Mood Board

Part of my methodology in working on my thesis is incorporating aspects of product design, such as the affinity diagram done in the previous post and a mood board, which will is shown in this post. Here it is:


I decided to go for a physical mood board instead of a digital one (like Pinterest, tumblr, or compiling images in an image editing program) mostly because I wanted to include fabric swatches in addition to the images. This is a technique usually done in fashion / costume to communicate colors, textures and materials that will be used in the garment.  Since my thesis will be a series of wearables, this was a good way of organizing some of the different materials I plan on working with. I also thought this would be a good artifact to keep in my work area while building to remind me of the visual / conceptual aesthetic of my project. Even though I constantly find images and references on a daily basis and will organize these in a folder in my computer, it was a good exercise to organize my thoughts at this point.

On the right side, I collaged printouts together that consist of projects, objects, garments, and images that are an inspiration to my project. In putting together this mood board, I was able to lay out images that I have been collecting and arrange them so that it creates an overall feel of the direction that I’m going with as I go ahead with designing and prototyping.


Some of the reoccurring themes in this image include camping/outdoor/military gear (fly fishing waders, vintage bandolier, multitool, etc), DIY electronics (Kobakant e-textile swatches, hot glue potting for waterproof circuits, balloon mapping from Public Laps, modifiable ergonomic gear from the Social Body Lab, etc) and fungi! duh. Also included are a number of projects, both art/design/fabrication projects that relate to my concept such as Mary Mattingly’s Swale, Multispecies Cat’s Cradle by Nasser Mufti, Biomodd by Angelo Vermeulen, Survival Kit for the Ever-Changing Planet by Chiu Chih, a watercolor of people mushroom hunting by Jen Cooney, Convertible Clothes by Moreno Ferrari, Bio-Suit by Dava Newman, New American Sweatshop : Training Module by Amelia Marzec, SolarSinter by Markus Kayser, Hacking the Wild with Hannah Perner-Wilson and Andy Quitmeyer, Urban Armor #7: The Social Escape Dress by Kathleen McDermott and Wildgrid by Krystal Persaud and Hirumi Nanayakkara. There is also a picture of John Cage mushroom hunting. The pictures of fungi and forests are from a nature book that I found in the lab space that I received permission to cut pages from…


On the fabric swatch side are a range of fabrics that I had on hand that I wanted to group together to give an idea of the colors, textures and materiality of the wearables I will make. Of course there will be electronics, plastics, metal components and other materials involved, but this is still a fairly comprehensive overview.

Row 1: Here are the materials listed in rows from top to bottom, left to right:

Row 2: Black/white jersey covered neoprene; turquoise/grey jersey covered neoprene; printed spandex; cotton knit jersey

Row 3: Solid colored canvas, heavyweight natural canvas, undyed color denim

Row 4: All rip-stop nylon in various colors

Row 5: Orange woven safety fabric; neon yellow woven safety fabric; mushroom printed cotton woven fabric

Row 6: Tarp with grommet; plastic sheeting; disposable poncho material

Row 7: Mesh netting; window screen material; 1″ purple nylon strap; 1″ turquoise nylon strap; 1/2″ nylon rope

Ideation and Synthesis!

I recently worked through ideation of various concepts based on a statement (*forthcoming* 🙂 ) on my thesis work.  After my mid-thesis review at the end of last semester, I am focusing on the area of fungi and mycological forays and building wearable technologies that support that endeavor. It was a relief to get the feedback to narrow down to this specific area after mucking around in a lot of other terrains such as beekeeping and birdwatching.

When I first started graduate school I was not a big fan of using sticky notes cause I thought it was rather wasteful and a weird corporate hold that 3M has over design students. But I have gotten quite fond of the tangibility of scribbling on a sticky and being able to arrange it in various groupings that digital methods do not (currently) afford. I wonder if there is a way to make resusable ones with magnets, like the flat flexible ones used for business cards, and dry erase markers to draw on the magnets. hm Anyways,  through a couple of sessions, I generated ~60 thoughts based on observations, research, what is necessary during mycological forays, and what might be a interesting to see. In this process, I did not distinguish between analog and digital tools, it was just an initial brain drain of ideas.


