learning the ropes

things I made at ITP and after: sketches, prototypes, and other documentation

Wednesday, April 4, 2007


Continuing in the process of creating expressive personal objects, I performed a piece called “Spinning Out of Control”. I was working to express the feeling of anxiety that comes from trying to keep too many facets of life spinning simultaneously without assistance.

posted by Michael at 9:00 am  

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Maxed Out

I’m working on a personal art project for my final in Designing for Constraints. The following is my first prototype. I feel pulled in many directions simultaneously — with ITP pulling the hardest. The inner sphere represents me. The springs tug at me in all directions.

Maxed Out-14

I developed this prototype from a simple sketch:

Maxed Out-0

I built the prototype out of materials I already had in my studio:

Maxed Out-1
CD jewel case covers
Maxed Out-5
Old guitar strings and 24 gauge wire spun into springs
Maxed Out-4

Maxed Out-7
26 gauge wire wrapped around a still central armature

Maxed Out-10

Class feedback:
- Walls of the piece could deform under pressure.
- Piece seems performative — it may require my performance of the object to get its point across. A video might help with this.
- Stretch the box to its limits and videotape it as it breaks

posted by Michael at 12:22 am  

Friday, March 23, 2007

Music Creation for Non-Musicians

Aaron Siegel and Chris Peck and were guest lecturers in Audio Art this afternoon. Both compose works for untrained performers. This is one of the reasons I came to study at ITP. I want to design systems to enable untrained performers to collaborate musically.

Aaron’s piece “Work in Manufacturing” was a percussive piece with fixed rules, but varying outcomes regulated by each performer’s breathing. The rules of the piece made me feel disoriented at times because I had to keep a number of things in mind: how times I had inhaled or exhaled since beginning my current “station,” how many “stations” I had completed, and the number I had chosen as my “jump” number for selecting subsequent stations.

The overall sound of the piece was intriguing, but I prefer tonal music.

Chris’ piece “Worried Long” was a “choral” piece. I found it easier to appreciate the quality of the sound in this piece because it was richer and sustained. It sounded majestic as we sang it. I was very surprised at how harmonic it sounded — even though none of us knew the intervals we were supposed to sing. Further, only about half the class was musically trained. I don’t know how many of us could say that we know how to sing, but I really enjoyed the sound we created and would definitely consider it music. The dynamics were incredible and it was invigorating to belt out the slowed down lyrics with the rest of the class as we reached the climax of the piece.

I’ve been thinking about the discussion Amit and I had about believability. Both of the pieces seemed to have that quality. I knew nothing of the two composers beyond their remarks prior to performing the pieces, but it seemed that each piece matched the personality of its composer. Additionally, it was believable that we were creating the music together. Neither piece asked us to make an “impossible” committments in performing them. Collectively, we had all of the skills necessary to render the works. There was no need to think about which performers would be capable of properly interpreting their parts.

posted by Michael at 10:43 pm  

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Final Project Proposal Progress 2

I’ve been thinking about musical improvisation. While it may seem on the outside like a flight of pure fancy, there is actually a systematic approach to it. My idea is that the improvisation system is composed of two main components: vocabulary and inspiration. I believe many people possess the inspiration to improvise, but few have developed the vocabulary.

I feel that vocabulary can be further divided into technique, motif, and progression.

I want to create a personal project which expresses the essence of improvisation, communicates the joy I experience while participating in musical improvisation, and invites observers to become participants in a musical improvisation. The participants will provide the inspiration and the piece will provide the vocabulary.

There are emotional difficulties to improvisation: lack of confidence and fear of embarassment, to name a few.

posted by Michael at 12:05 am  

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Final Project Proposal Progress

Lisa suggested that randomness was perhaps a big idea to explore. We were talking about the idea that making musical expression – or more so – that the express ion of emotion (a seemingly random phenomena) through music requires a great deal of methodical / non-random- ordered, organized effort..

She wondered what sort of music might be produced it the keys on the piano were randomly arranged – tossed there – instead of their linear arrangement in ascending order by pitch from left to right. She wondered if it would be possible to make music on a randomly arranged keyboard.

Would that keyboard be reshuffled each time the performer play or even during the performance?

