Making Things Interactive

May 1, 2008

Tell us what you really think.

Filed under: Final Writing Assignment,Lea — tovelet @ 11:34 am

The class this semester has certainly helped me with the “how” questions of actuators and microcontrollers. I had scraps of knowledge about the electronics and code involved, but was lacking a formal synthesis. The lectures and the Lady Ada tutorials were therefore very helpful, even if at times they verged on obviousness, because it was important that I actually had that baseline understanding. The assignment dates and overall temporal structure of the class were as helpful as they could be, given the hectic scheduling of most CMU students.

As for the “why” questions, the class has helped me answer some, but not all, of them. There were some projects that I believe gave solid responses to the open-ended project question, either in presenting a clever solution to a real-life problem (notably, Gee’s fireflies project and Gaku’s Bathroom Gauntlet) or in making steps toward rational visualisations of the future (Nadeem’s book project).

I still believe that my own projects will not focus on “technology” (in this case, embedded circuits) as an ends in itself, but just another means– albeit an increasingly prevalent one. The ability to write simple code is as useful as a basic knowledge of woodworking or perspective drawing; the concept of state machines is a fundamental mental model akin to the structure of an essay. These things should be taught at an even younger age (and it’s exciting that there are indeed people striving to make this happen); the truly revolutionary ideas will come from people that have processed and absorbed these techniques, and can draw on them as readily as writing a sentence in their native language.

Paul wrote below that he “can’t imagine a project being very interesting without incorporating what [he] learned in this class,” but that is not true for me. There is still plenty of merit in a project that gains dynamism through more traditional means, such as a cathedral with stained-glass windows designed to catch the light perfectly for a precise moment on a particular day, or a skirt made with sheer fabric that catches a subtle breeze and swirls when the wearer walks. The techniques presented in this class, along with the precedents we looked at in class and online, are an expansion of this repertoire.

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