Emeline Liu

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Processing.js/life story

Engineering students in the EECS department at CWRU are required to complete two capstone projects, typically done during senior year. For my first capstone, I was part of a group trying to use extremely cheap IMUs (inertial measurement units) to accurate track human gait. While researching a variation of the Kalman filter to perform double integrations and noise filtering, I ran into some great 3D visualizations of IMU movement - using Processing.

Through high school, I thought I would end up studying English or creative writing. I was always good enough at science and math, but I was known to be better at writing. I was more intrigued by the idea of making things, rather than just studying something. I even had a design teacher of mine convinced that I should go into fine arts. Then during my junior year of high school, I fell madly, dizzingly, distressing in love with physics.

I'm not sure what happened. That was the first class that ever really challenged me. I had been one of those horrible people who never really had to study or try very hard to understand things. But I failed the first test. People turned in their tests stained with watermarks from their tears.

Somehow, in the process of being taught like we were actually braindead so that we wouldn't fail the retake of that first test, I inexplicable fell off the deep end. Kinematics was logical, beautiful, exquisite. Physics was difficult and twisty, but I had never felt such satisfaction when I could solve a problem that had seemed impossible. I gleefully did physics homework for three hours a day. Math class suddenly made so much more sense, it was now fun as well. Then I knew - what was the perfect intersection of everything I had ever wanted - the opportunity to create, to chance play around more with the laws the bind the universe together, the distinct possibility of a higher salary than what I would face as a creative writing major? Engineering.

But by the time I reached my senior year at Case, I felt like my choice had ended up wringing me of all my creative energy. Sure, there were times where I had to use ingenuity and creativity to solve problems, but I hadn't written anything I liked in years, had given up on art, had even stopped my hobby of crocheting. I had gained so much technical knowledge and capabilities, but I had lost the spirit that had once been my defining factor.

When I first ran into Processing, inside my head there was a moment of 'oh, this is it/'. Whatever spark had initially made me fall in love with physics was back in full force for Processing. Casey Reas, Benjamin Fry, and Daniel Shiffman instantly become my heroes. Then when it was time to commit to our second senior project, I left my group to do an independent project - an interactive art display using a Microsoft Kinect and Processing. The project blog can be found here.

Honestly, it was occasionally hard to motivate myself to learn a new language, especially since it had been years since I had first learned object-oriented programming. In the end, I was happy that my display worked and wasn't particularly glitchy, but I still felt that I had left things on the table. There were still things I wanted to learn and exploit with Processing.

So that brings me here now. I still like Processing, and I wanted to have a blog to hold me accountable to continuing to learn new things. Of course, I decided I also wanted to learn HTML and CSS then. And the perfect bow on this was just tied when I found out about Processing.js, which is a way to port Processing code to HTML. Brilliant!