About my blog

I am multithreaded, and sometimes the threads get tangled.

tagline


a Studiolab production.

FIY

food design course at TUDelft
I blog in Italian
I have a LinkedIn profile
my lab is Studiolab!
I love Jasper van Kuijk's product usability weblog

the wind I am enjoying


Disclaimer

De meningen ge-uit door medewerkers en studenten van de TU Delft en de commentaren die zijn gegeven reflecteren niet perse de mening(en) van de TU Delft. De TU Delft is dan ook niet verantwoordelijk voor de inhoud van hetgeen op de TU Delft weblogs zichtbaar is. Wel vindt de TU Delft het belangrijk - en ook waarde toevoegend - dat medewerkers en studenten op deze, door de TU Delft gefaciliteerde, omgeving hun mening kunnen geven.

Posts in category Technical

my Arduinia on GitHub

GitHub has made it easy and even faintly entertaining to manage code. I am not so convinced by their octopus cat logo, but everything else is quite nice. I have two little projects you might want to use up there:

AFRO: Arduino FRObber. A bit like Firmata, only easier to understand. You load a program on your Arduino and then shoot serial commands at it: turn on that pin! what is the value of that sensor? Call that procedure 10 times! This sort of things. Comes with Python bindings. Afro aims at making simple installations really fast.

Ardulink: an optical data link for Arduino. With one LED you can get data out of your Arduino. With one light sensor you can receive it. The main advantage of this code is size and simplicity. If you choose to #undef RECEIVE symbol and #define only SEND, the code compiles to less than one kilobyte and runs also on an ATtiny 45. It uses one CHANGE interrupt to avoid polling. Currently the speed is pathetic, because I am not using the microsecond resolution timer. But for sending little squirts of data it is quite OK.

Three pointers on programming languages, designers, prototypes

Related to the great work that Robert Paauwe is doing, here are three tasty links from Aadjan:

 

 

  Super cool video from Bret Victor talking about his approach to programming and to life: http://www.i-programmer.info/news/112-theory/3900-a-better-way-to-program.html (and direct Vimeo link). I would say that he is slightly cheating, because he is demonstrating code that runs, draws a picture and then terminates. It would be harder to do this sort of tricks with code that has complex internal dependencies, carries a lot of state around, has a long runtime and does not produce understandable visual output. Also, he is a boring speaker, but the ideas are great. 
 

Interview with Jonathan Ive about the value of prototyping ideas.
 

Why only designers can create new programming languages: http://tagide.com/blog/2012/03/research-in-programming-languages/ – blog post from someone who knows about programming language. Interesting? Irritating?

If you can imagine that, I had to format this with an HTML table. Such are the joys.

Arduino pointers and WoOz

 

 

 

Just a few pointers to useful posts and pages about Arduino activities that my students could find interesting:

  • Arduino and the I2C bus, an easy tutorial from Littlebirdelectronics. Make your Arduino talk with other Arduinos and thousands of electronic parts over this simple two-wires bus. Slower than serial but much lighter.
  • First steps into Arduino, from an experimenter called Will Eatherton
  • Reading a gas meter with Arduino, interesting and adaptable to reading other types of meters (electricity, for example) or measuring the movement of moving parts in genera. Uses also the Ethernet shield.
  • Building an Arduino based laser game, from the IBM developerWorks. Superbly detailed and clear, explains how to transmit small pieces of data over a laser beam (and it would also work with visible light).
  • Using interrupts to measure time, to go beyond what pulseIn can do for you (this is an Arduino board discussion thread, read and use with caution)

In other news, we got a fine example of the Wizard of Oz technique at the Interactive Environments minor:

The MindHive team was busy controlling two interactive blocks with RGB leds. Two team members manipulate three sliders each, and another team mate does the talking and demoing. Click on the picture to get it in full resolution (3.5 Megs). Read all about it in their blog post.

