Post Mortem - The First Semester

As I near the end of my second semester, I wanted to take the time to reflect back on the classes that I took in the first semester. It's mostly to compile a list of lessons that will be important for my time at ITP and what I choose to do after.

EDIT 04/06: At the end are some of my thoughts about what being at ITP was like in that first semester as well.

Visual Language

I took this class because I had an interest in visual design from working with visual designers at HPalm and Allscripts. Making graphic things such as a logo and a business card showed me that although making graphics isn't my forte, I can now understand and analyze it more in depth. It certainly gave me the courage to try making them by myself.

Take this class if: you want to know the basics about graphic design classes
Don't take this class if: you want to learn graphic design tools. There are some workshops on Photoshop and Illustrator that get you through the very basics, but that's not the point of the class

Networked Media

This is a class that I wish had spanned the entire semester because of how much material there is in this space. Getting to play with client and server side development was incredibly important because it taught me about the anatomy of a website. There's a ton of material to cover in seven weeks, but it left me wanting to know more, especially in the realm of mobile development (which is why I opted to take Always On, Always Connected and Dynamic Web: Mobile in the second semester). I want to focus on front end development, but I've started to appreciate server side as well.

Take this class if: you want to know about the basics of web development
Don't take this class if: you don't have a lot of time. It was a pretty demanding class but I enjoyed learning the material

PComp (Intro to Physical Computing)

Oh PComp. This class was the class that scared me the most (then again, when you start a class going over the basics of physics... well...), but it also pushed me out of my comfort zone the most. The midterm and final projects for this course were a great deal of fun because it was a different kind of creative than what I do regularly. Thinking about hardware interactions was a new concept; until now I'd only ever thought about how people do things on glass surfaces to trigger the software displayed under it. Now I had to think about physical material and gestures beyond swipes and taps. So while I burned a lot of LEDs and screwed up a couple of circuits, it definitely gave me an appreciation for how to build things (and document them properly).

Take this class if: well we don't really have a choice since it's mandatory for ITP, but it's a good way to get into ITP culture since everyone takes it (this is one of the only things I regret about passing out of ICM)
Don't take this class if: I don't recommend people not take this class. Seriously, don't pass it up. Unless you've already made hardware installations or done intense circuit things...

Cabinets of Wonder

This class is partly why I wanted to come to ITP - I love museums dearly and would love to work in the space someday. Cabinets is a very exploratory class in that you go to many different kinds of museums to see the design problems in the space for yourself. The 'field research' was much more effective than the traditional lecture style, supplemented with guest lecturers who came in to talk to us. 

What really stuck with me from this class was that I was forced to think about analog solutions. My background is entirely in software, so for me software is the go to solution. Museums however don't always have that luxury and software requires maintenance, so the challenge was in creating an interactive experience with physical objects. Challenge accepted!

Cabinets was everything I wanted, even though it took me quite some time to pare down my topic for the final project. I loved this class so much!

Take this class if: you're interested in museums. The stuff we learn from going on the visits along with discussions with the people in the class and Nancy is incredible. Plus, behind the scenes tours of one of the best museums in the world? YES!
Don't take this class if: you don't like walking around a lot or museums. 

I realized after looking at this post again is that I broke down the classes I did, but I failed to address the ITP experience as a whole. That was the glue between all of these classes, so to not talk about it is like presenting only half of a picture. 

The first semester is designed to orient first years to ITP - it's a great narrative that's been well thought out, and I'm grateful for the experience. Three of the four mandatory classes are in the first semester: Introduction to Computational Media (ICM), PComp, and something called Applications (it's more of a seminar class with lots of speakers so I didn't include it above). I waived out of ICM since I was a computer science major and already familiar with object oriented programming, but I regret it slightly because ICM is so fundamentally ITP. I can't be too regretful because I got to take Cabinets of Wonder instead. 

When I talk about ITP, I talk about a space where people are interested in challenging themselves in ways that are important to them. What I found is that you can do whatever interests you at ITP but you have to push yourself hard - you're driven by yourself here, though that pressure is also amplified by the insane levels of creativity from your classmates. The world is your playground - do cool things! I took that to heart in the second semester, which I'll talk about when it's over, but it's a lesson that I will take with me into the future. 

I came in as someone who was 100% software oriented, and now I think about non-digital solutions and hardware. My love for mobile is still strong and will be what I center my education here around, but I've also expanded my horizons creatively. For that, I'm grateful for the experience of the first semester. 

