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The Geek Movement » siat


Re-posted from Fashioning Technology:

I’ve been enjoying the other posts about the Superhero Design Challenge and decided to write a bit about my own experiences designing and building Captain Chronomek.  My wife and I have been designing costumes together for many years: we do this in our limited spare time, and it provides us with a chance to create interesting things without the need to justify them as “research” (we are both PhD students, at SFU’s School of Interactive Arts + Technology).  It seems cliched to say that we were into Steampunk before it was cool to be into Steampunk, and honestly we didn’t get serious about incorporating a historical aesthetic into our costumes until a few years ago.  However, it has always been important to us to create costumes that look and feel like clothing that a character would wear.  For Captain Chronomek we tried to emphasize different textiles and materials: texture was a very important part of our concept for the character, as was a sense that the costume had been lived in.  One regret I have is that we did not have as much time to distress and age the fabrics as much as I would have liked.  As with any project done to a firm deadline, there are always details that one would change if given the opportunity.

The narrative for the character was that he was an Industrial Revolution era machinist who had been chosen by a benevolent group of time-traveling aliens to defend history against an evil group of time-traveling aliens  (for full origin story and a montage of the design process, check out Captain Chronomek on YouTube, where you can read a very melodramatic description of his history).


We recently presented work on the Reading Glove at the recent iDMAa (International Digital Media and Arts Association) conference on “The Digital Narrative”.  We presented a paper in the “Narrative Objects” session, and also demonstrated version 1.0 of the Reading Glove system at the Student Showcase, as part of the SIAT graduate student group. The Student Showcase highlighted the work of graduate and undergraduate students from a number of different schools, and was judged.  At the awards banquet, we were surprised and honored to learn that the SIAT graduate student group had been judged the winners and we were presented with the Digital Media Program Award of Excellence. 

The projects presented were:

Synesketch by Uros Krcadinac

The Reading Glove by Karen Tanenbaum and Josh Tanenbaum

Tarotception by Aaron Levisohn

The Talking Poles by Lorna Boschmann & Vicki Moulder

The newest version of the Reading Glove has recently been deployed in a set of user studies.  This version is augmented with a tabletop display that helps guide the user through the story.  An intelligent reasoning engine generates recommendations based on the reader’s path through the objects, helping them out by filling in holes or pushing them to the next stage of the story.  Via the user studies, we are investigating questions of adaptivity and the perception of artificial intelligence within an entertainment experience.

We have been running user studies with the system at SFU-Surrey and are about to launch a new round at the Great Northern Way campus. Many thanks to our great participants at both schools for helping us complete this research!

We have also produced a new video for the new version, which is viewable on YouTube:
Reading Glove 2.0

We just wrapped up a very successful conference experience at the 2010 Foundations of Digital Games in beautiful Monterey, California.  We presented a paper on the Reading Glove, “Authoring Tangible Interactive Narratives Using Cognitive Hyperlinks” at the INT3 (Interactive Narrative Technologies) workshop, and then were graciously allowed to show off our system at the Saturday demo session. All of the sessions we attended and conversations we had were interesting and thoughtful, and the conference food and drink was delicious and plentiful.  It doesn’t get much better than that!
We were particularly impressed by the work coming out of the Expressive Intelligence Studio at UC-Santa Cruz, just up the road.  Their grad students were out in force, and we had some great conversations with them.  We may even have convinced them to make their own Reading Glove, for their own nefarious purposes. Can’t wait to see what they do with it!

Reading Glove AH Slide

Josh just got back from presenting the paper The Reading Glove: Designing Interactions for Object-Based Tangible Storytelling in Megeve, France.

After several months of trial & error we have finally completed a working first prototype of the TUNE glove, recently re-named the “Reading Glove”.  The Reading Glove combines an Innovations ID-12 RFID reader, an XBee series 2 module (on a Lilypad XBee Radio), and Arduino Lilypad, and a simple homemade power supply to transmit RFID tag information wirelessly to a Laptop running Max MSP.  Read on for specific details on how it works, what it does, and how to make one of your own.

