Morning Raaga

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Most of us are accustomed to navigating the world using our eyeballs. If we think of the sense of sight as a muscle, we get regular, rigorous visual exercise as we stare into screens, navigate public spaces, and snap photos with our smart phones.

But what about our other senses?

This project by Viniyata Pany, Dhruv Damle, and I came out of a desire to exercise and explore two of those underappreciated, underutilized senses: the sense of smell and the sense of sound.

As ITP alum Alex Kauffman wrote, “Smell is subjective, it’s ephemeral, and it’s not binary.” Interactions that involve smell are qualitatively different from interactions that involve our eyes.

Since much has been made of the relationship between smell and memory, as well as the relationship between smell and pleasure, we designed a device that uses scent as a positive feedback mechanism to encourage vocal students to practice singing.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Select the note you want to practice by pressing one of the eight buttons. You’ll hear a recording of the selected note and a recording of the tanpura for you to sing along to.
  2. Sing! As you sing into microphone, the device determines when your voice is within the frequency range for the note you selected. When you’re within range, the device sprays a delicious smell.


Olfactory feedback: how and when it works, how and when it doesn’t

The Winter Show gave us a chance to user test with dozens of people. In general, people were excited about the idea of smell as a feedback mechanism because it’s not something they were used to. That said, smell wasn’t practical in letting people know whether they were singing correctly or not.

We used jasmine as the “correct” smell and tangerine as the “incorrect” smell, but people had different feelings about both and the smells tended to blend together and disappear when a user spent more than a few minutes with the box.

With all of this in mind, when I think about what a more successful olfactory project might look like, I now think of delicious cooking smells that become associated with a particular activity: gathering people for a meeting. Practicing coding. Journaling. A single smell as a backdrop as opposed to multiple smells as tools, and an activity without benchmarks, that doesn’t require immediate feedback.

On the singing side, I find this project (which some smart stranger at the show told us to check out) really interesting: Vocal Vibrations.

Winter Show

I’d never participated in a show! It took a surprising amount of work to set up a relatively small exhibition space that worked with our project. Compared to some other projects, ours was meant to exist in a really specific environment: a cozy den or living room where you would camp out for an hour or two to practice singing. For the show, we were ultimately on the floor, surrounded by cushions, plants, and rugs.

The Morning Raaga Tumblr was helpful for explaining the project. We had it up on an iPad in front of our space.

Project Inspiration

Alex Kauffman’s Scratch N Sniff Television

Designing for All 5 Senses, talk by Jinsop Lee


Arduino Code


coffee shop v3


Coffee shops are complex sites in neighborhoods that are being reorganized by gentrification.

From Houston to Seattle to Brooklyn, I’ve sat next to other solitary white people in these spaces, in historically black neighborhoods, as we write papers, check emails, and scroll through Twitter feeds.

I’m thinking of a particular kind of coffee shop, a type, that shares a visual vocabulary and an origin story with other coffee shops like it. The type is conspicuously eclectic. Its aesthetic is well-worn in resistance to its actual brand newness. It says “We’re of and for the community,” but which community? It says “We’ve been around for a while,” but a while on whose timeline?

Of myself and other new, mostly white transplants to these neighborhoods and spaces, I wonder: What are we doing in here? What was here before?

When I first started looking for answers to these questions, I used Google Street View to look up a coffee shop in Brooklyn where I spend a lot of time.

I noticed a feature in Street View that lets you scroll back in time to 2007, when Google first started capturing street views.

I took a screen shot of the 2007 Google Street View of what today is a coffee shop, but was once the Bedstuy Fish & Chip Jump Off. The screen shot became a 6′ by 4.5′ poster that was installed across the street from the coffee shop, visible from the seat I usually sit in.

Reflection: A Few Disorganized Thoughts

The poster stayed up for a day before someone took it down. I’m not sure who took it down or why. Was it someone from the neighborhood? Someone from the coffee shop? Someone from the construction site?

This was a small intervention, but it’s scalable. It’s simple to take a screen shot and turn it into a 6′ poster through an online print shop. Installation is also cheap and easy. Maybe there is room here for a toolkit, maybe with the folks who did this light board action in Bushwick:

I appreciated that someone wrote the word “artifact” on the poster after it had been up for a few hours. Who wrote it?

