Making Things Interactive

May 1, 2008

Course Review

Filed under: Assignments,Final Writing Assignment,Thomas Hendrickson — tphendrickson @ 10:53 pm

Mostly everything in the course was incredibly new to me and constantly challenged me. At times it could be very frustrating, mostly the hardware aspects, but also a design process that was different than what I have been taught. Still, I took a lot from this course and felt a lot of satisfaction from what I was able to produce.

My main criticisms of how the course was taught were what I expressed in class today. The Lady Ada tutorials in the beginning of class were extremely helpful. Once things progressed from there, I found it very hard to follow other tutorials and trying to remember class examples concerning hardware. I think if there were proven, helpful sources that were readily available when homework was assigned. This could have saved me countless hours of searching for concrete examples and help.

Other than that, I felt like it was a very enjoyable course, and hope that I can apply what I learned in the future. Hopefully there will be opportunities to employ creative design in construction management.

How I think this might be useful in my future work?

Filed under: Assignments,Final Writing Assignment — tyang1 @ 5:04 pm

As a product designer/mechanical engineer, this class is extremely useful.   I am no longer limited in my designs to just mechanical.  Now I am capable of integrating electrical components in my designs where I see appropriate.  Before this class, anything with electronic component especially one with a microprocessor made it seem like a difficult project that I could not do.  I’ve learned that it just made things look a lot more complicated than it actually is.  Now when I see a product with electronics, I have a basis to judge how simple or complicated it was to build.  I also did not realize how small some of the sensors really are and learned the many different types of sensors out there, which was very interesting and helpful.  Now when I design a product, I know the types of sensors out there and can make recommendations on which ones to use.  Before, I would just say I want a sensor that does this and this….is there one?  In other words, Making Things Interactive taught me the foundation of electronics in which now I have the capability to build upon when I need to.  This showed me how I can integrate electronics into products to increase interactivity.  And since embedded technology is the future, it is most likely as a product designer that it would give me an edge over others who do not have this knowledge.  Also, when I work with electrical engineers I will understand their lingo and their problems. 

Class Review

Filed under: Final Writing Assignment,Joshua Smith — jssmith44 @ 12:48 pm

 This is hands down one of my top two favorite course taken in college (the other, another course taught by Mark).  I dream of working in an industry where I can apply the skills I have gained in this course, and I look forward to applying interactive techniques in every project I do going forward.

That said, I have a few suggestions for how I might tweak the course for upcoming semesters. First off, I would consider assigning more specific projects at the beginning of the semester, and then working up to more open ended at projects at the end. I believe sometimes students get lost in the creative aspect of the early projects, and don’t necessarily grasp the specific technical processes that are supposed to be emphasized each week. This ensures that by the time the creative projects come around, all skills are in place.

Additionally, I would spend a number of classes demonstrating how to implement some advanced tasks, without going into to much detail on how and why they work. Such advanced topics include wireless communication, serial communication, graphically displaying data, camera recognition, etc. The reason for this is that these skills all have the power to greatly increase the scope of a students project, yet are not all that difficult to implement in different ways, once a student is shown how. 

Beyond that, I think the structure of the course is extremely conducive to the students’ success and I believe this will be demonstrated at our final show. Thank you Mark and Jet for a great semester!

Class Review

Filed under: Assignments,Final Writing Assignment,Jesse Chorng — Jesse @ 12:47 pm

Coming into the class, I definitely didn’t know what to expect. As a third year Tepper/H&SS student, I have only taken a small number of classes that didn’t compose of 200 students, numerous teaching assistants, and weekly recitations. The closeness of this particular group was refreshing and it was great getting to know everyone and their interests. It’s been especially helpful to have students actually remember my project and give feedback as well. Besides the skills and general knowledge I gained, I think that the group aspect of the course was the most meaningful.

Making Things Interactive was the first time that I experienced a course full of students from different backgrounds ready to help one another. That combined with the expertise of both Mark and Jet created an environment that I think has great potential to produce interesting and innovative work. If I could make a suggestion, it’d be that there were more small group projects or workshops. Even with Mark and Jet taking time outside of class, promoting students to help one another even more would have a lot of benefits. Many of us had very rudimentary questions that I think sometimes may actually be better solved by another student who was on a similar level and communicated in a shared vocabulary. The one or two times that I was able to speak face-to-face with another student about my project in class really gave me fresh perspectives about how to solve some issues or improve the project overall.

That being said, missing the final demo is one of my biggest regrets this semester. I wanted to take this opportunity to apologize to everyone for missing out.  I should’ve known better and understood that, like us, everyone spent countless hours working on their final projects. I, and I think I can speak for Paul too, greatly appreciate everyone who’s asked us about The Boomboxes anyway and continue to help us solve things out. It took missing that demo to really understand how great it is to be a part of a group like this. 

