Trump Head- Physical Computing Midterm

Andrew and I decided on making a talking trump head for our Physical Computing midterm. We bought a rubber Trump mask for its malleability and flexibilty, and because of all the room it has inside to fit the hardware we were going to use.

The concept is a talking head/ ball that is meant to be tossed around, and in doing so is meant to treat the personality like a piece of rubber. We also wanted the mask to talk and be self sufficient on its own, without having to be connected to a computer. We connected a sound shield with an sd card reader to an arduino UNO that is triggered by a motion sensor, which is inserted in one of the mask’s eye sockets. When the mask senses a presence it speaks.

We originally made a sound collage of a Trump phrase for Halloween, but we changed it to a Hillary phrase to create a bit of juxtaposition.

There is also a servo connected to the mask’s mouth, so that when the audio is triggered, the servo moves the masks’ mouth.





Arduino Code:

#include <SD.h>
#include <pcmConfig.h>
#include <pcmRF.h>
#include <TMRpcm.h>
#include <SPI.h>
#define SD_ChipSelectPin 4
TMRpcm audio;

//using a O O G resistor (3.3 ohms) for IR sensor
//dont delay less than 250 between openMouth & closedMouth

#include <Servo.h>
Servo mouth;

int speakerPin = 3; //digital out
int servoPin = 2; //digital out
int sensorPin = A0; //analog in

int closedMouth = 45;
int openMouth = 180;
int sensorStrength = 500;
unsigned long lengthOfPhrase = 9000; //in milliseconds
unsigned long timePhraseBegin = 0;
boolean movementDetected = false;
boolean speakOnce = false;

void setup() {
  audio.speakerPin = 9;

  if (!SD.begin(SD_ChipSelectPin)) {  // see if the card is present and can be initialized:
    Serial.println("SD fail");  
    return;   // don't do anything more if not
  } else {
    Serial.println("SD success"); 

void loop() {
  unsigned long timePassed = millis() - timePhraseBegin;
  int sensorRead = analogRead(sensorPin);
  if(sensorRead > sensorStrength){
      timePhraseBegin = millis();
    movementDetected = true;
  } else {
    if(movementDetected && timePassed >= lengthOfPhrase){
      movementDetected = false;
      speakOnce = false;

    //move mouth

      speakOnce = true;
  } else {
    //close mouth


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Chameleon Drum Machine

Our (Grau and Rogue) final Physical Computation project is the Chameleon, a hand held drum machine.  The concept behind the object is to take the drum machine off the table and into your hands, leaving your body free to move (with the instrument) during a live performance.  It’s also intended to be an instrument in its own right, not simply a midi interface that runs whatever you want it to run. We also don’t want it to feel like a toy, but rather an instrument that is simple enough to understand it by just picking it up, but having a bit of a learning curve, for old instrument learning sake.

We wanted a hand held design that would feel like something between a table top drum machine and a game controller, but we didn’t want it to feel like a game. It needs to feel like an instrument with its own personality. Ideally, we would have pads similar to an  MPC drum machine as the buttons, but we are using arcade style buttons for the first prototype.  The design is cylindrical, inspired by the shape of an actual drum.  This design led to an unintended use on the top surface of the instrument.  During our test run in class some classmates thought to play the top of the object like a drum, as if it was the rim of a drum with a skin on it. We briefly entertained that idea but ultimately we decided to use that real estate for buttons instead.

The first design is a bit blocky. The positioning of the hands holding it gave way for tension in the shoulders, so we knew we had to re-work the design to tell the hands how to hold it in a specific manner and to spread the shoulders more to get rid of the concave angles the shoulders were resting at.

First Prototype:



We cut some fat off of the first prototype and created Prototype # 2, with an ergonomic design that is easier to hold.


The placement of the buttons is a bit more successful in directing how the hand holds it. The shape also spreads the shoulders out, creating a comfortable shoulder position that is near natural standing position or shoulder width apart.

The concept of the instrument is for it to be as dynamic and inclusive as possible in terms of the sounds it produces. Ideally each setting on the instrument is a different sound bank that is guided by the names of the settings: Africa, Middle East, Latin America, Asia, Space. Each of these settings would recall sounds from each specific region of the world.


