Are you hot? No, really.

The wonderful thing about interaction design is that one has the opportunity to experiment on things and explore their potential. Recently, I started playing with swatches of ChroMyx, a line of temperature-sensitive fabric that changes color at a higher temperature  and returns to its original color when the temperature is reduced again.

The heat from my skin changes the color of thermosensitive fabric.

Chameleon International, which manufactures ChroMyx, sent me the variant that was more sensitive to heat changes and was UV-stable; I would be able to use this outdoors and sunlight would not affect the color change.

One thing I did not expect was how different people’s body heat was.  For example, consider three of my colleagues who placed their hands on the fabric for the same duration of time:

Designers Prachi Pundeer, Sana Rao, and Tom Harman test thermochromic fabric.

They leave handprints of varying shades of blue:

Different body temperatures yield different shades of color change.

Embarrassingly, I discovered that I am quite warm-blooded; with the other side of the fabric draped on me, it slowly turned blue, particularly in areas of high blood circulation—a very strange way to flash someone, I’m sure. This is something I have to keep in mind when using the fabric for prototyping.

Locked in a hug with designer Tina Ye, who is often the giver and recipient of hugs in the studio, I wonder how thermochromicity can be an indicator of duration and position of touch. More to come, soon!

Two interaction designers, locked in a thermochromic hug. Photo by Chris Cannon. Limericks welcome.

Last Sunday, I gave a talk / workshop about my work at the Intrepid Museum for Camp G.O.A.L.S. (Greater Opportunities Advancing Leadership and Science) for girls, a free six-week camp for 8th and 9th graders in New York City’s public schools. The intention of the camp was to help 50 to 55 accepted applicants build proficiency in math and science.

Excuse me while I ogle this fantastic flying machine:

Sara Chipps, a developer and co-founder of Girl Develop It, gave a great keynote speech about how the population of female developers has dwindled over time, encouraging the students to help build the Internet. (Yes!)

My workshop was entitled, “Wonder, Unlimited: A Speculative Workshop” after giving them a short talk about some of the things I’ve done. I asked them to take a piece of today and to imagine how it would be tomorrow. It could be it a city, an app (if we will still have apps), a piece of clothing, an organism, a gadget, etc. The kids were provided with clay, magic markers, crayons, and some activity worksheets that related to some of my projects so that they can experience them and get their creative juices flowing (which is not very difficult for kids).

The students were intelligent creative young ladies, aged 9 to 15, with some family members. They were prodigious and driven, asking questions on how to engage in science and technology, and professing their dislike for sparkly vampires. (That’s hope, right there.) I wasn’t allowed to photograph the kids, but here are some photos of their work, which included meta-looking apps, new animals, and futuristic flowers:

Thanks to Emma Nordin of the Intrepid’s Education Department, who assisted me through the whole event.

RIP, Galileo the PC (2008-2012)

Nearly a couple of weeks ago, Galileo*, my beloved workhorse of a PC, beeped its last ones and zeroes, and with one final choking breath, crashed and burned with barely a goodbye.

(*Yeah, I name all my laptops after astronomers. Yougottaproblemwiththat?)

Attempts to resuscitate him failed, though a nice organ extraction ensured that all my data was backed up. If you must know, I am currently using the Macbook that the IxD department here at SVA (where I am a grad student) very nicely loaned me for the weekend (though it was because of a talk I had to give; that’s another story for later).

While most of the environments I am in favor Macs almost with a cult-like passion, I stuck to my PC, at least when working from home. It has been with me through years of hardcore writing, designing, applying for grants, etc. It has been with me all over the world, through a wide range of temperatures, working for a wide variety of people. The choice of machine was far from a matter of ego; it was mainly the price tag of a Macbook that kept me from getting one. The cost of it was equal to the price of a transcontinental plane ticket. I reasoned that because I still like to consume a lot of information and experiences in the real world, it was ok to be half-PC (at home) and half-Mac (in the studio). It felt a bit like being multi-lingual or culturally mixed, though as one who IS both of those, I can say that my technological preferences left me sometimes feeling ostracized or different.

Galileo had its quirks, but like a mother (or a survivor), I worked my way around them. It had a strange bug that made it shut down after two hours without saving, which made me stop paying attention to online distractions. Galileo didn’t have a slick beautiful design of the Macs I used in school. I would politely smile every time people would exclaim, “You have a PC? How do you survive?” After all, I am currently in a field where most people work primarily with gadgets, whose lives are organized through apps, whose scratchpad is TextEdit and whose thought bubbles are likely in Keynote.

I have nothing against Macs; I love them and absolutely agree that they are easier to work with. But there are advantages to still knowing how to use a PC, or hey even better, a PC with quirks. At the very least, I had trained myself to still be able to produce good work with the scrappiest tech. Because Windows is still the leading operating system in the world, used by  developing countries, government offices, and some segments of academia, it made sense to be able to do my job regardless of what tools I had at my disposal, if I should ever find my way into these areas. Personally, it made me reach out to the real world for meaningful experiences, probably a lot more than if I had a computer I worshipped. (Just now I wasted 15 minutes procrastinating because I knew this Mac wouldn’t shut down on me. Bah.) A PC has taught me not to be perpetually dependent on gadgets. I am happy to still be able to write stories and poems longhand. Or do math without a calculator. Or keep my appointments in my head. You know. In case of emergency. And when the computer crashes, my world won’t.

RIP, Galileo. Whatever machine I’ll end up with next, I’ll still keep him around, as a reminder that I am not my gadget.