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Writing Jam: Beautiful Complexity of Wellbeing

Writing Jam: Beautiful Complexity of Wellbeing

On October 27, 2017 Norah Zuniga Shaw hosted a writing jam in relation to this years theme on Wellbeing entitled Beautiful Complexity. This jam included a movement storm which is a score for generating ideas, developing language and getting into a shared space of embodied discovery. Below are selected reflections from participants Candace Stout and Ben McCorkle.

Candace Stout, Department of Arts Administration, Education, and Policy

Last week Norah invited me to a sandbox, along with our good colleagues Peter Chan, Ben McCorkle and Rick Livingston. I envisioned a think-tank affair, four of us seated around a table, Norah flipping a tablet, noting concept gems, diagrams and ah-ha moments. Things, however, weren't that way and at the outset, I was uneasy. Maybe it was the Starbucks venti espresso. Maybe it was the walk through the ACCAD supply closet culminating in a rubberized room, or the almost audible monastic soundtrack infusing that space. Whatever was that initial instinct [over-caffeination or sedimented institutional expectations], it dissipated in finding, in Toni Morrison's words, "the friends of my mind." Among the piles of yellow paper scattered on the floor, the incidental flip charts at the edge of the room, and in the layers of journal articles that Norah placed on tables, I found compelling relevance. There were key words, incisive phrases, and insistent commentaries-expressions resonating with and informing my own humanizing epistemology and practice, and importantly, that of my grad students in the most consequential ways. Humanizing research works toward connection and disruption, relational, dialogic, consciousness-raising for self and others. It is a mind-set, strategies animating and probing performance and experience, activating sympathetic and empathic awareness. Graduate researchers in my writing seminar use the virtual to examine, understand and impact the material-the real. They are committed to the work of

meditation for well-being, healing, coping with the human condition; understanding the nature and import of embodied knowing; using arts performance as connection in public spaces; using narrative ways of knowing for the researcher-self and those with whom meaning is created. Multimodality in knowing and relating are primary in what they do. Research toward connection, disruption, and resolve. Thank you Rick, Peter and Ben for this collaboration. Thank you Norah for sharing this inspiring box of sand.

Ben McCorkle, Department of English

I’d like to play with a scaled-down version of a much larger cloud of ideas that I have percolating in my head that deals with generating creative ideas by exploring connections between binaries, closed systems, things that seem irreparably divisive, unconnected, or incapable of change.

The jam activity today was designed with a particular purpose in mind: to generate ideas that will guide the HT collective’s thinking about the theme of well-being might eventually help give shape to some future artifact or text such as a journal article, blog post, etc. After debriefing, we first engaged in a 20-minute period of “graze, gather, raise.” After, we shifted to the atomizing phase, exploding a concept out into multiple areas, then shared our results with one another, and then left to produce things like this one I’m writing now

Yes, I know, we were all there—your recollection is probably a lot more granular than this account is.  My point, though, is that everyone talked about the *process* of this activity—we acknowledged it *as its own thing* rather than the thing that leads to the thing (i.e., that piece of writing, etc. that we might generate down the line). Process and product—this is how we typically butcher the meat. But in this case, the process itself can be seem a type of product, a thing in and of itself, or at least the anticipatory echo of products-to-be. Here, I find myself contemplating what that means in terms of the HT project and how it relates to this theme of well-being. This process-as-product, which engaged the entire sensorium, our sense of proprioception, our sense of care as we moved through the space and manipulated its contents, opens up a space of possibility as a potential product that addresses our idea of well-being.

For example, I can imagine this activity as an immersive VR program designed to help users generate their own creative ideas that allows them to map, move, (re)place text, images, etc., and especially allow for positive collaborative interactivity. Or maybe some sort of meditation training app that, by moving words rapidly, playfully, and constantly through a virtual or augmented space, creates that mantra-like phenomenon of semantic satiation that often accompanies transcendent states (“care, care, care, care, care, …”). Or maybe an application that would help with conflict mediation in some way by creating a dynamically manipulable, shared virtual space where users would work with material in a way that would bring about resolution through cooperative play (okay, this one is a little half-baked, but I think there might be something there). In these cases, the underlying idea is the same: focusing on today’s process itself as the wireframe around which we build possible products aimed at designing technological solutions to the problems impeding our well-being…

Digital & Physical Games

Scott Swearingen (Design); Scott Denison (Design); Ben Schroeder (CSE); J Eisenmann (CSE); Kyoung Swearingen (Design); Matt Lewis (Design); Norah Zuniga Shaw (Dance); Chris Summers (Dance), Alan Price (Design); Isla Hansen (Art); Alex Oliszewski (Theater); Oded Huberman (Dance); Sarah Lawler (Design). Demo Location: Motion Lab (room 350). Digital + Physical Games