Pointers for photography

Today I gave a little presentation inside the Computer Visualization class, run by Daniel Saakes. During the talk, I mentioned a few websites with very useful material. Here they are:

  • photo.net is my standard pointer for introduction to photo technique. A very large site with a vibrant community and many useful tutorials
  • Computational Camera and Photography MIT Opencourseware site centered on the near future of digital photography. Unusual techniques to make you rethink photography.
  • Digital Photography from the School of Computer Science at Stanford. Includes applets to simulate photographic phenomena like depth of field. Very good in depth explanations of colorspaces and the gamma function.
  • dpreview.com Technical reviews of photographic equipment. If you want to see diffraction demonstrated, take a look at any of their lens tests and watch what happens when you stop down the lens.
  • Strobist will teach you how to use strobes and, more generally, how to think about light in photography. If you are thinking "I hate strobes", this is the site for you. If you love existing light photography, this is the site for you. 

Why not include the two extreme examples I showed today? So, extreme depth of field and extremely shallow depth of field:

 

This was shot in Overschie this morning with a 10.5mm lens stopped down at f5.6, which guarantees that pretty much everything you see is in focus.

this, on the other hand, was shot with a 100mm lens at f2.8 from about one meter of distance. The Depth of Field applet you can find on the Stanford site lets you compute that the DOF was just a few centimeters. You can tell by the fact that the eyebrows are sharp but the eyeglasses frames are not, nor is the ear.

If you click on the photographs, you can download a higher-but-still-reasonable resolution version where the DOF difference will be even more apparent. Many thanks to super-photographer Bruko for reminding me of Strobist.

Petri Nets, some tools

Petri nets are a graphical formal tool to model systems that can be described in terms of activity steps: like legal procedures, industrial processes, recipes and algorithms. State machines and UML can be described as subsets of Petri nets. Industrial designers could use them, because they are general enough for most problems and they provide a blueprint for programming. A good place to start for general information is the Petri Nets World page.

 

a generic example of a Petri net

This silly net says that, if you are a human being with a BA, you can enroll in a master program: then you can either go through the graduation process and graduate, or change your mind and become a rock star. Your activities are also fed into a big database somewhere. The model can be made fancier by annotating it with time, for example: so that you can have estimates of how long it takes to graduate etc. or whether it is possible to get stuck somewhere in the process. By the way, this network is also a state machine, something that makes computer scientists very happy.

 

I recenty looked up a few tools for working with Petri nets. I walked my way down this convenient list page from Petri Nets World, ignored things that looked dead, costed money or would not run on Windows. I was interested in tools that can also deal with time. Here are my notes:

Renew is a big Java application that seems able to do many things. I really don’t like Java, so I installed it with great reluctance. It worked nicely, but then it steadily refused to save anything. This is a bit of a drawback, so I uninstalled it and cursed Java for the hundredth time.

Snakes is a super cool Python library for doing Petri Nets. I was very tempted to start playing with it, just because I like programming in Python, but I decided to be a responsible person for once. It looks very Linuxy.

Tina is the TIme Petri Nets Analyzer. A collection of tools for editing and analyzing and doing very fancy things with Petri Nets. Looks very tasty, maybe will play with it in the future.  Explicitly available for Mac, Win and Linux.

Yasper is an entry level tool for playing around with Nets. It is very easy to use and it comes with a manual that also introduces some general modelling concepts. And it is a Dutch product, written in dot net at the TU Eindhoven. I am using it currently, mostly because it is easy to install and kind of friendly.

CPNTools looked very promising, but they want you to obtain a license. The license is free, but I will put up with the tedium only if other tools are not enough.

StpnPlay also looked very promising, but their project page appears to work only with Internet Explorer. Gamestopper for this guy.

Snoopy is also rather friendly and easy to install. I am playing with it currently, and it looks more general that Yasper but still reasonable.

(added on July 21st 2011WoPeD is visually pleasing, and it seems oriented to colored Petri Nets with fancy extensions like AND transitions.

(added on July 21st 2011) There are also tools that work as plugins of Eclipse. Eclipse is a way of life, a religion, and I am not sure I want to inflict it on myself or my students. Of course writing an Eclipse plugin makes perfect sense to computer scientists, becaus they are already running Eclipse anyway.

