The Final Countdown…for pcomp (sung just like the lyric)

And So it begins, the search for projects that will define how we end intro to physical computing. In all honesty, this was a hard exercise. Having seen so many wonderful projects from my peers that were beautifully fabricated, functionally pleasing, and just outright awesome, I’m inspired and stressed about what to produce.  I waver between doing a project that highlights its aesthetics vs. a project that has a well defined design challenge. Here’s what I’ve brainstormed so far:

Motion sensing ballons

  • Use balloons
  • Use audio sensors
  • Use Piezo-touch sensors

Design Challenge: Taking an existing common party favor and enhance it via interactivity.

Why? Personally, this project affords me the ability to work with space, light, and motion. Balloons have always served as a party favor/piece. I’m interested in seeing how they can be enhanced.

Infinite Dice Game

  • Based on the Bowl-of-nouns game
  • Roll a dice and it randomly chooses a selection from the pool
  • Players get to sms-text the dice their ‘slips’ or categories
  • Dice holds infinite value (read: no need for paper)

Why? I’ve never been a big game oriented person. However, large games played at parties have always interested me. This game  is a combination of guess-who/charades/etc. and is absolutely fun to play in large groups. The design challenge of this is making a game that can be easily mobile, interactive, and allows people to engage with a physical object vs. pieces of paper which are normally needed.

Children’s Voice Box

  • Visualizes  input speech
  • Changes color based on pitch

Why? Many of my friends have begun to have kids and it’s been a joy watching human development via social media. The thing that always fascinated has been a child’s development in their first few years happen in distinct waves. In particular, a toddler’s ability to communicate. There’s an interesting design challenge in crafting a toy, which a child plays with and also responds to their in-the-moment rabbling. I’m particularly interested in visualizing the FFT waves of a child’s first words (or gibberish) and displaying it to them.

Lighthouse Controller

  • Uses a flashlight as a controller
  • User points light on a grid of photocells
  • Uses a proximity sensor to vary speed (further you are the slower you go) (closer you are the faster you go)
  • Display a maze on a screen
  • Objective is to get out of the maze as fast as you can with the controller

Why? This goes back to my previous statement of not being a big gamer. While this may be true, I’m still interested in seeing how sensors can be used to make a game interactive beyond a typical controller.

Judgemental Mirror

What if for every mirror that you looked into, someone else was looking right at you? For our mid-term Anastasios and I decided to make a judgemental mirror. Essentially, we wanted to build something that detected when an individual was in front of this “mirror.” Then we’d take a snapshot and crowdsource the image using the Mechanical Turk API. After rendering what people describe what you’re wearing, we’d play it back to you. With Halloween right around the corner, we thought about this in the context of judging people’s costumes. Here’s a sketch of our original idea:


Realizing we didn’t have much time for the project, we focused on the experience we wanted to create then broke it into smaller parts that were doable. Additionally, we wanted to make sure we incorporated some Halloween theme to it.

Our biggest challenge for this project was using the TTL Serial Camera, which neither of us have worked with before. We were unsure of the output via serial, so that was our first task.


After looking at a few tutorials, it was apparent that many tutorials assumed we’d want to save to an SD card module, which is what we did not want to do. This was partly because we wanted to have a stand alone project and also upload the sketch to some webpage which could save the inputs from our source of judgers. I quickly coded up what this webpage could be:


Anastasios was able to figure out a way to take the JPEG images from the TTL serial camera, run a script, and display it in a p5 sketch. Knowing this was the biggest challenge, we then started thinking about LEDs and proximity sensors which would add to the interaction. The following images are of us testing the different components and eventually putting it together.

img_3488 img_3490



In the end, we presented a variation of our idea. Neither Anastasios or I took fabrication this semester, so we found this part to be the hardest. Handling the multiples wires & sodering of wires was challenging for us. Overall, it was a good learning experience and happy with what were accomplished in a short amount of time.

First comes Pcomp, then comes ICM, now they’re married

I was one of the unfortunate ones who missed synthesis because I was officiating my best friend’s wedding. But here I was once again marrying two things: pcomp and ICM.

Code for p5 can be found here:

From my last post tagged ICM, I talked about Jamie XX and how it’s been therapeutic music to listen to while I work. I wanted to keep things simple for this and I replicated the image of his Colour album in p5. Using constructors, objects, and arrays this time, I was able to come up with a working sketch.

Afterwards, I thought about hooking this up to the synthesis lab with a simple potentiometer. After a few tweaks in the code and the mapping, I could something workable. I even took the liberty of overlaying a snippet of the Jamie XX song “Sleep Sound” for the video.