Scott Swearingen (Design); Scott Denison (Design); Ben Schroeder (CSE); J Eisenmann (CSE); Kyoung Swearingen (Design); Matt Lewis (Design); Norah Zuniga Shaw (Dance); Chris Summers (Dance), Alan Price (Design); Isla Hansen (Art); Alex Oliszewski (Theater); Oded Huberman (Dance); Sarah Lawler (Design). Demo Location: Motion Lab (room 350). Digital + Physical Games


This project involves development of a framework that explores, discovers, and questions the intersection of physical and virtual presence within the context of games. While ‘play’ offers the individual an opportunity to learn about themselves and others, ‘games’ provide the necessary structure to make our choices meaningful and give weight to our capacity for empathy. Furthermore, by integrating physical and virtual presence in this framework, we can streamline our ability to abstract relationships within a given system, and hence, one another.


A playable prototype of a two-player game using Kinect/ Processing and Unity. Players cooperate to navigate a scrolling landscape, dodging or otherwise moving around emerging obstacles, barriers, and projectiles.


We created this in a week during our Human Technologies Pop-Up intensive. There was never a time throughout the week that we were worried about having a deliverable. Keeping the mechanics simple and having a really small design footprint helped us stay agile, and made development easy to pick up and put down. Investment was also key. We wrangled faculty, students, and staff for their ideas, and bounced our own off them for hourly sanity-checks.

Method of Loci: Multi-scaled Integrated VR for Collaborative Meaning Making

Method of Loci (a mnemonic system in which items are mentally associated with specific physical location) Alan Price (Design); Isla Hansen (Art); Scott Swearingen (Design); Norah Zuniga Shaw (Dance); Michelle Wibbelsman (Latin American Indigenous Cultures); Ben McCorkle (English). Demo Location: SIM Lab.

Method of Loci (a mnemonic system in which items are mentally associated with specific physical location) Alan Price (Design); Isla Hansen (Art); Scott Swearingen (Design); Norah Zuniga Shaw (Dance); Michelle Wibbelsman (Latin American Indigenous Cultures); Ben McCorkle (English). Demo Location: SIM Lab.


We set out to explore modes of interaction between users immersed in VR with a Head Mounted Display, and users with an external, third-person perspective using a multi-touch display. The design intent was to draw awareness to the differences in scale and perspective, engaging users in a process of collaboration that requires navigation and communication across the two modalities and encourages awareness of both digital and physical experience.


The current outcome is a networked multi-user VR collaboration space that encourages experimental making and play through collective creation, assembly, and recording. A mobile web app is used to upload images, sound, and video, as well as 3d models, in real time, to contribute to a growing and malleable virtual world. Inside this world, users can move, combine, and attribute physical properties to objects, videos, and sounds. Recording these movements, users can create animations, drawings, and spatial soundscapes. Objects take on meaning through the users’ intent, creating associations through composition and movement in the virtual space. The system can be used for staging games, collective sense-making, storytelling, or other purposes to be discovered.


Critical thinking and research in the domain of humane technology can include ongoing study of the design of interfaces; the design of modes of interaction; the design of technology that can enable us to freely converse between physical and digital constructs. Developing systems that promote reflection by its users on how we understand our engagement with systems and how we can engage with one another through a system, benefits from focusing on the attributes that support or expose a deeper dialog about the mechanisms operating to enable that engagement.


Humane Object Agency: Part One

Humane Object Agency: Part One

Collaborating faculty member Matthew Lewis writes:  I arrived at the humane technologies project and group later than most of the participants. I was invited to participate in the pop-up week which would focus on virtual reality this semester. I've been curious about using VR technologies for interface prototyping, and this seemed like a great opportunity. As with all pop-up participants, I was encouraged to consider either joining existing project groups, or to bring my own ideas to the table.

Not having been part of the earlier discussions, my unbiased ideas about "humane technologies" primarily involved evaluating people's interactions with the technology emerging around them in positive and negative ways. In particular, I've been reading almost daily newspaper articles about the "internet of things" (IoT). Usually these discussions center on debates between convenience vs privacy: e.g. your internet connected devices are controllable via your smartphone, but they also report your engagement to advertisers for marketing purposes. 

Discussions of the Internet of Things tend to predict that smart objects will be increasingly communicating in complex webs of systems which may or may not have our best interests in mind. In the same vein as it is often said that, "you are not the consumer but rather the product" for companies like Facebook, networked smart objects like your TV might be "free" to use as well, in exchange for you allowing an infrared camera to monitor your apartment and track your eyes as you watch TV.