I cannot conceive of the possibility of developing technique on such an instrument. At the same time, I think this could have the potential to lower the barrier of musical communication between between a professional music and a beginner (or even a non musician) in a collaboration. If the professional musician do esn’t have any technique on an instrument he will not be able to clearly express his ideas. If a situation of improvisation is created with musician and non musician under these constraints, perhaps they can have a musical dialogue on a level playingfield — each able to break through his or her preconceived notions about musicality, expectations, goals…

Hot/Cold — temperature or color
“I enjoy the rich, resonant bass tones of a Steinway piano – the warmth of those tones combined with the fragile glass-like tones of the treble notes”

Personality Types of Musicians

The Language of Music
MIT researcher Michael Hawley spoke to us in Red’s class last semester about his projects and adventures. What stuck with me about his presentation, though, was his passion for live music. His presentation made me think about the idea that in the not so distant past, the piano was the home entertainment system. This sophisticated entertainment system required a nontrivial amount of learning in order to operate. What have we lost in giving up this formerly essential skill of playing the piano to merely playing the radio, CD player, or iPod?

posted by Michael at 9:43 pm  

Monday, February 19, 2007

Considering a Final Project

I’ve been wrestling with ideas for the Final Project all week. Now it’s Monday afternoon and we’re going to discuss projects in class tomorrow night. The following are excerpts from my notes during the past week and a preliminary concept.

I started off listing… concrete ideas and potential questions to ask Amit:
DFC Final Project Notes-0

I picked an area of interest and started mind-mapping from there… possible project ideas, audiences, and whatever else came to mind at the time:
DFC Final Project Notes-1

I had a discussion with my mom earlier in the week about the design of library websites and wondered if I might like to do a project in this area. At the same time, I was also thinking about Maywadenki again and deconstructing something familiar to me: the piano.

DFC Final Project Notes-2

From all possible ideas and areas of thought, I constrained myself to those which I was currently interested in: music and sound. This afternoon I began to further develop the idea of working with the piano as inspiration. An idea for a Process began to take shape, but is at this point incomplete. I liked Maywadenki’s use of alphabetic characters to define their process (they have and A, B, C, D, E, F, G production process as well as the A-Z Naki nonsense machines). I wondered if I could use an acrostic of the letters PIANO to define my process.

DFC Final Project Notes-3

I wrote a statement of intent for the project, but I still don’t have a particular “user task” defined.

DFC Final Project Notes-4c

posted by Michael at 5:10 pm  

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

More User Testing with the Operational Prototype

Ahn reviewed my prototype v1.1 on Saturday afternoon. The following are notes I took.

- He didn’t understand that the “|30″ notation indicated the current memory position
- He wanted to see the entire memory displayed as it is entered; had the idea to display each of the thirty characters as a smaller font
- He would like the < and > butons to auto repeat
- He originally thought the LED indicators meant there were three independent character sets
- I was reluctant to make any enhancements to the program… I already had so much invested in the program and tried to defend having to do more work.
- Ahn believes that reviewing the character memory would be a very useful enhancement to the prototype
- What about a pressable jog dial?
- I spent a fair amount of time explaining the operation to Ahn. This leads me to believe that the prototype as proposed is not as intuitive as it could be; one downfall is once you’ve entered a character, you can’t go back and erase it. On the real machine you can.

After we met, I revised my software:
- Prototype now starts up in alpha entry mode which it didn’t before. This gives the user a frame of reference to start from.
- Implemented auto repeat for the < and > keys
- Added “Not available” message for buttons that aren’t implemented

[ Here is the latest version of the program ]

I also need to explicitly state the task I want users to accomplish, ie. “Please enter ‘JACK.SMITH’”

posted by Michael at 12:03 am  

Sunday, February 11, 2007

A Solid Prototype

Making a solid prototype takes time. I thought my prototype from last week was fairly solid, but now the switches won’t move at all.

When I began planning my work, I had in mind something that would look like a cutaway from the side of the sewing computer:

2007 02 10 Planning Notes

I thought I would try to make a skin out of polymer clay in order to accomplish the feel of the real device. If I was analyzing the ergonomics of the device I would definitely concern myself with the form (and perhaps materials).

I started off by transferring the button spacing from my breadboard onto a perfboard. To do this, I took my buttons off the breadboard and punched them through the paper label that was covering them.

Perfboard Prototype 001

Once the buttons were placed with the proper spacing, I soldered them onto the perf board and ran wires. To keep things neat, I soldered a 7-conductor ribbon cable to the top of the board. I debated about whether it was better for the cable to stick out of the top or the bottom, but ultimately decided on the top so the prototype could sit flat on its side.

