Weekending 19062012

Nicolas: A quite academic week with two days as an expert in a design school in Switzerland (Neuchatel) and polishing a research project submitted to a funding body. Being external jury judging student’s work is always intriguing, especially when projects are very diverse. In this case, it ranged from a new generation of mouses to kite-surf devices and mountain bikes parts. Industrial design is fascinating because of the whole range of constraints that have to be taken into consideration: physical, cognitive, social, political, etc. Commenting on the projects, I realize how hard it was to play with all these parameters and , at the same time, create something new and meaningful.

Julian: Quite a busy programming-the-computer-at-night week. Yes. Programming it to make it do things. I have a hunch of an idea for a thing that wouldn’t make my life easier? But would make it more fiddily. Based on an observation: most social network services require that you go to the service to find out what your peoples are up to // have shared // took a photo of // checked-into // &c ad infinitum. What about going to the people first? An Internet of Me & Mine rather than an Internet of Things or an Internet of Services. You know? As if all my friends had a stats card like a 1970s era baseball player. Or something. Like — shouldn’t your people be the point of entry for these things in a very bold, upfront fashion? And you get to pick who you browse rather than seeing *everyone/thing as if you could sift through it all? Maybe you have to pick some small number of true-blue friends — or the algorithm enforces true-blueness by making sure the relationship is two-way. You know? So — ObjectiveC land for me last week/weekend/nights-til-late.

Oh — also? The Marshall Stack speaker project came to a happy point of a milestone with a very good share and a lovely looking thing. Thanks to Simon and Vids for their hard-making-things work. That’s Simon up there. He’s not a grumpy fella, but sometimes I ask him to do a lot. He also had a new little one the other day! Congratulations Simon! Take the rest of the week off. 😉

Weekending 12022012

This week in Barcelona started with the pleasure of having Quadrigram making the cut of the finalist of the Strata 2012 Startup Showcase. The tool is a couple of weeks away from seeing the light and the teaser video is now online. At Strata, I will present the tool with my friends at Bestiario right after my session on Sketching with Data.

On the invitation of Claro Partners to present the lab, I took the opportunity to present my experience working with network data, particularly focusing on the methods we employ to help innovate in the domain of ‘big’ data. Have a look at the slide deck: it starts with a reference to Napoléon Bonaparte ‘Un bon croquis vaut mieux qu’un long discours’, goes through the uses of sketches as part of any creative work exemplified by Le Corbusier, and concludes with Picasso and the art of sketching.

Okay. What else? In Los Angeles, we used a solder paste stencil for the first time. Impressed. Good stuff. Definitely worth $25-$50. You can tell in this video I haven’t used solder paste in awhile..I forgot to put the proper hot, hot air on so I’m basically just blowing balmy air on the board. More practice, again. I have to say, the stencil is definitely a time saver. Although, I’m still going to get a big-ass pick ‘n place machine cause that’d make it even faster to get boards done. ((That’s EarFreshener up in that video, by the way.))

Nicolas came to town on Saturday and Sunday we went to the crazy flea market at the Pasadena Coliseum, home of the Rose Bowl. We found weird things and Nicolas found a fantastic mint-condition Polaroid in its crushed red velvet case. Lucky old salt. Prior to that, his week was focused on both phone call with Lift12 speakers and the final presentation for the head-mounted display project, which went fairly well. Results from this field study are kind of secrets so far but there will eventually be a publication about that.

Weekending 05022012

In Geneva, where the cold winter is striking back, the week had been, for once!, very quiet with data analysis (head-mounted display project) and book writing (game controllers!). We’re also preparing two workshops for the upcoming Lift12 conference. The first one is about location-based games organized with Mathieu Castelli, who used to be the founder of New Game, a pionneer in this domain (they released Mogi, one of the first commercial LBG). The session will consist in a series of group activity based on Meatspace Invasion, a location-based game recently developed by C4M and Mekensleep. After a quick introduction about these, we will form groups who will test different combinations of game parameters. We will then go on the field in Geneva to test these scenarios and regroup after the game session to debrief the outcomes. The second workshop is organized with the friends from Superflux (Anab Jain and Justin Pickard). It’s called “Foresight suprise” and as the name indicates, I won’t tell much about it except that it’s going to be about futures and futurescaping.