With this content in mind at my first humane tech meeting, I heard Professor Michelle Wibbelsman (Spanish & Portuguese) mention two things that resonated for me: indigenous peoples' beliefs about objects having agency, and also "Object Oriented Ontologies" (OOO). I was curious about the idea that some cultures may have already thought a great deal about how to live surrounded with objects that have agency. Additionally, "Object Oriented Ontology" is a relatively recent perspective on metaphysics that’s attracted some attention from computer scientists working at the intersection of philosophy and human computer interaction. OOO involves a de-centering of humans that considers physical objects, ideas, their relationships, and agencies all as equally valid objects of philosophical consideration.

At this same initial meeting, Professor Hannah Kosstrin (Dance) mentioned that her motion analysis class's graduate students would be available to participate in projects during the pop-up week. Years ago I was fascinated by a presentation I’d seen on "service prototyping" which used actors as participants for interactive system design. I proposed that Hannah's students could embody the roles of communicating IoT devices, exploring the possibility space of system agency. Many IoT species will converse primarily with other smart objects and networked systems, rather than interacting directly with people in their space. What might such devices be "talking" about? What could their awareness and motivations encompass in different future scenarios?  

Additionally, I envisioned another participant immersed in a VR apartment environment, experiencing representations of these devices communicating around them. For example, there might be an indication that a smart TV, smart refrigerator, and smart couch were all observing aspects of their environment, and "doing their job" whatever that might be. What would this be like to live in such a space? 

I suspected that by embodying this simulation/performance, it might lead to thought provoking discussion, helping us to contemplate aspects of such emerging technologies and trends in ways we might not have otherwise considered from mere thought experiments.  I also hoped we might gain insight into the humane technology aspects of IoT, beyond the current discussions of privacy vs. convenience. Last, I hoped to gain experience with the usefulness of VR for interaction design prototyping. In a followup post, I'll discuss the implementation and outcomes of the pop-up.

Sandbox Sessions Summary

Sandbox Sessions Summary

Professor Norah Zuniga-Shaw facilitated a series of Sandbox sessions during the Autumn 2016 semester for the Humane Technologies team to get started collaborating and asking research questions together. The expectations, experiences, and reflections stimulated by these Sandbox sessions are presented in the blog posts for each Sandbox. These open ended collaborative sessions resulted in the key research frameworks and humane technology definitions that we will take into the Pop-Up session March 6-10, 2017.

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Vita Berezina-Blackburn: Storytelling Potential Using Motion Capture

As the Humane Technologies research team first began contemplating the 2016-2017 "Livable Futures" theme in Autumn semester, we held a series of sandbox sessions in the ACCAD labs and studios, each led by a different team member. The purpose of these sandboxes was to engage in a "doing thinking" process together with various humane technology frameworks in order to explore potential lines of inquiry, develop research questions, and build relationships. What follows are notes developed in conjunction with this particular sandbox session. 

Sandbox: Motion Capture with Vita Berezina-Blackburn

Wednesday, November 30, 9:30-11:30am in the ACCAD Motion Lab

Attendees: Vita Berezina-Blackburn, Alex Oliszewski, Norah Zuniga Shaw, Peter Chan, Scott Swearingen,Scott Denison, Alan Price, Mindi Rhoades, Hannah Kosstrin, Isla Hansen

Sandbox Framework for Collaboration:

Investigation of approaches for presenting narratives in full body, room scale VR scenarios driven by practices in theater production and acting. The Sandbox will include demos of ACCAD's current state of available technologies and existing VR experiences from the Marcel Marceau project, as well as related creative practices. Tech: Vicom Motion Capture System, Motion Builder, Oculus.

Anticipation / Expectation:

• VR, motion capture, and training performers, live storytelling in physical and virtual worlds, theater artists driving VR creation

Disposition / Experience: 

Thoughts gleaned from participants during and after the sandbox: 

• Two characters were having a conversation in a science fiction future and I was able to walk around as an invisible third-party (fly on the wall) and observe.

• The conversation was secondary as I was exploring the view and props from this high-rise virtual set design. But I could have easily replayed the scene, taken a seat beside them and listened more intently the second time.

• Is this a significantly more entertaining means of experiencing narrative?

• The thought of 'stepping' into someone's experience was very interesting, and whether or not I would be more likely to follow his mesh or his shadow.

• When doing 180-degree turns in VR I need some sort of reflection so I can see his movement when he goes off-screen.

• Having multiple instances works well pedagogically or as a learning environment, but not so much from the perspective of "appreciate this historic performance."

• Having a CG hand that can interact with the environment would be useful and engaging. Placing an invisible trigger-box around it could easily test for collision.

• Using headphones would connect with experience better b/c audio would be more contextually sensitive. For instance, MOCAP lab walls bounce sound differently than the tight quarters I was experiencing in VR. Scale is always an issue.

• In some ways this reminded me of 'manual cinema', but the audience would also need headsets to approach parity with actors.

• The concept of 'priming for the meta-aesthetic' was very interesting.

