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Category Archives: Interaction Design

With the year 2013 now a closed chapter, here’s a short reflection….


The highlight of the year, without any doubt, was the performance of Amhrán na mBeach (Song of the Bees) at Glenstal Abbey. It was the happiest moment. All events leading up to that moment were also very enjoyable, and sometimes scary. It wasn’t until the day before the performance I felt confident that the eminent monks would actually perform the choral part of the score (many thanks to Wolodymyr Smishkewych for making it happen). The rehearsal with the ICO in their studio was pure magic. Something happens when a score is moved from my imagination, through the computers, to the paper, to the musicians, and they play it. The Softday Apiary Ensemble also turned out to be a real buzz, and I hope the friendships that developed over all our workshops will remain and continue to develop in some future project. Jenny Kravis readings filled the space between the sonic elements, like beeswax between cells in a honeycomb – it made all the parts stick together in its final structure. It was also amazing to work with our friends Dave Carugo, Lette and Keith Moloney and Bob Corrigan who formed a professional audio, video and photograph team documenting the performance.


The feeling that washed over me at the end of the performance made me think that THIS I have to remember and THIS is the way I would like to feel more often.


When it eventually got started, the Irish summer was beautiful. I reworked my herbal garden and we had several pleasant evenings with BBQ and watching the sun set in the west.


Then, we went for a holiday break in Sweden to visit friends and relatives, which turned into a medical and emotional frenzy with elderly parents in different hospitals.


Moving the Interaction Design Centre, from Engineering Research Building back to the Department of Computer Science and Information Systems. This was not an easy move, as we didn’t want to move.

Engineering Research Building

Engineering Research Building

CSIS building

CSIS building

We lost some high-quality space and we gained some. We’re building a new design lab in the CSIS building. In the CSIS building, the heating is insufficient during winter months. My office gets to a maximum of 15 degrees C with its only radiator turned on. I know, from having spent years in the building before, that in summer it will be too hot. Apart from the lack of climate control, corridors are very narrow and we are more isolated from our research students, not by distance but by the structure of the space.


The recession continues. From my perspective the cost of living in Ireland is increasingly expensive while net salaries continue to fall. The politicians and their mates are getting top-up payments, while the rest of us are getting cuts. The only way to survive the political Fine Gael + Labour propaganda is through positive disengagement.

protest(from Softday‘s Silent Protest)

On trains between Copenhagen Airport and the Swedish west-coast, you can observe all kinds of interesting human behaviour when people try to walk through the train. There are automatic sliding doors every now and then. Most people are familiar with the typical automatic door in for example shopping centres, that open automatically when you get within a certain range of the door. This is not the case on these trains.

sticker on train door

On the sliding glass doors, there is a small sticker with an icon, a hand and two arrows. I saw a number of people assuming that the sticker was a touch control, pressing their fingers against the sticker, hoping the doors would open, but this has no effect. Others make strange “Star Trek”-like salute gestures, but the doors remain closed. Some people look around and the sensor is located above the door. If a tall person approaches the door, it will open automatically. For shorter people, e.g. women and kids, the only gesture that will open the doors is by waving a hand above their head.

Proximity sensor
If Öresundståg were to change this, to improve the usability, do you think they would change the sticker (and if so what should it look like), or change the proximity sensor?

Now in the second year, we’re building the design@UL exhibition in Limerick City with a selection of our students’ design work. It’s quite an interesting experience when faculty from computer science, architecture, civil engineering, aeronautical engineering, etc., come together and talk about how to design and exhibition. You would imagine that we’re all singing form the same hymn sheet, but as design can be so many different things, the creative cacophony can be almost overwhelming at times. I think it’s an excellent interdisciplinary exercise and as we learn to work together, new ideas emerge and are negotiated.
This year, the exhibition opens on Tuesday evening, the 28th of May at 18:00 and runs until Saturday the 1st of June. Admission is free, so please call in and have a look, talk to the students and enjoy the creativity.


For Science Day 2012 at UL, we decided to build a fun controller and sound synthesis demo. Over the past few years, we’ve had a number of postgraduate students exploring for example Galvanic Skin Response for artistic expression. It was slightly surprising to see the hype when Makey Makey launched earlier in 2012. I was puzzled that they didn’t seem to be aware of the work by for example Erkki Kurenniemi and Ralph Lundsten in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Kurenniemi’s DIMI-S is Lundsten’s Love Machine.
We were inspired by the original work by Kurenniemi and Lundsten and we designed and built a 16 channel analogue resistance multiplexer. The circuit uses four inexpensive CMOS chips (CD4051, 8-channel mux) and a couple of transistors (connected as a current mirror), connected to an Arduino and then to a laptop running Pure Data (PD). The Arduino controls what two pins that are active at any given time, rapidly scanning the whole matrix of possibilities (there are 240 possible connections, with 16 channels).
LoveMachine++ interface circuit
We then designed a sound synthesis system in Pure Data (PD) with both a spectral synthesizer, taking the parameters from the resistance matrix and doing a reverse Fast Fourier Transform, and a sequencer, where the mixing and filtering is controlled by the resistance matrix.
LoveMachine++ demo setup
We had to explain to the first few students that they had to touch at least two fruits or vegetables to get sound. After about an hour, word was spreading and experimentation flourished, with several students holding on to vegetables, shaking hands, touching foreheads, etc.

A short video clip from today’s demo.

Schematic diagram

LoveMachine++ interface Schematic Diagram

Bill of Materials

Name Value/Type Description Quantity
D1-3 1N4148 Diode 3
IC1-4 CD4051 8 channel analogue multiplexer 4
Q1-2 BC556 PNP transistor 2
R1 560K Resistor, 0.25W 1
R2 220K Resistor, 0.25W 1
R3 47K Resistor, 0.25W 1

Source code

Arduino code

PD patch

[note: I cobbled together a simple communication protocol in the code and patch above. Basically, an ASCII-based fixed packet length with a terminator character, which makes it easy to see and debug]


Some background on Kurenniemi’s work:

Mikko Ojanen, Jari Suominen, Titti Kallio, Kai Lassfolk (2007) Design Principles and User Interfaces of Erkki Kurenniemi’s Electronic Musical Instruments of the 1960’s and 1970’s, Proceedings of the International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression, pp. 88–93.