thomas jenkins | portfolio

Tinkering Platforms

With Ian Bogost

Ongoing

With popular hardware prototyping platforms like the Arduino and Raspberry Pi, “making” is often an aspiration and not about actually creating working, useful systems. These tools help people create a sense of identity as a “maker:” a type of person who is empowered to create with electronic objects, but who primarily make novelties or toys.

We are creating platforms that help people solve small-scale problems in their everyday lives. Here, gratification comes not from making something new and remarkable to show off to the world, but in making something unremarkable that nevertheless feels important to an individual or small community. When to water a particular plant, when hot coffee has reached a preferred temperature, or when the mail has been delivered, for example.

We aim for an ecosystem that reduces hardware engineering complexity for small-scale, ubiquitous problems like these. It allows novices to prototype solutions quickly and straightforwardly.

Tiny Tinkering Platforms

ViewMaster

2013

Inspired by the popular toy, the ViewMaster displays live video feeds from unsecured IP cameras from the Internet. These cameras are shown randomly, offering a view into many people's every day contexts and lives. Sometimes, while looking through a particular camera, another viewer on the current camera's web interface controls the pan or zoom, offering ViewMaster's user an especially provocative feeling of watching people watch - a kind of "metavoyeurism."

Ascent

With Mariam Asad, Paul Clifton, Rebecca Rouse, and Andrew Quitmeyer

2012

To commemorate the GVU’s 20th anniversary and to celebrate its intellectual connection with the program, we produced Ascent, an installation that aims to transform an everyday physical space into one of entertainment and exploration.

Tethered weather balloons with attached video cameras above the Technology Square Research Building. These cameras moved up and down the balloon line and captured a 360-degree panoramic view of Midtown Atlanta. The real time video streaming was then projected inside one of the TSRB elevators, which allows Ascent participants to view the city as they ride the elevator as if they were perched on the balloon cluster above the building.

Annotated Placemats

2012

Annotated Placemats is a placemat-based system to support food reverie, reflections on meals eaten and the food experience as it was shared, not seen. Inspiration is taken from food journals dinner party ledgers, wine label collections, as well the "documentation" produced on tablecloths by remnants of the eating process. 

After the placemats are used, they become natural charts of the experience of eating. Food and drink leave traces on the paper’s surface, providing an emergent history from residue. The placemats can be stored in binders, creating a chronology of meals eaten, or sorted to evoke particular themes. Sorting by meal creates a data-dense understanding of a particular event, while one person’s history may provide a revealing understanding of his or her foibles.

Devotional Gardening Tools

2011

Gardening as an activity embodies devotion, the idea that through practice and effort, particular results can be obtained. Devotion is performative, taking time, effort, and repetition to get the results that you want. By building gardening implements that emphasize the repetitive physical nature of gardening work, performing the work develops into a broader practice--one that is more reflexive and meditative.

Digital media technologies allow the creation of tools that embody rhetoric, creating ancillary functionalities that help to underscore issues of practice during use. Instrumenting traditional gardening tools to create space for religious-type experiences using electronics creates a tension in two dimensions: one, countering idea of gardening and small-scale agriculture as being somehow more natural or closer to the earth by mediating the experience in an unexpected way; and two, through using electronics as a digital medium for fostering a resonant spiritual experience with material objects.

emotional prostheses

2008

Emotional prostheses, my thesis work at ITP, are devices built to mediate and support the idea of a modern human partially constructed by technological objects. Many of our devices serve as prosthetic augmentation in ways we don't necessarily think about: cellular phones become augmented organs of communication, laptops become repositories of personal memory, and online social networks like Flickr, Facebook, and Myspace serve as aspects of our identity, incarnated as distributed pieces of the body on servers around the globe.

While offering an implicit criticism of the resituating of the body to unexamined, electronic spaces, the emotional prostheses are objects that reinforce and underscore the body's materiality. An anxiety prosthesis is an indicator of emotional mood, an alienation prosthesis serves to ground wild speculation in physical reality, and an insecurity prosthesis comforts with warm, soothing weight while tethering a patient to an electrical outlet.

project website

BodyAudible

2007

BodyAudible is a wearable instrument that seeks to make the hidden signals inside the body salient, breaking apart constructions of inside and outside, of private and public. A biofeedback instrument, it amplifies and processes bodily voltages into auditory soundscapes to be shared.

The system uses stretch sensors, galvanic skin response, and pulse detection to generate tones through Max/MSP. Switches on the body of the device allow the performer to change between levels of sound processing, giving shape to a performance.

This Place is Not a Place of Honor

With Gian Pablo Villamil

2007

The Yucca Mountain Waste Isolation Project Plant is built to withstand and secure radioactive waste for ten thousand years, long enough for its toxicity to degrade to safe levels. Design documentation for the project consider how to develop marker systems to denote the place's danger even after any potential end to civilization. With so much on the line, what if the message degraded or the system failed?

The installation consists of 4 translucent screens, inspired by a proposed floor plan for the WIPP, irregularly torn and ripped, with video projections screened simultaneously from each side. From the front, the projection is a selection of material from the WIPP design specification, including proposed solutions from the design team. From the back, the projection is of amorphous, Cerenkov blue clouds and atomic cloud chamber experiments. Over the 5 minute course of the the video loops, the background loop becomes brighter and brighter, penetrating the holes in the screens and eventually overwhelming the data projection.

see the movie

Record Decay

2007

As new forms recording media are constantly being developed, older means of storing information become obsolete. Certain formats, though, become so beloved to people that they never really go away. As a storage medium becomes a kind fetish object, opportunities arise to play with what people hold dear.

A record player with a cast iron turntable installed over a hot plate plays records as they slowly warm. Eventually, the records warp out of any sort of playable condition. The audio signal is used to control motors, drawing the degrading signal out on a spool of paper, recording the decaying audio waves for posterity.