Reflection / Opportunity:

• The technical aspects of this are way over my head, but I wonder if this could be done with multiple Google Cardboard to avoid the tethering requirement of Oculus? 

• As in the Marcel Marceau experiment, are we able to learn faster/more through embodied experiences, i.e. could someone practice an interview or social etiquette this way? 

• Could the viewer/reader/player use something like this to inspect props/evidence within the scene to help solve the crime? With the addition of more sophisticated facial detail and scanning at the input stage might we also have been able to study character behaviors?

• Could designers use a similar approach to experience thought problems and test critical thinking?

• Could we build a scene or environment with all the trappings of the “problem space”, especially one that is remote or in a faraway place, in which designers can immerse themselves for study?

• I wonder if MOCAP style labs will replace some studio spaces, i.e., desks and laptops, with untethered headsets and communal, embodied experiences/learning?

• What could we accomplish with scale? Could either 'watch' or 'follow' and have full understanding of entire body and weight distribution throughout the performance and not have to piece together anatomy that's off-screen.

• Matt Lewis suggested the podcast 'Voices of VR' - interviews with the movers and shakers of virtual reality... sounded awesome.

• Why did the character that we embodied during this exercise assume we were 'physical' (Why not a droid/ghost/spectre like Sally was)? That could help explain some of the physical/VR inconsistencies related to navigating the space.

Scott Swearingen: Surprising Uses for 3D Printing

As the Humane Technologies research team first began contemplating the 2016-2017 "Livable Futures" theme in Autumn semester, we held a series of sandbox sessions in the ACCAD labs and studios, each led by a different team member. The purpose of these sandboxes was to engage in a "doing thinking" process together with various humane technology frameworks in order to explore potential lines of inquiry, develop research questions, and build relationships. What follows are notes developed in conjunction with this particular sandbox session. 

Sandbox: Whitebox with Scott Swearingen

Wednesday, November 16, 9:30-11:30am at ACCAD

Attendees: Scott Swearingen, Kyoung Swearingen, Norah Zuniga Shaw, Alice Grishchenko, Stephen Turk, Mindi Rhoades, Alan Price, Peter Chan

Sandbox: Whitebox with Scott S

Anticipation / Expectation:

• Connecting virtual and physical experience…

• Digitizing the physical world using photogrammetry has become part of our common
vernacular in the creation of digital characters, assets, and more recently, full environments. However, this technology is often employed from a production-oriented perspective that is more design-agnostic than design-centric. By incorporating 3D-printing into the process, our new pipeline seeks to preserve design intent, and help maximize the value that designers as well as artists contribute to the creation of virtual environments.

• The point at which we deviate from typical production pipelines is after the creation of the white-box. The white-box is a low-resolution collision model that serves as the foundation for all interactions between the 'player' and the 3D world in terms of mechanics, collision, layout and flow. Because 'player' interactions within virtual spaces are so inextricably tied to the collision model of the white-box, using a 3D printer would ensure that the collision model's integrity would also be preserved as it was converted to a physical format. With a physical print of the white-box in hand, sculptors and painters can now create artwork for it, and focus their efforts in a more design-oriented approach. Once the physical sculpture is complete, it is digitized using photogrammetry and integrated with the original white-box.

• This workshop aims to discover opportunities that broaden collaborations between physical and digital artists in computer graphics production. It also seeks presenters who are interested in utilizing existing technologies (such as 3D-printing and photogrammetry) in new and innovative ways. In addition, our pipeline is visually very flexible, and should be of great interest to a wide spectrum of artists, educators, and studios.

•  Can we make physical component more ‘player-facing’ rather than only ‘developer-facing’ as dictated by the process?

• What can we discover about other prototyping models that could benefit from our process?

• What alternative digital-physical methodologies could help to steer our research?

• What are the best ways to develop our shared understanding and collaborative relationships?

Disposition / Experience:

• The Whitebox is mechanics (verbs)-driven in its employment of metrics, but more narrative-driven in terms of layout and flow.

• Build in a modular fashion to help reach visual parity with concept.

• How adaptable is the process to varying skill sets, how easily can it be experienced front-to-back?

• The process of alignment is the 'grayest' and most loose step, and could be difficult for a beginner to find success here.

• Are there opportunities to receive (or design with!) other sensory input, especially considering the physical<->digital pipeline.

• Much potential to evolve (and expand) into other domains.

• Desire exists within group to make the player-facing components more physical, not just the developer-facing ones.

• Plan to make an analog prototype.

• Very curious about application (from game to augment with masked animation for narrative and atmospherics.

• Has potential to draw on multiple disciplines.

Reflection / Opportunity:

• Opportunities and interest overlaps with architecture. This is the future of architectural presentation.

• Narrative design at its best when complimented by mechanics (and vice versa)

• Terminology can be an obstacle when communicating process across disciplines.