Suicide Clock (2/10/2010)

In the Time class last week, we had a great discussion about the concept of creep. It is when a material changes over time as the result of stress. The stress could be moisture, gravity, tension, temperature change, etc.

Thinking about this concept, I saw a trend that creep tends to happen very slowly over time. And it tends to be a hindrance, rather than an addition to any design or construction. So I began thinking about what creep could look like at a very fast rate and how to build the concept of creep into a design, rather than try to work around it. Thus the suicide clock was born.

Suicide Clock - Version 1, wired to breadboard

Suicide Clock - Version 1, wired to breadboard

Suicide Clock Close-Up

Suicide Clock Close-Up

Suicide Clock Ultra-Close-Up of Circuit

Suicide Clock Ultra-Close-Up of Circuit

The concept of this clock is that it does not measure time in terms of seconds, minutes, hours, etc. Rather it measures the time between each one of it’s death/resuscitation cycles. When switched on, a circuit is connected which sends power to a solenoid. When the solenoid fires, it disconnects the circuit and causes the the machine’s electrical death. But once it dies, gravity forces the circuit to connect again, and the solenoid fires once more. This cycle happens over and over, keeping time.

Suicide Clock in Action from Noah King on Vimeo.

Suicide Clock Ultra Close Up from Noah King on Vimeo.

Generative Text Mashups with Python (2/04/2010)


If businesses fail to honor their responsibilities to society and don’t believe in corporate stewardship, who in our society will?
Therefore the sage goes about doing nothing, teaching no-talking.
What does a business enterprise owe its customers and consumers?
The sage stays behind, thus he is ahead.
What standards of conduct and performance should an enterprise set for its employees and agents?
Therefore the sage is guided by what he feels and not by what he sees.
What is the role of industry and government in setting business and professional standards?
Therefore the sage, traveling all day, does not lose sight of his baggage.

What is the optimal mix of values and rules to guide decision-making and action?
Therefore the sage takes care of all men.
What structures, systems, practices, and procedures will best implement the values and rules of the enterprise?
When the sage uses it, he becomes the ruler.
What outcomes should one reasonably expect from an enterprise’s decisions and activities, and how can an enterprise track, measure, and report them?
Therefore the sage avoids extremes, excesses, and complacency.
What can they reasonably expect?
Thus the sage knows without traveling.

Who speaks for the environment and future generations as stakeholders?
The sage has no mind of his own.
What is the role of business in sustainable development?
The sage is shy and humble – to the world he seems confusing.
Who can rightfully claim the power to govern an enterprise?
Therefore the sage says: I take no action and people are reformed.
How can the board of directors and management best protect the rights of shareholders, especially minority shareholders?
Therefore the sage is sharp but not cutting, pointed but not piercing, straightforward but not unrestrained, brilliant but not blinding.

How can the board of directors best guide management to meet the reasonable expectations of shareholders?
Not only will it do no harm to others, but the sage himself will also be protected.
If the employees want to bargain as a group, how should the RBE relate to its workers?
The sage does not attempt anything very big, and thus achieved greatness.
Should it bargain with the group of employees?
Because the sage always confronts difficulties, he never experiences them.
Are there circumstances under which such a contract should not be enforced?
The sage does not act, and so is not defeated.

What does it mean to be a responsible business?
Therefore the sage seeks freedom from desire.
Is this easy?
If the sage would guide the people, he must serve with humility.
What does it mean to be the owner or manager of a responsible business enterprise?
In this way when the sage rules, the people will not feel oppressed.
What challenges does your enterprise face in the years ahead?
Therefore the sage wears rough clothing and holds the jewel in his heart.


What is the source material?

The above passage is a “mash-up” of texts from two original sources:

Source 1 – Tao Te Ching, by Lao-Tzu
Source 2 – Business Ethics, by the US Secretary of Commerce

Both texts were combined into one giant String and were processed and outputted with a Python script:
Combined Source Text
Python Script Source Code


What does the script do?

The Python script is designed to search for two different keywords within a body of text. Any line of text from the source that contains one of the keywords is extracted and stored in a list of saved lines. Next the script outputs alternating lines from the saved lists. After four paired lines are outputted, one line is skipped to create stanzas of text. After five stanzas, the script stops.

This script could be used with any text input to search for any two distinct terms. For example, you could input the text of the newspaper and search for the words “peace” and “war”. The script would find any lines that contain either of those two terms, and then would construct a new text body where one line spoke of peace and the next line spoke of war, alternating back and forth. The output could be constrained to have line breaks after any number of lines and could continue for any desired length.