IMG_6922 IMG_6928 IMG_6929Here are all the ideas laid out and some closeups of some of the ideas… I find it helpful (and more fun) to create a small sketch with your idea, especially when you are working towards building an object. I then began affinity diagramming (or is it: I then began to create an affinity diagram) to draw out relationships and reoccurring themes among the ideas.


After a lot of rearranging and sorting, the sticky notes were corralled into 4 themes with one theme (tools + sensors) split into many sub themes around where the sensor or tool would be placed on the body. Although it is hard to have distinct categories and I feel that some of these themes overlap, these categories are useful for me to go further ahead in ideation of technologies and objects to prototype. Sub themes under Wearable Tool and Sensors include: foot-based, face-based, garment-based storage solutions, spore collector hand-based and accessory -based, for things that you might carry in a pocket or in your hand, but not necessarily worn. There is a also another sub-theme “For the novice” in includes ideas that might be useful for a novice fungal forayer just starting out, but might not be necessary once once a basic understanding of field identification has been established. Ideas under this sub-theme included a scarf that had a basic mushroom key printed on it, temporary tattoos of key features to look at for identification and a communication device that allows a mycologist leading the walk to share information while they are in different areas of the forest.  In the above image, Location Based sensing is considered a separate category but is actually included in Tools and Sensors in the final grouping. Location based sensing ideas work to create a model or map of the human fungi relationships during a foray. At first it was separate because it was more focused on conceptual aspects of creating maps rather than an enhancement of a tool.

Other themes include Portable Power;  Data Collection Variables; and Design Parameters. Portable Power includes ideas of ways to generate and store energy for the electronic devices. Data Collection variables includes the different variables that are to be collected by the user during the foray.  Lastly, Design parameters are various criteria of the prototypes and objects. These include flexibility, water and weather proof and easy access to reach tools and storage.


From here I started forming some lists for all the physical and digital data that is being collected based on all the ideas (aside from my paltry listing in the above affinity diagram), the tools that are being used/repurposed, the different types of wearable/portable objects and the variety of materials that are being used, which includes types of textiles along with rigid materials that will be included in the objects. These lists are helpful in that it provides another method of grouping from the ideation before creating prototypes.  My next steps is to create a mood board as a representation of the design aesthetics to create a cohesive body of work as I move forward.

MaxiFab research

MaxiFab was a group project for my fabrication class that seeks to apply rapid prototyping processes to build affordable and accessible menstrual products. One of the outcomes for this project were layered menstrual pads that we not only cut but also fused and assembled within a laser cutter.


Inspired by the “LaserStacker” research by Udayan et al.  in which multiple sheets of acrylic could be selectively fused and welded by defocusing the laser head, we applied this technique to creating layered textiles. Cloth menstrual pads often consist of layers of cotton, flannel and wool fabrics to increase absorption while retaining comfort during wear and ability to be washed for reuse. Fusing these pieces together within the laser cutter would allow the pads to be cut and affixed to the layers. By creating a process that could fuse these various layer, the pads can be cut and affixed, thus assembled, within the laser cutter.

img_5912 img_5920

To fuse the layers together, we used no-sew fusible web, a heat sensitive adhesive used to bond textiles together. A layer of the fusible web was first applied to the back of a rectangular piece of flannel which is then positioned on top of another piece of flannel in the laser cutting bed. We then ran a series of tests to determine what speed / power settings and z-axis height is needed to apply enough heat to fuse the two fabrics together without damaging the top layer. This was done by lowering the laser cutter bed by increments of .25” at different settings until the two fabrics were successfully bound together with minimal damage. For our tests, we ran the laser cutter using the etching mode in order to form shapes rather than just outlines. This would allow the textiles to be fused across a greater surface area therefore increasing the strength of the adhesion.  


Our pad prototype is made by fusing and cutting two pieces of flannel in the laser cutter. We designed a pad with specific areas to be fused to maximize flexibility and hold. In the laser cutter, the bed was lowered to defocus the laser and adhere the two pieces together. An outline was then trimmed around the fused areas using normal cut settings. This operation created an assembled, layered pad within the confines of a laser cutter. We also experimented with creating soft toggles that would eliminate the need of velcro or adhesives to keep the pad in place during use. 


