Archive for the ‘Laboratory of Self’ Category

Learning to Make a PCB

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

Over the past few weeks I have been working on creating my first PCB (printed circuit board) for a project called Emote. The process has been extremely rewarding, though at times also frustrating. The potential offered by using PCB is pretty amazing. It makes electronics much smaller and opens up numerous design possibilities.

There are many reasons why I wanted to design my own PCB: there are good free PCB design tools available, numerous high-quality tutorials for these tools exist online, and the cost of fabricating a PCB is pretty reasonable.

Here is a high-level tutorial with an overview of the entire process with links to the various resources so that you can learn how to make your own PCB.

Getting Set Up
The first step is getting set-up by downloading and installing a PCB design application along with the appropriate libraries and extensions. Here is a list of the applications I used, along with associated libraries and extensions.

Eagle CAD [link to site]. This is the design software where you can create schematics and boards. I found this application felt counter-intuitive at first since I am accustomed to Adobe creative suite type tools. After about 10/15 hours of use I got used to it and start to enjoy the work. What I am trying to say is that there is a learning curve but don’t get discouraged.

Sparkfun Eagle Library [link to download].  this library is extremely useful, especially if you buy stuff from Sparkfun. It also contains a large number of components that they use frequently on their own boards. If you plan to use any of the tutorials I list below then this is a must. Here is Sparkfun’s own description and instructions: “This is the collection of all the components SparkFun designs with and therefore components and footprints that have been tested. Unzip and place the SparkFun.lbr file into the Eagle\lbr directory. If the above link does not work, google ‘sparkfun eagle library’ to get the latest collection.”

Sparkfun Eagle CAM File [link to download]. This file should be used along with the Sparkfun library. Therefore, if you download the library file make sure to get this one as well. Here is their own description and instructions: “This file is responsible for creating the gerber files for submission to a PCB fab house. Place this file in the Eagle\cam directory.”

Sparkfun Eagle Shorcuts [link to download]. The shorcuts in this file are used in the tutorials that I reference below. I did not use them but you should make up your own mind on whether or not to download the file. “Place this file in the Eagle\scr directory.”

Though I only used the Sparkfun library in my project, there are several other libraries out there that you should know about. Here are the other two most popular libraries:
Lady Ada’s Eagle Library [link to webpage]
Microbuilder’s Eagle Library [link to webpage]

Designing a PCB
Once you have installed the software and placed the library and extension files in their proper locations, you are ready to start up Eagle. As I next step I recommend that you go through the Sparkfun tutorials, which are easy to follow and comprehensive.

Eagle, an Overview. Before you jump into the Sparkfun tutorials here is a quick overview of how Eagle is set up. This high-level overview will provide some context for the tutorial links featured below.

Eagle handles the design of components and boards separately. Components are always created within libraries. In order to create a new component you need to create a new library, or add the component to an existing library. Boards are created within projects. It is important to note that the term board is used to refer to one of the standard views within Eagle.

Components and projects all contain two standard views: schematic view and the board view. The schematic view provides abstracted information about a component or board. Component schematics are comprised of pins, outlines and labels; board schematics are composed of components, electrical links between components, outlines and labels.

The board view provides an accurate model of the physical features of component or board. For a component the board view includes the physical location of the pads for each pin, the overall dimension, and any other important markers. For a board this view features the physical location of each component along with wire connections, drill holes, plates, and all other relevant specifications for fabrication.

When designing a component or project in Eagle you always create the schematic first. The schematic feature is actually a great planning tool for any DIY electronics project. Schematics are created first because they enable you to plan your circuit conceptually before working on the physical design.

Sparkfun Tutorials. Now that you’ve got a rough understanding of how Eagle works here are some tutorial from Sparkfun that will walk you step by step through the process of creating a schematic, design a PCB layout, and making a custom part for your project. I’ve also included a link to a tutorial where they share common issues they’ve encountered in during their many years of experience.