Digestive Clock (2/03/2010)

With the intent of designing a time keeping device that is based off of a human life cycle, the concept for a clock which mimics the body’s digestive process was conceived.


For most people, the timing of our meals and our trips to the bathroom are fairly regular and a framework for measuring the passing of time. Not only is this approach novel and unique, but it would likely encourage people to be more connected to their body, more aware of the food they are putting into themselves, and more aware of the extremely important cycle of flushing waste from our systems.

The initial concept emerged as a alternative type of hour glass. Rather than sand falling from one conical section to another, instead food and liquids would pass from virtual mouth to virtual anus. The details of the form were developed in a series of sketches in which the human digestive system was incrementally abstracted.


Combining inspiration from the steampunk aesthetic found in the below lamp by Frank Buchwald and the classical chemistry set shown below, a developed form was created.

Frank Buchwald_steamp punk lamp

chemistry set

Developed Concept Sketch

Developed Concept Sketch

To visualize the idea, Processing was employed to program an animation of particles moving through the clock and measuring the cycles of a day. The below sketch indicates the intended design of a simple processing test in which a single particle would move along a curving path.

Illustration of intended Processing sketch

Illustration of intended Processing sketch

Unfortunately, the needed curving movement was much more difficult to program than originally estimated due to the complex math involved to capture the curvature of the path. Several equations were investigated in Grapher, seen below, to begin to flesh out this program, but much more resource will be needed to implement the idea as an animation.

Grapher equations for curved paths

Grapher equations for curved paths

At this point in time, the concept has been visualized to communicate the form and styling of the piece.


It is still under debate whether a user would “feed” the clock throughout the day to match their own eating schedule, or whether the clock would recycle the liquid and solid elements, much like a fountain. The daily cycle would include several feedings, several liquid waste expulsions, and one single solid waste expulsion. The concept of sleep would be of importance as well, as it’s function within digestion is thought to be critical.

Consistent with the overarching message and spirited tone of the book, “Everybody Poops,” this clock is intended to be universally appealing and engaging to all human beings.

Thinking about Einstein’s theory of General Relativity in relationship to Time. (1/27/2010)

The earth is in constant motion as it orbits the sun and the sun orbits the galaxy, and so on and so on. Because I am moving with the earth, I cannot detect that it is moving. If I were in a vacuum or in a free-fall, any movement I were to create, such as dropping a ball, would be perceived in an identical fashion as if I were to create the same movement while on Earth, in my co-orbit with the Earth. The perception of movement is therefor relative to the speed you are traveling.

It is theorized that time slows down the faster than you move. If you were to move at the speed of light, time travel could be possible.

If you were to spin any object at a consistent number of revolutions per time frame, and measure its speed at any point, you would find that the speed at a point closer to the center of the object would be slower than a point further from the center. This makes perfect sense, as the circumference of a circle increases as the radius increases. Being further from the center implies a larger radius, which implies a larger circumference. With an identical number of revolutions, a larger circumference point must move faster to rotate at the same rate as a smaller circumference point.

Therefor, if an object is at a higher altitude on the earth, it is moving faster than an object at a lower altitude. Therefor, at higher altitudes a person or other time measuring instrument would be moving faster and time would slow down. The degree to which this is happening could be measured by determining the change in radius, which would be the distance from the Earth’s center to a point at sea level, plus or minus any altitude.

Sound Spiral Prototype – Chord Mode Added (12/09/2009)

Sound Spiral Prototype – Chord Mode from Noah King on Vimeo.

Now the sound spiral can be played with a magnetic wand. On the handle of the wand, the user can easily press and hold a button to enter “chord” mode. This plays the activated note plus two additional notes to make a 1 – 3 – 5 major chord.

Sound Spiral Prototype – Working Video (12/06/2009)

The sound spiral is working!

The recently assembled sound spiral.

The recently assembled sound spiral.

Project Overview – Anybody should be able to pick up an instrument and start playing. It shouldn’t take hundreds of hours of lessons before an instrument is learned and a player can enjoy the act of playing. Why not build a device that improves the experience of making music? The sound spiral does this by arranging notes in a way that makes playing harmonious chords and octaves simple to play; so simple that it happens spontaneously and accidentally.

Technology – The sound spiral is a hand-made prototype which uses an Arduino micro-controller to link an array of reed switches to a laptop computer. The laptop runs a music program that both plays the notes and visualizes the notes as they are played. A user holds magnets or magnetic wands to interact with the physical device and activate any of the 72 unique notes arranged in 3d spiral form.