The process of fusing textiles within a laser cutter can allow for customized fabrication of pads in both design and materials, along with providing an alternative method for creating inexpensive but functional pads. Further research would include experimenting with layering and fusing three or more pieces of fabric in variable weights and materials to create a design that would maximize absorption and comfort in wearability. This would also involve usability tests in order to determine if this pad meets the needs protection and ease of use for different users.


Udayan Umapathi, Hsiang-Ting Chen, Stefanie Mueller, Ludwig Wall, Anna Seufert, and Patrick Baudisch. 2015. LaserStacker: Fabricating 3D Objects by Laser Cutting and Welding. In Proceedings of the 28th Annual ACM Symposium on User Interface Software & Technology (UIST ’15). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 575-582. DOI:

Laser cut quilting templates

For a side project I’m working on I am doing a little bit of quilting. I’m not a quilter but have done a little bit and it’s fun, though I think I’m either too neurotic/not neurotic enough to be really into it. One thing that is annoying about quilting, or pretty much most craft fields is that there is always one specialized tool or another that you need in order to complete a task (kind of hypocritical for someone developing specialized tools ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ).  When looking at various patterns, many linked to purchasing a quilting template, a cut acrylic piece that is used as a guide for cutting out your pieces.  These can pretty expensive and might not guarantee your size, so I decided to make my own pattern using Adobe Illustrator and laser cut out my own templates.

I wanted to try out Drunkard’s path, a classic quilting pattern.


Each block for this pattern consists of a quarter circle sewn into a square. Various designs can be formed depending on how the blocks are sewn together:

2010_101510-15-10-dpath-ebay  beach-ball-quilt  path

(top to bottom: Tim Latimer, Emily Longbrake, Accuquilt)

Drunkard’s Path was also one of the quilt patterns used to relay messages to runaway slaves in the Underground Railroad. Different quilting patterns were used to display messages, known as the quilt code, to prepare and direct these people for their northern escape. Here are some examples:


(This could be interesting to consider a project tying in the history of the use of these quilt codes and the current refugee crisis in creating messages of solidarity? )

So for this project I started out following this tutorial on making a paper template for Drunkard’s path. Instead of making my template on paper, I followed along using Illustrator and made this template for a 3″ block.


Then you load it into your handy dandy studio laser cutter. img_5805img_5815

Here are the final pieces- I understand that not everybody has easy access to a laser cutter or design programs, but I think it is interesting to think through how to fabricate a thing vs. relying on someone else’s patterns.

To test out my template, I sewed up a test block:img_5807

The fabric pieces are folded to create a center crease that makes it easy to line up the two piecesimg_5808

The right sides of each piece is placed together where the creases meet and also so the two curves are lying tangent to another. img_5809

I started sewing my two pieces together from the creased midpoint. Curves are tricky – definitely a lot of slow sewing and lifting the top piece so it’ll curve.img_5810

A lil sloppy but it works. img_5811

I started from the midpoint again and sewed the other side. img_5812

Here is the final block. It still needs some trimming to make it look cleaner, but cool to see how these pattern comes together. img_5813

For the block on the left, I topstitched the curve so that it lies a bit flatter. Not sure how necessary it is since the whole thing will be quilted, but I like how it looks as well. You can start to see how piecing these blocks together can create various patterns. img_5814


Background Research – Beekeeping

These past few weeks I have been conducting interviews with people involved in various citizen science work in the Pittsburgh area.  I spoke to two members of the Western Pennsylvania Mushroom club on their DNA barcoding program, field identification strategies, how technology impacts citizen science work and other topics surrounding mycology. The conversations are still being transcribed and will be included in a later blog post.  They have been helpful in further understanding and gaining insight on the design space for my projects to build wearable devices to be used in citizen science applications.

In looking at other potential areas to work in, I have started looking at local beekeeping work since this is also a field that brings together both amateurs and experts observing the environment. Like mushrooms, bees can also be an important indicator of environmental effects since they are sensitive to temperature changes and their surrounding habitat for growth and production. Also like mushrooms, they provide a product – usually the honey- which can be an incentive for pursuing beekeeping as a hobby.


