Using the Internet of Things to wake up in the morning

When I was a kid, my mom would wake me up by setting our Yorkie loose on my bed and playing the fake-attack-on-Robin game. I’d reenter to the world with tiny paws pattering all over my belly and cheerful little barks. It was an awesome way to start my day.

Almost as awesome as waking up in Wallace & Gromit’s house

Fast forward twenty years, and it’s hard to make getting up in the morning seem nearly as fun. Not because I don’t love my job (I totally do), but just because my body hates being made to wake up at a certain hour. So over the years, I’ve built a complex multi-sensory system using technology to lead me gently from Nod into the real world each morning.

In brief:

  • Radio alarm playing soft music
  • WeMo-powered lamp
  • UP wristband
  • iPhone alarm

6:00am. Radio alarm: gentle sound

bose radio alarm clock

Okay, so this isn’t really an “internet of things” thing, since radio alarm clocks have been around long before Groundhog Day. But a steady stream of soft sounds, like NPR talk radio or WBGO jazz, reaches into my brain to nudge it awake. Notice that volume is at 4. That’s like whisper-level. My mind makes note of the sound but continues to doze. The radio will stay on for an hour.

6:15am. WeMo lamp: imitation sunrise

ikea lamp, christine platt painting

Painting is a treasured portrait by my friend, Christine Platt

Next up: my WeMo-powered bedside lamp switches on about 15 minutes after the radio. The WeMo Switch is an app-powered plug-in outlet. The app also lets you set time-based rules and switch on your appliance from anywhere in the world. The most obvious use is a lamp timer. I’ve set wakeup timers, reading-in-bed-falling-asleep timers, and please-don’t-rob-me vacation timers.But in this case, it operates as a weekday-specific timer.

wemo switchLight is the most natural way to wake up, in my opinion. My blinds are slanted at just the right angle to let in early morning sunlight, too, but of course sunrise varies throughout the year and my work hours do not. So my low-wattage lamp sends some rays of light into my sleepy eyeballs, and my brain drags itself a little further out of dreamland.

6:30ish. UP wristband: a tiny buzz

up wristband

I often describe the “wake up” function of UP as a tiny bumblebee nudging my hand. I reviewed Jawbone’s UP wristband in May 2013. Since then, I’ve given up tracking my steps, because it didn’t tell me anything my body didn’t already know. That is, on days I walked a lot, I didn’t have to look at a graph to know I felt dang tired!

But the smart sleep alarm is a beautiful thing. In the UP app, you set the general time you want to wake up at, and the wristband will buzz 10, 20, or 30 minutes around that time when it senses you are in light sleep (as opposed to REM). It’s a smarter way to wake up than a rigidly-timed alarm clock, because you wake up feeling more refreshed — as though you were pulled to the surface of wakefulness from the shallows, rather than all the way down from the depths.

My body must now move to switch off the buzzing, and I start becoming conscious.

6:50–7:15am. iPhone alarm: last resort

If soft sounds, low light, and a wrist buzz doesn’t wake me up, it’s time to bring out the harsh but effective iPhone alarm. I don’t have a special app, just the regular Clock, with several alarms set increasingly close together. Helpfully, iOS keeps changing the alarm interface, so I often don’t know where the snooze button is.

And finally, about an hour after the daily ordeal began, I am awake.

Bonus alarms

  • Roommates grind coffee beans or make toast (the best smells in the world)
  • Boyfriend is around (and I don’t want to be embarrassed by the number of times I hit snooze)
  • Horns honking outside when the school bus waits for a late kid (destroys the hard work I put into waking myself up cheerfully, but the air from the window I shove open to glare outside is refreshing)
  • Dog-sitting Latke, the best dog in the world, who must be walked early (the most effective out of everything)

Suggestions from other people

  • A friend used to own an alarm clock that let her record self-talk the night before (“Come on, get up, you have a really important thing today”)
  • Timed coffeemaker (again with the smell, which would make this system “4D”)
  • Pet or child (both have benefits besides alarm clock function, or so I hear)
  • Just get up already Robin this is getting ridiculous you have been hitting snooze for an hour 

The system isn’t perfect, but it works most days. Other suggestions welcome (@robincamille).