Underwater Buddies

2007

Underwater buddies are stuffed animals made from other, more traditional stuffed animals. Lifting ideas of ownership from remix culture, each stuffed underwater buddy is comprised of parts cut from traditional stuffed animals that may seem kind of prosaic and underwhelming (duck, frog, gorilla, bunny, chick, elephant, and rhinoceros) and given new life and less rigid definitions as fanciful aquatic animals with a common history and ecology.

Like remixed music, the underwater buddies have recognizable parts in unusual, unexpected places. a duck's bill becomes a shrimp-like creature's proboscis, a chick's feet become fishy fins and an elephant's tusks become a tough-looking fish's horns.


Compeditation

With Piama Habibullah and Matt Fargo

2006

Compeditation, attached stools with a table for resting the users' right hands, is a system that takes an action that many people pursue for personal and spiritual reasons and recasts it as something wholly different. By using biometric sensors (galvanic skin response, pulse rate monitors, and thermistors) that are more usually a part of lie detectors or medical equipment, the effect of meditation on the body is considered in a vacuum.

Meditation is not usually thought of as something competitive, but rather as something that is done for its own sake. Compeditation takes meditation and strips it down to biological indicators, controlling a game. The winner is the competitor who remains the calmest. Reframing serene meditation as a high-pressure competition brings issues of emotional control to the forefront.

Dead Wringer

With Andy Doro, Sonia Nelson, and Filepe Ribeiro

2006

The Dead Wringer is a stuffed animal that a user symbolically “murders” to deal with rage, anger, or severe frustration. The device tries to walk the line between creepy and cathartic, in order to provoke the user into reflecting on the nature of their rage and their emotion. Ideally, the user should find that the interaction itself is intrinsically fun and rewarding, as well as finding themselves deeply disturbed that they think so. Inside of the stuffed animal's neck is a custom built analog pressure sensor that sends values to an arduino-based microcontroller platform.

By making something that is intentionally morally ambiguous, a space is opened for user interpretation. He or she is able to build personal experience into the device, as well as reflect on the nature of the experience and the emotion that inspired it. Hopefully, Dead Wringer will allow a relatively healthy outlet for rage and anger as well as offering a space to reflect on the nature of those emotions.

EarSketch

EarSketch engages students in computing principles through collaborative computational music composition and remixing. It consists of an integrated curriculum, software toolset, and social media website. The EarSketch curriculum targets introductory high school and college computing education. The software toolset enables students to create music by manipulating loops, composing beats, and applying effects with Python code. The social media website invites students to upload their music and source code, view other students’ work, and create derivative musical remixes from other students’ code. EarSketch is built on top of Reaper, an intuitive digital audio workstation (DAW) program comparable to those used in professional recording studios.

Visit the project Web site here.

Text Visualization

2008

A series of explorations into visualizing word-based statistical correlations between Democratic political candidates in the 2008 primaries. The goal is to produce screens that are painterly, while still letting particular relationships emerge.

Iconic

With Allison Parrish

2006

Comics and sequential art have codified particular conventions into their storytelling technique. Rather than hoping to be representative of specific people and places, iconic structures, reductions in verisimilitude to the everyday allow comics to be much more than what they actually depict.

Iconic is a comic strip with an infinite timeline and four levels of metaphoric structure. The comic reads right to left, but a viewer can chose to go from the highest level of representation to more abstract layers as they please. The lowest level of representation is a bare description of what is happening, while sketchier representations at other levels allow more and more interpretation on the part of the reader.

launch the applet

Pollen

With the Public Design Workshop

2013

Sensing technologies are often divorced from the materialities of the phenomena being sensed.The Pollen Project is a design research project using mixed media to reunite the materialities of pollen with its measurement and communication. The city of Atlanta, Georgia has one of the highest annual pollen counts of any city in the United States. Every Spring, pollen blankets the city. Pollen counts are orders of magnitude greater than the threshold set for a High pollen count by the National Allergy Bureau. But these numbers fail to communicate the experience of living with pollen — they give privilege to the codified over the anecdotal.

The pollen map provides a way for individuals to view the collective experience of pollen in their neighborhood. The pollen map is a digital map integrated with text and images from social media. The map searches Twitter and Flickr for keywords and geo-located content. Users can navigate the text and images temporally and spatially through the map as an interface. This pollen map expresses the experience of living with pollen. It procedurally constructs a community narrative from an aggregate of tweets and images. The map affords the uncovering of sentiment through the reports of an emergent public.

Pollen

Climate Culture

2008-2010

Climate Culture is a social website that urges people to reduce their energy use.

From the site:

Receive customized advice on how to reduce your energy use and carbon footprint, share your progress with friends, organize your groups and events and play fun games that offset your footprint and help create renewable energy. Climate Culture is the first fun and personal utility to help you make smarter choices that reduce your impact on climate change and even save some cash!

honest-abe.org

With Michael Clemow

2008

When constant regurgitations of press releases count as 24-hour network news, and media image can sink a candidate faster than you can say "swiftboat" or "macaca," Honest Abe would like to supply an opportunity for campaign managers as well as press outlets to ensure candidate authenticity.

Honest Abe, the first candidate sincerity verification service, offers plans for every price point.

Hi! I'm Tom. I am a technological theorist and critical designer.

I'm interested in thinking about how people approach technology as a cultural product and in developing new ways for technological expression to promote humanistic experience.

Right now, I'm a PhD student in the Public Design Workshop at Georgia Tech's Digital Media program. I completed my Master's studies at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program. In undergraduate, I worked with the Culturally Embedded Computing group at Cornell University.

If you want to get in contact with me, I can be reached at tom@thomasjenkins.net.