This post serves as a summary documentation for all work done over the second half of the semester on a final idea that Chris, Nouf and I worked on.

This is mostly links to documents and decks.

Project Site:

Final Deck:

Shared Drive:


Nouf’s blog:

Chris’ blog


Networked Media – Final

For my final, I decided to build an Adafruit wishlist collation system for ITP.

A lot of us at ITP require electronic components and modules, and the usual go-to place is for us is Adafruit. The unfortunate part is that Adafruit, despite being in New York, charges for shipping, unless the order amount is greater than $200. As a result, a lot of us email the student list to check if anyone else on the floor also needs parts. My hope with this project was to attempt to streamline this process.

This is what I’ve built so far:

Screenshot 2017-05-05 at 02.42.02

If logged into Adafruit, one can create public wishlists. In the system I built, anyone wishing to buy starts by creating a public wishlist, pasting the URL of the wishlist along with their email address and an expiry date for the wishlist.

The service then scrapes the wishlist page for the user’s name, and overall cost of items  on the wishlist. As soon as a list is added, an email is sent to the user to confirm the validity of the wishlist. Once the user confirms, the list is highlighted in green to signify that it’s confirmed. Others may also add to this list of wishlists, and once the overall cost of all confirmed wishlists are beyond 200 dollars, it sends an email to all the email addresses associated with that list.

Here’s a link to the code.

I used nedb to store the data since this program will probably have to deal with a relatively small amount of data. I used bootstrap, ejs for templating, cheerio for scraping, and sendmail to send emails for confirmations and notifications.

Here’s a link to the site. I might bring it down soon, and work on it more. The confirmation emails currently look super sketchy and might will end up in the spam folder (just FYI). I’ll fix this soon.


Algorithm to decode substitution ciphers

A few years ago, I read The Code Book by Simon Singh. At the end of the book, Singh provides a Cipher Challenge – 10 exercises to decode.

For this exercise, I revisit the first challenge – a basic substitution cipher.

It has been years since I looked at this book or the exercise, and I don’t remember how long it took me to decode it by hand back then. So I decided to try it again. It took me around 40 minutes to decipher it.

A post shared by Mithru Vigneshwara (@mithru) on

Now, I’d like to challenge myself to write an algorithm that can decipher this faster. At this stage I don’t know how that would be, but I have a few thoughts.

First, let me briefly explain how I decoded this by hand.

I knew this was a basic substitution cypher that did not purge the spaces between words (the book said so), therefore I began by looking at common patterns of small words. JPX was quite common. I then looked up the most common words in English. So I started with the assumption that J = T, P = H, X = E. I then found a JPXT in the text. It could only mean THEM or THEN. The JPXT was the start of a sentence, and it was followed by JPX. ‘THEN THE’ sounded more probably than ‘THEM THE’, so I also started assuming T = N. Similarly, I went through the other letters until I deciphered it enough to just guess the missing letters.

Now, on to writing an algorithm that does this by itself. Again, I don’t fully know how this would work, but I’m going to experiment with a genetic algorithm that knows a list of common words.

The algorithm will start by producing randomized ciphers, and attempting to decipher any text given to it.

The fitness score of the different deciphered mutations will likely be based on the occurrence of the common words. I don’t know if this will work out, but it’s a fun experiment nevertheless.

So far I’ve written a processing sketch that encodes and decodes phrases. I’ll likely build upon this.

Challenges I foresee:

1. I might need to look up a much larger list of common words.

2. The fitness scoring system should probably be smarter than what I currently have in mind.

So that’s the plan. Anything under this sentence will be updated to show results.


Networked Media – Week 11

This week we watched the following videos for our discussion:

Connected, but alone? by Sherry Turkle

Program or be programmed by Douglas Rushkoff

We are all cyborgs now by Amber Case


All three talks discuss the implications of technology that enables global peer to peer communication. Sherry Turkle, in her talk, explains her concern that we may forget how to communicate in the real world as a result of our technological advances. Douglas Rushkoff discusses media literacy, and Amber Case argues that newer forms of technology is just that -technology. It enables us to perform tasks more efficiently. Turkle, Rushkoff, and Case talk about the need for better understanding of our new media, and prescribe that we take control over how they affect us, as opposed to passively letting technology affect us.