Hi. It’s Julian. In Los Angeles last week we got back the PCBs for Ear Freshener. One thing that was wrong is I mucked up the holes for the little audio card that plops onto the controller card. It won’t go all the way through, but it’s fine for testing. I’ll also be trying out these PCB stencils for the solder paste process The entire week was devoted to audio design and prototyping and team wrangling, I’d say. Nick Foster was in the studio for the last few days of the week so we had time for planning the project, eating tacos, working on the future of the whoopie cushion and the like.

It was actually a bit of an existential week for the audio project insofar as I had to figure out what the fuck was up with a bit of anxiety I felt during the previous weekend’s bike ride. I don’t like anxiety on bike rides. It was best summed up as a consideration as to new team configurations and advanced design team best practices. The conclusion? In this particular Advanced Design team a few things happen. First, we are asked to put eyes on an existing project and help make it better than it would’ve been were it not possible to have an experienced team of thoughtful designers who are comfortable working in an unstructured. We are asked to work on new, emerging things that are being done in a traditional structured way. And we are expected to come up with new things. I’ve come to the conclusion that we treat the “asks” — the things that come from outside — with more urgency than the latter projects — the things where we’re expected to come up with new things. It seems that we respond to the “battle stations” klaxon as if it matters more than the things we believe in first. Those things disappear into the closet and desk drawers. Which felt a bit like self-loathing in a really horrid way. Like — when someone *else says jump, we jump. When we believe in something enough to jump, we sorta *shrug. Or put it to the side when a “client” asks for something from us, *even *when *we *don’t *believe in it.

(Although, have to say — not believing in something someone else is doing is often a great opportunity to collaborate to make it better and believable. Not to be too normative about it, but there are plenty of things that seem like lovely fancy door knobs with awesome new mechanics and latching technologies that someone will bring to us and basically ask — what sorta house do you think this should go on? And the problem is that the door knob was thought of without really thinking about either the house..or the people who might have to use the door knob and, pray — live in the house. That’s the curse of the technologists and accountants/business people and the opportunity for more collaboration with design from the get-go.)

I hope to correct this through the audio project because otherwise — what’s the point?

So, I’m treating this quite as if someone from somewhere else came down and “made” the team get to work. Which effectively they did. The team will consist of folks who can commit the majority of their time to the project — it’ll run short and sharp and be quite deliberate. Sorta no nonsense; no whining. Polite..but ruthless.

This week in Barcelona has been almost exclusively dedicated to Quadrigram performing some interface polishing and documentation tweaking with the help of Tim Stutts and Brava Büro. In the backstage, the pipes and wires are gently coming into place with some mind blowing resulting reaching the frontiers ‘Quine computing‘. All this will make sense in the near future.

I also took some time to step back and order my thoughts for an upcoming talk at Strata that will focus on our approaches and tools to work with network data. This week, I will test and rehearse a first iteration responding to the invitation to our friends at Claro Partners.

I will use our study hyper-congestion at the Louvre as one case study. A work that was actually featured yesterday in the newspaper El Periodico as a consequence of Yuji presenting some results in Sweden last week.

Finally, our measures of mobile phone network activity in Geneva have led to some beautiful visualizations and animations produced by Interactive Things. Keep your eyes wide open if you happen to stroll around the Geneva main train station during Lift12.

This Is What I Sent — The Ear Freshener PCB Design

Here’s the current PCB CAD for the Ear Freshener. It’s sorta got two sides, but on the top I basically have a carrier for another board that contains the audio codec device. The components around it are all the brains that control track selection from the potentiometer/knob — that people will think, hopefully, is the volume knob, but actually it isn’t.

The gag/provocation is that knob. It’s an audio thing with a knob..but the knob isn’t an on-off thing. Rather, it’s some kind of semantic intensity knob. You turn it “up” and you get more-of. You turn it “down” and you get less-of.

There’s also a spot to hook up a little button. The button switches the Ear Freshener sound idiom. So you can go through the seasons; or cities; or airports.

((We should figure out a good name for the gag/provocations that we always build into our little devices.))

