Category Archives: Manual Fabrication

Pop-Up Window Display – Sock Monster


For our 7-week Pop-Up Windows class, we were tasked to form teams and design an interactive window display for a vacant building on the NYU campus. During this time, my team and I planned and installed a window exhibit in which a sock is lowered into a giant washing machine and is eaten by the monster that lives there. The project involved animation, puppetry, fabrication, set design, projection, and physical computing. We built the washing machine by stretching fabric over a wooden frame with an open back so that we could project onto its front. A button was placed on the outside of the window display, and when it was pushed, a stepper motor lowered the sock into the machine, and then animations played of the monster interacting with, and ultimately pouncing upon, the shadow of the sock. After that, the lights would dim on the display and the sock would retract to its original position, ready for the next user.



The Sock Monster display next to its neighbor The Internet.


An Arduino controlled the stepper, the DMX lighting, and the button control, and interfaced with MAX/MSP to randomize and play the different animations at the appropriate times. My role on the project was primarily creating the monster’s animations and doing the MAX/MSP programming. I also assisted with the construction of the frame and with the Arduino code as well.

Here’s a timelapse video showing an early stage in the construction process – our team comes in in the second half of the video to start work on the frame:



Here’s a selection of the puppets I’ve made over the course of this semester in PAPO:

This class was as much about performance (we put on two full shows) and building strange worlds and concepts as it was about constructing puppets. To that end, here’s a puppet show promo Valerie Chen and I made in which we pour a dirty fish tank into a toilet:


ITP @ Maker Faire – Ohm Wrestling

I was a part of ITP’s team to develop a large-scale project for Maker Faire 2013 in New York. A description from project manager Hannah Mishin: “Ohm Wrestling is a human powered, collaborative mechanical arm wrestling competition.

Two mechanical arms are setup in arm wrestling position for teams Blue and Orange. Each team has an array of energy harvesting devices behind them feeding into the corresponding arm (their motions being Shake, Push, Pedal, Pull, and Crank). The various devices show different methods of harvesting kinetic energy from human motion, energy that the participants use to power their team’s arm. The harder the teams work, the more power they produce – giving more force to their arm to win the competition. In addition, each device is equipped with a light to show each user their own contribution to their team’s winning the competition.

Variables that contribute to a team winning the competition include the amount of watts produced as well as the endurance of the team (how long they can last at peak energy production levels). A large meter reflects the teams’ status/energy produced for the competitors and the audience.”

A photo of the entire exhibit at Maker Faire. Photo by Natasha Dzurny.

A The entire exhibit assembled at Maker Faire. Photo by Natasha Dzurny.


This was an extremely intensive project that took a lot of time and energy from a large team of people. My role in the project was to create two machines with fairly high energy-generating capabilities. I decided to make a pair of large, 4′ x 4′ elevated platforms with two aluminum poles in a T-shaped configuration coming out of the middle. Users could grab the horizontal pipe as handles and push the handles in a circular motion around the platform. Underneath the floor was a very large wooden gear connected by scooter chain to a 40W motor with a small gearhead. The resulting large gear ratio allowed users to generate a fairly large amount of electricity compared to the other devices on display.

This was my first large-scale fabrication project, and most of it was non-digital to boot! It certainly was a challenge to work with gearing, mounting the pole mechanism securely, and creating a durable object that could stand up to the abuse of a great many children. Unfortunately, my computer and camera with most of my documentation of this build were stolen from me before I could back it up, but some pictures of the platforms being constructed/in use are below:

And, finally, here’s a shot of the awards that our exhibit won:


Exhibit photo taken by Natasha Dzurny.

Platform photos taken by Natasha Dzurny, Talya Stein, and Caroline Sinders.

Awards photo taken by Caroline Sinders.

Peanut Gallery

Peanut Gallery was my Live Image Processing and Performance project that also unintentionally became my Digital Fabrication final.

I knew that, for this final, I wanted to do something physical with video; I didn’t want to make a project that you simply observe and don’t actively participate in. At the time, I also was interested in trying to create my own inflatable figures, and figured that would serve well as an interesting video interface.

From these ideas, I came up with the concept for Peanut Gallery, which is an interactive TV movie watching experience in which the occasional obnoxious person pops up next to you on an inflatable tube to disrupt your concentration.  The different people that pop up can adjust your TV’s signal in different ways according to their own preferences. Some of these disruptions include adjusting the colors or the contrast, rewinding the movie, muting the movie, changing the channel, turning off the TV, or turning down the volume. To restore peace and order to your TV time, you must strike the inflatable with the interloper on it until it deflates.

An example of one of the disruptors – he turns off the television completely.

I started by fabricating the enclosure out of plywood on the CNC and sewing cylindrical shapes out of ripstop nylon. I hooked up IR rangefinder sensors inside each inflatable near the base so that I could sense when a figure was hit by a user, and I inflated each of the 2 cylinders with a reasonably powerful 12V boat fan. These were hooked up to an Arduino that interfaced with a Max/MSP patch that controlled both the projections mapped on the inflatable tubes and the video effects applied to the movie on a nearby television. I used a dual head video splitter to route video to both the television and the projector.

Unfortunately, not much media remains of this project because the computer I was storing it on was stolen (a painful lesson in backing up my content more frequently!), but some pictures and video remain. Here are two photos from the ITP spring show:

And here are some (very short) videos of people interacting with it:

My friend Alex really going at it.