After looking at the big list of Petri Nets software I have come to a realization: whenever a computer scientist does not know what to do, he gets together
with a gang of other bigger and smaller computer scientists, some with
PhDs and some not. First they agree on which of the thousand flavors of Petri Nets they like best; then they write a Petri Net tool, or
at least a Petri Net library that understands some subset of PNML. Then they refactor it, add colors, add
extensions, add importers, add exporters and generally speaking add a
kazillion other things to the original beautiful idea. Then they get
bored or finish their PhD, and do something else that nobody has ever
done before, like a raytracing engine or a compiler that can compile all
the compilers that cannot compile themselves. 

Hacking the bread machine – 1

 I realize that, if I wait until all is done before writing it up here, it will simply never happen. Also, the motto of this blog means "a little and frequently" in my hometown dialect: I should heed my own advice.

 I have more or less succeeded in subverting the bread machine for my purposes, and I have added temperature control via a PID controller running on an Arduino (I am using the arduino-pid-library). It works, after a fashion, although

  • I have not calibrated the NTCR (aka thermistor), so I have no clue about real temperature, only very arbitrary units: room temperature is around 90.
  • this thing is sluggish. It takes several seconds before you see any effect from the 500W heater.
  • the bread machine has a built-in thermal safety that will melt and cut the power when the vessel overheats. But I have no clue at what temperature this happens, so I feel very nervous whenever it gets a bit hot.

The idea behind this activity is that, ultimately, a bread machine is just a pot surround by a vessel with a heater, plus a stirring device. If you ignore the bread aspect of it, you could do many things with such hardware, ranging from pasta sauces to desserts to rice. But, all the bread machines I know of are not programmable. They have a number of pre-programmed sequences of stirring, heating and cooling, and you are limited to them – I became acutely aware of the issue when playing around with sourdough bread and very long raising times.

Just for fun, here is the temperature graph with the current parameters:

  Tick marks on the X axis are at 250 seconds divisions, and the setpoint is at 400. The Y axis is, as I said before, in arbitrary units where 400 is probably around 100 degrees and 1000 is even brandweer bellen (call the fire brigade, please). The PID controller is running with a 1 second duty cycle, and the parameters are

P = 10.0

I = 0

D = 2.0

 In the graph above you can see a little overshoot at the beginning, moderate oscillations, a sag at the 4th division when I opened the machine and then recovery. The noise on the pink line is due to sensor noise being amplified by the derivative term – I think. Since I am just driving a heater, the noise is not a reason for concern. You can also see that the temperature never quite reaches the setpoint: this is as expected, because the integral term is zero. I tried to give the integral term a non-zero value, but this gave me big scary overshoots, even with ridiculously small values (I went as low as 10-17 before I gave up.) This is relatively easy to fix by adding a little bias to the setpoint. Since everybody likes graphs, I am including another one with a longer run. Here I am changing the setpoint, as indicated by the orange line.

 

this is a graph, it must be science!

 

  Tick marks are again at 250 second intervals. The orange line is the setpoint. Somewhere around the 10th division I had to go to teach in Food, Design and Culture (that I keep mixing up with a journal called Food, Culture and Society). Since I don’t trust my hardware or software at all, I cut the power to the heater, but did not stop the PID, who tried desperately to do its job without any control authority. The temperature decays beautifully along what looks very much like an exponential. I am not publishing any pictures of the hardware because it both very simple and very messy. Just wires and loose components, not even a breadboard.

(I realize that any Industrial Design Engineering bachelor student can build and tune PID controllers in his sleep, but I did not study at TUDelft. Heck, I did not even know about the very existence of control theory until five years ago).

 The temperature "program" here was just a switch statement inside an Arduino program, but in the future I will make it much more generic.

 The next steps are: building a programming interface, so I can load my own sequences of activities and doing a workshop with food-obsessed people here in Delft. I trust that they will provide me with brilliant ideas on what to do with my toy. Publish the design (HW/SW) so that other people can play with it. And write a brilliant paper about it all. Maybe I will claim that it is action research, who knows.

 In other news, ITD is going strong, and so are UTAR and Food, Design and Culture. Two papers are making their way through the review process, I am trying to get funding, together with Aadjan et al., for a startup  (this sounds unnecessarily grand), there may be an exhibition project happening in Qatar this summer and of course my lovely and wonderful graduations students are progressing. Some of them will even graduate soon! There is indeed light at the end of the tunnel. I am also wondering if Petri Nets are an appropriate representation for recipes – this makes it difficult for me not to start playing around with a wonderful Python library for doing all things Petri. It is called, appropriately Snakes.

