The Dawesome Digest #9 — Internet of Things, Data and lots more
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The Dawesome Digest

Things. Some of them connected.

I have a watch that is very special to me. My wife Lisa bought it for me as a gift on my 40th birthday. It's a Qualitron LED watch from the seventies and I love it. In many ways it's ridiculous as you need to use your other hand to press the button to display the time, but that all adds to its charm. No matter where I am people always comment on it. This isn't  just a watch but a conversation starter. I like to think that objects such as these are imbued with the capacity to be loved. You love them because of their flaws and their idiosyncrasies. Forty or so years later after leaving the factory this thing still works. 

So reminded by this beautiful thing that sits on my wrist every day I worry about the future. I worry about a future that is being filled with generic objects, devoid of personality and subtle quirks, all with a built in obsolescence. Want to hand down a working Apple Watch to the kids in forty years? Good luck with that. It won't sync with the current OS 3318  and I doubt you could find a plug to fit it, not that things will have plugs by then anyway. And it's yet another screen - another glowing surface to stare into.

In this issue I show some of the connected objects I've been creating for Mailchimp. None of them use screens or are hidden behind card hold glass. They're hopefully filled with the capacity to be loved with their own personalities and little quirks. Who knows if they will still work in forty years time – after all they're using current technologies that might not exist in the future – but I have to at least attempt to push out some alternative ideas to our seeming obsession with screens and the glass encased generic future.

Now, using the screen in front of you, take a look at what I've been up to...

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Six Monkeys

In May of last year I mentioned that I had got together with Mailchimp to work on a series of connected objects that explored the use of email within physical objects. That project, which I called Six Monkeys, is now finally finished and I wanted readers of the Dawesome Digest to be amongst the first to see the things I created for it.

Each object was named after a chimpanzee used in the field of linguistic research; afterall this was about using the most uqbiquitous of communication mediums so it seemed fitting that a project for Mailchimp be based in this area. Six Monkeys is also meant to be a little disruptive, looking at the use of email in new ways, moving away from the usual gripes and grumbles we hear so often when anyone mentions email. For me email has always been a source of great possibilties; yes I get all the usual spam but the good always outweighs the bad.

View the project

Behind the scenes

Each object can be seen working via a series of short films on the project page so I won't repeat what's on there, but rather give you some background on what was involved in building some of these. Everything you see is a fully working prototype complete with backend service were required. I didn't want these to be simply design fiction films but actual objects that do actually exist and work in the real-world.

I decided early on to use Electric Imp as the core of each object, providing Wifi connectivity and other logic for each piece. As much as I love Arduino I find it a complete pain to write code for and it's really not great for The Internet of Things. Electric Imp is. Yes it may be a propietary system but it works seamlessly and it works at scale so if ever I decided to roll-out any of these objects as commercial products it would be a lot easier to do.
My Makerbot was used extensively throughout the project, with only one of the objects not using a 3D printed shell of some kind. Everything is pretty much white for a consistent look and feel, but also to suggest that these are devoid of any predefined notion of branding or particular look born from current fashions. Projects such as this were one of the main reasons I bought a Makerbot in the first place - being able to quickly fabricate an enclosure made each piece much more tangible – when you can hold something in your hands it's suddenly much more real than something that just exists on screen. I highly recommend the use of PLA from Faberdashery to print with. Their material sits above pretty much any other PLA manufacturer I've ever used. In this case I used their Artic White PLA.
Each piece is actually pretty simple with a lot of the work done on the server through little pieces of code I would write on my Amazon EC2 server. I had to learn about how to interact with email servers but there's so much resource and tutorials out there that once I had the basics covered off I could pretty much code up any kind of functionality I could think of. 
Of all the objects I made I think my favourite is one of the most seemingly simple ones but was also one of the most frustrating to get right. Sarah is a gentle notification system that makes a piece of card pop-up when a certain user defined rule is true. I wanted this thing to be completely silent in operation - no motors or servos, something that is almost magical in how it works. I turned to using muscle wire to create a very simple lever system that could raise or lower the card when notifcations are received. Muscle wire, or shape memory alloy, contracts by 4-6% when a current is passed through it. That means with some careful placement it can be used to create levers or a whole host of other things. 