The MTA experience dissected

About ~8 million people live in NYC, and almost every single person either has one of these cards or has used them at least once in their lifetime. When you think of images of NYC it’s almost impossible to not think of its subway system. What I’m focusing on for this blog post is specifically how people pay and interact with entering the subway system.

Considering 2016 is the most we’ve ever been connected to technology, it’s amazing to see how low-tech the fare system is for the MTA. A quick google search for ‘MTA plastic card’ yields the following top two headlines for articles:

Why fix something that isn’t broken?

Here’s how the current system works based on my assumptions. In order to ride the subway, riders must first purchase a fare. The fare itself can be purchased at automated kiosks found at every station. Riders can choose to add a Time Value or Cash Value to their cards depending on how frequent they ride. Once a fare is purchased, the rider is provided a paper card with a magnetic strip which can then be swiped at turnstiles that unlock allowing entrance to your subway.  Simple, right? Maybe 50 years ago. Let’s breakdown this experience a little further.

I’ll start with already having a card loaded with a fare. From my observations and experience, swiping is the most basic action one can take to enter the subway. However, I’ve encountered a number of people who have to swipe multiple times because the angle in which the slid the card produced an error. Interestingly, the tone that is triggered for this error doesn’t distinguish between whether the error was for swiping incorrectly OR if there are insufficient funds to enter. This can be a confusing experience for tourist at times. If we also consider that there are only a limited amount of turnstiles that riders can access, this whole experience can create a chain of delays of people moving through. However, errors aside, swiping successfully and moving through the turnstiles is fairly easy and intuitive.

Let’s now consider loading the card with money. It’s convenient that there are kiosks at every subway station which allows riders to top-up their existing card or purchase a new one. However, considering it is 2016, I”m a bit perplexed as to why the MTA hasn’t switched to a plastic card. Comparing the paper card to plastic card alone can be a blog post. Today if I were to lose my paper MTA card, I effectively lost money equivalent to the dollar value that I put on it. There’s no convenient way for me to report it lost or stolen. We can assume that if plastic cards were issued, we can embed chips in them that would allow cards to be registered. This alone would open up a new system that would provide an improved experience.

Also, producing plastic cards with chips in them opens up new experiences as well. The MTA in theory could allow customers to purchase fare for their MTA cards online at-home or via a mobile device. The unique ID on each card would be an important identifier for the rider which could allow MTA to load funds onto their account. While purchasing fare at the kiosks right now are fairly easy, there’s only a fixe number of them and riders in need of adding value will queue in line causing more delays to ones commute.

Overall, there’s plenty of room for improvement with the existing MTA system. I believe it would be possible to shave off minutes in rider’s experience relative to what they encounter today.


What is Physical Interaction?

This process of conversation cycles back and forth, as an iterative process in which each participant in turn listens, thinks, and speaks

As the Chinese proverb says, “I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I do and I understand.”

These are a few quotes which stood out to me from the readings. If there is one thing that is clear about Physical Interaction, it is that many people define it in different ways based on the Bret Victor’s rant & Chris Crawford’s “The Art of Interactive Design”. However, what did resonate with me is that “physical interaction” must meet three basic components when two actors engage with each other. The three components are: listening, thinking, and speaking.

Let me dissect this further by breaking the phrase ‘Physical Interaction’ down by each word. ‘Physical’ by definition here is descriptive of something taking place in the present tense and within close proximity. ‘Interaction’ by definition is descriptive of some exchange happening between two people or actors. When two people (or objects?) interact, the ideal result is something that is engaging for both parties.

Good physical interaction takes place when all three components are met. Arguably having two of the three components available may yield a physical interaction, but then it’s fair to say the experience isn’t great. Crawford best illustrates this when he describes having a simple human conversation. Let’s use going on a first date as an example. It would be dreadful to be on a date with someone who doesn’t listen, think, let alone speak. It’s safe to say if this happened to me, a second date would not be happening.

Are there works from others that you would say are good examples of digital technology that are not interactive?

This is actually quite tough for me to explore with examples. However, one that comes to mind are future smart cars. It’s unquestionable that modern cars today like a Tesla can listen, think, and speak better than cars from previous generations. Tesla’s can listen for a request from an owner to autonomously meet you outside already turned on with the heater or a/c. Tesla’s can think to see if there are updates available for download. Tesla’s can even speak (read: notify) an owner should there be a technical issue that needs to be reviewed.

I’m using this example because I see this interactivity breakdown based on where the communication originates; it’s always from the owner. The Tesla owner is typically the one always engaging with the other actor on all three aspects.

Then again, I could be wrong since I’m not a Tesla owner. I’ll come back to this question when I have a better answer.