• Add an /about page

    • From repository rileyjshaw/rileyjshaw.github.io

    Well, it's time.

    When I made this website, I decided against adding an /about page. The site was a sandbox to dump anything I happened to build / write / imagine while attending Hacker School, and an /about page seemed limiting. As the site grew, it grew weirder. I decided that its lack of context was an asset. I have some free usertesting.com recordings from 2015 that prove the site made no sense. I loved them.

    But the real reason I never had an /about page is that I didn't want to talk about myself.

    Exactly a year ago, I retired my portfolio page. I've recently begun applying for grants, and having some context on who is behind this site is important.

    The real problem is that this site is old; an /about page is an easy stopgap. This site does not represent me well anymore; I don't know why I still have links to my blog, for example. I would like to strip the site down, and think about the intended audience. But that sort of thing takes time, and I'm making the conscious decision to not prioritize my personal site for now.

    There are many technical goals I would keep in mind if I were to rebuild my website:

    • Cut dependencies and bundle size to make things faster.
    • Move off of Ruby, Jekyll, Bower, and Grunt.
    • Do not center particular frameworks or technologies on the new site.
      • Reorganize the file structure to be more modular and declarative. _data/lab/* is a great example.
    • Have it available over the dat:// protocol, and accessible offline.

    And I'd like to keep it weird.

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  • final showcase project: depression

    “how can i help?”

    a solitary dial reflects the machine’s physical clock speed, acting as display rather than control. despite appearances, your presence is appreciated.


    depression is a personal reflection of my past few years, struggling with depression in an environment that couldn’t help or support me the way i needed. depression initially existed as part of a larger criticism of capitalism and the work ethic. i stripped down the larger piece until one exposed dial remained.


    the dial represents the machine’s energy level. turned all the way down, it represents depression; the machine’s clock speed drops, and it becomes so sluggish it’s nearly inoperational. when the dial is turned all the way up, the machine works “as intended”.

    over time, the machine’s clock goes through a natural ebb and flow. it’s affected by both a long-term depressive cycle, and short-term events that bump the dial in random directions. the machine tends toward the depressive, so most viewers’ initial encounter is with the depressive state.

    nearly every piece in the sfpc showcase was interactive, so most viewers had the instinct to force the dial towards a “better mood”. the dial would linger briefly at its new state before two heavy motors forced it back to its initial energy level. the initial “why don’t you just cheer up?” was rebuffed. some participants moved on at this point.

    but if a viewer remained present near the piece without forcing the dial, its energy level would resurface on its own.

    i created this piece from found or discarded materials in the sfpc workshop. it’s held together with wire and rubber bands. it’s delicate and exposed, sculptural and functional, chaotic, messy, and cute. expensive or over-engineered solutions were consciously avoided for this project. for example, presence was sensed with a tangle of spare wires glued to aluminum foil from the trash bin (a capacitive proximity sensor). tech fetishism would have obscured the project’s meaning. this is a project is about the messiness of the human condition.


    scared to leave my untested project on its own, i was standing nearby when the first viewer arrived. he spun the dial and it spun back. the interaction was exactly how i’d imagined. he paused, tried again, contemplated the machine. we had a discussion, and i mentioned that it could sense physical presence. he cradled the machine in such a delicate and caring way; i didn’t spoil the moment with a photo, but hopefully the photos in this post give some indication. we waited. after half a minute, the dial notched up slightly. then i noticed he was crying.

    “i didn’t think i’d be able to make it happier”

    he gave me a long, tight hug. i think he was still crying. he said a few more words, but seemed to be choking over them, then wandered off, dazed. i wish so badly that i’d asked if he was okay, how he was doing, if he wanted to talk. it’s a lesson i hope i remember. the piece is about making space and time for people, and though it’s not the artist’s responsibility to be perfect all the time, i should strive to be as good as my art asks others to be.


    as the space became more crowded, not everyone was willing to spend time with the piece. on day two i made tweaks entirely for “gropers”. i sped the piece up. i added another motor so that the dial spun back quicker and more reliably. i honed my spiel. i think these were good improvements for the space, but it was also a compromise.


    in my ideal version of this piece, it takes 10 minutes of nurturing before the dial begins to move. the viewer would be sitting, alone, in a comfortable and intimate space. it’s quiet, it takes a lot of time. the strongest reactions from day one resulted in tears and deep discussions, which was rare after i sped the piece up. quicker timing smoothed out the reactions; people “got it” more often, but fewer people connected on a deep emotional level.


    i’m proud of this piece. it may not have been the takedown of free market capitalism that i was initially aiming for, but hey, baby steps. it sparked many discussions of depression over the weekend, and allowed me some needed introspection.

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