We drew up various schematics for what the button functions would be, based on the position in the hand and how comfortable it would be to create a beat with your fingers. Taken into consideration were two main factors, which fingers were the strongest and fastest. The index, the middle, and the ring fingers were the most comfortable to use, especially the index and ring fingers for precision purposes.I also included various features like pitch-shifter and volume control, which will be additions that we will add in the future.

The end result for the prototype includes six buttons on the front, three for each hand, and four on the back, which will be played by the thumbs.

For the prototype we concentrated on programming a traditional western drum set, with finger positioning that looks like this:

We originally drew up the casing for the Chameleon thinking that we were only going to use one arduino, plus a sound shield to store all the sounds it would recall via a mini sd card. We worked on the casing and the computation simultaneously, really hoping that one arduino would be enough. One arduino wasn’t enough, however.  In order to play three sounds at once without any latency, we decided to employ three separate arduinos with three separate mini sd cards.

The final prototype of the Chameleon is still in the works. One hiccup we ran into was the size of the casing versus the amount of hardware that fits inside. We need to figure out a way to minimize the hardware. An easy way out of this dilemma is to use Max MSP to control the interface, but we are adamant about creating an instrument with it’s own sounds..without having to plug into a computer.

We also had to build a custom audio mixer to mix together the three lines of audio from the three arduinos and the three breakout chips. We also had a bit of an issue with the sounds themselves. It seems the sounds we selected for the Chameleon got lost in translation and are coming out as amorphous blobs of sound, rather than drum sounds.

It works, though!

We should have these two kinks done over the break, and as soon as they are, I plan on filming a performance piece using the Chameleon.




P comp #3 (Interactive Technology)

Interactive Technology Piece:   Elevator Buttons



This seemingly straightforward interactive installment is our daily teleporting function onto the 4th floor.  We get on the elevator, we pick the floor number that we want to go to, we push the button of the floor number and..voila, we get to our desired floor.

But actually..

I see a few downfalls with the organization of the buttons. In fact, the reason why I chose to use this is because on the elevator.. thinking about what I was going to do this piece on, there were two people on the elevator with me. One of them expressed a bit of frustration after pressing one of the key holes instead of the buttons for their floor and immediately said to their friend, ” I always press that instead of the button.”

I would reorganize these buttons. First, the spacing between the buttons and the keyholes are the exact same spacing from one row of buttons to the other row of buttons. Why do the keyholes have to be so close to the buttons? ( especially the odd button numbers, which are RIGHT next to the keyholes) Why do they have to be in rows that are similar to the buttons?

Second, I understand the intended intuitive design of putting the buttons vertically, but I really think that with 12 floors to account for, we could have horizontal rows, which are much easier to read, instead of vertical, bottom to top rows. This would also create an opportunity to make the horizontal rows a bit closer to an average eye level, which would make it easier to maintain posture in an elevator that tends to get a bit cramped instead of bending down slightly to find your floor.  The vertical lines also insinuate some sort of continuity, but the numbers go horizontal.. That makes no sense. Sometimes when I’m in a hurry I still fumble a bit to find 4th floor.

Also,  the  OPEN and CLOSE and EMERGENCY buttons could be distinguished a little differently, instead of making them blend in with the floor buttons. You can color code them, you can make them bigger, you can make them a different shape, whatever you want. But why are they the SAME as the floor buttons?T hey do not take care of the same function. They should be different.

It seems the main concern on this design was symmetry, not easy use. Does it really matter what the elevator buttons look like? I’m just trying to get on my floor!


P comp Lesson 2

In the article Emotion and Design, Norman highlights the importance of balance between usefulness and beauty in design.

For the argument of beauty, what is emphasized is the fact that it is not only “nice” to have pretty things, but we are actually more inspired and perhaps learn more when we use things that are attractive to us. We want to include them into our lives because of the fact that they enhance the aesthetic quality of out lives. On the other hand, if things that we surround ourselves with things that have no real use, well, then they are pretty much useless; so just as important is an object’s usefulness.

