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Mocking Eye

'Tis all in vain?

A Living Room

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For the last month I had the pleasure of joining fellow artists, designers and builders in a project that debuted at the Our City: Oakland public design fair. It stood welcoming all for 3 days, Feb 4 – Feb 6, 2016. This was our artist statement:

Living Room sprouts from the ground in the middle of Frank Ogawa Plaza. An open countertop wraps around the wall, directing pedestrians in and out of the interior, where they can share their photo or enjoy the shifting display while playing House. The walls open like two arms into the city, suggesting that all public space can be sites for gathering and play.

Living Room creates a space where people of Oakland come together to play and exist together as one community, one family. Portraits of passersby magically appear, arranged as family photos, in a warm playful set that transforms the city’s exterior into a shared space we all call home.

For me it was a very fulfilling experience that I hope to repeat in a few different ways over the coming months. Visitors seemed to enjoy it as well.

I’d also like to thank my collaborators: Albert Kong, Alex Kryzanowski, Min J Yoon, Kat Meler, Jessica Lachenal, Justin Tang, and Aaron Wynn

It was not just a dream:

Right after it was first built:

Evening on the first night:

Night Room:

Revelations and Miscellania

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Switching all the world’s cars to driverless at once would save more lives this year than immediate world peace.

Sports Corner

Kabbadi is an Indian full-contact team sport where you have to take a breath, then chant “kabbadikabbadikabbadi…” as you run into the other team’s territory and try to tag them. The chanting is to prove you’re still on your first breath. Once you tag a member of the other team, they try and prevent you from exiting their territory. India vs. Pakistan in the 2014 World Cup: adfsd

A Musical Interlude

Here’s the band Too Many Zooz (you’ve probably seen videos of them preforming in NYC’s Union Square subway station) doing their Brasshouse thing:

The Ur-kel Masters

Videogame mashup of Family Matters and Star Control II.

Posts Will Continue Until Morale Improves. -mgmt

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Going to resume posting, collating smaller thoughts I’ve had and sometimes posted on other media. Perhaps it’ll encourage me to expand on some.

User Interfaces

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User interfaces matter. I was watching a recent episode of The Taste, and one of the contestants' meatloaf just wasn’t cooking. Every time she went back to her oven she’d see the touch screen display 350F. She would slide the touch-based temperature slider to 550F and walk away. But when she’d return, the temperature was back to 350F.

The first time she did this I had a suspicion. The second time she went to back to the screen, I was able to confirm it. The temperature selection screen had an OK button on the bottom right. Just like it’s a modal dialog. She would set the temperature, but walk away without tapping that all-important OK button so the temperature wasn’t actually being adjusted.

User interfaces use metaphors in order to access shortcuts you already have in your brain. This is why skeumorphism is used in the design of digital interfaces, so you don’t have to learn a completely new way to perform a task.

One of the most simple interfaces is a lever. It affords manipulation and it augments human capability: you can exert greater force. But it’s also a metaphor for what a user interface is. If an interfaces does not enable enhancement of capacity, it is actively a hinderance. To avoid cargo cult design always consider what you attempting to enable and how much leverage you are contributing.

Mirrorshades

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Finally reading Bruce Sterling’s cyberpunk short story collection Mirrorshades. It’s commonly referred to as the definitive collection of what was then a movement and is now more of a distinct sub-genre. I was expecting to read a collection of hyper stylized and at times outdated stories, akin to how much of William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy reads now (they’re still awesome, but are clearly an artifact of their times, while a lot of good SF from the same era manages to escape that fate). To my delight I got something much fresher. Covering a nice swathe of the movement, it gives a pretty comprehensive and non-stereotypical example of the style and the themes of cyberpunk. There’s still a lot of arguing about whether everything in it is cyberpunk (for example Gibson’s Gernsback Continuum, which still reads fresh) but I think it manages to capture the feelings of cyberpunk with a nuance and scope I wasn’t really expecting.

Solving a Major Problem -- Bras

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I like learning about other people’s problems. I particular like learning about problems from people who have different problems than mine and one of the most common and persistent of those is the issue of bras. Many women told me about it and complaints were near universal and came from all quarters. I’ve specifically asked a lot of women about their experiences with bras to better understand and also did research on the state of the art of design, engineering and manufacturing of bras. This is something that affects women with breasts of all sizes–it isn’t restricted to women with big breasts. I realized recently that although I’d love to work on this problem, without some help I can’t do it. I’m not a domain expert in several of the fields required, though I’ve gone into some depth on the subject, so writing about it would perhaps inspire someone to either join me or take it up on their own.

An important note: It is common amongst engineers and programmers to wade into a new domain with a savior complex, “we’ll fix this for you with our fresh perspective!”. On a slightly different slant, a lot of women have experience mansplaining. I’m trying very explicitly to not be doing either of these. I’d like this to be an overview of what I’ve discovered and what I think is a good solution. I’m not swooping from above magically delivering bra salvation to the helpless female masses. I just haven’t seen these ideas put together before and thought folks might be interested. Just wanted this to be clear.

The Problem

Bras are required to perform these core functions:

  1. Mold the breasts into the a shape desired by the wearer (usually dictated by changing fashions, but on occasion alternative ones are desired)
  2. Reflect the look desired by the wearer when viewed without clothing (this would sometimes be “more attractive” and others, such as with sport bras, less so).
  3. Provide support and comfort allow for a wider range of vigorous activities than some women can easily accomplish without. This includes eliminating chafing.