What’s Next – An custom magnetic wand is still being made to make playing the sound spiral even easier. Multiple wands are available for two handed playing or for use by multiple players simultaneously. In addition, one wired wand will be made that connects to the base of the device and includes a push button on its handle. When pressed, the sound spiral enters “chord mode” and any single key press will active the sequence of notes in a 1 – 3 – 5 chord.

Sound Spiral Prototype – Working Video from Noah King on Vimeo.

Here is the sound spiral in action. After being assembled and tested, this is its first working video.

Sound Spiral Prototype – Construction (12/06/2009)

Building the sound spiral prototype was an arduous process, filled with lots of mistakes, insights, redos, and finally satisfaction. Here are a mix of photos documenting this process.

Shot of the working station.

Shot of the working station.

One single panel, with wired switches.

One single panel, with wired switches.

Three assembled panels.

Three assembled panels.

All 12 single panels next to one another.  Not yet interconnected.

All 12 single panels next to one another. Not yet interconnected.

The full spiral, interconnected, tested, and ready to go.

The full spiral, interconnected, tested, and ready to go.

Completing the spiral, one fold at a time.

Completing the spiral, one fold at a time.

Sound Spiral Prototype – Testing Reed Switches/Shift Registers (12/06/2009)

There is a lot of wiring to do in order to have 72 unique switches on my sound spiral. My plan is to daisy chain 12 shift registers together, each one capable of inputting/outputting 8 unique addresses. Two of these addresses are wasted, as I only need 6 per panel, but still this will be quite efficient.

An initial test was done with 16 push button switches and 2 shift registers to see if I could get the arduino code working. Below is an image of this initial testing rig.


A second test was done to determine the minimum spacing between two reed switches in order to avoid activate multiple switches at one time. Below is the test rig and a short video.


Sound Spiral Prototype – Reed Switch Test from Noah King on Vimeo.

A third test was done to make sure a single panel from the 12-panel design was functioning. This was the first time I had ever broken free from the solderless breadboard and moved towards the soldered perf board, so there was a steep learning curve on how to manage wires and work efficiently. This first panel took nearly 3 hours to make, while the subsequent panels took more like one hour. Below is a video of this panel test.

Sound Spiral Prototype – Single Panel Test from Noah King on Vimeo.

Sound Spiral – Physical Prototype Version2 (12/06/2009)

After doing some user testing with a simple cylinder, I uncovered that it would be very difficult to interact with my cylindrical sound spiral device. It is near impossible for our arms and hands to press buttons in a cylindrical orientation without lots of moving of either our body or the cylinder. This made my previous design in desperate need of some rethinking.

I have elected to move from physical push button switches to instead use magnetic reed switches. This would allow the user to hold a magnet or magnetic wand and easily interact with the sound spiral in a natural, comfortable way. With the hand held above the device, all 12 angles of buttons could easily be accessed by merely twisting the wrist.

I have entirely rebuilt my Solidworks CAD data to reflect this design change, and now have version 2 of my physical prototype design. Below is an image that illustrates this new design.


Sound Spiral – Physical Prototype Version1 (11/25/2009)




I have been working away on the design of my sound spiral. This physical device will connect through USB to a laptop running Processing or MaxMSP. The physical device is a media controller, and all sounds and color visualization will be made through the connected computer’s screen and sound system.

Currently the design is modular, made of single-octave spiraling rings that stack together. The prototype will have 6 octaves, each with 12 push button “keys”. Each ring has its own perf board inside, making it much easier to wire the buttons to each multiplexer, and then to the arduino stamp and powersupply on the base layer.

The cover has an additional 12 buttons and 24 LEDS that illuminate to build custom chordal relationships. The red LEDs indicate 1 -3 -5 -7 -9 -11 -13 tones, and the orange LEDs are all the in between notes, used less frequently in chords. Pressing the button will cycle through LED 1, LED 2, LED 1+2, OFF. After configuring the chord, then a single key press will play all the notes in that chord.

I’m hoping to find out, through user testing, whether this degree of customization is worth it or not, as it would be much simpler to use if there were only major and minor chords preconfigured. This version of the design is really being built for just that: user testing. Once there is a physical device to play, I hope to get a huge amount of feedback on the design and interface.

Later today I should get my parts in the mail, so I look forward to testing the serial communication between the Arduino and Processing, wiring 72+ physical buttons, resolving power issues, double checking fitment of parts, and finally sending out for the 3D CAD data to be rapid prototyped. Stay tuned for additional updates.