Archive for the ‘thesis’ Category

Experiencing Self vs. Remembering Self

Monday, April 8th, 2013

Two years ago, while finishing up my studies at ITP I was working on a thesis project called Emote [link to video | link to paper]. The intended goal of this project was to develop a prototype for a system or platform that would support “my practices for nurturing emotional attentiveness… [a platform that could help me] bring awareness to my emotional processes, identify my emotional triggers and scripts, distinguish constructive and harmful emotions, and nurture constructive emotions.” Ultimately, I wanted to create a system that would help live a more fulfilling life. A tall order I know.

Thinking_Fast_SlowOver the last few days I have been reading the last section of Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast and Slow. In this part of the book, Daniel focuses on exploring our “Two Selves”, or the two different ways that we experience the world. The perspective that he puts forward here has given me whole new perspective on my thesis project and has helped me identify the faulty assumptions which clouded my thinking. Though I have not continued working on Emote, I have not lost my passion for exploring ideas related to pursuits for meaning, awareness and consciousness, nor my interesting in exploring how technology (digital or other) can help us achieve this goal.

Kahneman posits that we experience the world in two different and conflicting ways – as the experiencing self and the remembering self. Here is a brief description about how each of these work:

The Experiencing Self
The experiencing self refers to the way in which we experience the world while the experience is taking place, in the moment itself. For example, the way we experience pain while undergoing a medical procedure, or pleasure while sharing an intimate sexual encounter. This part of ourselves experiences reality in a moment by moment basis – duration and time are central aspects of the experience. As such, from the standpoint of the experiencing self, to improve our well-being we should strive to extend the duration of pleasurable moments, while minimizing the moments of suffering.

The Remembering Self
The remembering self refers to the way in which we experience things after they have taken place, through the prism of our memories. For example, the way we experience a medical procedure or intimate sexual encounter through the stories we create about these events after they have taken place. Due to the characteristics of our memory, this mode of experience emphasizes moments of peak of intensity and end moments. For these reasons, our memories don’t properly reflect the time or duration of events. This means that from the standpoint of the remembering self, to improve our well-being we should strive to find experiences that feature positive high intensity moments and that end well, and avoid experiences that have negative high intensity moment and the end badly, with little regard to duration.

Who Guides Our Decisions
According to Daniel, the remembering self tends to influence our decisions much more strongly than the experiencing self. The characteristics of our remembering self creates a bias in favor of goods and experiences that are initially exciting, even if they eventually lose their appeal. Considerations of time and duration are neglected, causing experiences that will retain their value in the long term to be appreciated less than they deserve.

Back to Emote
Emote was largely an attempt to focus my attention on the world as experienced by my experiencing self. The tools and processes that I created centered around tuning-in to, and quantifying the duration of my emotional states. My efforts were based on the assumption that by uncovering insights regarding factors that contributed positively and negatively to my moment-by-moment experience I would be able to make a positive impact on my pursuit of fulfillment. Now I realize that this was a flawed approach because the pursuit of fulfillment is largely a concern of the remembering self – it is the pursuit that is based in personal stories and a search for meaning.

I am still interested in exploring ways to focus more attention on our moment-by-moment experiences of the world, and to loosen the grip that the stories from our remembering selves have on our assessments and decisions – though I have no ideas or designs at the moment for a project to explore this area of opportunity. I also agree with Kahneman’s point that we need to take into account both of our selves in our pursuit of wellness for ourselves and our society.

Caveats and Credits
Quick caveat, this is my understanding of Kahneman’s theory coupled with a bunch of my own murky thoughts. I am sure I am over simplifying and misconstruing several of the ideas that he make so eloquently in his book. So take this with a grain of salt and read his book.

Emote [Thesis Presentation]

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

Here is the presentation for my thesis project Emote. It was delivered on Monday, May 9th. Below the video is a slideshow featuring from my presentation slides.

Emote [Thesis Presentation] from Julio Terra on Vimeo.

Here are the slides:

Emote [Thesis Paper]

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

Phase 2.0 of Emote is officially done since I delivered my thesis presentation last week, and finished my thesis paper earlier this week. I am very happy with how Emote continues to evolve. The thesis paper and presentation provided a source of motivation, and a great opportunity to document my work. Here are two links to download the pdf of my thesis paper [High-res pdf | Low-res pdf]. Below is the abstract of the thesis paper. The presentation is available on another post here.

Abstract: Emote is a platform that supports my practices for nurturing emotional attentiveness. Emote consists of five components: an emotion journal to keep me tuned into my emotions; an activity log to help me track activities related to my practice; the Emote wristband to monitor my physiological state; a database to integrate all this data; and an application to visualize the data in search for patterns and insights.

Emote was designed to help me: bring awareness to my emotional processes, identify my emotional triggers and scripts, distinguish constructive and harmful emotions, and nurture constructive emotions.

Emote has succeeded in supporting my practice across all the areas listed above. However, not all Emote’s components contributed to this success. The emotion journal and activity log have supported and elevated my emotional attentiveness practice. On the other hand, the wristband, database and visualization application still require further work.

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).

Emote [Thesis]

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

Its taken me a really long time to write this, my first post about my thesis. I decided on my current direction in late February. During the last month and a half I have been focusing my efforts on data collection and setting up the database back-end for this project. Without further delay here is an overview of the project. I plan on providing some updates over the next couple of days, stay tunned.

My Thesis in One Sentence: Emote is a platform for tracking my emotions and creating high-resolution visualizations that explore sources of meaning and fulfillment in my life.

Slightly More Informative Description: Emotions are important. They strongly affect how we experience reality by influencing our perception, choices and actions. Emotions are also messy and hard to measure. They are highly subjective short-lived phenomena created by interactions between physiological and cognitive processes in response to our psychological, social and physical context.

