Bad Vibes Desk: Prototype 3

Getting Unattached

In order to test the vibration reduction of the desktop being attached to the legs, I designed a new drop-in system of anchoring. This eliminated any additional load from the legs.

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This worked really well. But the trade off was the fun experience of having the desk physically move away from you when the top was connected to the legs. For the presentation, this was the final design (albeit with the solid, one-piece top).

Bad Vibes Desk: Prototype 2

Lesson Learned

For the second prototype I wanted to revisit the two-part structure of the desktop. I had initially been worried about the weight, but realized quickly that with the CNC machine I could easily remove as much material from the wood as I wanted while maintaining structural integrity.

I used almost the same exact design as the first prototype with the only major adjustment being the removal of the interior leaf.


The motor was mounted to the underside of the desk and the top was clamped to the speed rail.

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One solid piece reduced the noise dramatically. It also produced an unexpected, but not wholly unwelcome, side effect–because the desktop and legs were clamped together, the entire table vibrated and skittered around.

Next Steps

I still wanted to know how much the legs being attached actually affected the desktop vibration, so I thought up a less permanent way of attaching the top to the legs.

Bad Vibes Desk: Prototype 1

Sketching it Out

For this project I focused on designing and building the desktop and always intended to use pre-fabricated (or nearly pre-fabricated) legs.

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For this first prototype design I imagined a frame of sorts with a lip that was attached to legs, and a middle panel that drops into the desk, resting on the lip. The motor would be mounted to (and only transferring energy to) the lightest part of the table–the panel.

When designing the desk the most important factor from an engineering standpoint was the weight of the table: The lighter the table; the more energy would be transferred from the motor; the more intense the vibration. Which is the point.


I used Illustrator to design/create the files and the CNC machine to cut the two sections of the desktop. It worked like a charm. Although because of the diameter of the router bit I needed to do a significant amount of sanding around the corners to create a seamless fit.

I drilled the motor mount into the untouched section on the underside of the panel, which was designed as a mounting block.

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I clamped the desktop to legs I made of aluminum speed rail. This worked, but ended up being incredibly loud. The panel and frame knocked against each other around a hundred times a minute. This sounded like a mini jackhammer. It was unpleasant and annoyed everyone in the shop. Not ideal.

A second prototype was imminent.

PCOMP Midterm II: Prototyping & Build

This is the second in a series of posts on my Physical Computing Midterm project. The first one on Ideation and Concept Development is here.

Disclaimer: I still do not own any of the rights to any Jurassic Park properties; imagery, sound, video, or otherwise. Please don’t sue me. This project is still for academic purposes only.

Sensors and Control

Ok. We’ve got the idea: create a book that controls the movie version of itself. (The obvious choice being Jurassic Park.)

From the start we wanted to use a flex sensor attached to the cover of the book as a switch. Open the book, play the movie. Close the book, pause or stop.

We also decided that a FSR (force sensitive resistor) would be a great way to determine where in the book the user is by reading the weight of the pages laying flat. The user flips through the book, the weight of the pages laying on the back cover changes and the movie fast forwards or rewinds accordingly. It’s a really natural, pleasurable motion associated with reading that we’re mapping to the movie.

Setting Up the Sensors

We bought a few books to mess around with. It became obvious very quickly that a hardback was the way to go. We picked out a particularly boring-looking hardback that no one would miss and we got to destroying it.

We attached the sensors and wrote a short program to get them connected through the serial port. This way we could test them in a real environment and see what range of readings they were giving us.


We found that while the flex sensor worked like a charm, the FSR was having trouble picking up the weight of the book. This was the first of a few ongoing issues with the FSR. Because the weight of the book is distributed over a much larger area than the sensor, the was very little force on the sensor itself. In order to concentrate the weight of the book in a more focused area we implemented what we’re calling “the Princess and the Pea” solution. Which you’ll see below.

Now that the sensors were sensing we started thinking about the larger user experience. We wanted to create a stand for the book, something that would situate the book/sensor system for the user and look good doing it.

I had some big ideas that involved a scale model of the Jurassic Park gates.

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For the sake of prototyping and troubleshooting we created a box first.

We actually had a bit of trouble with this set up. The FSR was getting good strong readings, but they were constantly changing and the book wobbled. We decided it was a better idea to put the FSR in the book itself on the inside back cover and add a little hex nut or something small and hard to the back page as the “pea.”


The Processing code was relatively simple. The video library makes it easy to play, pause, jump, etc. All the basic action we were looking for. The trouble was getting a single reading off the FSR. We found (not surprisingly) that as pages turned the FSR would give use constant readings and the movie would constantly change frames. Making it impossible to jump to a time and play the movie from there. Yining tackled this problem by introducing thresholds. If the FSR was within a range of numbers, the code told Processing to pick a nice round number and use that. To skip forward or back the new reading had to be outside the set range. This basically solved the problem, but requires the user to flip a bunch of pages to affect the change.

