Bike stuff, Summer 2014 edition – Mountain

I’ve been spending a lot of time on the saddle this summer, and figure it’s about time I should write a bit here. After about 2 months of pretty good road volume, (more on this in a post to follow) I felt like I finally got a good base. At about this time the Indiana Summer heat ran me off the road and into the woods.

Gear stuff
I’m still riding the same bike as shown in my ’12 bike check post with a few changes. The first change was tires. I had been running Specialized Fast Track LK tires front and rear. After my first couple of weeks of riding this year, I started to rethink my whole tire situation. I’ve been running tubeless for a while, but still running pretty high pressure – around 50 psi. (about 10 over what stans recommends for these rims) I figured that since I’m over 200 lbs, and my riding style is a lot more BMX like than most cross country / trail riders, it made sense.. but ultimately it was stupid. I could drag my rear tire through fast corners easily, but I had an upper speed limit in the same turns because my front tire would slide. I’ve since put an S-Works “The Captain” in 2.2″ on the front and dropped pressures to 30psi rear and 25 psi front. The rear is still really high, and I am encountering problems with wet/muddy climbs. I figure it’s about 50% tire and 50% body positioning. Still, everything is working a lot better.

After experiencing some real traction from the front tire, I’ve been able to come into turns hotter and lean through them, which has led me to make some cockpit adjustments. Previously I had no drop. Bars were actually higher than saddle. I grabbed a used RaceLite stem from the shop that is a less aggressive angle, and also went to a flat bar – We had a FSA SL-K at the shop for a relatively inexpensive price so I put it on. (only to later find out that it is a carbon wrapped aluminum bar and not actual carbon) I’m going to gradually lower and ultimately flip the stem.  So far it’s working out, with the exception of the new bars being too wide. I hit too many trees, so I cut them down to 620mm.

I’ve also added a front brake (yep, I used to do rear only) and put my old Specialized Toupe saddle on. The saddle has been pretty great with the exception of the pointy plastic things on the back, and the front brake has been hit or miss. Sometimes I really appreciate it, and other times it makes me wreck. Speaking of wrecks, I’ve gotten pretty awesome at falling. Somehow, I only fall to the right side, so my right knee has taken quite a beating. Apparently I have enough muscle mass at this point to take the hits, because I’m not having any problems past skin abrasions.  

I’m still in gear head mode. Currently waiting on some new grips. I ordered a pair of Ergon GS-2’s and also a pair of their GE1’s. I still have the XO grip shift, and while I love it’s function, the shifter is huge, and is giving me a hassle as far as grip/lever location. I’ve also got some Shimano XTR skewers on the way. It may sound like a stupid thing to spend money on, but I recently noticed that both my road and mountain bikes have been having issues with the (probably DT swiss) skewers that came with my stan’s wheelsets. They just aren’t staying in the dropouts. The popular internet opinion is that Shimano or Campy are the best for skewers if you’re not being a weight weenie, so we’ll see how this goes.

So far I’ve only done two mountain bike races. I raced Intro class at Muscatatuck State Park a few weeks ago and got first, and just raced Clydesdale at Versailles this past weekend and got third. There are two more races in the DINO series, and I hope to hit them both.

I’m definitely not fast by any means, and I’m sure that if I was doing Cat3 I’d be at the very bottom of the pack, but I feel pretty strong compared to my past fitness levels. Weight is still an issue, and climbing sucks, but I can do it. I do better on dry trails because I can stand up and climb as you would on a single speed; wet trails I’m just burning out. My handling has been steadily improving, and I’m having a lot of fun on flowy stuff. I can tell I’ve got a lot more control over the bike as well as the strength to really push it around. There’s room for improvement though. I suck at tight turns. I usually come in too hot, or can’t force the wheel to turn as tight as I need it to go.

A Dip in the River – An interpretation of John Cage’s A Dip in the Lake for Lafayette Indiana


Over the past semester I did a re-imagining of Cage’s A Dip in the Lake for the Greater Lafayette, Indiana area. It was a pretty interesting process, and despite my love of recordistry, not something that I’d have usually embarked on.

Score for A Dip In the Lake

I think I’ve gotten deep enough into this piece that it’s a little hard for me to describe what it is concisely. The original A Dip in the Lake is a kind of Visual composition for a sound collage. I’ve not been able to find a lot of detail on his composition process, but it looks like Cage just selected random points on a map of the Chicago area. A list of addresses was created from this map. The composition was published in 1978 by Henmar Press, Inc, and copies are available in some libraries. 