In the end, I think that for me the class experience outweighed the content. Obviously interactive technology will become ubiquitous if it hasn’t already in a matter of years, so working with the actual tools will only help all of us in our career paths. But again, I basically expected as much when I chose to take the course. What I didn’t expect and what I would like to pass on to other students outside of CFA is that MTI has a unique make up of technical knowledge, logic, artistic expression, etc to really challenge students to think outside the box and work collaboratively.


“How I’d teach this class”

Filed under: Assignments,Christopher Bridgman,Final Writing Assignment — cbridgma @ 12:23 pm

I really thought the overall structure and how things were taught in this class were good, but I thought that there could be some overall improvements. I thought how the class started out was good, citing interactive examples, but I would suggest to take this further, maybe having more assignments or further investigations lasting throughout the semester to really get a grasp on interactivity. I feel that more overall discussions on what is interactive and what isn’t could possibly lead to richer final projects in the end.

All of the coding and circuit days within the class were really helpful. Sometimes the pace was a little fast for a new comer like me, but overall, I was able to pick up on most of it. I feel that hands on, in class workshops would have been helpful. Personally, I learn mostly from doing, not being lectured or reading, so I feel that, during the coding and circuits lectures, it could have been helpful for the students to be following along with Jet. I feel that physically putting together and coding simple programs would have been very helpful. This would help combat the tendency to understand things at the time of the lecture and conveniently forget what to do when its 2 am the night before an assignment is due.

I also feel that maybe having a series of optional assignments could be beneficial. Although I agree with having to do multiple assignments throughout the year, maybe doing ones that interest you would have a better effect. I think this could help a student become more proficient in one area, say LED’s or dc motors, than becoming average in an all around sense (which also has its benefits). A possible solution for this could be to have students meet a requirement for projects. For instance, you could prescribe out a set of 7 projects and students may only have to do 5 of them through the course of the semester and present them on a due date that you prescribe.

Overall, I felt that the course was taught well; I just feel that there were certain things that would have helped me. And if it could have helped me, I’m sure it could’ve helped other people as well. So in short, these would be my suggestions to make the course better. I would basically keep the scope and teaching of the course the same and add in these few suggestions.

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.


Filed under: Final Writing Assignment,Gaku Sato — ponkotsu @ 11:04 am

  First I’d like to state that overall I think this class was a raging success.  I learned more than I can put into words so my attempts to describe it may be futile but I will continue as it is the assignment.

  I came in knowing I wanted to make things but had no idea what those things would be.  After being given the first assignment I still didn’t know what that would be.  The fact that we could choose basically whatever we wanted to do at first seemed a bit unguided, but it got me thinking about what I would want to make and not just how I would make the thing I was told to make.  So given that I could apply my interests and not just my skills however limited they may be.  And with interest followed motivation, insight, and ultimately determination to actually reach the goal I had set for myself, of punching Godzilla in the face.  The results of this were projects I was personally vested in and not just for a grade or a page in my appalling portfolio.

  This kind of open-endedness and lack of rigid structure allowed, and at times enforced, me to learn through experience.  It was daunting at times because the scope of the projects was so unlimited, but that was good too, although more in retrospect than at the time.  It was a real challenge to be creative and resourceful, to be able to use anything at our disposal to make our ideas.  Not restricted to kits or anything, to me it was “here’s the world; put something in it using anything from it.”

  And before implementation and prototyping, concept generation was the other sub-boss in this wonderful dungeon.  For every single project I fought that beast and died many times.   If I were given a more specific direction in terms of the design or functionality of the project, I assume this may not have been the case as much or as often, but I don’t think I would have really gained anything from that.  Because I kept running into brick walls I feel like I got better not at running into brick walls but at seeing the path to avoid them, which I think is critical in an iterative design process.  I propose that I got better at it since I’m most happy with my final project.

  In terms of the class structure and material itself, I think it was great: the chosen hardware, the tutorials in the beginning, the pacing and scale of the projects, the slope of increasing complexity, the use of state diagrams, all the reference material, etc.  With the emphasis on implementation, it was at times frustrating to not really know how to make things interactive, but I think now it’s good that I took the time scratching my head to be able to come up with that stuff on my own, unlike programming or wiring that I can just look up.  Whining about that’s like asking my soccer coach not to yell at me because it makes me feel bad, not that I play soccer but if I did I think the coach would yell at me.  Anyways the point is education isn’t easy.  Stuff isn’t easy to learn.

