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Awwww cuuute: making crochet monsters class

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Feb 252018

So today was the Crochet Make-Along 101 class, aka let’s make cute monsters.  It’s part of a series of classes: once a month, we have a Make-Along class (March is how to make egg dioramas).

I sat knitting quietly in the corner (aka unpicking lots of rows and swearing gently under my breath) as about 15 people, all absolute beginners, giggled and wowed their way through making these:

They were all beginners.  It took me forever to learn how to crochet last month; this class learnt crochet stitches, used them (“magic circles!”) and created these monsters in less than 3 hours.  Well done class!

Favourite quotes: “Let’s pick up the poop one”, “He’s so cute”, “it went great”.

Here are all the NYC Resistor classes (soft and otherwise).  NYC Resistor also has a public slack group (contact [email protected] to be invited), including a knitting and crochet channel (#pkptransistor).


Fireflies: camera-based musical instruments

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Jan 192018

camera-based instrument in concert

We asked Adelle and Matt about their camera-based musical instruments. Here’s what they said.

What’s a camera-based musical instrument?  Basically, it’s two cameras facing upwards, about a foot below a player’s hands.  When they move their hand, it’s converted into different types of notes, sound effects and volumes, to create an expressive performance.

Three fireflies under construction

We made 3 of these.  The form was shaped like a musical soundwave: we prototyped it on the laser cutter, and eventually got it CNC milled.

This is part of the CES Intel Keynote pre-show performance. It was the opening of the show, to show off the instruments’ nuance and control before the concert gets too big. The middle instrument was piano sounds; the one on the right was synths and electronics; the one on the left was chords and atmosphere. The show opened dark: the performer, Kevin Doucette, used his hands to bring up the lights on the instrument as well as the synthesisers, then waved his hands to switch keys on a virtual keyboard.   Kevin played the Killers’ “Are we human or are we dancers?”.

In this instance, the performer is wearing gloves with sensors in them, and is using finger bends to trigger notes.  Yes, it looks like a theramin – but it’s way cooler and has blinkenlights.  But seriously, the LEDs are there to show the musician where they are on the instrument and the types of notes that they’re playing (ed: but they’re still cool).

We built this instrument to use the cameras (they’re good at doing fast hand tracking and depth); we added the LEDs because if you have an invisible instrument you don’t know where you are, and the LEDs give feedback to train your hand in space.

Firefly generations

Here’s the lasercut and CNC versions side by side: here, we’re doing LED tests.

(insides of the camera-based instrument)

Here are the insides: the frame, the LED controller and the acrylic housing around them.  The cameras are Realsense.  There are two programs (developed by Nerdmatics) running on linux in the back end, and TouchDesigner to control the lighting.

Firefly guts

Here are the guts of the instrument

Realsense cameras

Here are the cameras

Camera teardown

And the camera teardown

Come talk to us about this project!

What should I do at craft night if I don’t have a project

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Jan 182018

Thingsgiving and Widget

We asked Bonnie and Widget what to do at craft night if you don’t have a project.  Here’s their list…

You could do things that have nothing to do with projecting: sit on your own surfing the internet or playing farm games (Hi Mikael!), sit and talk to people, grab a book from the library, ask people about their projects, offer to help with projects, or offer to help clean (which is a great way to make us love you).

More traditional projects: you could spelunk in thingsgiving (our pool of electronics supplies and mysterious arcane objects, aka a treasure hunt) and see what you could make. You could learn to solder.  You could knit, or learn to knit (we have yarns and needles on hand), you could grab scraps of fabric and play around with a sewing machine.  You could paint your nails: we have lasercut nail art blocks, some of which are very geeky (ed: I love the one with circuits).  Or you could video DJ on our projector.

You could draw – we love artists. Or try out the 3D printers (or help get one of them working again).  Mill your own PCBs on the othermill.  Or you could bring things that you want to fix, and fix them.

Craft nights are Mondays and Thursdays – check out our Participate page.


NYC Resistor has a public Slack channel

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Jan 172018

(inside the non-interwebz space)

So NYC Resistor now has a public slack channel.  Why?  Because we have awesome chats with people who come into the space for open nights and classes (see participate if you want to join in), and we want to extend this to the interwebz.

We’re here: (*).  We’ve got the usual general and random (sometimes very random) channels, and new channels for knitting (pkpresistor), microcontrollers and more. Come join us!