Yesterday I spoke to Jet who started beekeeping with his wife a few years ago as a side project. I visited their hives behind their house in Forest Hills and spoke to Jet about tools and equipment, the community support and what he has learned over the years doing beekeeping. They currently have three hives (about 40,000 – 60,000 per hive) and are hoping to have more

The following images are some beekeeping garments. These suits and garments are usually white because they are non-threatening to bees. They have been evolved to become defensive to large moving dark objects (such as bears and raccoons) so by wearing white, (hopefully) you are more likely to approach the hive without getting stung.


These jackets have a veil that can be zipped into the collar area to prevent bees from flying in. This jacket is more for spring/fall weather and is made out of a thicker woven cotton fabric. Elastic is also at the end of the sleeves and the bottom. Some beekeepers also tape/tie their pants legs to prevent any bees from flying up their pants…


The veil – designed to prevent bees from flying into your face while also allowing you to see! It is a hat with a rigid brim with a screen that goes around the face area. For this veil, there is also a toggle pull at the bottom so you can tighten it if need beeeeee.


An interesting feature of the jacket were these elastic loops at the end of the sleeves that you can put around you finger to make sure that the sleeves stay down. If you are wearing gloves, they can be pulled around the over the fingers.


Here is the summer jacket which is made out of a more mesh-like ventilated material.  Although the materials for these equipment have changed over time (using synthetic materials, updated zippers and hardware), the overall design hasn’t changed too much. In general, the goal for the equipment hasn’t really changed – how to protect yourself from bees as your enter their hive!


**Entering the hive**  Bees will defend the entrance of their hives. We watched a few bees defend from robbing (when other bees try to enter to take the honey). Around the hive you will also see dead bees, since bees will push out ill, dying and dead bees.




On the day I went to visit the hives, it was fairly warm so we were able to check on the syrup levels for the hives. Since beekeepers extract the honey from the hives, a syrup is placed on the top level of the hive to provide food for the bees. In the winter time, a fondant is used in its place so that it doesn’t freeze.  One of the main concerns that beekeepers have over the winter is making sure their hive survives.


It was interesting to talk to Jet about the beekeeping network and community. Like a lot of other niche subjects, beekeeping has a buzzing online network. There is a local mailing list for beekeepers in the southwestern PA region and they will keep each other posted with hive observations, swarms and other updates. There are also other mailing lists and forums depending on your hive setup and specific interests in beekeeping. Burghs Bees is a local group that provides support and mentorship for beekeepers, along with maintaining urban apiaries (like a community garden but with hives instead of plots).


In the realm of beekeeping and new technologies, open source sensors are being developed to monitor hives. Open Source Beehives is one example of these projects where they provide various source files for hive designs and sensor kits to detect bee hive health.  One challenge of developing electronics and sensors for hives is that bees will cover and seal any foreign objects with propolis, a sticky combination of sap, bee discharge and beeswax. Jet mentioned a project in which sensors were installed within the hive only to realize that the bees had completely covered the sensors with propolis and rendered it useless. Other projects such detecting the sound emerging from the hives using signal processing are also in the works.

However, I was really intrigued by the very lo-fi tools that Jet and other beekeepers use for hive maintenance. Below are some pest management tools for detecting the amount of mites in the hive:


This device is used to count if how many mites are present within a population of bees. One end of the jar is opened and a group of about 100 bees are captured and trapped in one end.  Alcohol is then poured over the bees from the other end to kill them, the jar is screwed back on and when it drains through the mesh in the center, you’ll have dead bees on one side and on the bottom you may see mites floating in the alcohol. Depending on how many mites you see will determine if you need to do some mite management.


Another device used for determining if treatment needs to be done for mites is this chart printed on a corrugated plastic material. This chart is placed under the hive for a few days. If there are mites that drop down on the chart, you can determine what specific areas of the hive needs to be treated, rather than having to do the whole thing.  Bee data viz! img_5645 img_5647

Again, this meeting was really informative in terms of learning about the tools, equipment, challenges and communities in beekeeping.  This would be an interesting area to work in regards to Field Computing.