To do this, I’m probably a little over-engineered, maybe. Maybe not. I use two Atmel Attiny25‘s that basically do the track selection through a data port control on the audio codec. Basically counting in binary, with the track selection one doing the low-order bits and the high-order bits selecting the sound idiom you’ll be freshening your earballs to.

There’s also a bit of circuitry for a step-up regulator. I want to run this off of a single, readily available battery cell — AAA or AA. I’m over USB charging for the time being. At least now. The extra crap you need is a headache. Sorta. I guess I just wanted to get back to that thing where your audio devices take a battery. Not that I want more batteries in the world, but the rechargeable ones? They’re fantastic nowadays. Lots of capacity.

You’ll notice there’s a bunch of nothing on the right. I put that there for mechanical mounting of a battery holder for now. I just didn’t want the battery dangling off in nowheresville. This way I can double-sided sticky tape it to for testing and carrying around.

That’s the deal. I sent off the data to AP Circuits for the first time. It was about $40 with shipping for two boards. The boards are about 2.1in by 2.3in, so sorta small. There was a bit of back and forth to get the data they needed, especially for the board outline. This always ends up being something I leave out — my CAM Processor script doesn’t have that layer built in as output. Need to look into that.

Why do I blog this? I need to keep going on making logs of activity for the various projects that go on here, even if it’s a quick note.

Weekending 21012012

Fabien and Nicolas went to Madrid for a workshop at BBVA innovation about Smart Cities. Organized by Urbanscale (and more specifically by Jeff Kirsh, Adam Greenfield and Leah Meisterlin), it focused on opportunities to use networked data for the client. It basically followed up on the previous work we have done with this bank last year.

The workshop went well, with a combination of short talks, field observations (qualitative and quantitative) and discussions. This workshop was followed by an open session entitled “Beyond Smart Cities” at BBVA’s Innovation Center, with Adam Greenfield, myself (Nicolas) and Kevin Slavin. My slides are on Slideshare. There’s a write-up of the event at the following URL. As described by Kevin on his tumblog, “As surely as it feels like a movement has a name (“Smart Cities”) it also feels like the critique of said movement is collectively more articulate and persuasive. Now the key is to find language to describe what it should be, to go beyond popping the balloon and figuring out what the party really needs.“.

Here in Los Angeles Julian has been hard at work puzzling over an incredibly simple problem of making a little audio device called an Ear Freshener avoid having a power switch and a volume knob. He thinks the solution was intimated by a generous comment poster who told him to slap a couple of transistors in strategic locations in the circuit. So he tried that. It seems to make sense. Hopefully it won’t destroy everything.

Related to this were discussions about the principles behind/between things that make sound — such as sound should just come out of them, rather than be all fussy with settings, configurations and network connections. And that tied into an ongoing thinking thing about latter day considerations about “simplicity”, “one thing done well” and skinny Williamsburg/Brick Lane 23 year olds with full beards who’ve done nothing to deserve a full beard but rock Holgas and fetishize film/vinyl/casette tapes fixed-gear bikes and the like. Thus, we’ve been working on a short essay on the topic of the Cult of the Analog Cult. Or something like that.

Meanwhile, on the East side of L.A. Jayne (with Kickstarter funding in hand) has been getting back to making new Portals. They’re still in the physical draft/sketch phase of things but making the upgrade from end-table-foam-core to mdf feels quite satisfying. The insides are still very rough and she’s still getting started with hooking up the magic/technology bits, but at least now a pair of Portal boxes exist in the world, ready to be filled with interactive goodies.

Continue reading Weekending 21012012

Weekending 11272011

Whoa. Last week? Well — it was a short one. It was quiet ’round the studio. Which meant that quite concentrated bits of work could happen.

Advanced Projects Tippy-Top News — the Project Humbo set is done for Project Audio in the Advanced Projects Wing. That’s work, work. By “done”, I mean — built and tested. They work. The studio will hum with the sounds of a new wave of radio audio micro-local broadcasting. The world’s been turned upside down. RCA/Victor win! McCaw Cellular never was in this little parallel universe. More later.