(* if the slack link doesn’t work, contact [email protected] to get added)

SVG Jigsaw Generation in Clojure

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Jan 162018

[Cross-post from Bonnie Eisenman’s blog at  Bonnie is often found at the NYC Resistor craft nights]

I spent the last week learning Clojure and generating jigsaw puzzles as part of my one-week programming retreat at the Recurse Center.

Why jigsaw puzzles? I was motivated by two things: first, I wanted a good-sized language-learning project. Secondly, I was heavily inspired by the amazing, beautiful, intricate jigsaw puzzles produced by Nervous Systems and wanted to experiment with similar-ish generative methods. (I’m a sucker for generative things and hadn’t played with generative algorithms too much before.) If you want a crazy cool puzzle, seriously, go buy one from Nervous.

I think they turned out well!

A black-and-white outline of a jigsaw puzzle. There's a cat shaped piece in the top left. A hand holding the cat-shaped puzzle piece.

Because I have access to NYC Resistor’s laser cutter, the obvious thing to do was generate SVGs which I could then laser cut. If you haven’t worked with SVG before, it’s an XML-based format for describing vector graphics. It’s pretty easy to generate “by hand”.

Here is what an SVG looks like, if you open it up with a text editor:

 <svg width="100" height="100">

This produces a yellow circle, centered at (50, 50), with a radius of 40, and a four-pixel green outline. You can view an SVG file in any web browser, or edit it in an editor like Inkscape.

A yellow circle

See? Easy-peasy.

I started by generating a “classic” jigsaw puzzle shape, and figuring out how to tile it.

A single classic jigsaw puzzle piece. A grid of mostly-identical jigsaw puzzles

But I wanted something more interesting than just a grid of similar puzzle pieces! My next step was to use a Voronoi diagram to draw more irregularly-sized polygons around “seed” points. At first this created some amusing failures:

A grid of orange dots and some black lines between them. Something looks weird - the lines skew off in random directions!

Oops. This is what happens when you draw points at (x, x) instead of (x, y). Let’s fix those coordinates.

A grid of orange dots, surrounded by black lines representing voronoi edges. Now they actually are enclosed cells, like they're supposed to be.

If we replace those straight lines with puzzle-piece edges, we get something that starts to look like a more interesting puzzle. There are still obviously flaws to be ironed out here (e.g. edge overlap).

Similar to the previous image, polygons constructed by voronoi tiling then have their edges deformed using puzzle-piece-like squiggles. There is some overlap between lines so this would not make a good puzzle.

I wanted to make more novel puzzle piece shapes, though, so I turned to the SVG path type. You can draw Bézier curves in SVG pretty easily:

<path d="M 0 0 C 0 -100 50 -100 50 0 S 100 100 100 0"
      transform="translate(0 400)"/>

A blue curve that dips up then down.

OK, here’s what it looks like when we replace our puzzle piece shape with some random-ish curves:

More puzzle pieces, now with squiggles.

Add more curves and it gets even better!

Very squiggly pieces.

I also experimented with variations on how to place the seed points for my puzzle generation. Here’s one that’s based on a circular point distribution.

A puzzle arranged by concentric circles of squiggles.

Now I had some monstrously-irregular puzzle pieces to play with. Cool! I wanted to take it one step further by implementing whimsy pieces. In jigsaw jargon, a whimsy piece is a themed, recognizably-shaped puzzle piece. They might be butterflies or people or letters or…you name it!

I modified my puzzle-generator to clear space for a whimsy piece, first testing it with circular whimsy pieces.

A puzzle with two circular pieces placed inside it.

Then, using a kd-tree, I identified the whimsy piece’s nearest-neighbors and connected it back to the rest of the puzzle. Here’s a cat!

Same image as earlier - a puzzle with a cat-shaped piece in it.

And, finally, I took these files over to NYC Resistor and lasered them.

Laser cutting cutting puzzle pieces into white acrylicThe completed puzzle, with the cat whimsy removed.

It took a group of us about ninety minutes to solve the cat puzzle. Not bad for four days’ work!

Several people gathered around the puzzle, working on solving it.

All of the code is available on Github at bonniee/svg-puzzle-gen. (It’s my first Clojure program, so I’m sure there are plenty of non-idiomatic things happening there.)

Dependencies / thank-yous:

Testimonials from playtesters:

  • “This is awesome!”
  • “This is horrible!”
  • “This is amazing! And by amazing I mean terrible!”
  • “Why are all the puzzle pieces the same ???”
  • “Is this supposed to be evil?”
  • “How can I get one?”