Aside from the location list, little direction is provided in the original work beyond the text:


for performer(s) or listener(s) or record maker(s)

(Transcriptions may be made for other cities, or places, by assembling through chance operations a list of four hundred and twenty-seven addresses and then, also through chance operations, arranging these in ten groups of two, sixty-one groups of three, and fifty-six groups of four.)

Funny how seeing the above direction describes the work better than my earlier attempt. The lack of specificity is really nice. It opens the work up to be as simple or difficult as you want, and free for all kinds of interpretation. There are so many different ways you could go about this! One that just dawns on me is use of video instead of just audio..

The lack of specificity could also be a burden, depending on how you look at it. I generally like to have specific direction when I’m working on something like this. Having a logic, or an ideal outcome, or even a reason for doing the project in the first place are generally important, and not knowing these things can be crippling. [This is probably the biggest issue in my life right now as I go through a graduate program in Art and Design.. Specifically the areas of Industrial Design and Visual Design. I’m learning _creative_ professions, but in reality I’m just learning to spot and regurgitate trends.] This is where I really got into Cage’s philosophy. It’s almost like decision nihilism. The artist’s choice is totally irrelevant, or rather, the beauty lies in choas, and making decisions undermines that.

My Version
I’m getting too far into the theory. To step back, for my re-imagining and realization of this piece, I fought to use chance where ever possible, and beyond this, I used more technologically determinate methods for doing so than I suspect Cage did. I guess this really makes it easier to be “random”, which I think is a good thing. It also highlights our default use of technology for completing everyday tasks.

MapWithLinesTo start, I chose my locations randomly. I used a website called GeoMidPoint. It was really the first thing I found in a Google Search, but it turned out to suit my needs. It generated 20 GPS locations for me in a radius I specified that mostly encompassed Lafayette and West Lafayette, IN. I only used 20 points (down from Cage’s prescribed 427) to make this complete-able in the given time frame.

My next step was to visit all of these locations to record audio. The quickest means I could think of to get to each GPS position was to enter it into Google Maps. Interestingly, this resolved the locations to street addresses. This was a form much easier for me to use, but it also distorted the data a bit – Google Maps “thinks” in terms of streets, not in terms of locations, and this was evident in it’s translation of the GPS coordinates. For example, one of my GPS locations was in the middle of a corn field. Rather than giving me directions to get to the middle of the corn field, Google Maps gave me directions to the closest road to that point in the corn field, as well as a picture of that spot on the road. It was interesting what we lose in the augmented perception offered by Google Maps. ..You can’t see inside structures either.. or hear sounds from the location.. etc, etc.

I recorded 2 minutes of audio at each location and then proceeded to my next step, which was figuring out how to combine the audio together. Peter Gena, who did the first realization of this piece in 1982 was my primary source of information for the processing of the audio. [1. isn’t it interesting that the composition sat around for 4 years before it was ever performed? 2. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have relied on prior methods in figuring out my own] Gena had the luck of being able to ask Cage himself how the sounds should go together, and it was suggested that he use a similar method to one from another of Cage’s works called Rozart Mix. This involved some interesting (and random) editing of magnetic tape. My recordings started off in the digital realm, so I had to adapt. I initially planned to cut up the audio segments “by hand” in editing software and recombine them according to chance operations, but before long I realized that even with my reduced number of recordings, it would take a really long time. Instead, based on a suggestion of a friend, I used Cycling’74’s MAX software to build a processor that automatically did what I had planned to do manually. It worked wonderfully, and as a side effect, can run infinitely. This immediately made me think it would be something cool to use in a gallery show.

Long winded enough, I suppose. Here is a video for the first of the 4 pieces that came out of this. Photo’s of the 5 locations included in this work are shown – first what Google Maps showed me followed by what I found when I arrived there. There is also video of the MAX patcher at work.

Related links:
More details in the paper for this project
The MAX Patcher I used
Other realizations of A Dip in the Lake: Chicago, Washington DC, Luxembourg Germany, Potenza Italy

Installation art – Stephen Hendee – The Last People

A couple of weeks ago I was in Grand Rapids, Michigan for the Midwest UX conference. Like most conferences, there were great talks on the topic, but this one was interesting in that attendees got to see a lot of the host city’s attractions as a part of the conference program.