Advanced Projects Near-The-Top News — major breakthrough with the Project Ear Freshener for Project Audio. I took a blurry little photo which is just a blur cause I think I was tired and the light was lousy. And, anyway — it’s a small breadboard with some bits on it. Imagine. As it turns out, poor documentation was the cause of the snags and hassles. And fortunately technical support was forthcoming and informal and conversational, which likely has to do with the outfit that makes the chips being nice and small. But — I’ve been spoiled by the Arduino kits. They’re way easy. I suppose I shouldn’t expect much clarity and convenience for a chip that basically winds up in stuffed talking teddy bears and the like. ((We’re not making talking teddy’s, by the way. Much better things.)) I have a little draft post of some of the technical gotchas we faced just to document the ways of working with this chipset.

Laboratory Tippy-Top News — Jayne Vidheecharoen has become more formally and less informally a part of the studio. You’ll notice the little post with an introductory Q&A with Jayne. She’s a clever creative with a lovely playful sensibility. There’ll be some fab projects and provocations in the future. I recommend you look closely at Jayne’s prior work, especially Customer Service Romance and Souvenirs From The Internet.

And in Just The News, came across an interesting article in the Harvard Business Review, which finds its way into the kitchen and livingroom of the studio but I don’t normally read it. I think I was waiting for the microwave to bleep at me and starting absent-mindedly flipping through it. There was a curious article on what makes a functioning, innovative, creative team. It came down to less management and more trust and some mechanisms for individuals setting their tasks and objectives based on a simply stated, tangible overarching organizational goal. That feels quite a bit like what happens in the Advanced Projects studio. The article is called First, Let’s Fire All the Managers.

Continue reading Weekending 11272011

Weekending 11132011

Hello. It’s time for the weekending post. A few things.

First — I was introduced to this graphic above from @bruces. It shows a Venn diagram showing a kind of perspective of what-could-be. For that reason, I chose to interpret it as another “graph of the future”. How’s that? Well, because it indicates the measure of what can be a product and therefore, what can enter into the world at a particular scale — it’s represents things that can exist at some point in the future. It’s a really simple measure of “product” or “possibility”, but because of its simplicity, its admirable. It says that what can be a product must be desirable, profitable and possible/buildable.

Update: @bruces posted his notebook drawing that I originally saw three, wine-fueled hours into a midnight dinner in London. It comes from Hugh Dubberly.

I pondered this a bit over the week. I shared it for a moment at the recent Society for the Social Studies of Science conference, as a way to think about the future. But, what I want to consider are the unexplored, peculiar areas that are not at the super-sweet spot there in the middle. Are these various terrains that can be explored — perhaps to shift the meaning of what is desirable, profitable and possible? Ultimately, that sweet spot in the middle has to become some sort of least common denominator. What about the impossible? Or the barely possible? Or the unprofitable, but possible and desireable? You see what I mean? How do yo get out of the rut of assuming that everything must be a product — desirable/profitable/possible — and actually innovate? Make new impossible things? Or new, weird things only desirable to 17 people?

Update #2. Here’s Hugh Dubberly’s drawing — at least I think it is. I never saw the one from which Bruce did his notebook sketch.

Yet to be considered.

Well, also this week was a bit of frustrating time figuring-out-new-stuff. Can you believe that we still have to use USBSerial dongles by Keyspan in 2011 in order to talk to modern bits of development hardware? What gives with that?

This is a development board for a VS1000 chip which does audio decoding. I’m hoping to learn more about how to make it do interesting things for some real-time audio hacking and making-of-things. Look for cool stuff soon. Definitely desirable, possible and unprofitable little gizmos and hatchapees.

The last thing is that the video of the Thrilling Wonder Stories thing I did in London last week with Bruce Sterling and Kevin Slavin is available online now at the Architectural Association web site. It’s worth a look. If you fast forward to about 1/2 way through, you’ll get to the start of the presentations from myself @bruces and @slavin_fpo.

Finally, had a lovely coffee time chat with David Kirby who was in town to do some interviews for his upcoming projects.

That’s it for what happened.

In upcoming news, you’ll find more people blogging and doing things through the Laboratory.

The band is getting back together. Yeehaw.

Continue reading Weekending 11132011

SuperCollider: A Class at LA Public School

Sunday October 16 16:21

I’m taking a class through the LA chapter of The Public School on the SuperCollider, like..application, I guess it is. It’s more of a programming environment for making and processing sound. Good fun stuff. I really want to invest more time and energy towards the audio project and this seemed like a good way to start on that goal.