 In other other news, I am currently in Romania on vacation. Will be back in Delft next week, right on time for the flavorful, exciting ending of Food, Design and Culture. I will be bringing back a typical Romanian product called ţuica: it is colorless, it smells good and it can knock you under the table with no effort at all.

 

August brings five lazy links to interesting stuff.

In August everybody is lazy, so I will just publish three five links

  1. A fantastic periodic table of information visualization. Techniques organized to show their relationship, with examples for each one.
  2. You cannot innovate like Apple. Apple is the canonical example of all that is good in the design of interactive things. But it looks like their process is not something you can grab and apply somewhere else. Not unless you manage to clone Steve Jobs and a few other key people. More about it here.
  3. Ivan Krstić‘s blog. Cool guy, worked at OLPC, now is in Apple.
  4. Just so you don’t forget how nerdy I can be, playing around with ChucK looks damn good right now. Regardless of the fact that I have managed to pack my schedule full from now to Christmas. Anyway, it is a Strongly-timed, Concurrent, and On-the-fly Audio Programming Language, and if that does not get you excited, I don’t know what will
  5. Oh, and I was reminded -by the resourceful Saakes- of Hypershot, "the first digital camera for your data", very fancy rendering, apparently not too difficult to use. Maybe I will give it a spin inside Computer Visualization.

There you go. Enjoy your summer sun, if you are in the right latitudes and you happen to actually like unfiltered solar radiation. I am also including a gratuitous picture of happy users

 

this is what happens at TUDelft industrial design when there is a fire alarm: people rescue their laptops, stream out of the building, hook up to the wireless and continue work. You could argue that we don’t really need a building, just a lot of grassy knolls with some power sockets here and there. 

 

 

making the FoxBoard talk to Arduino

Suppose you have a sketch loaded on your Arduino, and suppose that you need some serial communication. You try it out on your Windows box, and all is happiness. Then you attach the cable to the Foxboard (a single board computer running Linux) and nothing works anymore. Why?

Because apparently the default settings of the serial port are wrong for your purposes.

To set the serial port your way, you have to use the wonderful stty command, something that our hairy ancestors used to do when setting up terminals in the Lascaux caves. First of all, run the dmesg command. You will see lots of stuff, and at the end you should see something like this


crisv10_irq dbg: ctr_status_irq, controller status: host_mode started
crisv10_irq dbg: ctr_status_irq, controller status: host_mode started running
usb 1-1: new full speed USB device using hc-crisv10 and address 4
ftdi_sio 1-1:1.0: FTDI USB Serial Device converter detected
drivers/usb/serial/ftdi_sio.c: Detected FT232BM
usb 1-1: FTDI USB Serial Device converter now attached to ttyUSB0

This means that the USB serial converter in the Arduino is recognized, the driver has been loaded, and the Arduino is mapped by ttyUSB0. I have marked in bold the most important part. It mans that the Arduino’s serial port is now available as the /dev/ttyUSB0 file, for reading and writing.

To see the current configuration of the port type stty -F /dev/ttyUSB0

[root@vdhelm1 /dev]118# stty -F /dev/ttyUSB0
speed 9600 baud;
-brkint -imaxbel

This is a quite typical configuration, good for controlling your UNIX minicomputer from a VT100 terminal, and if we were on a time machine to Dr. Who land it would be probably the perfect configuration. For our purposes, though, we need to dumb it down a bit.

I have noticed that to make things work "like on Windows" I have to kill the local echo. This is done with the command

stty -F /dev/ttyUSB0 -echo

and then things work pretty nicely. Send stuff to the Arduino like this:

echo "whatever" >/dev/ttyUSB0

and see on screen what the Arduino is sending back like this:

cat </dev/ttyUSB0

extra info: if things work strangely, or don’t work at all, one reason can be that your application on the Foxboard side is sending out the right stuff, but the terminal is not sending it to the Arduino because it is in "canonical" mode. Canonical mode means, among other things, that information is sent one line at a time – which really made a lot of sense for controlling printers. But it may be that you need your data to reach the Arduino as soon as you send it. Additionally, binary protocol data cannot really be divided in "lines". What you want is a device that will just shoot stuff out on the wire as soon as you send it. To get just that, you need to put your device in "raw" mode.