Prototype: Fungi Specimen Collector

In going out on forays with the mushroom club, I wanted to explore the idea of building a wearable device that can be used to collect fungal specimen.


This past weekend I went to a walk in Hartwood Acres to look for various small brown mushrooms and molds. Here is an inventory breakdown of what I usually bring on one of these walks.

  • Basket:
    • egg carton – to collect small specimen
    • wax paper bags
    • foldable knife
    • little shovel (actually I don’t have one, but I should get one)
    • field guide
    • camera
    • compass/whistle
    • rain coat (depending on weather)
    • water bottle
    • snack

Using a basket is nice since everything is within easy reach, it’s light and has a rigid structure so you can put a fleshy soft thing like a mushroom and it will still kind of support it. Other types of bags are fine, including mesh bags or paper brown bags, but obviously not as cool as the basket. Fun fact about this particular basket – this was the basket my parents got when they went apple picking for the first time ever when they moved to New York City from Taipei in the late 80’s. So the sentimental value of this particular basket for me is very high.

With initial sketches, I wanted to incorporate a form of the geographical annotation tool that I had in the water quality monitoring suit that I had sketched out in Iowa. This would allow the user to “make a note” of where a certain sample was collected over the course of their walk. I am also interested in including other sensors such as soil probes and thermometers that can obtain additional information about a location when collecting a specimen.


For design ideas and inspiration, I have been looking at a variety of vests used for fly fishing. These vests are used for outdoor purposes and designed for easy access while the the users’ hands are occupied with fishing activities(?). Here is a selection of vests that I found interesting in terms of material usage or construction methods.

geartest_vest allen_fishingvest filson_foulweathervest clearcreek_volgavest filson_fishingvest

Mushroom Walk 9/17

When I first moved to Pittsburgh a year ago, I joined the Western Pennsylvania Mushroom Club. Since then, I have spent many weekends going on walks and learning how to identify various types of mushrooms that are found in this region. A typical walk consists of meeting up at a location with the other attendees and wandering around an area for about 2 hours and then regrouping to share what we’ve found. A club officer is present who is designated as the main identifier to verify what has been collected by the group. The species are then documented, gathered and logged into a database that is kept by the club. Some are also collected for DNA barcoding to document and compare to other species that may have a similar morphology but are actually completely different species.


This past weekend the walk was held at Sycamore Island, which is further up the Allegheny River from Pittsburgh.  According to the the Allegheny Land Trust, the island is “the last privately owned undeveloped island” in the whole county. At one point a resort was built on the island in the 50’s, but has been abandoned since and you can see remnants of various structures hidden in the woods.


Leucoagaricus americanus (Reddening Lepiota) growing inside a maple tree!


Mushroom hunting fashion.


Post-walk: the different mushrooms are sorted out onto plates and the reference books come out.

What I really appreciate about the mushroom club is that it allows for various levels of participation – whether it’s just a way to go on a walk in nature on the weekends, or a serious inquiry and documentation regarding the diversity of fungi in western PA. In regards to citizen science, I’m interested in being able to think of this varying level of participation that is needed of a user ~ a thought tied to Thomas Thwaite’s toaster project in the level of understanding a technology or system is required in order to be able to fully interact with it. (Want users to be active v. passive, but to what degrees?)

Background Interests

Background Interests Presentation 

The work for my thesis is in part, a reaction / response to the Quantified Self movement. This movement has popularized wearables via devices that record personal metrics while placed on the body, such as FitBit, Jawbone, smartwatches, body cams etc. On one hand, they do help an individual understand aspects of their physical health on a very accessible and intimate level, but at the same time, these devices are also exploitative and erroneous, two examples being controversial uses of police body cams and monitoring of physical activity levels by businesses to determine health insurance.


One reaction to this latter issue is “UnfitBits” by Tegan Brain. Through a series of videos, she offers literal desktop solutions to meeting activity requirements set by your employer. Some examples include hooking the wearable device to a metronome or power drill to simulate movement. These subversive ways of using wearables serve as alternate ways of looking how these devices impact our lives and open up an area of critical discussion regarding their usage.


