pcomp final: enclosure research and construction

a thing we are constantly weighing is whether to build components from scratch or buy off the shelf. before deciding to build our own enclosure, we listed the components that needed to fit inside the box and went to the container store to find something that would work off the shelf.

enclosure constraints
enclosure constraints

we found a few shapes we liked:

but nothing that was the right size. we discussed getting two of the index card boxes and attaching them. for the work it would’ve required, though, we thought it would just make more sense to build something to the right dimensions.

in the end, we found a box on the junk shelf that was half of what we needed. i went to home depot to get the remaining materials we’d need to build the top half:

actual vs. prototype
actual vs. prototype
top half

the remaining element was a piece of super thin birch wood to replicate the curve we liked from the container store’s wine bottle enclosure. we weren’t sure how laser cutting this material would go, so dhruv tested some buttons and vent designs:

button and vent designs
button and vent designs

we are experimenting with a tape sealant on the back to keep the scent from being absorbed by the wood when it leaves the dispenser.

pcomp final: user testing, pt. II

we just had another round of user testing. dhruv wrote about a previous round; head to his blog for in-depth explanation and analysis.

here’s my (briefer) take:

  • some users thought both smells were good
  • some users thought both smells were bad
  • most users wanted more feedback and/or visual feedback
  • most users wanted instant feedback

in general, i think users found our device frustrating.

i attribute this to a few things:

  • the subjectivity of good and bad smells
  • how the framing of the device as a “teaching tool” sets user’s expectations around type and frequency of feedback

our team has some design decisions to make.

we also discussed framing our device to users not as a teaching tool, but as a singing practice accompaniment. it’s a thing that should make you want to practice more because you like the things it does: it smells good and it looks beautiful when you take it out of the closet/cabinet/desk. a thing that encourages you to practice more is, of course, a teaching tool in the end, but i don’t think it’s helpful to discuss it in those terms anymore.

pcomp final: designing the box

we have another round of user testing in a week, so we spent some time today thinking about the shape of the device. we decided that the spritzers should be angled (instead of lying completely flat or standing completely vertically) to dispense the scent to the user’s nose most effectively.

to start, i just cut up an old box and arranged the spritzers inside. a diagonal piece of cardboard was sufficient to elevate them.

button layout?
button layout?
side view
side view

ultimately, the box i started with needed to be larger, with more structural support and a hinged lid. the spritzers needed more height, so diagonal supports with a steeper angle. the junk shelf had everything i needed. this is where i left things:

final prototype envelope

pcomp final: tanpura teacher visual study

what remains:

  1. hack another air freshener since our design uses two scents
  2. find spritzer bottles that work with the air fresheners and let us use our own scents
  3. design box
  4. design touch interface and adjust capacitive touch sensor tolerance to work with wood
  5. determine whether we can run MAX MSP and a microphone off of arduino yun or whether we’ll need to keep a laptop in our system

i collected some images to help with our discussion of the interface design. the first set shows existing interfaces of electronic and analog tanpura teachers.

the electronic interface lacks any reference to the gorgeous wooden instrument it imitates. we’re interested in bringing back some of the warmth of the original instrument in our final design.

existing interfaces
existing interfaces
touch buttons with wood panels
touch buttons with wood panels


pcomp final: hacking the air freshener

we went back and forth for a long time about which scent-dispensing mechanism to use. initially, the motorized one seemed bulky and overly complicated for what we needed. the motor would rotate CCW to lower the dispensing arm and then CW to raise it back up and stop dispensing. we didn’t think we’d be able to preserve that functionality when we ran it off the arduino. but we ultimately did decide to go with the motorized one because

  1. gears are cool, and
  2. it was actually going to be simpler to hack the hardware in this one than to build a fan to dispense the car air freshener, build a mechanism to open and close its vent, connect the whole thing to the arduino, etc.

once we decided on the motorized air freshener, we had to figure out how to bypass the button activation on the air freshener and control it with the arduino instead. dhruv writes about the process here.

measuring +/- voltage across the button
measuring +/- voltage across the button
connecting the motor to the breadboard
connecting to the motor’s power and ground
connected to breadboard
connected to breadboard
connected to breadboard, detail
connected to breadboard and arduino
motor powered by arduino

pcomp final: system and interaction diagrams

dhruv put together this system diagram to show our device’s inputs and outputs. what inputs go to the arduino and what outputs does it return? what inputs go to our music software and what do those inputs trigger?