[root@vdhelm1 /mnt/flash/root]116# stty raw -F /dev/ttyUSB0
[root@vdhelm1 /mnt/flash/root]116# stty -F /dev/ttyUSB0
speed 9600 baud;
min = 1; time = 0;
-brkint -icrnl -imaxbel
-opost
-isig -icanon

the parts in bold are the ones you type. Without delving too much in the output of stty, notice that "raw" is actually a macro for a bunch of configuration options. The "-" means NOT, so these are all character processing options having been switched off. If you want to find out why this whole wacky tty mess exists, and why it makes a sort of sense (historical, at any rate), there is a great page about The TTY demistified.

caveat: if, by mistake, you set your current tty to raw mode, things will become very funny indeed. Time to get another tty 🙂

Philips LivingColors, an informal product review

 

 

 

I live in a small, crowded house with singularly bad lighting. I also like having many small light sources. And I am a sucker for design. All these elements made me a natural victim of the Philips LivingColors

lamps. Plus, it allows me to express my unending admiration for the G3 Cube design without actually trying to use one of the things. I would like to insert deep links into the Philips product microsite, but this will not happen because the site is a screaming mass of multimedia Flash about which the least is said the better – other than I don’t like pages that mess up the CTRL-page Up combination in Firefox. I like tabs, sites should not try to dictate how I flip tabs.

At any rate, I saw this lamp in the house of Pieter Jan and I decided that I wanted one. Before I get into the rest of my rant, I will state two basic truths: it looks good, in an unobtrusive glass-vase sort of way, and it does make a pleasant light. Keep this in mind, lest we lose sight of the forest for the trees.

The lamp is being slightly marked down at Media Markt (elsewhere known as Media World), and I so I bought it more or less on impulse. At Media Markt, it was huddling in a not very exciting part of the shop, together with nameless extension cords and really big packages of batteries – right before the checkout. As a matter of fact, I found it more or less by chance, after wandering through all the store, which probably reflects a sort of category difficulty that this product will encounter: is it a lamp? is it a light-bulb? is it something associated with entertainment? Clearly none of the three. More about the positioning at the end of the post.

The product that defines you

Since the LivingColors lamp does not have a clearly defined function (too bright and wide-beamed for a reading light, too weak for a generic room light, too weak for a task light), Philips would like you to believe that this is a product associated with a lifestyle. In other words, you are going to buy it because of who you are not because of what you want to do. Or rather, because of who you imagine you are instead of what you imagine that you want to do, I mean, it is all a game of representation and identity: the product affirms your identity before yourself and everybody else. Now we could rant on and on in a postmodern, slightly cynical and blasè way, but let’s proceed then to the question:

who are you supposed to be? Based on the images present

 

in the Philips site, I would venture that

  • you are highly design conscious, in a way that induces you to buy or at least desire Mies Van Der Rohe or Verner Panton armchairs. Or maybe knockoffs of those armchairs.
  • you listen to music with headphones
  • you are 2/3 woman and 1/3 man
  • you are 1/2 white-bread North European, 1/6 darker South European, 1/6 darker yet Caribbean, 1/6 Chinese or Far East Asian.

And you like candles, champagne, newspapers, coffee with cookies, telephones. You harbor an unspeakable passion for disco balls. You like to think you have a social life and friends that will "share" into this fabulous product. 

You are either a single woman or a happy smiling couple. Or maybe a couple of lesbians.

In other words, you are an average Dutch urban dweller, the lamp says. 

Unboxing

The box is a bit bland on the outside. I guess it must be some standard Philips design for a box, mostly white with a big blue PHILIPS. Then they sprinkled it with pictures of the lamp projection some of its millions of colors, the usual happy, wholesome, young people enjoying the pretty colors and some color spectra (perhaps a bit too technical?).

Opening the box shows an internal architecture of transparent plastic divides that protect the lamp itself. On top of it there is a booklet with vague -very vague, actually- staff about the relationship between the lamp, its many possible colors and your mood. And they are all very good moods, but this booklet was so incredibly bland and friction-free and boring that I forgot all about it in a flash, so I will stop discussing it right now. The blandness was increased by the fact that the text is in approximately one thousand languages, which in turn makes the graphic design a bit tricky – since the reader is supposed to ignore about 95% of what lies on the page.