PCB Fabrication
Once you have gone through the tutorials above and finished designing your first board you will be in an excited hurry to get your board printed. You are almost there but be patient. Before I even get into the next steps I recommend that you do the following checks on your board:

  • Check all electrical connections to make sure there are no incorrect overlaps. It will cost you money and time if you don’t catch it before you fabricate.
  • Print out your board design on a piece of paper and check to make sure that the size of all components are correct, especially if you are using untested component designs.

Geber Files. To fabricate a board you need to generate Gerber files. The process for generating these files is covered in the Sparkfun tutorial about designing a PCB. These files are the industry standard for PCB fabrication. For a 2-layer board Eagle will generate 7 files (assuming you are using the Sparkfun CAM file). All files need to be submitted to the fabrication house.

Here is the extension for each Gerber file along with a brief description of its function:

  • GTL: top copper layer, holds location of electrical connections (i.e. ‘wire’)
  • GTS: top soldermask layer, holds edges of solder mask that protects from bleed overs
  • GTO: top silkscreen layer, holds text and lines that will be printed onto board
  • GBL: bottom copper layer, same as top layer but for bottom of board
  • GBS: bottom soldermask layer, same as top layer but for bottom
  • GBO: bottom silkscreen layer, same as top layer but for bottom
  • TXT: drill file, holds the location of all drill holes on the board

It is important to review your Gerber files before you send them out for production. Unfortunately, I have not found any good free Gerber file readers for Macs. There is a an online Gerber viewer available at, unfortunately, it does not let you view multiple Gerber files layered on top of one another. If you know of a good Mac Gerber file reader please leave a link in the comments section.

There is a great online service at [] that processes Gerber files and provides feedback regarding issues, and even fixes some of the problems automatically. This service is provided by the guys at Advanced Circuits.

Fabrication Options. There are many different PCB fabrication houses around the country (and beyond our borders). Below I’ve included the two that have been recommended to me. Another option is to create your own PCB at home. Here is a link to a tutorial that shows you how to do just that. A few friends of mine have used this approach successfully.

First and foremost, Advanced Circuits []. This is where I will be sending my first PCB for production later this week. This place was recommended to me by Paul Rothman, one of the residents at ITP. They provide great deals for students ($33 full featured 2-layer prototypes), and they also offer really fast turnarounds on their bare bones boards.

Next up is BatchPCB. I have not used them either. I have listed them here because they seem to have an interesting business model and I have seem a lot of stuff about them on Sparkfun (I will admit much of it was their advertising).

Brains, Drugs & The Law

Friday, April 1st, 2011

This piece brings up interesting ethical questions about the use of cognitive-enhancing drugs to treat people who are healthy and ill. One of the most important consideration is of course: what are the side effects associated to the short- and long-term use of these drugs.

When examining the side effects of these drugs by healthy people we need to look beyond there effect on the individual’s health. We also need to consider the impact that use of these drugs will have on communities. Taking sports doping as an example, I don’t have any moral objections to the use of these substances as long as they are used safely.

That said, I also see the possibility that if doping becomes legalized then it may evolve into a requirement for athletes to be able to compete. Do we want that to be the case, for the use of cognitive-enhancing drugs to become a de facto requirement for success? The answer to this question will probably vary by on a case by case basis.

On a more recreational level, I believe that as long as a drug can be used safely then it should be legal. Of course, we should have similar social conventions to govern how these types of drugs can be used, such as is the case with alcohol and smoking.

This piece by William Saletan offers a really interesting perspective regarding the use of enhancement technologies in the world of sports. For the most part, when we talk about enhancement technologies and athletes we are usually referring to steroids. The case against steroids tends to be that it’s illegal, it’s harmful, it’s cheating.

This argument, which is often taken at face value, is rather dubious as Selaten points out. First off, the fact that steroids are illegal does not in and of itself mean that it merits this status. Second, most steroids when used by professional athletes are safe because they take them under close medical supervision. Lastly, if we are to consider this type of enhancement cheating, we need to take a close look at other types of enhancements that can be provided via surgery. As he points out in the article: “In the age of biotechnology, you are the device.”

On a personal level, this article opened my eyes (sorry for the pun) to the enhancement possibilities associated to LASIK surgery. In my family both my mother and sister have undergone this type of surgery. At the time I decided to pass on this opportunity since I only suffer from mild vision impairment. I did not know that LASIK could be used to enhance one’s vision beyond 20/20, and this fact actually makes me interested in finding out more about this possibility.