Some questions that came to my mind while watching these videos were:

  1. The argument about not being present, while valid, is something that I’ve always wondered about. I agree that trying to be in the real world when other people are around is great, but maybe being always connected, and immediately responsive is the future of how we deal with relationships. It does sound frightening, but what if this is the case? Is it really that bad?
  2. I do agree that being more mindful and aware of the services we use is something important. However, this seems easier said that done. As technologists, we know these new media. Anyone not involved in this field is likely not going to care as much. Of course, we technologists could be the evangelists of this information, but getting people interested seems a far greater challenge.
  3. I’ve always believed that tools just make our intentions easier – from the internet to guns – what we do with them is a reflection of who we are. Guns might not be the trigger to kill someone, but it enables the action, makes it so simple to act on impulse. The same goes for how we communicate on the internet.

Doing Good Final – part 3

This week, we had to focus on the points below:


  • Focus down your problem statement and anchor it to a physical location (remote is ok, but then you need to find a location close to you as well where that problem is also present and where you will conduct your research)
  • Once you have a specific problem statement, refine a systems map, which will help you identify users (make it more concrete by anchoring it to the specific location)
  • Identify a user or users (whom you can access) that you meet with in person. If the location is remote, again, identify a user in that space but then focus on the local user whom you can actually talk to.
  • Build a research plan on how many users you would like to reach out to (I would encourage 3-5), what questions you would like to ask them and how you would want to engage with them.

This is still on-going, but at the time of posting this, here’s what we came up with:
(the live document with evolving changes is available for viewing here)



The problem of inequality of food access affects economically challenged people all over the world.


How might we better redistribute wasted food from events, and local farms for low-income individuals in order to ensure access and education to healthy nutrition.



Local farmer in the area of the focus



Our plan is to have contact with individuals from the CSA groups, soup kitchens and food redistribution sectors. We have reached out to the following groups and are trying to either have an face-to-face interview or a conversation on the phone:


We believe that the retailers are a great place to start to understand the system and where we can contribute to improve the current distribution.



We have decided to focus on tackling this problem in NYC and create a program that can be applied to other areas around the world



  1. What type of food to you distribute?
  2. What is your current plan for distribution? Daily activities? Employee workflow?
  3. What does the food supply chain look like? Where do you get your resources from? Where do they go? Are there companies or governing bodies in the middle? Who else do you work alongside?
  4. How many people do you reach on a daily/yearly basis?
  5. What geographical areas/sectors do you work in?
  6. How many employees do you have per sector to run smoothly?
  7. What’s working with your current food distribution plan? What are the a struggles?
  8. How do you connect with the individuals in the community?
  9. How are they aware of your resource?
  10. Do you collect feedback from the community about your resources?
  11. What factors determine what resources you receive, where you receive from, and who to distribute to?  




Interview with Vijay Mathew (imports fruits from Europe, South America, US, and Australia into India)


  • Currently, globally, smaller farms are increasingly joining larger agriculture consortiums
  • These consortium either buy the land from the farmers wholly (with a potential profit-share), OR have an arrangement where the farmers contributes their produce to the consortium that then re-brands, markets and sells the produce.
  • In Belgium, for example, Belorta is the consortium that Mathew buys from.
    • Belorta has a bidding system that allows buyers (typically wholesalers) to pick produce from particular farm lots (see below for ‘Lot Number’).
  • In Chile, Verfrut is a major fruit producing company. Mathew claims they hold 75% of the fruit market share in Chile, and in addition control a lot of the internal supply chain (see below for typical supply chain) as well.  
  • In Italy, FROM is an apple/fruit consortium that is associated with a few individual companies like Val Venosta, that exports to the rest of Europe.
  • In the US, Evans Fruit started as a family-owned farm, and now operates like a consortium of smaller farms.

Current Supply Chain:


Farmers (small farms) → Consortium → Logistics company → Pest Test (pre-export) → Port (export) → ship → port (import) → Food Safety inspection → Certificate authenticity test → Market → Storage → Retailer → Consumer


Farm Lot Number:


Farm produce usually has a unique ID that includes the lot ID and the grower ID. This code is pasted on every box of fruit, and this remains until it’s sent to the retailer.


Post Interview:

Farm lot numbers and traceability , Another resource

Harvested products should be identified according to

(1) the date of harvest

(2) the particular crop harvested

(3) the field where the crop was grown


Follow up questions

How long does it take for the entire supply chain process?