These kids stayed to play for about 5 minutes – probably my favorite moment over the project’s lifespan.

The Embarrassed Book


The Embarrassed Book is a shy book that is reluctant to divulge its contents. It will sense when a user opens it via a flex sensor in the spine, and, as the user reads, it will give mild audio cues cluing the user into its discomfort. Eventually, it will get too embarrassed, shriek “Don’t look at me!”, and snap its own cover shut via a motor embedded in the back half of the book. It is important that the book resembles a normal book so that the user will not suspect something upon their first encounter. Ideally, the book will be a self-help book about asserting yourself, getting over shyness, or something of that nature.


I started prototyping by hollowing out the pages of the back half of a book to form an electronics compartment. Cutting by hand with a boxcutter was time-consuming and difficult. Pictures are below:

The yellow wire (a prototyping substitute for clear fishing line) was attached to the inside cover, and was threaded through the spine of the book into the secret compartment at the book’s end. Unfortunately, when I pulled the wire, the book cover would not close. This is because I needed some upward force to the pull, but because the compartment was by necessity lower than the inside cover, this seemed difficult to achieve. After spending quite awhile trying to think of a different way to close the book, I was unable to come up with one that wouldn’t unduly compromise the book’s normal appearance.

Iterating and Building

After considering my options, I decided to construct a lectern for the book that will house all the electronic components. This is different from my original vision of a self-contained book, but at least this way the book can remain unaltered and have a completely normal appearance. There will be a slot in the lectern through which a tiny arm can come up and push the book cover closed at the appropriate moment. The arm will be powered by a high-torque servomotor. Instead of using a flex sensor in the cover, I will now use a photocell embedded in the lectern to detect if the cover has been opened.

After constructing the base, I had to make the top plate of the lectern. I cut a slit in the top cover of plywood using the chopsaw, and made it fairly wide so that the servo’s plastic mount and arm would fit through it. I also drilled a small hole in which to embed a photocell, but made it smaller than the cell so that it would not sink through. I then lasercut a small pushing arm (about 5″ long) out of acrylic to attach to the servo, and mounted the servo to the underside of the plywood so that the arm could push upwards through the slot.

After everything was in place on the lectern top, it was functional but very ugly – the slit cut roughly, there were a few errant screwholes, and the plywood itself wasn’t in the best shape. To attempt to make it look a little nicer, I bought a large piece of self-adhesive foamboard, lasercut the slit and photocell holes in it, and attached it to the top of the plywood. Unfortunately, to fit in the laser cutter, I had to saw the foamboard in two which created fringing along the edges. In the end, though, it still looked marginally better than the plywood. I finished construction by affixing some leftover plywood strips to the lectern to serve as a book stand. Here’s a picture of it as it was presented in class:

The Embarrassed Book

Wiring and Code

The wiring for the book’s circuits was relatively simple, as there weren’t that many different elements in play. Since the servo required its own power supply with higher amperage than the Arduino could handle, I split the breadboard halves into a servo half and a photocell/mp3 trigger half. Here’s the diagram in Fritzing:

Book - Circuit

The program to control the book used a boolean logic system and timers to keep track of when the book’s cover was opened, when audio cues should play, and when the servo should close the book. The code is on Github and can be seen here.

Final Documentation

Build Issues

The biggest issues I had in this project were mainly related to the mp3 trigger. When I had first soldered header pins to it and hooked it up, I noticed that it would not maintain a constant power connection – jostling it even slightly would cause it to turn off. I figured that the header pins I had used must have been loose, so I attempted to desolder them. In the process, I managed to scorch the VCC pin and the trace leading to it.

After that, I had to hook up the trigger to external power, but I could not get it to work properly no matter what I did. I thought it might be a software serial issue, so I checked and rechecked my programming, but it wouldn’t initiate communication even with the simple example provided with the Arduino IDE. I thought that the trigger might be shorting out somewhere due to the damage I gave it, but I tested all the relevant pins with a multimeter and they all appeared to function normally. In the end, after a lot of stress and wasted time, it turned out that the firmware was simply not up to date. Lesson learned – try the simple solutions first!

Other than mp3 trigger troubles, I didn’t really bump into any major problems during construction and testing. I did manage to ruin an Arduino screwshield by following the wrong instructions online, but I’m not going to elaborate on that because it’s embarrassing.


Once I shifted focus from the electronics being entirely self-contained in the book to using a lectern, the project became much more basic – it’s just a photocell, a mounted motor, and an mp3 player, and computer speakers. Nevertheless, I did learn some important skills along the way. Laser cutting in particular was a pleasant surprise – it’s relatively simple to setup and immensely satisfying to execute. Software serial emulation seemed like a confusing concept at the time but ended up also being pretty simple, and it seems like a powerful tool for future projects. And after leaving a wake of destruction, my soldering skills have reached an acceptable level, and I got to use a few new shop tools to boot.

If I expand upon this idea later, it’d be neat to have different books have different personalities and reactions. Although I used a Processing instructional book for prototyping, my intent was to have the embarrassed book be a self-help book about learning to assert yourself. It’d be fun to have some other books around as well – maybe a prudish art book that censors itself once you reach a nude portrait, or an old antique book that suffers from senility. This could be done using RFID tags and a reader.