Perfboard Prototype 012

Three hours later, after drilling, cutting, and wondering if I should have drawn things out first, I had a solid prototype. The way I’m used to working, at least when I work with wood, is to draw detailed plans before beginning. Although I had an idea in my mind (see above sketch) of how the prototype was going to come together, I didn’t know how all of the layers were necessarily going to get connected. When I discovered that I didn’t have enough standoffs and the right size screws to attach them, I had to keep improvising. It reminded me a lot of playing with Legos when I was younger. I always seemed to run out of the one length of axle I needed and had to piece things together another way. In short, I wonder if it takes more time to hack something like this together, or to draw out detailed plans and then construct it.

It is definitely my tendency to want to lay things out in Visio or sink some serious time into Sketchup (even though I don’t know it very well). Since I was working at home and didn’t have the precision of the drill press, I felt that I might as well just improvise and keep working rather than wasting the day drawing plans I wouldn’t need to use again. Yes, I would have had nice illustrations for my blog, but it wasn’t worth the two or three additional hours. It’s all about the constraints, right? Today’s constraint was time.

Perfboard Prototype 015

Perfboard Prototype 016 Perfboard Prototype 018

After assembling the unit, I covered the button with cardboard to prevent electrical shorts. I didn’t have long enough screws to go through the bottom of the IPAC2 and a sheet of acylic.

Lest I should give the impression that this week’s assignment came and went without the requisite burst of madness, I did try to create buttons for my prototype.

Perfboard Prototype 014

That’s right, I sculpted buttons… and they would have worked, but I ran out of steam when I realized I was going to need to drill another six holes in another sheet of acrylic. I may attempt this feat again before Tuesday. This is contingent upon first tweaking my code to recognize the new button assignments. The physical construction of the prototype encouraged a different wiring scheme from the one I used on the breadboard.

posted by Michael at 9:47 pm  

Friday, February 9, 2007

And Now With LEDs

I’ve updated my operational prototype with the LEDs as Amit suggested in class. After trying them out, it seems I need to determine how they should behave after I’ve pressed the “A” button and I’ve used the “>” or “<" to go out of the range of the characters indicated by the new LEDs. Options:

  • LEDs only stay on after “A” is pressed until the “>” or “<" buttons are pressed
  • LEDs always reflect the current position in the character set

What do you think?

I’m also wondering for the final prototype if I need to expose the “mem” and mem “<” buttons. They are not completely necessary for the operation I want to work with: setting the name. The “<” button allows review of the current items in memory. Is the idea here to simulate everything or just enough to show the concept we’re trying to improve?

posted by Michael at 2:05 am  

Monday, February 5, 2007

Operational Prototype for Bernina 145

Building the operational prototype was time consuming. It took more than twice as long as the paper prototype.

In the paper session, the burden of patience and imagination was on the user. I feel like paper prototypes will be good for illustrating concepts and refining them. The audience for the paper prototype should be a colleague who is either familiar with the process or has some background information about the operation you are trying to evaluate. Otherwise, I think too many things must be explained. For example, I had a discussion with a co-worker this morning about a design I was working on. Having a rough sketch from my tablet in the correct scale gave him a better idea of the idea I was trying to communicate so he could make constructive comments about it.

I think the operational prototype may be most helpful when I’m looking for actual user feedback on a particular operation. The test subjects can and should be far removed from the design process. The user can perform the test with a minimum amount of explanation.

Advantages of the Paper Prototype
- Rapid design, redesign, and refinement
- Low committment of time and attachment to design
- Lightweight, portable

Disadvantages of the Paper Prototype
- Inaccurate sense of the time required to perform an operation
- May not be useful in assessing the ergonomics of the operation
- Requires user to have knowledge of the problem domain; ie. what are we trying to assess? what needed to be left out? what exact operation must be performed?
- Requires a patient user

Advantages of the Operational Prototype
- Accurate indication of time required to complete operation
- Allows user to enter much more fully into the interaction (they can forget that you are there watching and simply concentrate on performing the task)
- May be very good for selling the concept beyond immediate colleagues

Disadvantages of the Operational Prototype
- Can be time consuming to produce (compared with paper prototype) and may develop a deeper personal attachment to the concept or idea. Perhaps delegating the task to another can help avoid this
- Requires greater attention to details of the interaction (again more time)

I think the operational prototype allowed me to really confirm that the operation took less time. It was clear to see (just based on the time of the videos alone) that it was a much shorter process.

posted by Michael at 10:44 pm  
Next Page »

Powered by WordPress