Doing Good Final – part 2

We’re updating discussions here on google docs. We will paste it on our blogs in a more presentable manner.

Networked Media – Week 8 Readings

Last week I read this article titled The Long Tail.

Here’s a summary of my thoughts.

In one of my previous gigs, working as a creative technologist in advertising, we found ourselves building experiences and apps for the Chinese market. Nowhere else have I witnessed apps reaching the 6-digit user mark so quickly. Reading this article reminded me of my experiences building for China, and made me wonder what the long tail would look like in that fascinating market.

I found it interesting that Chris Anderson, the author of the post, seems to have predicted subscription models for music as early as 2006 – even down to the exact $9.99 price that spotify charges.

I found one particular comparison that the author makes tough to fully accept. He compares the performance of one physical store, which is limited by geography, with the performance of massive online retailers – which in my opinion is only fair to the point that the internet has a greater reach than individual stores. This point might seem superfluous, but a more convincing comparison would have been to compare the performance of all physical stores of a given chain relative to their online competitor.

Another part of the post that intrigued me was “channel conflict” that labels tried to avoid by pricing their physical and digital copies at the same price. In today’s world (ten years since the article was first published), we find some governments around the world trying to avoid the same sort of channel conflict between ride-sharing platforms like Uber and taxis that operate with the regular license.

On the note of Uber, demand-based prices for digital content is also something that is worth some thought. What would a surge-priced piece of content sell for? And how would our consuming habits change accordingly?


Wireless Power Transfer

What is it?

The transmission of electrical energy from a source (transmitter) to a load (receiver) without the use of wires or cables, but instead, by using electromagnetic fields.

Wireless power uses the same fields and waves as wireless communication. In wireless communication, the signal to noise ratio is important, but in wireless power, the efficiency rate is really important.

There are generally two techniques to wirelessly transfer power – non-radiative (near field) and radiative (far-field). The boundary between near and far is vaguely defined.



A lot of experiments were performed in the mid 19th century that allowed researchers and inventors to observe wireless transmission of energy. Towards the end of the 19th century, radio waves were used for communication.

The image below shows Nikola Tesla giving a lecture about electrostatic induction at Columbia College in 1891.

public domain image

There are claims that back in 1899, Tesla managed to power light bulbs 25 miles away wirelessly, but I haven’t found a reliable source. All current sources link back to each other circularly.

The picture below is from a book published in 1910. It shows a bulb being lit up wirelessly.

 1910, E.E.Burns, Story Of Great Inventions (p.219).

In the early 20th century, Tesla tried to transmit power over long distances directly into homes and factories.

public domain image


The first practical demonstration of long-distance power transmission was done by William Brown in the 1960s. He invented the rectenna (rectifying antenna – used for converting electromagnetic energy into direct current (DC) electricity), and used it to power a model helicopter from the ground. The idea for a solar satellite was conceived in the late 60s.


Passive RFID’s were invented in the 1970s, and became mainstream in the 1990s.

Wireless Power Consortium was established in 2008. It is a multinational technology consortium that developed the Qi standard that is used for wirelessly powering devices upto 4 cm away. Asus, HTC, Huawei, LG Electronics, Motorola Mobility, Nokia, Samsung, BlackBerry, and Sony are some of the companies that are working on this standard.


How Does it Work

Inductive coupling is the oldest and most widely used wireless power technology, and virtually the only one so far which is used in commercial products. It is a means of non-radiative (near field) power transmission.

In inductive coupling, power is transferred between two coils of wire by a magnetic field.

The transmitter and receiver coils together form a transformer. In the image below, an alternating current (AC) through the transmitter coil (L1) creates an oscillating magnetic field (B) by Ampere’s law. The magnetic field passes through the receiving coil (L2), where it induces an alternating EMF (voltage) by Faraday’s law of induction, which creates an AC current in the receiver.

In this system, transmission efficiency improves with frequency (higher the frequency, higher the efficiency).


public domain image

Resonant inductive coupling is a form of inductive coupling in which power is transferred by magnetic fields between two resonant circuits, one in the transmitter and one in the receiver. More modern applications of wireless power transfer use this method.

Capacitive coupling and magnetodynamic coupling are other near field methods which are being researched.

With regards to radiative (far-field) power transmission, power can be transmitted over multiple kilometers.


Future Potential

Biomedical devices

Solar satellites

Disney’s wireless room

Image credit: Disney Research. Accessed from




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