The complete circuit


Watch our Video of the Reading Glove in Action
The Reading Glove is an RFID based interface for interaction with tangible objects.  It allows interactors to manipulate and handle tagged objects in order to access digital information that has been “embedded” in them.  Each object in this interaction is marked with a unique RFID tag.  These unique identifiers allow the object to be associated with specific digital information, in the form of audio, projected visualizations, and text.  The glove is comprised of an Arduino Lillypad Microcontroller, an Xbee Series two wireless radio, and an Innovations ID-12 RFID reader, embedded in the palm of a soft fabric glove.  The Reading Glove transmits the Tag information to a computer running Max MSP, which uses the tag information to trigger digital events.



On October 5th, we participated in the Student Innovation Contest at the 2009 User Interface Software and Technology conference (UIST) in Victoria, BC.  Student teams were given about a month to develop a novel use for a pressure sensitive keyboard developed by Microsoft Research, and all the entries were demonstrated and voted upon at the conference.  Our submission is detailed below and in this demo video.

Laban Gestures for Expressive Keyboarding

Karen Tanenbaum, Josh Tanenbaum & Johnny Rodgers

Simon Fraser University-School of Interactive Arts + Technology

Keyboards tend to be discrete input devices, capable of multiple isolated interactions. The addition of pressure sensitivity adds a continuous dimension to keyboard input, adding additional information about the user’s actions. To take advantage of this, the role of the keyboard must be reimagined. Our goal was to design keyboard interactions that were expressive and emotional.



After some frustrating attempts at making the Lilypad and the XBee modules work, we decided it was time to turn to the master: Greg Corness, fellow PhD student and electronics tinkerer extraordinaire.  We brought all our gear to campus, parked ourselves in the grey box and fumbled around with setting a network up until Greg took pity on us and helped us figure it out. While getting the two XBees communicating with each other was not nearly as straightforward as we had hoped, we succeeded in the end.



Richard and his brother Roger were both Royal Society men, dedicated to the empirical arts to the point of obsession. Never ones to allow a small thing like personal discomfort stand between them and new knowledge, they had spent the last years of the century surveying regions where word of her majesty’s empire had never penetrated. It was in some heathen tin mining operation that Roger lost his life. A sluice gate gave way and washed a slurry of water, rocks, earth, and timber into the tunnel where he was taking measurements, caving in the ceiling and crushing him beyond all recognition. Stricken with grief, Richard had worked like a madman, excavating the cave-in that had claimed his brother. Using all the most modern techniques he smelted and purified what tin he was able to extract from the mass of rocks, earth, and blood. For a fortnight he labored, pouring his mourning into the perfect science that his brother had loved so well. When all was done, the scale he had wrought stood as a marker on Roger’s grave, perfect in its delicately balanced sensitivity. He stood in vigil for a full day and night, watching the needle, but it never moved – not even a micrometer. For the first time in his life, Richard was alone in the world.


That morning, when she went out to the woodshed, there was a row of shining wet footprints glistening on the hard packed floor. The shed was cold…cold enough to cause her breath to steam in the air before her, and the top layer of wood on the pile was frosted over. She’d only been keeping house for the Beaumont family for a week, and although nothing untoward had happened in that time she felt vaguely discomfited with each passing day. The bare footprints and the frigid woodshed put her in mind of the stories her grandmam had told her; stories of loa and ghosts and all sorts of other nonsense which had seemed like fanciful imagination. Suddenly they did not seem so farfetched. Rubbing her arms against the unnatural cold she set about collecting enough dry wood to fuel the kitchen stove. Behind her, the door to the shed creaked open. She turned hurriedly to find the elder Beaumont looming in the doorway. “Did you know some people believe a camera will capture their soul?” he asked, raising a leather clad box and pointing it at her. The last noise she heard was the faint click and snap of the shutter. “Fancy that.” he smiled, reflected in her empty eyes.

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