What happens when we live and interact with technology on such a frequent and intimate basis? Within the area of material studies, there has been many inquiries into how embedded electronics objects have affected our everyday experiences. Hertzian Tales, by Anthony Dunne shows speculative insight into the possibilities of the “electrosphere” and the industrial design possibilities of electronics. Hannah Perner-Wilson’s “Liberated Circuits” illustrates one iteration of this idea by toying with the concept of the black box. Electronics are often designed as a black box, a component or device that can be operated without needing to understand the inner workings. In “Liberated Circuits” a Peltier circuit is embedded in thermochromic resin so as the circuit is “in use”, the covering becomes transparent, exposing the paths connecting the various components.

Matt Ratto’s writings on critical making focuses more on the processual aspect of design and manufacturing. Critical making is a physical production of critical thinking, in which theory and reflection is explored through the act of technical activities. In an interview with artist, Garnet Hertz, he questions what counts as fully grasping a topic,  blurring the line between technical and social proficiencies.

“…What counts as a deep understanding? The kind of critical making that I’ve been describing really troubles easy definitions of deep understanding – pure technical knowledge isn’t enough, it’s not just about getting close to the machine in Tracy Kidder’s sense. You also need to have an understanding of the kind of ways that the materials might impact or relate to or engage with or co-construct the kind of social reality that we live in. You need to have an understanding that includes deeply technical as well as deeply social knowledge.” 

Related to this thought is Thomas Thwaite’s “Toaster Project”, in which Thwaite sets forth to reconstruct a toaster from scratch. This process involved traveling to natural resource mines across the United Kingdom and consulting with various scientists in how to extract and render raw materials into ones that could form a toaster of sorts.  The final product is a semi-working toaster in the sense that it heats up when electrical current is applied, but the intriguing part of this project is his documentation and account of the experience searching for the materials and processing them to make the toaster components.

screen-shot-2016-09-16-at-4-13-51-pm Individual and the Industry

In setting out to build a toaster on his own, Thwaite was trying to complete a task as an individual that is done on an industrial scale.

The scale of environmental and societal impacts of technological production compared with textile production.  Same deal


Iowa Lakeside Residency Pt 3: Citizen Science Initiatives

One of the main points of interest for attending this residency was learning more about citizen science initiatives, especially for monitoring water quality.  Lake Okoboji, the lake the lab resides on has been running Cooperative Lakes Area Monitoring Project (CLAMP) since 1999. CLAMP is a volunteer program that monitors areas of the lakes regularly between May and September. img_3335

On my last day of the residency, I was able to go out with Stan, Dick and Leroy, three CLAMP volunteers while they collected water samples, turbidity and temperature at various points on the lake.  After picking up a cooler filled with prepped bottles and equipment for water testing, we set off on Leroy’s boat early in the morning to visit the 5 different spots for testing. Samples were collected at each point and turbidity was measured via Secchi disk and recorded on a datasheet.  In between collection sites, I was able to talk to and ask these volunteers about their motivations for participating in CLAMP. along with the changes that they’ve witnessed in and around the lake throughout the years. img_3336 Upon returning to the lab, we filtered out the samples using this device which drained the water onto a paper filter that is stored in a tube for later processing by the chemists at the lab. img_3186

Along with CLAMP, a hydrological buoy keeps tracks of changes in the lake’s waters. Every ten minutes, the buoy will relay info via radio regarding humidity, temperature, turbidity, wind direction, barometric pressure… etc. The info is online and is available as an app that is connected with other buoys in the world using the Global Lake Ecology Observation Network (GLEON).

