Cigar Box Zoetrope proto-done
The cigar box combo lock slash belt motor system with zoetrope is finished. At least to the point where it is presentable to class as a stupid pet trick. It’s not finished if I look at it from an aesthetic point of view. It was a good exercise, but it’s time to move on. Before that: documentation.
I added LEDs to the top of the box, one in each corner to light up one after another when each step of the correct combo is entered. To mount them to the box, I drilled holes through the lid, soldered solid-core wires to the LED leads, and put the wires and legs of the LEDs through the holes until the bases of the LEDs were flush with the lid. I hot glued the LEDs from the bottom to make them stable and prevent shorts. The labeled red and black wires came out of the back of the box through four more holes. I had to figure out how to prevent the wires from getting in the way of the steel ball rolling around inside. Hot-glueing them to the ceiling of the box worked just fine. Even though I allowed slack in the wires, the stiffness of the solid core wires made it difficult to close and open the box. In hindsight, stranded wires would have been better suited for this.
Running out of time on the assignment, I prioritized. I really wanted to make the zoetrope play tones from the tone library, but knew that making the switch mechanism and writing the code would take time, which I didn’t have. Instead, I made the choice to consolidate the hardware and mechanisms into a modular unit that allows the different components to stand alone. Also, due to time, I just raided the scrap wood bins and pulled several pre-cut pieces that looked like they could work for making a framework for mounting the components. I didn’t want to box in the mechanism or the Arduino since it’s not meant to be hidden or mysterious.
For the cigar box combo lock, I thought it would be nice to have it floating over the zoetrope. To do this I suspended it off an arm, the mechanism for suspension being the stiff wires that come and go from the box. I like that the wires play another role in the besides transferring power. This is an idea I want to play up in future projects, which will also dictate to a certain extent the materials I’ll use. I had to mount the floating cigar box somehow, which is where the scrap wood came in. I made no cuts, I just found pieces that were the right size and shape and screwed/glued them together. I augmented the movement afforded to the cigar box by the wires by using a simple propeller system attached to the fixed arm. I attached the wires of the cigar box to the propeller using steel wire, one of my favorite materials. I attached a stopper for the propeller so it wouldn’t rotate all the way around, but only rotate in a see-saw motion. While I like the way the arm/wire/propeller system looks and the way it works, the functionality doesn’t quite match the movement of the ball inside the box. Having the wires come together in the center of the box, on the bottom, like a flexible pillar, would have made for better action.
The zoetrope mechanism was already finished… but when I mounted it onto the piece of wood that fits together with the arm framework for the cigar box, the belt system of the zoetrope got out of whack and I had to make adjustments. That was a lesson in making sure components are stable before messing with the structure. It’s also a reason for moving beyond prototyping and into a more finished iteration of a mechanism.
The Arduino sits on the same platform that has the arm for the cigar box, and simply slides onto the base of the arm. The space between the DC jack input and the USB input is exactly the width of the wood I used to make the arm. By chance! When chance dictates that kind of a match, I invariably find myself agreeing, and making it work better.
I had problems with the code to make the LEDs light up in sequence with the correct combination. In theory, it should have been easy, simply add the LEDs to the if statements that read the switches, and make the LEDs high as the switch is high, adding them in series when the state increases. That’s not what happened. Greg Borenstein helped me debug using a bunch of Serial.println(). Switch 1 in the upper right corner was getting a high reading as soon as the code was uploaded to the Arduino, and so the LED was on. I thought it was a short in the delicate copper wire switches I made for each corner of the cigar box. I sliced the hot glue, poked around for a while, got really frustrated, and still got high readings. Of course, after working on it for an hour right before class, I found the resistor in series with the switch was in the POWER row on the breadboard rather than the GROUND. That solved it. Always good to check everything. Then, in the last 30 minutes I thought it would be a good idea to add a reset button and code it to make the LEDs and zoetrope go off. Bad. That made it so the whole thing didn’t work during my presentation. Unfortunate! Luckily I had this video (still disliking the Xacti cameras, especially when I borrow one without checking the settings… somehow the aspect ration got messed up when converting from MP4 to Quicktime in Final Cut. Ever-lasting issues with on-the-fly video documentation).
One thing that I discovered in the presentation was that there’s nothing on the cigar box or zoetrope that indicates how it works, or what to do with it. This was partially on purpose, but I didn’t anticipate the amount of confusion. Going with the idea of a combination lock (based on my old obsession with puzzle games like Myst or 7th Guest) I didn’t set out to make something that has an obvious interface, and that bit me in the ass. The zoetrope isn’t just for me, it’s for others too, so the combo lock part could have had a better indication for how to use it. But being from a performance/visual art background it feels a little weird for me to put a sign or an obvious indication for how to approach an object– a little ambiguity is what I’m after. I understand that the object didn’t have anything to indicate how it worked, which caused confusion when Yin tried to operate it. Maybe the next time the orientation of the object can be clearer. For example, the cigar box could be jutting out in front of the zoetrope instead of on top, or as someone suggested, put the zoetrope in a plexi box so it’s inaccessible. That would draw more attention to the cigar box. Someone also said to put handles on it, which indicate “hands on here.” In general, though, I’m more for the subtle approach. In agreement with Tom Igoe, I’m of the mind that an object should speak for itself and indications for use should be in the design. And the design should be inviting rather than off-putting so that people approach it without timidity. I don’t like signs that say “push the button” or have arrows that indicate where to touch. I like to approach an object I’ve never seen before and figure it out, like a puzzle. This is how I learned computers, and how I learned video shooting and editing, among others. During my time at ITP I would like to work on honing the skill of thoughtful design.
Go to this post to see the zoetrope working!