In order to perform #1 and #2 bras are form-fitting so as to not be prominent under clothing. Form-fitting is best achieved with stretchy fabrics, which would make either #3 or #2 hard (sports bras for example sacrifice #2). Underwires were introduced to be able to transfer most of the difficult task of providing support to rigid elements made of plastic or metal. If a form-fitting item is not stretchy it will always be uncomfortable if it is not custom made. This is the core reason bras are so uncomfortable. It’s the only clothing item of this sort I can think of that is commonly worn. Imagine briefs made from dress shirt fabric. That is not a pleasant thought.

Bra sizing is terrible. The cup size of a 32C and a 34C is of a different size even though it’s designated as C. The way most companies design bras these days is that they a group of women that they used to measure and now usually perform 3D laser scans on called the model pool. Using the model pool they derive their band size to cup size function. This means that the particular function varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. So not only are the sizes themselves inconsistent between manufacturers the steps are also different since the sizing function would vary by their particular pool and how they segmented it. On top of this there are the core issues of breast asymmetry and placement: The vast majority of women’s breasts are asymmetrical and the distance between the breasts varies a lot. These are not taken into account in the sizing and adjustment for them is minimal if available at all.

So, bras are uncomfortable and under the current model can’t possibly be made comfortable. A less egregious but annoying aspect of the bra industry is that they subtly imply but never state that the bras might affect breast sagging (the technical term for which is ptosis). Repeated studies by the industry have shown this to not be the case (breasts will sag with age regardless of bra wear), so they never claim it outright but merely hint. Additionally, there are medical effects such as back pain and problems with the lymph nodes that result from imperfect fit.

This is a problem that ranks highly on both the scales of pain and persistence. This is a daily issue that causes many women a lot of suffering. It’s a big deal.

The Solution

We must be able to create a custom bra for each woman. My proposed method involves performing a 3D scan of the breasts from which a custom pattern is derived.

The state of 3D scanning as evidenced by products such as the Kinect or the Leap is such that large and slow laser scanning equipment is no longer necessary. Small units can be built and placed inside changing rooms in existing stores or perhaps in some sort of booth.

Fundamentally, a bra is an item that applies certain force vectors to from a source shape to a target shape. Current design techniques in the industry treat the breasts as liquids filling a form. The form is anchored to a body and they perform simulations not very different from those involved in other structures such as bridges to ensure forces dissipate in optimal ways throughout the bra and through the body. This sort of analysis would still be necessary, but with a 3D scan of the breasts we can create an accurate model of the breasts. So one woman might need additional support in a particular angle while another who may share her exact band and cup size would not, merely due to the differences in shape and volume which are now available!

Advances in textile manufacturing also provide potentially interesting elements. Better weaving machines are able to construct fabrics with custom 3D structures so that things like the fabric’s elasticity can vary throughout without varying the amounts of a different material. Manufacturing supply chains, and custom orders are increasingly more common, easy and cheap. We get the additional advantage of being able to respond to changing fashions in both the desired target shape and appearance more easily than traditional approaches.

So to get something like this done, one would need to be good at 3D scanning, the math required to do the tensor math for the breast shaping, the math for turning those force vectors into a pattern, the math and engineering required to optimize the patterns and the necessary textile manufacturing instructions, and the business connections to get the manufacturing done well and cheaply.

A custom bra is necessary. There’s just no other way to fulfill all 3 core tasks. I’d love for someone to tackle this. Please do contact me with any thoughts you might have on this, it’s more important than it might seem.

Edit: I really have been researching this fairly deeply for over a year, this is just meant to be a an introduction, so pardon the lack of nuance and depth. Happy to discuss any specific aspects further if anyone’s interested!

New Job!

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Just thought I might make it a point to mention I recently joined the engineering team at Comprehend, a fellow Y Combinator company. We make analytics software targeting pharmaceutical companies in an industry that’s filled with balkanized solutions. Helping tackle the byzantine challenges involved in clinical trials should be interesting!

As usual, I must add that my opinions and comments and do not represent my employer in any way shape or form.

Reading Everything Stdin in a Bash Script

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In trying to get a collectd instance to send me alerts, I found out that I didn’t know how to just read everything that might be piped into a bash script via standard input. You can read line by line easily using the read command. Just looping over it seemed pretty horrendous to me until I discovered an elegant way to do it that’s perhaps canonical, but doesn’t seem to pop up via quick googling:

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#!/bin/bash

VALUE=$(cat)

echo "$VALUE"

That’s it! $(cat) is a shorthand for $(cat /dev/stdin), so presumably you can use this to read from stderr by pointing it at /dev/stderr.

Happy piping!

Migrated From Posterous to Octopress

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I’ve migrated the blog from Posterous to Octopress. Posterous was alright, but syntax highlighting was a bit annoying, and gist embedding is ugly. Plus I just wanted a little bit more control. At the same time I didn’t want the various security and management headaches that basically every dynamic CMS brings with it.

I used the alternative posterous importer provided by Jekyll–their default one doesn’t preserve the permalinks. Before running it you should fix a bug: s/post\.media[2]/post.media/. Then you can run it with ruby posterous.rb USERNAME PASSWORD API_TOKEN. Presto!

Piping Ls Through Less With Colors on Mac OS X

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The following command will do the trick:

CLICOLOR_FORCE=1 ls -G|less -R

Or just add this to your .bash_profile file to have ls always display in color and less always able to consume color codes:

alias ls='CLICOLOR_FORCE=1 ls -G'
alias less='less -R'

This has been tested on 10.6.8 and should be valid for subsequent versions as well. Just a tad annoying since ls on Mac OS X behaves a bit differently than the standard linux one (i.e. no --color option).