I was also able to speak with the Education Coordinator and resident chemist who tests for water quality in assessing what possible challenges they face with water quality monitoring. In thinking along the lines of what tools scientists / field researchers might need out in the field, I made a really low fi prototype of a a suit that a researcher might wear for water quality monitoring (while swimming). This suit would be able to collect various data points surrounding dissolved oxygen, turbidity and water sampling, but also has a “Geographic Annotation Button”, which would be a way to record the GPS points of where a researcher is at the time of collection. This idea came out of observing the volunteers having to rely on visual cues and a clipboard to assess their position and wondering if there was a possible way of “marking” a point when your hands are occupied. The design and placement of sensors on the prototype to some degree is inspired by anatomical placement of organs/bones on the human body. With this design, the suit can draw comparisons to ideas of how our bodies can connect with technology and the environment.

img_5248img_5249 img_3163

Some challenges in building this project would be waterproofing the electronics for prototyping and building. I did some initial tests using a bag sealer to contain a flexible textile circuit. However, this might be beyond my skill range and would need to consult some engineering folks on the feasibility of this project.


Hike out to a kettle lake. Doesn’t really have to do with citizen science initiatives, but is an interesting geological formation left over from the glaciers.

Iowa Lakeside Laboratory Artist Residency Pt 1: Portable Workspace

One of the stone laboratories at Lakeside. The studio in housed in a similar building behind the hill.

Over the summer I completed a two-week artist residency at the Iowa Lakeside Laboratory, a biological field research station located on Lake Okoboji in northwest Iowa. My goal for the residency was to do an initial inquiry into my proposed thesis area of Field Computing.  This area is an interdisciplinary investigation in the fields of wearable electronics, critical making, ubiquitous computing and citizen science.  I am interested in the intersections of these disciplines to make things(?) that will explore, facilitate, and intervene in relationships between human users, non human users (which include plants, animals and other organisms) and their shared environments. 

During my residency, I was able to explore and develop a few ideas that I had in mind relating to this concept. Besides having the space and time to work on these projects, I also got to meet and talk to various scientists (limnologists, phycologists and ornithologists) regarding the role of citizen science and technology in their fields of study.


Although Lakeside focuses on limnology (the study of lakes), it is located right next to prairie land (restored and preserved). As someone who had not encountered prairie environments until that point of time, I spent a few days exploring and hiking around the Cayler Prairie Wildlife Management Area. Hiking in a prairie is like swimming in an ocean – the grass/plants is relatively the same height as you wade through and the topography rolls in waves. Although it looks subtle, there’s actually a diverse variety of landscapes in a relatively small area.

During these initial hikes, I was curious as to how somebody would build things in this environment, in a similar vein as Hannah Perner-Wilson and Andy Quitmeyer’s Wearable Studio Practice project. While taking some observation notes, I dropped a pencil and lost it immediately in the tall grass. Without any trees or open areas, it would be difficult to construct any makeshift platform or stands.  With this in mind, I prototyped a wearable desk (Portable Workspace) that allows a work space to fold out as needed, with pockets for various tools. This would be attached to the front of the body using a harness worn by the user.

cardboard prototype of portable desk with storage / work areas drawn out in sharpie.


From there, I built a more refined version using neoprene. Neoprene is an interesting material to work with – it’s fairly durable (the fabric I used here is backed with jersey fabric on each side) and doesn’t require any hemming since it doesn’t fray. However, it is tricky to sew since it can be quite slippery with the jersey covering and the slight stretch makes it a little difficult to cut straight lines and feed through a sewing machine. For the workspace of the desk (the middle segment), I needed a rigid material so that you can place things on this surface without any sagging. I wound up cutting up a binder to use as the surface and placed a magnetic strip so that it could hold any small electronic parts. Because it sits below the surface of the neoprene, there’s a “wall” around this area that prevents objects in this area from rolling off.



The completed Portable Workspace prototype! The harness is made out of nylon straps, with carabiners that attach to the grommets on the pack so that it can be worn across the chest. The patch on the front of the pack is from a performance done by Joseph Mougel and designed by Cynthia Brinich-Langlois, two of the other artists-in-residence at Lakeside Lab.



Photos by Desi Gonzalez

Here are some shots of the pack in some different locations. Up top is from the Badlands National Park in South Dakota. And the bottom two are from Camp Guyasuta in Sharpsburg, PA.  Although this project was designed based on the context of the Iowan prairie, it can be potentially used in multiple contexts. With this pack, it is an interesting initial inquiry into how we can change sites of production for technology as it relates to wearable technology, citizen science and environmental monitoring.