  So I learned a lot doing what I wanted.  And if that isn’t a reason to be in school, what is?  The awesome meal plan?  Being broke or the lack of sleep?  No.  No and no.  For me it’s classes like this.


Filed under: Assignments,Final Writing Assignment,Paul Castellana — paulcastellana @ 10:05 am

What I have found most interesting about this class is simply learning of the prevalence and accessibility of (as I believe Sid put it) this “culture” surrounding microcontrollers and sensors and making things interactive in general. Prior to this class, I was under the impression that work in this field was limited to those formally taught as engineers. I’d never have imagined that it was as accessible as it is. Now, I find myself constantly coming across everyday technology and thinking, “wow, I know how to make that.” As an economist, I find this accessibility particularly interesting because of the implications it has for innovation, which in the long run is most responsible for the improvement of people’s everyday lives. As more and more people are exposed to this field the overall source of technological innovation becomes greater and greater, extending far beyond formal engineers and into the hands of anyone with a computer and access to the internet. Simultaneously, the knowledge pool relevant to this field will grow tremendously as people share their work on the internet, as will components at the public’s disposal to work with.

I think that there is a growing trend of DIY and personalization that this field compliments perfectly. As the two become more and more intertwined, the commercial viability of microcontrollers and sensors will bring them into a new realm. Perhaps this is a stretch, but imagine if a major consumer electronics company such as Apple supplied and supported this technology in even more accessible and easy-to-use forms.

In terms of how the class will affect my future work personally, it has definitely dramatically altered how I will approach any future projects. I labeled myself as a woodworker at the beginning of the semester, but now I can’t imagine a project being very interesting without incorporating what I’ve learned in this class.

April 30, 2008

Course Feedback

I enjoyed the concept of giving us weekly assignments to keep us occupied as well as learning. There is no better method of learning than by actually doing. Additionally, people in the class all came in with varying levels of knowledge, and for them to have to learn everything about electronics is unnecessary. With doing things by hand, the level of complexity is determined by one’s self.

I enjoyed the classes where jet would bring in and show us various links online of interesting projects. Firstly, it was good inspiration for our projects, and secondly for someone not coming from a purely artistic background, my exposure to this “culture” is very limited. It was very interesting to see what people are doing in this design space.

The idea of having a fairly complex midterm project forced us to push ourselves and understand how long building something would take. I learned from my midterm fiasco and began planning my final project much earlier.

The class blog is also a great place to look for ideas, assistance and just a simple, easy to use information interface for everyone. I’ve never used a blog for a class, but I think it is a great tool.

There was hardly anything I felt negatively about in the class. My comment is more of a suggestion to improve the class for others. I felt that diving straight into Arduino code was difficult for many people who did not have a programming background. I would suggest, the first few classes should be devoted to getting the class to think in steps, block diagrams, flowcharts etc. this way it is a little less daunting than having to decipher a foreign language.

Reflecting on the semester that was, I have really enjoyed this class for two major reasons. The freedom it gave me in pursuing projects that brought enjoyment to me and really giving me confidence in my ability to learn and undertake tasks associated with electronics and microcontrollers.

Final Writing Assignment: Class Critique

Filed under: Assignments,Cat Adams,Final Writing Assignment — catadams @ 10:54 pm

In attempting to come up with ways to improve the class, I have yet to decide if it should be changed or left the way it is. Foremost in my mind is the loose structure. We are taught some basic coding skills and given some fundamental assignments and then left to our own devices. While some would say this lack of structure provides no basis for learning, I believe this unique environment has allowed for maximum exploration and project development. Of course, this means the students must be motivated.

I disagree with anyone who says there should be a programming prerequisite to this course. The resources are available, be it the professors, other students or the internet. I found that between those three resources, I was able to solve the problems I encountered and learn new skills.

Still, there are a few things I would add. I would require students to find more outside projects to share with the class. This is not to say that I feel the projects we did were limited by any means, but an extra push to get us to find out more about the interactive world could only be a benefit.

I wish there had been other scheduled help time during the week. Near the end of the semester Mark invited us to come to the Code Lab a few times, but I would have liked more regular after-hours help sessions.

One of the most successful things in the course was the appearance of guest lecturers. I thoroughly enjoyed them, especially knowing they were right here at CMU. I hope they present again for subsequent classes.

As an addition to the course, it might be interesting to replace the mid-semester project with a group project, or create a second class for doing group projects. It might also be more feasible that way to use some of the technology available at CMU, such as laser cutters and 3d printers. I also believe the projects created could be even more interesting and amazing than the ones we saw this semester.

Overall the course was a very successful one. While, at its core, it should not be changed, a few additions could easily make it one of the most desirable and popular architecture electives.

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