Some notes from Theorizing the Web 2014

On Saturday, I went to Theorizing the Web, held in a lovely Williamsburg studio on a gorgeous spring day. I didn’t get to see Friday’s panels, but even seeing half the conference was pretty mind-exploding. See the program + full videos posted online. The #TtW14 hashtag was very active, too.

I’m still turning over a lot of what was said at TtW14. In a couple days, the panels took on feminism, race, activism, hacktivism, surveillance, privacy, code studies, publishing, archiving, and a lot of other biggies that are the major (if not always the most-talked-about) issues of the state of the internet today.

I planned poorly charge-wise, and both my laptop and phone died pretty quickly. So I relied on pen + paper to take notes. Perhaps you’d be interested.

The notes below are for:
Panel: Discipline & Publish
Symposium: –––⁂–(⊗__⊗)–⁂–––: Drones, for better or worse
Keynote: Race & Social Media

Intro image

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Digital & paper journaling

TL;DR: I now keep a digital journal. I had it printed & bound. It turned out awesome.


My grandmother's 1943 diary

My grandmother’s 1943 diary, a family treasure

Since the year 2000, I’ve regularly kept a personal journal. I rely on my journal to record my life’s various events — and to remember them, too. Revisiting memories physically strengthens them in your brain, and of course a journal serves as a reference, too. As the granddaughter of a prolific journaler, I also know that life-writing can become a family heirloom.

Until 2011, I wrote and drew in paper journals, filling thousands of unlined pages. My many journals are among my most prized possessions! They follow me and my life and feelings from the age of 12 on — important and interesting years. I know what I was feeling on September 11, 2001, and what my first kiss was like, and how hard it was going across the country to college, and how thrilling it is discovering new intellectual passions, and the names of the people I met in my travel adventures in Europe and North America.

But around the time I enrolled in my MLIS graduate program, I  found myself journaling less. My lifestyle changed — in class, I took notes not in notebooks, but in Evernote; I’d been a regular snail-mail-sender for quite a while, but now email felt like it had the same level of intimacy; though I had enjoyed the feeling of depositing paper checks before grad school, I went right ahead and enrolled in direct deposit when I became a research assistant. But my journaling habits had not evolved. I was hesitant to take my deepest feelings to a digital screen, knowing that they would be more vulnerable to both loss and privacy invasion. Still, I felt that I was missing out on personal growth by not reflecting more.


Day one screenshot

Day One entry screenshot

Day One timeline screenshot

In 2012, I decided to take my journaling into a well-reviewed app called Day One. It began as a superficial professional notebook but quickly attained the same level of intimacy as my paper journaling once had. Now that my subway commute is around 45 minutes underground, I typically write when I’m heading home or am between engagements. After all, as Gwendolen in Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest points out: “I never travel without my diary.  One should always have something sensational to read in the train.”

I really like Day One — I’ve got the app on my iPhone, iPad, and (non-work) MacBook, and I use it on about a daily basis. It’s been a relief, to me, to revive my journaling habit. In 2012, I wrote 38 entries; in 2013, 273 entries; and so far in 2014, six.

I’m still skeptical about the security of the app. There’s no web version, but it’s still a cloud database, which means that while I’ve got all the entries downloaded on my devices, they’re also in some data warehouse accessible with a username and password. At this point, I’ve just accepted that vulnerability, knowing that only I would have any major interest in its content. (Okay, and perhaps some past lovers and frenemies, too, but there aren’t too many of those who could feasibly hack me.)

Digital + paper

Journal cover

Printed (boring) entry

My other worry was the preservation of this precious digital object. The digital dies; print can survive longer. So a few weeks ago, I exported all of my entries, created a 6×9″ PDF, and sent it off to be perfect-bound by Lulu, a self-publishing service. For $18, I got a 400-page book of my own writing. I’m quite satisfied with the quality. (I wasn’t enough of a book snob to shell out more moola for a sewn binding.)

