Category Archives: Opposable Thumbs

Opposable Thumbs Episode 3: Found Electronics

Only 90's kids will understand!

Only 90’s kids will understand! via

Listen to Episode 3 here.

At the suggestion of my main man Audrey Peiper, I based this project on a Girl Talk telephone handset that I had laying around the studio. I fear this will only embolden my mother-in-law, who exploits my penchant for hoarding electronics ruthlessly.

Given the ridiculously gendered nature of my starting point, I decided to reengineer the phone’s components to make a positive statement about women and technology. This got me thinking about how some of the original “computers” were women, back when the term described people who performed mathematical calculations. Ada Lovelace is another great example of a woman who contributed significantly to early computing with her work on Babbage’s Analytical Engine.

With these ideas in mind, I desoldered all of the components from my handset. This yielded a pile of simple parts, artificially limiting the potential complexity of my project. Working within this structure, I soon settled on the concept of the multivibrator, a simple circuit that can be switched between two states. The first multivibrators were astable, switching back and forth between states at a regular interval. Mono and bistable vibrators came next, and these circuits formed the foundation of modern computer memory (due to their ability to “remember” one bit worth of information). I didn’t quite have enough components to make my vibrator stable, so here’s a demo of an astable multivibrator or “flip-flop.”

From a 2017 perspective, this circuit is not that impressive! I dig it though, because it shows what complexity you can reach in the absence of integrated circuits. To change the timing of the circuit, you can substitute different capacitor values – larger Farad ratings will take longer to drain, resulting in a slower oscillation. No coding here, just good ole’ math (or blind experimentation). See this page for the diagram I followed and build your own.

Full disclosure: The red LED didn’t come from the phone. There, I said it!

 

Opposable Thumbs Episode 2: Dungeons and Dragons Dice

For the second Opposable Thumbs challenge, I started researching ancient games of chance. It seems that the original dice where the knucklebones taken from livestock like sheep or goats. While you can order the real thing online, I opted to 3D print an open source set because it was quicker. Then I made a wooden box, strapped a piezo sensor to the back, and taught an Arduino to interpret these vibrations numerically. This information is shared with a Processing app, where the numbers are mapped onto various numerical ranges (1-4, 1-6, 1-8, etc.). The system is currently set up for the 7 most common DnD dice, but this is easy to change in the code.

I think the next step for the project is to hook up with the roll20 API. This website allows players to meet in an online space that supports maps, character sheets, and the like. Knucklebones 1.0 would allow such virtual games to retain some tactility by requiring physical rolls, though the objects in question need not be actual dice.

Arduino

Processing

 

Opposable Thumbs Episode 1

The excellent Rob Ray and I have started a podcast called Opposable Thumbs. I used to organize art events with Rob in Chicago some years ago, and I’ve been itching to work with him again ever since he escaped to LA.

OT is a biweekly creative exercise where Rob and I invite a guest to set some sort of design challenge. Next, the three of us each make something based on that prompt, then Skype in to talk about our successes and failures. The first episode is out now! Here’s a preview of my project:

tba

Prompt: Paper Clip & 2×4

In this episode I create a diegetic prototype that recruits material “flaws” (such as the knot above) to act as touch sensors. The paperclip or other wire is embedded in the wood and attached to two pins on the Arduino. Add a 1M resistor or greater and use the source code below. Right now we’re just blinking an LED, but that’s how all great things start… Please download, remix, and send me photos or video of your implementation!