Archive for September, 2010


This week’s assignment was to choose a known game and change the rules such that it manipulates the behavior of the players. We were also supposed to document the reactions and refine our rules to produce multiple iterations. I decided to go with an experiment that I’ve been thinking about for awhile: taking the easy, well-known game of Tic Tac Toe and adding hugs and kisses to the game playing. I’m calling it XOTTT. I wanted to see how comfortable people are with hugging and kissing each other, and how it makes them feel to do this while playing an otherwise boring game that almost always results in a draw. I also want to encourage the idea of “give-and-take” to soften the adrenaline rush of competition and to promote a feeling of equilibrium and harmony.

About a year ago, I posed this question in a facebook status update: “in xoxo, which is the hug and which is the kiss?” The debate that ensued was amusing. While most people think the “x” is a kiss and the “o” is a hug, some insisted that it was the opposite. I won’t go into details, but I decided to go with the mainstream and map the “x” to the kiss and the “o” to the hug for my game (if I didn’t do this, then the players would likely debate it). I incorporated this mapping into the Tic-Tac-Toe game by requiring the player who blocks the other’s row to give a hug if they are “o” and a kiss on the cheek if they’re an “x.” I ended up adding one more rule when I observed players letting each other win in order to avoid having to hug, and especially kiss.

My first game-testers were Toby and Gaby. For the first game, I gave them my rules but told them that they could play either “x” or “o”. Toby chose the “x” and began the game. Gaby chose to let Toby win a row so she could avoid having to hug or kiss him. Toby did the same. When I asked them about their experience of the game, they felt there was confusion because there were too many possibilities and no particular consequences. So then I had them play the game with two tweaks: the choice of “x” and “o” needed to be random (and thus they didn’t have control of who was the hugger and who was the kisser) and they would have to stick to my original rules. Because the game naturally produces a draw with intelligent players, there was a nice balance that emerged of hugging and kissing after blocking the other, that was of course accompanied by some blushing and awkwardness. The game purpose shifted from not letting another person win to going with the rules and the flow and surrendering to this give and take of affectionate actions. They said they enjoyed this second iteration and that they got the purpose.

The second game-testers were Poram and Leo, both from China. For them, I kept the game rules the same as the second iteration and I observed even more awkwardness. In fact after the first hug exchange, they decided to let each other win their rows to avoid having to do it again. No kissing-on-the-cheek happened in this game. They explained to me that hugs and kisses are far from the norm in Chinese culture, and if I had asked them to play this last year, i.e. shortly after arriving in the US, they would’ve freaked out and said no. Leo said that this was the first time he’d hugged Poram, and they laughed. It would be interesting to test this with other nationalities, like Italians who generally seem to be very comfortable with hugging and kissing.

The first two sets of game-testers were male-female combinations, so now I wanted to find a male-male combination. I found Fred and Peter (one American, one European). After I told them the rules, they verbally strategized to avoid having to block and then hug/kiss. Unlike the others, they didn’t even play out more than one row, so it was a super-fast game. I wanted to avoid having players dodge the hug/kiss layer, so Peter suggested that I add one more rule: if a player dodges a block and lets the other player win, then that player (the loser) has to kiss the winner on the cheek. No escaping now!

I tried this last iteration out on Nien and David and they allowed me to record it via my laptop.  David blocked Nien twice and initiated hugs.  Nien didn’t want to have to block David and initiate a kiss, but when he let David win, I reminded him that he had to kiss David on the cheek anyway. Clearly they were uncomfortable, but I appreciate that they went along with it and had fun with it.

David & Nien playing XOTTT from Nisma Z on Vimeo.

I think this game could be utilized for a sociological study involving people of different ages, cultures, relationships, and so forth, or as an icebreaker in different group contexts.  My hope is that the game serves to enhance friendly, warm feelings between people, even if it means overcoming awkwardness.

Today’s class was a field trip to the Phyto Universe spa in midtown Manhattan, where we met with living wall designers Marie Christine Steffanetti and Laurent Corradi.  (Check out my Flickr photos.) Marie worked at the spa for around twenty years and when she became inspired to create a living wall (also termed a vertical garden) within the space, she teamed up with Laurent to form a company and create the first one ever, which was completed in 2005.  It’s wondrous at 13 feet high, containing 9000 tropical plants including types of plants found near waterfalls.  There are plants on both sides of the metallic structure, rooted in pockets created in a special kind of recycled felt from China.  The plants are watered via a pipe running horizontally along the top of the structure with evenly-spaced holes.  Gravity and pipes bring the water down behind the felt and it collects at the bottom and cycles back to the irrigation room. Twice a day, the wall is drip-irrigated in this fashion by zones (there are 14 zones) for 3 minutes each, which uses 30 gallons of water.  There are two kinds of special lights, 150 watts and 100 watts, that face the wall at an angle and need to be on for at least 12 hours per day.  The wall needs weekly or bi-weekly maintenance but they said it’s not a big deal.  It’s a big deal to create a wall like this – the process takes around 2 years – but the benefits are well worth it.