Emote explores methodologies for collecting and integrating high-resolution data about the physiological states, cognitive processes, and contextual factors associated with my emotions. To uncover insights from this data, Emote uses visualization approaches to highlight correlations between my emotions and activities, people, and places in my life.

Inspiration: The Middle Passage by James Hollis

Sunday, January 9th, 2011

I am 35 years old. By most accounts this means that I have officially reached “middle age.” I had never really thought about reaching “middle age,” and what that would entail, or mean. I assumed, as most people do, that “middle age” was something that was primarily related to my age. As a consequence, I tended to lean towards the viewpoint that reaching this phase of my life was a negative thing.

Part and parcel with “middle age” is the dreaded “mid-life crisis”. This is another event frequently stereotyped in our pop culture. The first thing that comes to mind are the judgmental images of old men with a sports cars, motor bikes or young lovers (from a female perspective I think of the housewife shows on TV). No wonder most people get depressed thinking about reaching this point of their lives. I’m not one to easily succumb to many of the negative stereotypes that abound in our modern consumer culture; though that is not to say that I am immune the negativity that is often prevalent.

I was recently introduced to a very empowering perspective regarding “middle age” through the work of a Jungian psychologist named James Hollis. In his book “The Middle Passage” Hollis examines how this important moment in our lives can provide a powerful opportunity to redefine and reorient our lives; and to investigate who we are apart from our history, the roles we often play, and the unconscious patterns of actions that often govern our lives.

Over the past couple of years I have been making a lot changes in my life and dealing with a good deal of emotional upheaval. I notice how these events and experiences are part of my personal voyage through this “middle passage”. This book has served a call to action for me to continue to embrace the hard work that I have started. At the same time is has provided me with an empowering set of perspectives and frameworks. As they say, a book will find you when the time is right – I don’t know who “they” are, but in this case they are definitely right.

What is the Middle Passage?
Though it will be hard to do justice to the concepts and ideas from Hollis’ book in a few short paragraphs, I will do my best. Please note that the numbers in [brackets] refer to pages from Hollis’ book.

To understand the Middle Passage it is important to briefly consider the phases of identity that lead up to this part of our personal journey, namely childhood and first adulthood. During childhood we adopt many unconscious responses that continue to play an important role in determining our adult personality. “Out of the wounding of childhood… the adult personality is less a series of choices than a reflexive response to the earlier experiences and traumata of life.”

These reflexive responses, termed complexes by Jung, are both unavoidable and natural. “The problem is not that we have complexes but that complexes have us.” [13] These forces are born in our unconscious, and as long as they remain unconscious they have the power to wreak havoc on our lives. The development of these complexes is closely associated to the process of socialization, together these processes drive the development of our acquired personality.

As our personality solidifies (and our attachment to it grows) we become increasingly estranged from a natural sense of self. “The transit of the Middle Passage occurs in the fearsome clash between the acquired personality and the demands of the Self… Thus, the Middle Passage represents a summons from within to move from the provisional life to true adulthood, from the false self to authenticity.” [15]

Changes in Perspective
The Middle Passage is characterized by several important changes in one’s perspective regarding life.

A new kind of thinking is required as a response to a collapse of one’s tacit contract with the universe. Here I refer to the belief that if we act “correctly” and do the “right” thing then our life will work out the way we want it to. In short, we do not have a “reciprocity” agreement with the universe. [41]

Our sense of time changes with the realization that we are mortal and that “there is no way [we] will ever accomplish all that the heart longs for and pursues.” [32] The ego-centered hopes from our youth for personal grandiosity, and perfection in our relationships are challenged by these realizations. This is a painful experience since these external pursuits were viewed as important sources of happiness and fulfillment.

Together these changes reflect a collapse of the assumptions by which one has lived his/her life, and which have served as the basis for the development of one’s personality. They create a tremendous amount of emotional upheaval often leading a person to withdraw from others and act “crazy”; in other words, it leads to a strong experience neurosis.

Taking Responsibility
These changes are ultimately a call for one to take a greater responsibility in one’s own life. Here are some of the challenges that must be faced when one chooses to answer this call.

One must bring to consciousness and withdraw the projections that have played an important role in our life. Projections, like complexes, are expressions of our unconscious. Career and marriage are prime vehicles for our projections, often viewed as potential external sources of meaning, fulfillment, and even transcendence. During this passage our projections are eroded tearing down the hopes and expectations they embodied.

To establish a new equilibrium between our roles in society (e.g. personas) and our authentic self we have to reintegrate parts of ourselves that we have repressed. Labelled by Jung as the shadow, these repressed parts of our inner being contain things that are identified as problematic on a personal and societal level. Creating a dialogue between one’s persona and shadow is the only way to bring the shadow out of the unconscious so that it can add new possibilities to one’s life.

“When we recognize and withdraw the projections that money and power represent, then we are obliged to ask in a radical form: ‘What am I called to do?’” This question is an important step in the path to finding one’s vocation. While a job is focused on meeting economic needs, a vocation “is a requisite part of our individuation to feel that we are productive.” [72]

Ultimately, these challenges “mean finally confronting one’s dependencies, complexes and fears without the mediation of others. [They] require that we relinquish blaming others for our lot and to take full responsibility for our physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.” Our task at this moment in life is to “make our fears our agenda.” [43]

Can Technology Help?
Ok, you should have known that this was coming. As I gear up for my thesis I can’t help but wonder how technology could be used to help empower and guide individuals through this phase of their lives. This area of exploration has officially been added to my short list of potential topics for thesis.