The front cover is the view from my Bushwick apartment one rainy day. The back cover (not photographed) is a view of the Empire State Building from my previous East Village apartment. For many entries, Day One auto-included the geolocation and weather of that day’s entry. The contents are riddled with iPhonetastic typos, but I don’t mind. It is so gratifying to hold this heavy book in my hands.

If you’re into Day One and also want a printed & bound copy of your writing, here are a few tips & gotchas I have compiled.

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Books I read in 2013

Per my yearly tradition, here’s a look at the books I read for pleasure in 2013. It felt like I read a ton more this year, although my list is only 21 books long, about average for me. My subway commute got a lot longer after I moved to Bushwick, so the majority of these books were probably read post-August.

Bold = favorites
* = rereads

  • Super Sad True Love Story (Gary Shteyngart)
  • The Russian Debutante’s Handbook (Gary Shteyngart)
  • Marcovaldo (Italo Calvino)
  • American Gods (Neil Gaiman)
  • Love Dishonor Marry Die Cherish Perish (David Rakoff)
  • St. Lucy’s Home For Girls Raised By Wolves (Karen Russell)
  • Vampires in the Lemon Grove (Karen Russell)
  • The Remains of the Day (Kazuo Ishiguro)
  • Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro)
  • The Crying of Lot 49 (Thomas Pynchon)
  • Tenth of December (George Saunders)
  • Pastoralia* (George Saunders)
  • Civilwarland in Bad Decline (George Saunders)
  • In Persuasion Nation (George Saunders)
  • The Shining Girls (Lauren Beukes)
  • 1984* (George Orwell)
  • Brooklyn (Colm Tóibín)
  • Mothers and Sons (Colm Tóibín)
  • The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. (Adelle Waldman)
  • Neuromancer (William Gibson)
  • The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt)

So I was obviously in a George Saunders kick all year long, particularly since I saw him reading from Tenth of December at the Strand in January. I also finally got around to reading my first Pynchon and Gibson novels. And over a summer of insane government surveillance revelations, I read 1984, since it seemed fitting. Super Sad True Love Story ended up being a very timely read, too.

I was pleasantly surprised by how lovely I found Tóibín’s writing, especially Brooklyn (not least because the protagonist’s move to that borough mirrored my own), and disappointed in The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. since several friends had highly recommended it.

In 2014, I’m starting my year by reading Disgrace (J.M. Coetzee) and The Little Friend (Donna Tartt’s debut novel). I also plan to indulge my love for Calvino by reading as many of his novels as I can find the time to.

Previously: Books I read in 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009

Recent presentations

This semester has been rather busy for me with various projects at the John Jay Library, two computational linguistics courses at the Graduate Center, and an imminent performance with Gamelan Kusuma Laras. Phew!

I’ve been lucky to have the chance to give a presentation a month this semester, and have added slides & notes on my Selected Presentations page and below.

Microcomputing in AcademiaLife With Pi: Microcomputing in Academia

December 6, 2013
CUNY IT Conference panel
John Jay College of Criminal Justice

reassignment project: emdaReassignment project: Early Modern Digital Agendas

November 12, 2013
LACUNY Grace-Ellen McCrann Memorial Lecture
LaGuardia Community College

HTML and CSS for library web servicesHTML + CSS for Library Web Services

Oct. 29, 2013
Workshop from LACUNY Emerging Technologies Committee (co-chaired)
CUNY Graduate Center

Refining our library's web presence - slideRefining our library’s web presence

September 27, 2013
LACUNY Reference Roundtable
CUNY Graduate Center

Implementing a reference loggerImplementing a reference logger

September 20, 2013
METRO Reference Special Interest Group
METRO Headquarters, NYC

You can also catch me at METROcon in January, presenting on John Jay’s upcoming Digital Collections site.