See something say something

I’m interested in contemporary propaganda, and how it succeeds (and sometimes fails) in using the basic principles of design.

For example, the MTA’s “See Something Say Something” campaign.


In this instance of the campaign, the designers cleverly used the the stairs themselves as a grid.


The negative space of the pieces shifts as the observer approaches and climbs the stairs.


The color palette of yellow, black and red is simple and striking. The font here is Plak Black Condensed – high contrast and readable.

Security apparatuses across the nation have reproduced the slogan in their own designs, which I think speaks to the propagandist power of the original and the underlying paranoia that produced it. Here, for example, is the Department of Homeland Security’s version:


It’s quite a reversal from this WWII era piece, which shows the dire consequences of “saying something”.


Contrast these images with an FBI’s most wanted poster, and a smalltown anti-terrorist campaign.

Memento Mori – trigger mechanism

I’ve purchased a new box for my Memento Mori project.

Photo Oct 27, 2 31 51 PM

I spent a few hours today trying to get the lid of the box to slowly rise using a servo.

Photo Oct 27, 2 31 58 PM

Unfortunately the servos I have lying around aren’t quite strong enough, so I ordered a new one with greater torque which I hope will do the trick.

In the meantime I spent some time playing with ideas for the mechanism that will open the box. At this point I have three options that I’m evaluating.

One: a distance sensor. I was initially most attracted to this option. The idea here is that the fortune-recipients approach the box, and as they reach out the box begins to open up in one fluid motion. Here’s a video of me implementing a crude version of what I’m imagining. In the first part of the video I’m experimenting with sensor values and smoothing, in the second part the servo is opening a box when a hand approaches.

I love the playfulness of this interaction but I think it lacks intentionality and is too chaotic for this project. I might want to use the idea again in something else. For example, I could imagine a wall with hundreds of tiny boxes on shelves that each open and shut as visitors get close – something that would be evocative of chained dogs snapping at unwelcome guests.

Two: a simple button embedded on the outside of the box. There’s even a hole already there…

Photo Oct 27, 10 01 17 PM

This seems like a reasonable option. I like how well the button fits into the enclosure I’ve picked. There’s nothing particularly exciting about a button, but it’s straightforward, fairly intuitive, and hopefully less prone to user error/confusion.

Three: a coin-op mechanism, pictured below.


I have one of these but haven’t hooked it in yet. Again, I like the straightforwardness of this option, and it’s legibility. For me it recollects coin-op fortune telling machines that I’ve seen in the past, so it doesn’t seem like the interaction would be completely out of left field. Generally speaking I want to strike a balance in this project between legibility and the delight that comes from an expected occurrence.

Simulation – eat/mate/die

I created a basic “eat/mate/die” simulation in Processing. Creatures wander around the screen looking for food. When they are no longer hungry they begin a mating dance by slowly circling the center of the screen. If they are able to crash into each with sufficient velocity they will mate and reproduce. Eventually the creatures die of old age, or starvation, and become food for the surviving creatures to eat.

The movement of the creatures is governed by steering behaviors that I picked up while reading The Nature of Code. Each creatures is pushed and pulled by four internal forces:

  • Hunger pushes creatures toward food.
  • Mating pushes creatures into a circular pattern and is inversely proportional to the hunger force.
  • Separation pushes creature away from each other to prevent overlapping. Separation can be overcome by a strong mating force.
  • Wander pushes creatures to explore the world.

Each creature has a unique name, selected randomly from the Social Security Administration’s list of top 1000 baby names from 1880.

The user is able to zoom in on and follow individual creatures with the space bar. While following a critter you can zoom further in or out using the mouse wheel, select other creatures to follow with j or k, and gently steer using the arrow keys. i reveals all the creature names and statuses, and pauses or resumes the animation.

You can play with it here:

And download the code here:

Memento Mori: Box Prototype

I’ve started to work on a somewhat more ambitious physical computing project. My goal is to create a kind of overly specific fortune telling machine. The user will push a large button, a box will open, and a lengthy fortune will shoot out. The content of the fortunes will come from NY Times obituary pieces.

I’m calling the project “Memento Mori” after the Medieval artistic motif of the same name.

So far, I’ve built a simple prototype of the box that will contain the fortunes. A servo controlled by an arduino sketch opens and closes the lid. I quickly discovered that you need to hold the servo in place for it to actually be able to do anything…