Sometimes we weigh out the priorities of what we are trying to accomplish in object land. There are things we own that might be similar in function but sometimes one is prettier than the other, but is less pragmatic, so perhaps on a special occasion we will use it just to display the object’s beauty, but on an everyday level we would prefer to use something that is not as pretty, but definitely accomplishes its task more efficiently.

With that said, the balance between beauty and efficiency is the real challenge when designing something.

Sometimes design mocks efficiency and is designed with a complete lack of efficiency. He displays his tea pot collection to bring us through the differences in design, and what details are perhaps exaggerated to mock the lack of efficiency.

Physical Computing Lesson 1

What is Interaction?

Until very VERY recently, I was always turned off by “technology.” My argument would revolve around a sort of nostalgia for previous technological advances that seemed so commonplace, for two reasons.#1. I really enjoy simple, intuitive interfaces. I dont enjoy spending more time learning how to use something than actually using it. Plus, I always feared that after learning how to use something, two things would happen. Either it wasnt really what I was looking for or it would soon become outdated. So I gravitated to things that stood the test of time. Which brings me to my second reason. If something can withstand the test of time, this means that there is a certain amount of quality involved.
As a musician especially, I also really held onto the idea that we (in the community of musicians) fell into two distinct categories. ANALOG vs DIGITAL.
I certainly fell into the analog side of life. Besides the rhetoric of music sounding better recorded on tape vs wav files, there was a then intangible argument that I couldn’t quite articulate about my preference.
And even though I most definitely enjoyed and respected digitality in the process of making music, ( especially drum machines and synths) I still felt like there was something missing.
I realized what it was!
I spent a lot of time in my years as an amateur producer recording on my 4 track tape machine. I also daisy chained my various guitar pedals ( delay, phaser, etc) and ran them through my drum machine. I would create a pattern on my drum machine, but the real fun for me was moving all the knobs around on the pedals. My instrument would essentially be the knobs on my guitar pedals. I felt like a mad scientist, making my frankenstein beats, twisting and turning to my hearts content. It felt good to touch and move the knobs around. it was an intuitive action. i move the knob a little to the left, it makes this sound, more to the left, more that sound.
When I got protools a few years later I was very excited to finally have a seemingly more powerful instrument to record on. Little by little, however, I was turned off by many things. First, I hated staring at a screen for hours on end. Secondly, no knobs to twist around. And most importantly, NO TAPE HISS! Plus, I just love watching the tape roll while it’s recording…. In the end the recordings seemed cold. No personality, no life.
I ultimately treated my protools setup like my 4 track. I didnt use any edit functions. The only real use I found for it was the endless amount of tracks I could use to build my songs. I couldnt spend time learning how to use it bc the interface just turned me off so much. To me, the 4 track was sufficient enough, and subsequently became my go to, after ditching protools almost completely.
Although in “the art of interactive design” crawford explicitly points out that interaction requires 2 actors, and within that parameter a conversation takes place, (the 4 track is hardly an actor) … It happens to be much more of an active actor than a protools setup. And even still, I think the 4 track has a mind of its own, especially when the signal starts to clip. you can feel the saturation, the overload it is trying to process. The experience of recording in analog is much more interactive in general. Real instruments are being played (i.e guitar, which is made of organic wood that is indeed “alive.” In this case, the guitar is being affected in the exchange just as much as me, playing it. It wears and tears, and the cyclic process of an interaction starts to take shape: listen, think, speak.

Similarly, on “a brief rant” by bret victor, one of the strongest points for me in his essay is his definition of a tool. “address needs to amplify human capabilities.” Although he made a strong point of the importance of the hand, its nerve endings, in short, it is our window to the world.. and there is hardly a difference between typing, swiping, and turning knobs in theory, … in practice it is actually quite different. when turning knobs we are also touching different equipment, plucking strings, banging on things, using “real” instruments to produce sound. The experiences are worlds apart.
The analog way addresses human needs without making our nerve endings on our fingers go numb from lack of use. Sometimes, the most simple instruments are what keeps us from losing our human-ness, by being closer to the process, by being active WITHIN the process, and not just fullfilling some sort of binary questionaire in a homogenous “pictures behind glass” paradigm.