Ezra Buchla is teaching it.

SuperCollider is a rather terse programming environment with a kinda curious set up that requires services/servers to actually run the programs you write — or that are interpreted. I’m making assumptions that this was done so as to allow a distributed model of processing when things get hairy or maybe its just a fetish of the network and its possibilities for elastically distributing processing. In any case, what I’m most interested in is being able to real-time process sound and a little less interested in generative sound synthesis.

I never thought (just without even checking) at how rich and sort of — overwhelmingly weedy the SuperCollider API was. I mean — there’s tons there. I wish that some embedded hardware-y stuff could actually consume/interpret it somehow so that I could have really portable sound processing capabilities. What I’d like is a way to do process sound but I don’t want to have to do it on a laptop or something — should be able to do it in something the size of a 1/4″ stereo audio jack or something.

Sunday October 16 16:26

Sunday October 16 14:19

But, to contradict myself, I may in fact be also somewhat interested in generative sound synthesis — making sounds with things, objects and algorithms. It’s on the @2012 list of things to be some kind of music maker of some sort and meeting up with Henry Newton-Dunn (who made BlockJam a precursor and prior art of Siftables/Sifteo by a good 6 or 7 years) at the AIGA Pivot conference a couple of days ago was fortuitous because I remembered that he was a DJ back there in Tokyo. We had some excited conversations about sound and audio and DJ’ng and software to do all that. I feel a collaboration in the near future!

In fact, here’s Henry himself — this is probably when we first met in, like..2005 in Tokyo. Some hepcat spot. Check out that Hi-Fi “Set” in the background!


More Audio Experiments

Well — about half the day..actually more! Spent trying to get a rudimentary single op-amp circuit functioning. I mean…maybe I’m a bit distracted and maybe in a rush. Either way — this should be going easier.

I ended up stripping everything off the breadboard and starting fresh. I even went back to an LM741. My biggest confusion through all this was the split-rail supply and how to hook it up. I made a simple circuit using a TLE2426. But then..I was a little flumuxed about what to do with the VGND signal. But I figured it out in between bouts of frustation and lots of shrugging. Basically, the -V of the TLE2426 circuit goes to the “GND” or negative supply of the op-amp. Turns out — the VGND of the TLE2426 goes to “ground” of the rest of the circuit. The +V and -V from the TLE2426 goes straight to the supply terminals of whatever op-amp you’re using.


Well — I sorted it out. Just stayed a bit late Friday after helping make a little film. Once things quieted down I could focus on debugging the circuit. I started from scratch. I basically wanted to go back to the rudiments. Build an inverting amplifier; a non-inverting amplifier; and a circuit I could use as a pre-amp for a microphone or something. And then just put signals up on the scope to see what sort of power I’d need in order to support mixing and amplifying signals without distortion.

I tried with two different op-amps — the LM741 and the LM348. I don’t know which is better than the other. They look like they perform similarly. The upside of the LM348 is that it comes dual in an 8 pin package. I tried them both in inverting and non-inverting set ups.

I’m working with all this on a breadboard cause, basically I’m rewiring stuff left and right and I haven’t worked with op-amps since college and I’ve been mucking up bad enough that I didn’t feel comfortable at all spinning a PCB even though these circuits are stupid simple.

Here’s a comment.

The chip in the middle of the breadboard up there is the TLE2426 which is providing the split-supply for the op-amps. Without that, the circuit will clip any signal that falls below the supply rail. That was something I wanted to test a bit empirically, so I tried to see under what parameters they would clip a signal.

In the image below I found that a 4.08v signal peek-to-peek, the op-amp would clip the signal if the power rail was 6.4v or less. That 4.08v signal was produced from the maximum power output on a MacBook Pro with the signal being a 440Hz sine wave.

Here’s that signal run through the LM358 set up non-inverting. See? It’s not inverted.

And above — the LM741 inverted.

Then I tried the LM358 with a x1000 factor amplification to see how well it’d do as a microphone pre-amp. Curiously — none of the ragged old little lavaliere microphones I had around seemed to work at all. So..I used my hipster headphones as a sorta microphone by “listening” to the signal from the headphone jack with the headphone draped over a crap speaker I use to listen to music in the studio.