Lastly, my personal view regarding enhancement technologies in sports is that they are neither good or bad, and that the grand standing done in congress is of little value. That said, each sports league should have clear guidelines on what types of enhancements are allowed – especially, as the enhancements being used become surgical rather than ingestible.

This fascinating article from Jeffrey Rosen investigates the influence that neuroscience is beginning to exhibit on the American legal system. Over the past couple of decades new technologies have emerged for examining and altering brain functions (such as PET, MRI and TMS). Many of these technologies have already been used in legal cases. As the power of these technologies increase so does their potential for doing good and causing harm.

Rosen’s article points to the need for our society to have open discussions about the appropriate uses of these types of technologies. Many scientists and researchers who work in this field have wide-reaching visions about the potential use for these types of technology. However, it is crucial that the larger society engage in the conversation to determine what are appropriate uses and limitations for these kinds of technologies.

Though I do not object to neurology being used in legal proceedings outright, I currently do not feel comfortable with many of the proposed uses of this technology as illustrated in many of the scenarios from the neurologists interviewed by Rosen. Here are a few scenarios that concern me:

  • Having courts create a definition of a normal brain that works properly as a means to determine whether people are responsible for their behavior.
  • Enabling courts to use technology that is able to read and decode a person’s thoughts and memories.
  • Using technologies that alters a person’s neurological pathways in order to induce them to tell the “truth”.
  • Leveraging neurology to denitrify people with a proclivity for certain types of violent or illegal behavior.

These scenarios are frightening to me because I do not believe that our thoughts, memories, motivations and behaviors can be reduced to an analysis of our brain structure and/or activity. I would go so far as to state that we don’t even know whether our thoughts and memories reside in our brain or are only accessed by it. Another concerns is that by classifying how a normal brain functions and criminalizing (or marginalizing) brains that function differently, we will likely end up reducing diversity of human thought and eliminating possibilities for our society to evolve. Lastly, I categorically object to the idea that we should consider holding people responsible for what they might do, rather than only for actions they have actually done.

Reading 1: Professor’s Little Helper, Barbara Sahakian & Sharon Morein-Zamir, Link to Article
Reading 2: The Beam in Your Eyes, William Saletan, Link to Article
Reading 3: The Brain on the Stand, Jeffrey Rosen, Link to Article

Coffee with Cyborgs

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

This article offers the interesting notion that in medieval time, people “extended their selfhood” by creating natural born cyborgs composed from a synthesis between human and Christ. This symbiont was a “more developed, more advanced, and more powerful version of the [individual's] existing self.”

Generally, “medieval ascetic practices such as fasting, meditation on the body of Christ, and contemplation” are seen as a way for a person to reject the physical for the spiritual. However, a cyborgian (if such a word exists) perspective views these practices as “highly developed forms of distributed cognition that combine body, mind and external technologies in a continuous and semi-automatic feedback loop.”

I personally take a broad perspective regarding the definition of cyborg. From this vantage point, humans have long been cyborgs; since the time when we were fist able to act through a tool, using and perceiving this external piece of technology as an extension of ourselves. Such tools are, of course, not limited to physical devices, language being an obvious example. Taking this one step further, the ideas and concepts that exist in language can also be considered as tools.

Religion is a conceptual tool. A man-Christ (or man-any religion) combination can give rise to cyborg if the integration happens at the appropriate level – as an extension of self.

After reading the fascinating history of coffee and tea I think it is fair to classify these substances as enhancers, and as a technology (at least in the way that we often use them). With that in mind, we could say that drinking coffee and tea is one of the ways in which we are cyborgs.

Readings 1: Surviving an Alien Environment: Human + Christ as Medieval Natural Born Cyborg, by Ruth Evans, Link to Article.

Readings 2: coffee and tea chapters from Pharmako/Dynamis, Section Excitantia, by Dale Pendell.