One of the local features that held my attention after the conference was Stephen Hendee‘s installation titled “The Last People” at SiTE:LAB’s 54Jeff, a former public museum turned art-space, where the conference held it’s Friday night gala.

Hendee seems to be into the idea of future past. The premise of this particular piece is that in the distant future, intelligent machines have taken the place of human civilization, and created a museum of their own history.  This premise seems to be a theme, as one of his earlier works, The Ice Next Time: Textiles and Artifacts of Dark Age North America (2026-2280), depicts historic artifacts from the early times of a fictional future.

I like the story angle. It seems like it would be fun to write a bit of sci-fi as the exploratory part of a design project. But beyond that, I really like the look of the machines in The Last People. By appearances, I would guess that they are all just cut coroplast held together with vinyl tape. Lights inside of them provide the eerie glow. Admittedly, I like the multifacet paneled ones more than the simpler rectangular ones. I suppose the complexity of the shapes indicate the level of advancement of the machine civilization. I didn’t really catch that when I initially saw it.

A cool and inspiring piece. Check out more of Stephen’s work:

Stephen Hendee website
The Last People Tumblr
The Ice Next Time

IDSA Western conference – Day 1

Is it cliche to do conference recaps? I don’t know. I feel like this might be useful for folks who don’t get to go, or have simply never been.

Photo Apr 12, 2 04 31 PM

So yeah. I live and go to school in Indiana, and as such typically go to the Midwestern IDSA conference. This year, the western conference has the theme of designer as entrepreneur, an idea which strikes my fancy as I’ve been studying entrepreneurship and plan to work it into my thesis, so I decided to hit this one too.

As is customary, the vendor booths are the first thing I encountered. Rapid prototyping and short run options seemed to be more on display than usual with companies offering  some new processes like pressure formed plastics and a kind of pseudo investment casting aluminum process. There was also a booth from “slippynotes” a post-it like product that can be reused like a white board, and slid around the wall.

Software was also represented with the SolidThinking crew repping their Evolve and Inspire applications, Luxion showing off the new Keyshot 4 and Autodesk with their new cloud meets T-splines “360” product.

Designcraft was in the house as usual, with some toys. This year some acryllic “build your own cars” which replaced last years ARPY’s.

The conference got rolling with the student chapter officer orientation program meeting led by Jose Rivera-Chang, followed by a portfolio review session. Next up was a great talk from Dario Antonioni covering ways to fund your projects with OPM. (other people’s money) Next, Jason Belaire led a panel discussion on portfolio practices. Finally, Erick Millan discussed his philosophy for designing for pets.

The night closed with a post party at Dash dot. Tasty food and networking.

Looking forward to tomorrow’s talks.

summer bike stuff

I’ve recently grabbed a part time job at a local bike shop. So far it’s been pretty cool. I think retail experience is really beneficial for someone studying Industrial Design, and I also like the discount on bike parts. In light of those discounts, I’ve been plotting some upgrades to my mountain bike.

The first upgrade in the works is a new wheelset. I’m currently running a set of  Vuelta Zerolites, ie: the cheapest 29er wheelset I could find at the time. [now there seem to be other29er wheelsets as low as $100] The wheels have done ok and the bike is a lot of fun to ride but the 2200g weight and stray aluminum shards I keep finding in my tubes have made me ready to look for something new.

Admittedly under-informed on MTB wheels, I was looking in all the wrong places for a new set. My first go-tos were the Specialized Roval wheelsets, but they were a little spendy for my super thin budget. I googled reviews of Crank Brothers wheels since I can get a team discount on them, but most bigger folks didn’t have much nice to say about them. Then I checked SRAM RISE wheelsets. They looked good, but aren’t touted as “tubeless ready”, something that I kind of wanted despite the fact that it doesn’t mean much. (with rim strips and sealant, I’m told that you can make just about any wheel tubeless) With the tubeless issue in mind, a coworker turned me on to the Stan’s NOTUBES wheels. They are designed specifically to be tubeless and the Arch EX model which best fits my weight seems to be as light as anything else, and has a nice wide rim, another feature I was looking for. The price is pretty nice too. I should be ordering a set in the next week. Stan’s also has a new cyclocross wheelset that sounds to be super tough, and are 400g lighter than the Neuvations on my road bike.