Night at the Museum: Hack The Universe Remix

I was extremely lucky to be accepted into the American Museum of Natural History's (AMNH) Hack the Universe hackathon, the first one to be held there. It's part of AMNH's BridgeUp:STEM initiative which focuses on the intersection of computer science and science. A huge thank you to the folks who put this together because it was AMAZING!

Hack the Universe was an overnight hackathon in which participants were introduced to the Digital Universe data set and had access to all kinds of tools to make their hacks - we had the opportunity to play with Leap Motions, Oculus Rift, 3D printers, and more. The museum gave us a couple of challenges as food for thought for what we wanted to make that covered all sorts of topics. There were over thirty teams at the event with all sorts of amazing ideas, and we got to use the Hall of the Universe as our workspace. 

It's so cool that I have to say it again: we got to work... in the Hall of the Universe... all night long. 

I worked with a fabulous team of people with backgrounds in UX, astrophysics, and development to put together planit, an Oculus Rift game where the player can make their own solar system based on an astro mechanics engine the team built. The object of the game is to make your solar system survive as long as possible - you can build it from the ground up with all kinds of stars and celestial bodies. 

Making planit 

planit was originally pitched by Geoff, who wanted to make a 'Build Your Own Solar System' app on the Oculus Rift. When we first came together, we iterated on the idea to turn it into a game in which the player could either build their own solar system or play with an existing one that we could give them. I led the team through the exercise of visualizing the workflow of what the app would look like.

Given that we had less than 24 hours to build a functional proof of concept, we focused on the 'make your own solar system' task. We divided up the following tasks: 

  • Design - wireframes and visual design for the proof of concept. I served as an interaction designer in addition to being a project manager.
  • Development - we focused on the Oculus Rift as the primary device and used a Myo as the primary input, but a few people were also interested in the Leap Motion as well. The game was built in Unity so that we could make it cross platform easily.
  • Mechanics - building the astro mechanics engine to power the player's solar system 

Most of us eventually succumbed to the need to sleep (I left because there were no more cots available at 4:30 AM) but we put together an amazing proof of concept as well as UX mockups. You can find our work on the Hack The Universe GitHub - we have our demo video, slides, and clickthrough prototype available for anyone who's interested!

Here are some of the screens we made (Diego did the primary visual design work based off the wireframes and I helped him to finalize them for the final presentation)

Lessons Learned

  • Bring Post-It notes to the next hackathon - This was the tool I missed most. It was very helpful for the whiteboarding exercise. I had to at times memorize exactly what was going on with the project and keep track of deadlines, so writing stuff down would have been less stressful
  • Know your limits - I could feel my brain grinding to a halt at 4 or so, so I called it a night and got some much needed rest to be functional the next day.
  • Have a diverse team, but this might be an exercise in luck - there was not a single person who wasn't key to the success of this project, and I am again so grateful that this was the team I had in my first experience as a hackathon participant. We came from all kinds of backgrounds and could help each other out. Jack, Geoff, Robby were our tanks who worked the whole time, but everyone pitched in where there was a need. 
  • Practice your presentation, and then practice it again - we all collectively helped with writing the script and the presentation even though only Diego, Geoff, and I would be on the stage. Diego was going to talk through the slides while I drove the presentation, so we practiced multiple times to get our timing right. The end result was stupendous - even though I was caught off guard by the timer being started earlier than I expected, we avoided the technical difficulties that some other presenters had. Diego rocked it, the presentation was smooth, and we had an excellent presentation. The preparation was worth it
  • Take personal risks - Something that I didn't do was help with the coding (though I did get the chance to look over Geoff's shoulder). I would love to do so next time and now have the guts to ask for some programming work. But this was my first time designing for a 3D interface, and I enjoyed the challenge immensely. 
  • Have a cat herder - It's easy to get lost in the details of the implementation sometimes, and frequently we ended up having some chaos with side conversations, rabbit chasing with details, and generally getting derailed. There were moments where we had to refocus, and I had to say 'okay let's step back for a minute and come back to the bigger picture'. Keeping track of deadlines and tasks was something I did mentally in order to keep tabs on where we were, which was helpful in getting to the finish line.  


Our team worked so hard to put together an amazing presentation and we won in the Education category! I could not have asked for better teammates and am so lucky to have had this experience for my first hackathon. We won bragging rights and a 3D printed Theodore Roosevelt bust/trophy with the AMNH and MakerBot logos. There was a lot of joyful screaming, fist bumping, and picture taking. Go Team planit!