There's no noise whatsoever which really lends to it being an object filled with enchantment and very much the opposite of how we normally get notifcations. It sits in the background waiting for you to notice it. A notification that is a little shy but always polite.
Do take a look at all six films when you get chance. Hopefully they stir some thoughts about the objects that surround you and what it means when they are connected, even to things like the seemingly commonplace email.
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Design + Data

At the beginning of August I started a new side-project called Design + Data The site offers high quality limited edition prints made with data. That's not all though; when you make a purchase you also get access to all the source code.

The first series of prints features World Cup data supplied by Kimono, namely all the goal scorers from the tournament in Brazil, all visually linked to their respective teams. Number two in the series features every player in the tournament with goal scorers also hi-lighted.
Each piece is printed using twelve archival inks on beautiful 308 gsm 100% cotton photo rag paper. The plan is to do seasonal releases of prints using various datasets.

Visit Design + Data
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Sonic Sculptures for DesignMCR

Created for the DesignMCR 10 x 10 exhibition that took place in Manchester 18th September – 21st September 2014, Sonic Sculptures features 3D printed representations of iconic Manchester music.

Each model was created in Processing, scaled, made hollow and printed on a Makerbot Replicator 2 3D Printer. Each model represents the entire track, time mapped around the shape in a circular clockwise motion, with the frequencies pushing and pulling the original starting torus into a new form.

Couldn't make the exhibition? No problem. Download each model from Thingiverse or Github and use your favourite 3D printer or 3D printing service to create your own exhibition.

Note that because of the support structure required, printing times are considerable. Therefore using an online printing service such as Shapeways may be fairly costly.

Tracks are:

Joy Division - Love Will Tear Us Apart
808 State - Pacific State
The Smiths - How Soon Is Now
The Stone Roses - Waterfall
The Bee Gees - Stayin' Alive
The Buzzcocks - Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've)
Elbow - One Day Like This
Inspiral Carpets - This is How it Feels to be Lonely

P5.js

Geek alert! As many of you know my coding tool of choice for the least ten years has been Processing. Pretty much anything I want to make can be made in this wonderful piece of software that continues to get better.

However I always wanted to have that power of Processing, at least from a dynamic graphic generation point of view, available to me on the server. Well now with P5.js – a native Javascript library built with the same core idea of Processing – it's possible. 

After some playing around I managed to create a John Whitney inspired series of graphics that get generated on the fly on the server every hour and then uploaded and used as my Twitter profile banner. 
I won't bore you here with all the details of how I did but if you would like to know then I've written about the process and made the source code available on my site.

Refresh Belfast

I've been very kindly asked to speak at the next Refresh event taking place in Belfast on the 20th October. In their own words Refresh is where "every quarter, a group of smart, talented people gather to tell stories, share ideas, and drink a few beers at The Black Box."

Whilst I won't be drinking beer, I will be telling a few stories, talking about design and making things, my hatred for being called a tinkerer,  working with psychopaths and lots of other fun things.

The event is completely free but you'll need a ticket. Get 'em here.

Recommended Reading

I've already mentioned the computer graphics pioneer John Whitney. Well I finally managed to get hold of a copy of his Digital Harmony book from 1980 and it's a wonderful read about the correlation between music and computer generated graphics. Well worth trying to find if you get the chance.
30 years of Swiss typography in a beautifully bound hardback book? Yes please. Every single page of this book is gorgeous and a real treat for anyone obsessed with grids and typography or just basically has really good taste.

Elsewhere

A few things I've bumped into since the last issue...
The Kickstarter backed Touch Board from Bare Conductive arrived and it is completely brilliant. Going to use it to make a spooky interactive sound pumpkin for Halloween for my niece! Lovely hack from Japan to organise your notebook. Dweet.io - crazy simple messaging for The Internet of Things. Love this iPhone utility kit. 25 life-saving tips for Processing. A Database of Digital Art.

Until next time... shake what your mama gave ya.
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