The lamp itself is presented in an intriguing pearl grey rounded soft bag closed by a drawcord, pretty much the type of bag a well behaved girl from a well off family would use to store her used underwear (you know: the type that needs hand washing). This is actually a good free suggestion for actually using this bag, since you certainly not going to use it for the lamp itself: I cannot see the user storing the lamp in the bag and then … sauntering off into the sunset with a cannonball shaped object casually hanging from his hand? And to go exactly where? I mean, do you take your mood lamp with you wherever you go? Just like an iPod? If it were battery powered we could probably stretch our imagination a little bit.

But as it happens, the bag perfectly fits the lamp, with no space left over for the necessary power adapter (a white wall-wart job, slightly nicer than the usual black type), probably in order not to spoil the lamp+bag silvery roundness. Thus, this hypothetically mobile mood color light user would have to remember to take the power adapter wherever he goes.

Anyway, the panties bag seems to me a perfect example of trying hard and then failing due to the lack of any possible use scenario. How do we make something more precious and appreciated? Wrap it! Give it a case! is a correct question with a correct answer. Maybe not so applicable to this particular lamp, though.

Plugging in

Upon plugging in, the lamp runs through a color spectrum to let you know that it is indeed plugged in and working. Response to the remote is pretty much instant. Satisfaction is really immediate, and placing this lamp requires less thought than other lamps, since it does not produce much heat and it can only be oriented on the horizontal plane – inclination is mandated by the shape of the base. Anyway, wherever you place it sits pretty and it delivers light. Because of the LED light sources, it turns on instantly to whatever setting it was at when you switched it off.

The only element that mars the purity of the shell is the coaxial power port. In other words, there are no buttons on the lamp body and you are wholly dependant on the remote for operation. One of my colleagues mentioned that this is the first lamp that allows you to lose its remote… perhaps one button for "full on white" and "off" would have been useful for emergency operation – but I can’t really see a situation where the LivingColors is the only available light in a room and you have lost the remote or its batteries are dead.

The light it makes

The light is quite pleasant and much brighter than I expected for an LED source. It is spread in a fairly broad beam, and the very pleasant thing is that the transparent material of the lamp body plus the translucent nature of the ring on which the light source is mounted makes the lamp itself very beautiful in outline. In this case the pictures do not lie.

When you fiddle with the remote, the light changes in smooth steps. Under some operating conditions, that’s to say at very low power, you can see some sudden steps that feel like dithering.

The remote

 

One of my colleagues’ students has actually worked on this remote, and I am happy to report that it is one of the nicest remotes I have ever touched. It is shaped like a little bathtub: to open it, you slide a button on the bottom, and the flat top comes off, carrying the electronics and the batteries with it. The insides are very clean. 

Some people have remarked that the remote is not easy to open. I have to agree that there is a trick to it, and that until you get the trick right it will not open. Since this is not an antique treasure chest, opening should not rely on users getting unintuitive tricks right.

Operation of the remote is not difficult at all, provided

  1. you have the Hue, Saturation, Lightness color model deeply embedded in your head. Photoshop junkies rejoyce! This lamp thinks exactly in your terms.
  2. you understand one complex yet smart interface trick.

the trick (thank you, Patrick, for making me notice) is that the color wheel operates in two modes: if you peck at it like a hen, it sets the hue to be equivalent to wherever you pecked. But if you drag your finger along the circumference, it will change the hue in the direction in which you are going – but there is no relationship between where your finger ends and the hue the lamp will take on.

Once you understand this trick, you realize that pecking is for setting quickly the hue, and dragging is for fine tuning.

Trying to be Apple: the logic behind

I can kind of imagine (wild speculation here) someone at Philips saying hey, we are the kings of LEDs! we really understand lighting systems! let us try to make something very cool and desirable, way sexier than a power-saving fluorescent compact lightbulb! and so they got to work on the Living Colors. I imagine that there is also a synergy with that bizarre peculiar piece of Philipsia, the Ambilight LCD displays – something that I would like to review but not to purchase. Anyway, knowing that they could lick the engineering+design problems (and there are many engineering problems when you want to make something like the Living Color lamp, having to do with non-linearity of LEDs, perception, heat dispersion), and since this product really fills a non-existing niche, they had to invent a reason for you to buy it.