  • Wireframes (Proof of Concept) - rough wireframes I threw together for the flow of the POC
  • Process flow - Tiby took my whiteboard notes and made a clean visualization of them
  • Clickthrough UI Prototype - I took the mockups Diego made and made a prototype for the iPad using InVision
  • Preso Slides - Diego and I practiced multiple times to perfect the timing and we got it down cold!
  • YouTube Demo - Jack was our Vanna White for the demo. Geoff provided the live narration for our presentation (if I find a recording I'll add it here)
  • GitHub - All the hard work everyone did in one place!

Update: We are continuing work on planit and have a ton of exciting ideas for where to go! I'll post updates as often as possible!

ITP State of Mind

Has it only been one week? I feel like so much has happened! This blog for one got a revamp, but I also started my classes at ITP officially! Week One ended on Friday and tomorrow starts the first full week of classes. I've already switched a couple of classes, learned a ton, gotten great advice, remembered what it's like to be both nervous and excited all at once, and had so much fun. And that was just the last seven days!

I'll be doing a ton of blogging related to my classwork so if you're interested in what exactly I'm doing at ITP, you can follow my ITP category for blog posts! I'll be blogging for the following courses this semester (each of them has an individual tag)

  • Comm Lab: Networked Media (web dev)
  • PComp (physical computing - Arduino/hardware)
  • Cabinets of Wonder (museum design) - this class technically has its own blog page but I'll cross post them here to have for myself

I was originally enrolled in a course called Maps, Lies, and Storytelling but after some debate I decided to take the intro animation course in order to learn how to prototype transitions and designs. I won't start that until late October though. I'm also enrolled in Visual Language, which teaches the basics of visual design (I learned a ton from the visual designers at HPalm and Allscripts but apparently those things have actual bonafide terms that I should know?), as well as a course called Applications that brings in speakers weakly and encourages us to go on NYC adventures. It's been a lot of work but it's also been a lot of fun so far. Each class definitely makes me really work for it, but I'm enjoying them so far! This also gives me the opportunity to update more often. 

All in all, I have no regrets about coming to ITP. The culture, the people, the classes, all of it has been more than I ever expected. Cabinets of Wonder sealed the deal as my favorite course right off the bat (I'm on the waitlist for it sadly so here's to hoping the professor doesn't break my heart) and PComp scares the crap out of me in a good way. Everything else has been stellar - I participated in a day long D&D campaign on Labor Day, joined in the ITP tradition of Thursday Night Out, and have gotten to know a ton of people that inspire me to keep pushing forward. 

Here's to doing so at a breakneck speed.

Big Apple Overture

Greetings from New York! I still can hardly believe it and it's only been about a week.

I've already been caught in the whirlwind of being in the Big Apple both from a social and academic perspective - I've met a large portion of my 100+ peers, gone to a PechaKucha talk series (courtesy of Ignite NYC) about wearables and sensors, and started settling into life as a student again.

The impact on how I think and do things now is already noticeable. 

Dealing with moving in, for example, was a design problem. I have a student budget again and only an external hallway closet and a dresser for storage. The easiest solution was to order more shelving, but I have a pretty small room. Instead, I chose to hook another bar to the one built into the closet for additional space to hang more clothes. The result was cheaper, less time consuming, and actually preferred. 

I'm incredibly excited about being at ITP! Everyone that I've met is energetic, enthusiastic, and just incredibly inspiring. They're from all over the world (I believe the stats of my class is a 50-50 breakdown between international and US students) and come from diverse backgrounds. Their enthusiasm making me want to push myself more. I am really happy to be a part of this group. I'll have more opportunity to talk about it once I actually start my classes, but all the orientation activities have been an adventure that I will remember for a very long time.

I think I'm going to love it here. 


< /Raleigh > < NYC >

I remember my first night in Raleigh. I flew in with a one way ticket from San Francisco, and I wasn't sure of what to expect. It was night, so all I could see was the shadows of trees. It was quite the change from the tall buildings of the city. Now I'm trading in the greenery for steel and glass again. 

I'm delighted to say that I will be moving to New York in about a week to join the Interactive Telecommunications program at New York University! "Crazy excited" seems to be the closest term for what I'm feeling currently. It's a huge change and I'm looking forward to the adventures ahead! 

On the other hand, it means leaving my position at Allscripts. I am so grateful to the UX team there for all that they have done for and taught me - the list of things that I have learned is pretty endless. It was my first job as a user experience designer, and it means a lot to me. 

Time to start the next chapter!