I think this code could certainly be refined, maybe even on the Arduino side of things.

The Build

We created a simple bookstand emblazoned with the iconic logo. Wired the sensors through the book and into the stand. And once everything was hooked up, we had a working build.

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In the next post I’ll have a more polished wrap up.

Visual Language Week 2: Signage and Information Systems

This week I read the six-part Slate article The Secret Language of Signs found some signs that were successful and some that were complete failures and disgraceful embarrassments  and I fixed up one of the more pathetic signs to my liking.

I also rediscovered an incredible resource for icons called The Noun Project. Which is where I got the lovely icons adorning this post.

Broken    icon_37330 Signs

Useless. Contextless. Factually erroneous. Illegible. Irrelevant. Confusing Misleading. Ugly. Outdated. Creepy. Smelly.

These are just a smattering of insults I’ve personally hurled at bad signage. Yes, some of them are hurtful and, one could probably argue, childish. But so what? Poor signage and thoughtless information systems are frustrating timesucks (note to self: add “frustating timesuck” to list of insults for in/animate objects).

Chances are if you’ve noticed signage it’s because it caused confusion or problems. Good signs are like fine service at a restaurant or international spies: their job is done properly if you don’t notice them doing it.

Here are a few examples that I spotted this week of poor signage.

“The Foreigner”

Before you call me jingoistic or insensitive, please keep in mind that the assignment was to observe and report bad signage.


Spelling and grammatical errors can render an otherwise fine sign laughable.

 “The Novel”

Here’s a scenario: I’m new in town. I arrived in NYC on a red eye in the early morning hours before color’s breathed into the sky. I’ve barely had time to change clothes and grab coffee. But here I am on the subway. I’m focused on one thing only. Which is getting where I’m going. I don’t have time for a litany of do’s and don’ts which seem like common sense to 99% of people.

Here’s another scenario: I’ve lived in New York for over a year and a half and I’ve never even noticed this sign before I was literally assigned to look it.


It’s too much information for a sign that’s trying to convey a simple code of conduct. (That’s why I’ve taken the liberty of re-designing it below.)

My Fix

Sometimes simplicity is the ultimate complexity.


I understand that this doesn’t explicitly cover all of the rules laid out on the original sign. And that’s kind of the point. This covers a broader and yet somehow more specific set of rules. The short, to-the-point copy is even more no nonsense than the long list. It’s also not so patronizing.

In any case, here’s the paradox: the people who need to understand that sign are the least likely to read it.

Broken Light Bulb by Gregory Sujkowski from The Noun Project
Sign by WARPAINT Media Inc. from The Noun Project
Sign by Murali Krishna from The Noun Project

‘The Art of Interactivity’ by Chris Crawford

“I choose to define [interactivity] in terms of a conversation: a cyclic process in which two actors alternately listen, think, and speak.”

Interactivity as Conversation

I think Crawford’s definition of interactivity is swell. I also agree with his assessment that two (or more) actors are key for the process to work. However, I think there’s a more important factor tucked into that definition: “a cyclic process.”

Here’s where it really comes together for me. With a cycle we go from the more binary Action → Reaction (Speak → Listen; Listen → Think; Think → Speak, etc) to a more complex network of cause and effects. Especially if the actors adjust their rhythm of listen, think, speak in accordance with outside factors.

The best conversations never follow a prescribed structure. It’s never listen, think, speak. The thinking is going on constantly. And speaking frequently slides into something closer to yelling. There’s an element of unpredictability to it. You might spiral off into a tangent, go off topic, only to find a new perspective on what you had just been discussing.

Interactivity should be fluid. And dynamic. It should feel natural. And it should allow and encourage discovery. Just like a great conversation.

An Aside About the “Interactivizing Step”

It’s painful when Crawford mentions the interactivizing step in the design process. Coming from an advertising background, it’s all too familiar to here “how do we make this interactive?” As if it’s only a matter of sprinkling new, delicious and nutritious Interactivity Flakes® on whatever the idea is. When, in reality, all that’s actually being said is “how do we get people to click faster/stay longer/post on social media harder?”

If I hear “interacting with our brand” one more time, I’m going to throw a box of Interactivity Flakes® at a wall. According to Crawford, and, you know, common sense, it’s impossible to interact with a brand. A brand is the made-up face of an otherwise faceless company. A ghost putting on a sheet to answer the door.

There’s no conversation. No listen, think, speak. Only sell, sell, sell. (He’s eerily close to the future when he posits that laundry detergent boxes will soon proclaim “NEW! IMPROVED! INTERACTIVE!” Think what they/we did/let happen to organic.)