As soon as I entered the space, I noticed the difference in air quality, and when I was within 3 feet of the wall, the freshness and purity of the air was amazing.  I utilized my yoga breathing and just inhaled deeply while they showcased various plants and other details.  I didn’t want to leave.  I hope someday to have a vertical garden within my own living space and work environment.  In the meantime, I’m inspired to work with my class on figuring out how to collect and visualize data on the benefits of these kinds of walls.

I’m delighted to be partnering with my friend Minette Mangahas on a project that we’re calling “Silk and Spice” or “Spice Pixels” for the Big Screens class.  The project will be rich in content from our respective cultures…that’s all I’ll say for now.  I’ll add my posts after the Big Screens event on December 3rd.

Last week’s assignment was to photograph “living systems”, and today we looked through the photos that everyone took.  I snapped a sample of images that represented different systems that I encounter in my daily life – bees, butterflies, spiders and other insects interacting with flowers and plants along the path I take to Brookdale Park in Montclair; the relationship of moss and trees; the self-organizing group of dogs and their owners in the ecosystem of dog parks; the self-organizing group of frisbee players in a park (Washington Square Park, near ITP); and the transfer of energy, matter and humans within a train system.  I uploaded my photos to Flickr.

Some of the photos I liked from others included native plants at the High Line Park; ivy on buildings and mold on sidewalks as examples of nature reclaiming the built environment; a ladybug condo experiment (fun idea although it sadly didn’t work); mechanical systems like air and water filters to contrast with how nature handles these tasks; and artistic interventions like moss graffiti.

Dickson Despommier spoke to us about the concept of vertical farming and presented an excellent PowerPoint presentation, full of innovative conceptual designs along with depressing statistics on climate change, deforestation rate, population growth (by 2050 we may reach 10 billion people), harmful agricultural runoff, and lack of available farmland.  He stressed to us that repairing the environment should be the number one focus.  Given that around 80% of humans will live in cities or suburbs within the next 20 years, it makes sense to focus on solutions like hydroponics and vertical farms for making food production viable and efficient in an urban environment.

New York City apparently discards around 1 billion gallons of water per day.  Vertical farming remediates gray water, whereas traditional agriculture uses 70% of available fresh water.   He explained that in a hydroponic system, “ultra pure reagents” are inserted into the system to provide plants with the elements they need to filter carbon.  He doesn’t see a problem with purchasing these chemicals from companies like Monsanto, but I disagree with this – the nutrients needed by the plants should be generated organically.  Aquaponic systems can provide a self-sustainable, self-feeding system, although I understand they are complicated to get right.

Some of the designs for vertical farms and gardens that he highlighted were Andrew Kranis’ spiral design, the Pyramid Farm in Dubai by the Grimshaw firm, the Pla(n)tform from Israel, Oliver Foster’s “VF – Type O” from Australia, and bringing it back home, Jung Min Nam’s Urban Epicenter for NYC.

One of the cities interested in actually proceeding with the first vertical farm is in New Jersey…I hope the project gets green-lit soon!

Our instructor, Kristen Taylor, emphasized the importance today of personal branding, asking us to examine our online presences and do what we can to make them consistent.  I considered a pseudonym that I like and that wasn’t taken, so I snatched up the URL, created a Twitter account, a Tumblr account, a Flickr account, and a Vimeo account.  Dizzying, I know.  In the end, I decided it would be too much to manage this pseudonym presence, especially because I already have a URL for my name, nismazaman, my ITP blog as a separate WordPress site off my URL, a Twitter account that I don’t use much but is still “followed” by some of my friends, a Vimeo account with all my ITP videos, a Flickr account that is private but could be expanded, and other presences linked to my first or full name.  So I’m keeping my current online presences in tact and saving that pseudonym one for a particular project, when it makes sense to use that.

Our class online presence is a Tumblr blog which I’m thrilled to say that I named “CommunITP”.  I had to create a Tumblr blog to be able to post to this community one, but I decided to post entries about the class here on my ITP blog, to keep everything ITP-related in one place.

Andrew Hyde came and spoke in our class today.  He’s apparently now living out of his bag, something I can’t imagine ever doing.  He spoke about the Boulder fire and how Twitter was being utilized to provide almost real-time updates and inspire people to help.  He showed us TechStars which he was involved in and stressed the importance of the team (good working relationships with a balance of technical and design skills) in the success of start-ups.  He talked about his blog post on why he can’t stand Crowdspring, and how it propelled him to create the simple and very useful freelance finding and booking tool, PickIm.  Unlike ELance, which is problematic in its focus on the cheapest rates, PickIm is about finding the right person for a job and creating credibility and community in the process.  If I go the freelance route once I’m back in full-time work mode, then I’ll plan to utilize this tool.