system diagram
system diagram

i created this user interaction flow diagram to help us design for all possible user scenarios.

user interaction flow diagram
user interaction flow diagram

from the user diagram, we realized that there are more scenarios than we’d previously thought and that we need to get more specific about how many scents we’re using and when each one is triggered. the matrix below is a visual representation of all four scenarios:

possible user scenarios
possible user scenarios
  1. user starts out singing the wrong note and eventually finds the right note *this is the ideal scenario and the one we’d designed for already
  2. user sings the wrong note through the whole interaction
  3. user sings the right note through the whole interaction
  4. user starts out singing the right note but eventually changes to the wrong note.

how does the scent-dispensing mechanism behave in each of these situations?

read background on this project + dhruv and viniyata’s user testing

pcomp final: researching smell dispensers

i went to kmart to research smell dispensers. they generally fell into these categories:

  • heat disperses the scent of oil or wax
  • spritzer dispenses scented spray
  • a fan disperses the smell of scented goo that sits in a permeable pouch
kmart's expansive scent section
kmart’s expansive scent section

i went with a motion-sensing spritzing dispenser and a dispersal mechanism that works with a fan. these two give us more control over when we start and stop dispersing smells; with a candle or another heat-based mechanism, dispersal is slow and hard to contain.

scent dispenser innards
motion-sensing spritzer
scent dispensed by fan
scent dispensed by fan

when i got back to the floor, i took apart the motion-sensing spritzer. the construction is surprisingly simple and elegant: a motion sensor or button activates a battery-powered DC motor, which turns a series of gears, which pull an arm into contact with the scented stuff and ~*spritz*~

scent dispenser mechanism

read background on this project + dhruv and viniyata’s user testing

pcomp final: group dynamics

well. an unexpected part of my pcomp final experience has been learning about group dynamics. melanie, zoe, and i have decided not to work together. our collaboration was frustrating, but we’re all grown-ups and aren’t taking the group incompatibility personally; we’re still buds and have a lot of respect for each other’s work. no, seriously!

i’m grateful to be working with dhruv and viniyata on a thing that’s out of my comfort zone in a bunch of ways—think scent, music, motors, and indian classical music. so far, way fun. group chemistry makes all the difference.

pcomp: useful things from playtesting

yesterday, we brought in prototypes for the final to test on our classmates.

  • danny and tom both insisted on this one thing:


they encouraged us, instead, to note what people do with our prototype, how they move through it, etc., without knowing our big ideas behind the project.

  • they also said that if no one understands the project and it feels like a failure, that’s good feedback. we were not supposed to correct people. just like we wouldn’t adjust variables and constants in the middle of an experiment, we had to keep the same script for every person and adjust everything at once after a round of testing.

i really like these constraints. i wonder how the expectations around instant understanding change whether you’re making art for a gallery vs. building a puzzle game vs. something else.

  • related: i like that in all of our classes, we are encouraged to think about where our project will ultimately live—on the web, on the floor, in the street, in times square, in a newspaper?
  • danny also said this brilliant thing:

“it’s easy to complicate things; it’s hard to simplify.”

  • i liked that joy brought a form to fill out, not because it necessarily makes feedback easier to collect but because then there’s record that you got feedback. important when you’re working on a team or handing off a project to someone else who wants to know what your process was.
notes from playtesting
notes from playtesting

more notes from playtesting

gal showing strings and scale
gal showing strings and scale

pcomp final: data condensation

i switched gears from my last idea for the pcomp final.

melanie, zoe, and i all ran into each other at the radical networks conference a few weeks ago and decided to work on a data infrastructure project together.

we’re thinking about possibilities for visualizing the flow of data that surrounds us. in terms of physical structure, we’re inspired by this computational sculpture and these rubber strings. another potential direction would be using fog and light, like the illuminator collective did for this bust of edward snowden. this second option would be conceptually stronger for working with the issue of cloud computing.

i’m also thinking a lot about this stuff i found called electrosafe coolant, “a non-toxic, clear, odorless, dielectric mineral oil blend.” it’s used to cool server racks that store our bytes. especially as i think about some of matthew coleman’s work drawing connections between nuclear production and data center infrastructure—and slick, shiny, flat, fast, mostly meaningless tech buzzwords like “seamless” and “frictionless”; and the erasure of the means of production as well as the parallel ecological destruction on which that frictionless sheen depends—the non-toxic, clear, odorless stuff feels like such an apt object to think with.

anyway, marketing video for that strange product here.