Social Phobias and Transformations

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Before reading Becoming a Dragon I had never considered the extreme forms of body modification that are becoming possible due to advancements in biotechnology; nor the possibility of using Multiuser Virtual Environments (MVEs), such as Second Life could, as means of prototyping the new identities made possible by these extreme forms of body modification.

Body modification procedures, existing and future ones, are most commonly used as a means to transform or construct one’s identity. As with any identity-related endeavor, there is an important social dimension to these transformations: “The moment of social interaction and feedback [is when] one’s conception of one’s self is affirmed and reified by others”.

Continuing on the theme of identity and self, since our reality spans realms of expression beyond the physical and social dimensions of the real-world (into virtual, digital and fantasy worlds) the very notion of a “true self” becomes rather muddied: one can contain multiple selves, each with different values and kinds of realness. In a similar vein, even within the real-world we can have multiple selves (or rather personas) that we express in different physical and social contexts.

In this chapter from his book Better Than Well, Carl Elliot examines what social and historical forces led to the pathologization of shyness and to the possibility of medicalizing this personality trait. He also investigates how culture impacts the way social phobias are treated in different parts of the world.

Social phobias are a relatively new phenomenon. In the US they were only recognized as a mental disorder in the 1980s. To understand the emergence of these types of disorder Elliot discusses the concept of personality, which only became commonly used in its current context in the last two centuries.

Personality is all about self-representation and it opens the possibility for self-transformation. In America the architecture of the self is focused on the individual, unlike in countries such as Japan. Therefore, we see personality as something that can be built in the same way that one can sculpt their body by working out. In this context shyness can be considered as a real barrier to self-representation, self-transformation, and ultimately achievement of fulfillment.

In this social life becomes a performance. Ironically, even though people are expected to perform, in America they are expected to do so in a way that is still considered “authentic”.

I can strongly relate to the structure of the American self described by Elliot. I see how in my life I have worked hard to cultivate personalities that represent my individuality in an “authentic” way. I also notice from living in and interacting with people from different cultures how my concern for “authenticity” and individuality is a cultural driven phenomena, and not just a personal choice.

Sympathetic Nervous System Arousal

Monday, March 21st, 2011

For the perception augmentation/modification project I will create a wristband that is able to sense my level of arousal and provide real-time feedback when my arousal surpasses a preset threshold. Since GSR has been linked to the activity of our sympathetic nervous system and the sympathetic nervous system controls our bodies fight-or-flight response, I will the GSR reading as an indirect measure of my level of arousal.

To notify me when my arousal level the wristband will vibrate between one and five times, and lights on my wristband will light up. The number of vibrations and the brightness of the lights will vary based on how much the GSR level exceeds the threshold.

It will take me about 2-3 weeks to design prototype and build the wristband. Once the wristband has been created, I will wear it every day for the whole day for about 2 weeks in order to determine whether it is helpful, or just provides a distraction. I am especially interested using the wristband in social situations such as when I am doing group work, hanging out with friends, or giving a presentation to a group of colleagues.

To design this device I plan to use the mobile tracking device that I developed last semester for Rest of You class as the starting off point for the design of this wristband. I will modify the circuit in order to reduce the size of the device and design a new case that has led lights (the device already features GSR tracking and vibration capabilities).

My hope is that  by helping me become more aware of my body’s response to situations it finds stressful or exciting, this modification will help me deal better with stressful situations. That said, I am not certain whether it will help  or just provide an annoying distraction.

I am still uncertain regarding the best way measure the success of this endeavor. Currently, my plan is to keep a daily journal regarding my experiences with the wristband and how it helped, or hindered, my ability to deal with stress and excitement.

Neuropunditry, Power Plants & True Self

Monday, March 7th, 2011

Neuropunditry refers to abusive uses neurological concepts done in the name of politics. The specific incident mention in this past week’s reading involved a neurologist who wrote an opinion piece for the NYTimes that was founded on shoddy research with non-scientific methodologies and sampling techniques. This incident fits into a broader pattern of behavior where media companies and “experts” use misleading data or use data in misleading ways to support a biased point of view.

This type of abuse is an important issue in our modern sensationalist media-driven culture. Neuropunditry is one of the new pseudo-science weapons that media companies and politicians will add to their arsenal of propaganda tools.