The other upgrade in the works for my mountain bike is the drive train. Since I assembled it, I’ve been running a rigged up 32-18 single speed setup. I really enjoy the single speed, but with collegiate Mountain bike season coming up, I felt like having some gearing options would be beneficial. The announcement of SRAM’s XX1 line got me really excited. It’s a purpose designed 1X groupset with 11 cogs on the cassette. Unfortunately, XX1 wont be available until October, and I also realized that it’s position in the upper levels of SRAM’s components mean it will be crazy expensive and will likely wear out quickly. My solution was to piece together a budget minded but still high performing 1x groupset of my own that is currently looking like the following:

SRAM x7 2×10 crankset

SRAM 1X conversion kit (32T)

X7 10sp short cage rear derailleur

X9 10sp grip-shifter

X9 1070 cassette 11-36t

1071 chain

MRP 1X chain guide

metal house in brick

dovecote studio

dovecote studio

I don’t have any thing profound to say in this post, or even anything to add. I saw this building on FFFFOUND! a while back, and really liked it. I was eventually curious enough to go looking for details and found the architect’s website. The general idea is that they took the decayed remains of a brick structure and stuck a small, steel covered building in it.

It’s a great idea and a beautiful building. I have to admit that I was a little saddened to learn that it wasn’t a house, but rather an artist’s studio. This fact is evident when you see the stark interior. I was also disappointed with the project cost, cited at around $250,000 USD. Granted, I don’t know specifically what goes into something like this other than materials. I see that a structural engineer, and an environmental engineer were used in addition to contractors and the like. I’m guessing the engineers all get a good chunk of money.

Anyway.. Just a cool project I wanted to share.

hueristic evaluations.. beyond the screen and ergonomics

Since beginning my foray into Industrial Design and Interaction design, there are a few common threads that keep popping up in my projects and annoying me. Today I want to write about one that came up in a recent project where I was designing a ubiquitous computing/ambient weather forecasting device. As is usually the case, we were required to plan a heuristic evaluation.. for a physical device.

Bonsai weather forecaster

Bonsai weather forecaster

This shouldn’t be a big deal, but the problem is, everyone immediately jumps to Neilsen for the heuristics they’ll be using. This is all well and good; they’re a pretty good set, but they are intended for 2D screen based interfaces, especially web, where it’s automatically assumed that the interface will have the user’s full attention; ie: staring at a computer. I’ve googled “heuristic evaluation” +”physical device” about a hundred times over the past two years and always get the same sad results. Usually, the only things remotely worthwhile are various archives of this IxDA forum thread from 2008. The gist is that a guy is looking for heuristics for physical device  testing, and the IxD folk tell him to look up ergonomics.

In my own practice, I take Neilsen’s 10, ditch the ones that really don’t apply, alter some, or grab some from other limited sources. One of these other sources that I’ve used before is a list from a consulting company called Tristream. I used these in the evaluation of a piece home/industrial automation back-channel management software. It wasn’t totally ideal, but it got the job done.

Neilsen's Heuristics vs AmbientHeuristics (Markoff et al, 2003, p.172)

Neilsen's Heuristics vs AmbientHeuristics (Markoff et al, 2003, p.172)

Back to my ambient weather forecasting project.. I was lucky enough to find a great paper titled “Heuristic Evaluation of Ambient Displays” from the ’03 CHI conference. In it, some folks from UC, Berkeley and Intel Research went through the heuristic selection/creation process I described above, in this case, especially for ambient displays. The paper discussed their test of these heuristics and found them to be significantly more useful in identifying major issues than the original set from Neilsen. In the test, “a single evaluator will only find about 13% of major issues” but “a single evaluator using the ambient heuristics finds 22% of known major problems on average”. (Markoff et al, 2003, p. 175)

Where am I going with this? I really think there should be a published set of heuristics for physical devices. I understand that the type of device greatly impacts the heuristics that should be used, but it would be nice to have a basic starting point that made more sense for 4D interaction than just the stock set from Neilsen. I’m hopping to draft such a paper over the summer. It’d be of tremendous use for myself, but I think the Industrial design community as a whole could benefit. If any of the designers out there have suggestions to this end, please let me know! I’d appreciate the input.