The responses in this article to a much bigger, much more straightforward anti-gentrification mural in the Bronx give me pause: The questions that remain for me are: how do we get people to think? How do we get people to look? How do we get people to ask tougher questions? How do we get people to realize their collective power? And what is the power? What should it move toward?

Project Inspiration

James Baldwin’s Collected Essays

Sylvie Tissot’s work on gentrification, including this article “Life in Boston as a Liberal Gentrifier”

Google Street View

Process: White People in Coffee Shops

Process: Google Street View



IDF Meme Generator

Governments and institutions promote the best versions of themselves through their official social media channels. Meanwhile, history has archival footage of how these institutions’ actions have lined up with their stated values over time.

By combining the Twitter feed of the Israeli Defense Forces with archival images of Palestinian refugees from 1948, this project uses memes and archives as tools for contesting the incomplete histories we learn from official institutional sources.

Users first select a canvas from a gallery of captioned images from the United Nations digitized photo archives. Then, they select text from the official Twitter feed of the Israeli Defense Forces. As they select, the text appears on top of the image they chose to create a new image. Users can save and share their memes.

You can try a live (but unfinished) version of this project here.

Project Sources

United Nations Photo

Official IDF Twitter

Tweet Fetcher library by Jason Mayes


Code Gists

ddc: last class ;-( ;-(

our last designing digital communities class met yesterday, and i’m really sad about it, okay?

we looked at a bunch of projects that are

  1. using data to increase transparency of our governing institutions, and/or
  2. creatively subverting or maybe resisting or maybe breaking the hegemony of big companies’ big algorithms.

of course, the best of these subversions will probably eventually be eaten up by the big companies themselves. but let’s be inspired by them til then!

some of the projects:

  •, “the most comprehensive resource for federal campaign contributions, lobbying data and analysis available anywhere.”
  • The Sunlight Foundation, “a national, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that uses the tools of civic tech, open datapolicy analysisand journalism to make our government and politics more accountable and transparent to all.”
  • CV Dazzle, “camouflage from face detection.”
  • McDonald’s video game: “Making money in a corporation like McDonald’s is not simple at all! Behind every sandwich there is a complex process you must learn to manage: from the creation of pastures to the slaughter, from the restaurant management to the branding. You’ll discover all the dirty secrets that made us one of the biggest company of the world.”
  • Phone Story game: “Follow your phone’s journey around the world and fight the market forces in a spiral of planned obsolescence.”


this not subversive but uncanny neural network-trained image generator of faces, bedrooms, and other mundane things.

really glad i got the chance to audit this class.

pcomp final: enclosure research and construction

a thing we are constantly weighing is whether to build components from scratch or buy off the shelf. before deciding to build our own enclosure, we listed the components that needed to fit inside the box and went to the container store to find something that would work off the shelf.

enclosure constraints
enclosure constraints

we found a few shapes we liked:

but nothing that was the right size. we discussed getting two of the index card boxes and attaching them. for the work it would’ve required, though, we thought it would just make more sense to build something to the right dimensions.

in the end, we found a box on the junk shelf that was half of what we needed. i went to home depot to get the remaining materials we’d need to build the top half:

actual vs. prototype
actual vs. prototype
top half

the remaining element was a piece of super thin birch wood to replicate the curve we liked from the container store’s wine bottle enclosure. we weren’t sure how laser cutting this material would go, so dhruv tested some buttons and vent designs:

button and vent designs
button and vent designs

we are experimenting with a tape sealant on the back to keep the scent from being absorbed by the wood when it leaves the dispenser.

pcomp final: user testing, pt. II

we just had another round of user testing. dhruv wrote about a previous round; head to his blog for in-depth explanation and analysis.

here’s my (briefer) take:

  • some users thought both smells were good
  • some users thought both smells were bad
  • most users wanted more feedback and/or visual feedback
  • most users wanted instant feedback

in general, i think users found our device frustrating.

i attribute this to a few things:

  • the subjectivity of good and bad smells
  • how the framing of the device as a “teaching tool” sets user’s expectations around type and frequency of feedback

our team has some design decisions to make.

we also discussed framing our device to users not as a teaching tool, but as a singing practice accompaniment. it’s a thing that should make you want to practice more because you like the things it does: it smells good and it looks beautiful when you take it out of the closet/cabinet/desk. a thing that encourages you to practice more is, of course, a teaching tool in the end, but i don’t think it’s helpful to discuss it in those terms anymore.