The poem “Bring Them On, The Power Plants” speaks to the inebriating effect of many natural plants, and the often difficult relationships people have with these substances. I have had my fair share of experiences with power plants of the pleasurable decadent kind to the unhealthy dependency type. These substances are extremely powerful and should be handled with caution. I personally do not believe they are intrinsically good or evil.

Our last reading, the chapter “True Self” from Carl Elliott’s book, focuses on how enhancement technologies have become tools for “working on the soul”. This makes sense to me from a personal standpoint because I notice how much time, effort, and technologies I use to nurture a state of psychological well being. In this statement I am taking a broader view of technology, as Quinn suggested in her article from last week relation to thinking about cyborgs.

From this perspective it is easy to notice how humans have long used technology in their pursuits related to the soul. When god was central to our soul and salvation we created technologies to satiate this higher power; now that we view ourselves as the ones responsible for own souls and salvation enhancement technologies can play the same role of helping us save ourselves (or become ourselves).

Self & Boundaries

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

The common thread that I found across all of the readings from last week was that they offered different perspectives regarding how we define self, and the boundary between the self and the world.

Descartes’ piece, though at times somewhat hard to comprehend, provided a fascinating perspective regarding the relationship between the way we perceive the world around us and the world itself. One of his conclusions is that our perception does provide us with information about real phenomena, though the data is rather cloudy and our instincts sometimes do not translate this data in a way that is appropriate to modern life.

“it must be concluded that corporeal objects exist. Nevertheless, they are not perhaps exactly such as we perceive by the senses, for their comprehension by the senses is, in many instances, very obscure and confused”

To me this part of his conclusion is sound – our experience of the world is subjective and in many ways an illusion. That said, I do not agree with much of the scaffolding he uses to reach that conclusion (such as god’s role in it), or with many of Descartes other notions.

Other fascinating aspects of Descartes’ view include his distinction between our ability to understand things abstractly (power to conceive) and our ability to create mental images of things (power to imagine); and his theory regarding how we differentiate between the world of our dreams and reality.

“When I perceive objects with regard to which I can distinctly determine both the place whence they come, and that in which they are, and the time at which they appear to me, and when, without interruption, I can connect the perception I have of them with the whole of the other parts of my life, I am perfectly sure that what I thus perceive occurs while I am awake and not during sleep.”

Whitman’s piece, I sing the body electric, is an ode to the human body. Whitman’s elevation of the human body is an interesting contrast to Descartes elevation of the human mind. According to Whitman, the human body is our soul; unlike Descartes, who famously stated “I think therefore I am”. Ultimately, Descartes and Whitman draw different boundaries to define that self – Whitman includes the whole body, whereas Descartes believes that we are ultimately our minds.

Quinn’s piece helps bring it all together by calling for development of new vocabularies to help us distinguish between the numerous types of human/machine combinations that currently fall under the generic cyborg moniker. Quinn points out that technologies, such as written language, aspirin and the wheel, are so deeply integrated into our culture that we often forget the ways in which we are already cyborgs. This reminds me of the saying: “technology is anything that was invented after your childhood.”

Lastly, the final piece from Robert M. Sapolsky was fascinating. It provided a neurological explanation regarding why stress can have a large negative impact on the health of our brains, and how personality ultimately determines how well a baboon (and human) deal with stress. So what are the stress-management characteristics of the healthier baboons?

  • they can tell the difference between big and small things
  • if it is a big thing, they can take action
  • they can tell the outcome of the event
  • they can find an outlet for their frustration
  • they are socially connected to other baboons

Self-Tracking Project

Friday, February 11th, 2011

For my Laboratory of Self midterm I have decided to leverage the data capturing framework from my existing bio-tracking project: MoodyJulio. Here is an overview of this new project:

Name: Music Makes Me Feel (Still Under Consideration)

Question That Drives the Project:
How does the genre of the music in my daily playlist impact my emotions throughout the day? I want to understand how listening to music impacts my emotions in the short-term (while I am listening to it) and long-term (for the rest of the day).

