#1 "BACH x RiFF RAFF – COFFEE iN THE MAYBACH" - Video, 2013

I'm fascinated with satirizing contemporary culture, often through deconstructing meaning and combining cultural elements in surprising ways. For this video, I used the likeness of the semi-recognizable figure Riff Raff who embodies—to an absurd degree—the narcissism and conspicuous consumption of a contemporary rap star... and threw him into a completely foreign situation.  To do so, I took a segment of Bach's comic operetta Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht (Be still, stop chattering) and slapped Riff Raff's head on top. After around 40 hours of work, this was my result. The subtitles are accurate, if a little flashy.

Why make something like this?

My hope was to create a feeling of 'unheimlich' in the audience, a discomfort around recognizing a face in a bizzare context. In so doing, could Riff Raff's legitimacy as a contemporary icon be called into question? Or does invoking his image only serve to reinforce his semiotic power?

These are questions I'm still exploring.


#2 "RoastedPi" - Product Design (sort of), 2013

RoastedPi was my project while on exchange to The Bauhaus and its subtitle could easily be A Trial by Fire. I see it as a successful project insofar as I learned immensely... though at first blush it may look like a string of failures.

Despite being abroad to study graphic design, I chose to pursue product design instead and jumped in with both feet. Our class was called Probier Mal which means 'try it once' —usually said when one is faced by an unknown food.

My unknown, other than German, was working with a Raspberry Pi... so I proposed to my professors that I build a coffee roaster (based on an old hot-air popcorn popper) that was controlled by a Pi. Why? So that the roaster could be remotely accessed and so that it could use a camera/microphone/temperature probe to keep track of the roasting process. In that way, a user could set their desired roast level and the computer would keep track of the temperature curve, number of cracked beans (based on noise), and colour of the roast... conceivably a fleet of 100,000 of these roasters could share their roasting results across different bean varieties and generate a coffee roasting algorithm for the ideal cuppa.

It was a lot to bite off for a two-month project, especially since I was proposing to build a working prototype rather than design an enclosure for an engineer to fill. However, my professors acquiesced and I jumped into a completely foreign world. I had never SSH'd before, let alone worked with Python... and command-line control of a computer was not my strong suit. I had created a steep learning curve for myself.

To further complicate things, as my project outline was coming together... I found that my room had a massive bed bug infestation (!) which meant two weeks of rotating through the city on different couches while looking for a new place. I include this detail only to frame my crazed mindset for approaching this project. It was the best of times, it was the wurst of times.

Luckily, I found a fantastic place to live—better than my student residence—and resumed full work on my project. It was then when my professors grew concerned about the lack of aesthetic emphasis and suggested I at least create a model to show how my final product could look. "This is design, not engineering!" was their refrain. I took their advice... sort of... and decided to jump into 3D printing as a solution. You might sense a theme when I say... I had never worked with a 3D printer before and subsequently spent the next 72 hours scratching my head over unsuccessful prints.  I followed the directions, why were they all wonky? And it was at this point that my laptop died and refused any form of CPR.

However, in the end... I successfully created a machine that could be:

  • Be remotely accessed from outside of its local network on any computer or mobile device
  • Request authentication
  • Present a mobile-responsive webpage with a live (24fps!) camera view of the beans inside the popper
  • Manually control on/off of the roaster
  • Turn lights off/on to light beans
  • A dummy slider for setting desired roast levels
  • Display a temperature up to 140°C (the temperature probe couldn't read past that, so I tried to swap it out for a thermocouple)

I fell short of:

  • Image processing to determine bean colour and shut-off point
  • Successful thermocouple integration
  • Any sort of sensor-logging for the next roast

It was a thrilling experience, if only because I was let loose to learn and play with technology. I considered ignoring it as a portfolio piece, but it was such a rich experience during which I learned and grew so much... I'd be remiss to not include it.

#3 "Rob Ford Crack Scandal (The Music Video)" - Video, 2013

Like many Torontonians, I've been watching the Rob Ford scandal with a slack jaw. What began as funny and absurd quickly changed into something tragic and maddening.

After his initial admittance to smoking crack, I recorded the live stream of his press conference… it looked like he was going to resign or pledge to stay and finish his mandate.

He chose the latter while invoking the favourite demagogue watchword of 'the taxpayer'. I felt impotent as I watched Ford cling to power, until I remembered I have a computer and the means to make moving pictures.

So I did. I made this video right at the beginning of the crack scandal, before the mayor mentioned how 'he has enough to eat at home' or before he bowled over another councillor during council. My aim was to critique the mayor and highlight how unfit he was for office… while maintaining an empathetic tone. This is a man struggling with multiple addictions, and doing so in the most public way imaginable.

My result was a dreamy recap of his press conference with special guest appearances of the mayor asleep on the job, stumbling drunkenly at The Danforth, pictured with murdered gangsters, and clearly inebriated at the opening of the city's new aquarium some weeks before.

All of this was set to a piece of contemporary music by the artist Machinedrum.

#4 "Flash!" - Assistive App Concept, 2013

This past week, I was playing around with integrating the Pomodoro tracking technique—working in 25 minute bursts—with my Philips Hue system. You can read more about my adventures in Ruby on my blog. 

After introducing my proof-of-concept to to my girlfriend and a close friend... they both independently suggested pivoting the software to be geared towards the hearing impaired. A timer system that could be set via smartphone and interfaced with the light bulbs in the user's home. Later iterations could expand the system to support notifications like incoming calls—similar to some of the recipes floating around on IFTTT.

That got my brain working in overdrive. After doing some market research, I found that most existing solutions to are clunky and poorly designed... enter Flash!

Flash! is a simple concept: an alarm reminder for the hearing impaired. It leverages two existing technologies, Philips Hue and smartphones, to allow the user to quickly set an alarm and be reminded in a flash/with a flash.

I've currently only designed the potential logo for such an app, and created a potential screen-shot to replicate the view seen by the user. Note the 'When Timer Ends: Blink Red' setting. 

There's a lot left to do, but I already have an interested business partner with whom I've begun building a business plan. Since we're both students in the same program, we're hoping to be finished by next April. 

Time will tell! Thank goodness we have my existing pomodoro/hue integration to keep us focused and productive on making this a reality.