So — here are the schematics I used. The basic deal.

Well..I feel a lot better that I got this stuff working. I mean..it was sorta nuts last week trying to make that mixer and just having everything go bonkers. I think maybe it was important to just get back to basics and build up from basics rather than using someone else’s circuit design and hoping for the best.

What this helped me do is figure out what I want the special weird mixer thing to do. It needs two microphone inputs — so two preamps for mic-level signals from the two microphones for capturing ambient audio. It should have two stereo inputs for two different sources like a music player and something else, like a phone. The mic inputs should be able to pan from left to right. I think all of these signals should also be able to go through an “effects send” to do fun things to them — maybe even phase them a bit to do some experiments with spatialization. I think there should be one other mono input for signal generation — you know..for annunciators and maybe synthesized voice or something. So — that’s three mono inputs and two stereo inputs. The stereo inputs should also be able to have their balance adjusted, I think.

I think that’s the rough spec. Onward.

Continue reading More Audio Experiments

LM358 Op-Amp Issues

Audio Mixer Schematic

Should be simple…here’s the test circuit. It’s derived from the multi-channel mixer below. I’m just testing the circuit. It should basically pass through the one input signal perhaps with some attenuation. Instead, it distorts it all to hell-and-gone. Any ideas?

So — back to hammering and less yammering. I’m trying to build a small, portable, DIY audio mixer. Thus far — I’ve found nothing off-the-shelf that meets my, you know..specifications. There are lots of inexpensive and rather expensive field mixers but those are honking things with gigantic XLR inputs for proper microphones. I want about two 1/8″ stereo inputs, and maybe two or three 1/8″ mono inputs. I want to mix a few things and I want the whole thing about the size of deck of cards or something small like that. The only thing I can think to do is to build it.

Plus..we like to build things.

It should be simple but I’m about a decade out of analog electronics. I used to be able to debug op-amp circuits but not any more. And back when I could they didn’t have the internet the way they have now, so I’m sorta putting it out there with as much evidence of the problem as I can muster.

I built the circuit you see above using an LM358 op-amp. Seems like a reasonable go-to unit to build around and many op-amps, as I recall, are generic enough that I feel like it should work in this circuit. (But, I’m prepared to be wrong.)

The problem is that the signal gets super distorted right from the get go.

I’m using my MBP to generate a signal using Max/MSP. It’s just a 1kHz pure tone — a sine wave. The output comes out of the computer, right? Max/MSP generates the signal to go out on one channel and that’s what I feed into my circuit.

Basically — it gets distorted, even at the input. Check out the signal at pin 2 (the + on the left-most op-amp) — it’s what comes after a resistor and capacitor from the input signal. Why’s it so clipped even before it gets processed except for a couple of discrete components? I think that’s the heart of the issue cause the signal doesn’t even touch the op-amp?

So — obviously screen shots from my scope. The top cyan trace is the audio signal I injected into the circuit. It’s a 1kHz sine wave generated from Max/MSP and output over my MacBook’s audio output. It’s about 280mV P-P.

Pin 2 – Basically the input signal after a resistor and capacitor. It’s like..totally clipped there. Why it’s clipped between the raw signal and the input on pin 2 is baffling me. I’ve been so far from analog circuits for so long..I’m just not even sure why putting it on pin 2 alone clips it this way.

The output from the first Op-Amp in the mixer circuit..looks kinda hinky..worse than the input on pin 2.

Things only get worse from there. The output of the first op-amp looks like worse crap. This is basically the op-amp processing one signal and mucking it all up.

Now we’re at pin 6 which is the input to the second op-amp which comes after pin 6 with a 10k resistor in between.

Pin 7 is the final output. This should be a clean signal basically like the input for this test.

Final-final output after a couple of resistors and a capacitor. Distorted crap.

Why do I blog this? Well..I can’t figure out what might be wrong and because the circuit is so simple, I figure the problem is something as simple as the circuit. But, I may be a bit out of my depth and I’m baffled especially because the signal as measured at pin 2 — effectively the input — is distorted already.

Any ideas?

Continue reading LM358 Op-Amp Issues