To prepare for the experiment I need to: (1) create five different one and a half hour long playlists, each featuring a different genre of music; (2) fix the heart rate and gsr tracker that I created for my MoodyJulio project; (3) re-activate the mymoods journal from the MoodyJulio project; (4) update mymoods journal entry template to meet the requirements of this study.

During the study I will do the following activities everyday: (1) wear the heart rate and gsr tracker from the time after I get out of the shower through the end of the day; (2) listen to that day’s select playlist twice (three hours total) before dinner time; (3) keep a journal that is updated every time I listen to music, or randomly every 40-80 minutes whenever the MoodyJulio tracker vibrates.

Data Collection Strategy:
I plan to use two methods of data collection, similar to the methodology used in my MoodyJulio project: (1) Physiological data collection will focus on heart rate, gsr, timestamp; (2) Journal entries will include emotional valence (positive/negative scale from 5 to -5), emotion description (from categories), activity (from categories), location (from categories, people (names of people is less than 5), description (optional)

Data Analysis Strategy:
To analyze the data in search of insights I plan to use the data visualization framework that I have been creating for MoodyJulio (I will post more information about this framework in the next couple of days. I am happy to report that I have recently made a lot of progress on this front.

Timeframe: from this Sunday/Monday through the midterm.

Identity Enhancement

Friday, February 11th, 2011

There are many aspects of our identity that remain out of our consciousness until some internal or external catalyst forces them out of the hidden depths or our unconscious mind. Here is a personal example of this phenomena: I never realized the role that my teeth play in my own identity until I almost had to undergo a teeth transplant surgery last year. This situation brought to my consciousness the fact that my teeth (I mean, having a full set of teeth) do play a role in my identity.

Each of us has our own sets of conscious and hidden identity markers. These sets are constantly evolving as we grow and change. Enhancement technologies are closely related to identities because people in our society use these types of technologies to affect things they consider important to their identity. This is why the debate regarding enhancement technologies often focuses on issues related to identity, such as: (a) to what extent can/should our identity be based on artificial — man made — attributes versus natural ones; (b) to what extent is our identity about self versus self-presentation.

My answers to these questions continues to oscillate. On the one hand, I am technophile who believes that enhancement technologies can provide real benefits (after all I am enrolled in a this course). On the other hand, I also see the potential for people to abuse or misuse these technologies in harmful ways to themselves or others (I guess this also another reason why I took this course, I want to take part in the shaping of these types technologies).

Intimacy and Power of Scents

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

Proust does a masterful job at describing the vivid memories and emotions that can be conjured up by smells and taste. We can relate to his story because we’ve all had similar experiences in our own lives. Each of us has an intimate collection of scents that are able trigger powerful emotional responses and memories. Every time I smell clove cigarettes I am transported back over 15 years to my last year of high school in Indonesia.

Why are smells more intimate and emotionally powerful then our other senses? What role does our physiology play in this difference? How does the nature of sounds, sights, smells, tastes and touches impact this difference?

From a physiological perspective we know that the olfactory nerve is intimately connected to the limbic system and it also passes directly to the allocortext rather than going through other structures first. The limbic system strongly influences our emotional behavior. This physiological link definitely plays an important role in the manner in which we experience smells.

What about the nature of smell has led us to treat it in this special manner from an evolutionary standpoint? How does the nature of smell compare to the nature of sights, sounds, tastes and touches (current ones only for now)?

Let’s start by looking at the physicality of different types of sensory inputs. Sights and sounds are created by the interplay of wavelengths of various different frequencies. These types of senses enable us to interact with the world beyond our direct physical grasp. We can see things that are far away in front of us with our eyes, and we can situate happenings within our 3-dimensional world using our ears.

Smell, taste and touch are more physical. This by itself makes them more intimate than sights and sounds. Our sense of smell is created when microscopic particles bind to receptors in our nasal tract. Tastes are sensed in a similar manner. Our sense of touch is activate when our body encounters another object or force. Smells are the least physical of these senses.  In a way they enable us to taste things without actually tasting them (though in actuality we are tasting it since physical particles from that object are attaching themselves to our olfactory receptors).

More thoughts are trying to spill out but they are becoming increasingly incoherent. So I’ll call it a night.