ‘home team advantage’.

Fans elsewhere are conscious of the fans at the stadium, they see and hear them. But within the stadium the huge distribution of fans elsewhere is not greatly evident. Social media, particularly Twitter, has changed this partially. But the impact of “outside” fans on the game itself is minimal.

Despite this lack of impact, outside fans don’t hold back their jeering and cheering. Sometimes lone TV watchers will shout violently at the screen. It’s simply part of the experience to react to the game.

We’d like to let fans outside the stadium have a more direct impact on the experience inside the stadium, forging more of a connection between the fans at the epicenter (at the event) and those beyond, and perhaps letting fans not in attendance influence the game in some way.


– Fans outside the event (i.e tailgating, at bars, or at home) will be able to influence some visual or auditory component of the stadium experience.

– Fans outside the event will receive feedback / be aware of their impact on the stadium experience.

– Fans at the event will be aware of that fans outside are influencing part of their stadium experience, in support of their team or against the opponent.

– The input will neither be disruptive to the watching experience for “outside” fans nor for “inside” fans. It will add not take away from the game.

– At best all fans will believe the product has a direct (positive) impact on the performance of their team, or (negative) performance of the opponent.

— Fans at home will feel a stronger connection to the stadium, and thus feel encouraged to attend games at the stadium.


– No additional technology will be required in the stadium beyond the current setup.

– No additional technology will be required by “outside” fans beyond their current smartphones.

– We will use phone sensors for some form of input.

– We will use stadium auditory or visual technology for some form of output.

– Smartphones belonging to fans inside the stadium may also be utilized.

– While contributing to home team advantage, the product should also be available to the away team, and shouldn’t distort the stadium experience to the point of being perceived as unfair.

—Can not directly affect gameplay, per rules of NFL.

—Timing should consider the staggered nature of the game, and focusing on the gaps in play.

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Kinecting Dots on the subway

I took some of the core concepts from a quantified self / data visualization project completed early last year and re-imagined them in the context of riding the subway.

[Presentation on Dropbox]

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by | September 15, 2014 · 5:14 pm

Sam on “Third Places”

I come from a small island called the United Kingdom. We love privacy. Perhaps the only other country to display such reserved sensibilities is Japan, where people also share a small water-locked slither of land.

In light of this I’ve always admired America’s more outgoing culture. I figured the early settlers understood that if they were going to conquer this brave new world they were going to have to talk to strangers, leading the way to a land more prone to celebrating extroversion and openness.

But Oldenburg is right to lament modern suburbia. The ‘private’ space afforded by a car has led to a deep re-orientation of public space. Until I came to America, I’d never dreamed of a drive-through ATM.

Cities – particularly New York – are often considered unfriendly. I see this as mostly misconceived. New York is probably the most overly-social place in the world. A place where people fulfil three social engagements in one night, and pass on two more. The problem is that this intensity leads people to shut down sharply to strangers, there is only so much inter-personal stimulation a person can handle.

An easy deflection of the author’s critique, particularly 18 years after its writing, is to call the web – and particularly social media – today’s third place. I’d argue there are many nuances to this, some of which I’ve tackled in my own work. Connecting with strangers still requires a set of norms, permissions and affordances. Just because people can connect online, doesn’t mean they will feel comfortable doing so. Also, somewhat ironically, digital services that have had the most impact connecting nearby users really only gain traction in big cities with critical density – suburbunites who could really benefit from nearby networking are likely to encounter empty rooms and virtual tumbleweeds.

Of course, such norms, permissions and affordances are important in the physical plane too. His reference to dog-owners is interesting – in England a pet offers near complete permission to talk to a stranger, though often conversation is directed to the pet rather than the owner. I’m quite sure that millions of people only own pets to afford these kind of encounters, particularly with other pet owners.

I’d never considered that fleeing to ‘Sun Cities’ correlated with a lack of community and purpose post-retirement, but I think he is correct in this insight. However, I’d argue that some of these new retirement communities act as purpose-built third places, full of the kind of interactions he longs for. In this sense, I’m not sure this is a wholly negative development.

A lot of the issues with third places are really economic – with more disposable income people can pay to spend time in shared public (but private) spaces. I’m not sure he addressed this component as much as he might. In posing questions about inclusivity, I think access to third places – and the corresponding benefits he outlines – deserves to be a lens through which such issues are examined.

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