This is no mean feat. Most Philips products solve problems: a beard trimmer trims your beard. A hair dryer, a microwave oven, the lighting system of the Eiffel Tower, a flat-screen TV, all solve some problems and fulfill some needs, real or imaginary. But a color lamp that is not bright enough to be your main light for a room? People who do not live in brothels, fish tanks or butchers’ display cases tend to have really narrow minded ideas about the color of light they like as a main light source or as a reading lamp. The possible niche would be what is known as accent lighting, an architectural conceit melodiously defined by Philips itself as

Accent Lighting provides concentrated light to spotlight an object or
area where extra attention is needed or a task has to be performed.
Accent lighting also adds drama to a room by highlighting objects. (Philips Ligthing)

And indeed Philips produces hundreds of components for accent lighting, like the excitingly macho-named eW Downlight Powercore (which sounds like a weapon out of Halo). But these are components purchased and used by architects or engineers, not consumer products. The Living Colors lamp is accent lighting with color control for consumers, who -thus far- had no desire for anything remotely like that.

Kind of like an iPod, if you think about it. Did any human ever declare I want a portable music player that talks to an online music shop! before the iPod was designed and made purchasable? So here Philips is trying to create a new desire. They envision their customers saying Oooh, look at that statue of a fisherman I bought in Curacao! Wouldn’t it look great with a green-yellow wash of light coming from bottom right? They imagine people walking out of an art gallery or a theatre, and saying hey, I could get myself two of those big LED babies and make my living room a real experience!

And I guess that it is possible for Philips to become the Apple of lighting, provided enough people convince themselves that having highly controllable color lights in their living room is desirable. After all, in the ’70s we had a word for people who wandered the streets on Sunday, oblivious to their surroundings and listening to a soccer game on a portable radio: we called them pathetic losers. Nobody thought that they were experiencing immersion in an audio-only environment or a shared media experience: they were just losers. Now we get to do something very similar every day, and we feel very cool or at least non-pathetic. 

Alternatives

Will this LivingColors cannonball of intelligence kick lighting out of the nerd domain?  It is not so clear, but let us look at the alternatives.

Actually, there are not that many comparable alternatives. Artemide makes an impeccable (of course!) suspension halogen called Nur ("light" in Arabic) with three colored sources. I have seen it priced at above 2000 USD, and it uses 150 W HIE sources with color filters: in brief, it costs about twenty times as much, uses about one hundred times the power and makes probably fifty times more light.

Unfortunately, since Artemide too decided to build its website as a
screaming mass of Flash, it is impossible for me to link to the product
page. Additionally, Google will not find anything on this site, but
will helpfully point you to various regional distributors of Artemide
things. Way to go people! You have really nailed this Internet
marketing and company presence thing! Should you feel like you want less heat dispersion and power consumption, Carlotta de Bevilacqua designed (again for Artemide) this other spaceship like object called Yang Touch. It uses fluorescent lamps and it looks damn good – I like this type of in your face technology. Also for the low low price of 2000 Euros.

At the opposite end of the price spectrum, you find LED light sources based on numerous not very bright LEDs packaged on a board. The STAIRVILLE LED PAR 56 is a good example, using 152 LEDs and featuring also a DMX controller and a serious-looking theatrical-style enclosure. It is being sold for less than 40 Euros online. But it looks really terrible, so it isn’t a very comparable alternative. 

 


 

NB: most of the photos included in the article have been grabbed from online Philips and Artemide  material

How to setup a fresh Foxboard development environment

 

I am writing this, of course for my own purposes, which include controlling a large number of outputs. I would like, as a first exercise in controlling stuff from the FoxBoard, to take over one of Daniel Saakes Lampan lamps (read the instructible) and control the individual lamp units. This means -for now- 12 output ports. The ports will be provided by the Foxboard LX, a single board computer that runs Linux – in other words a quiet, cheap, silent and hackable computer smaller than a postcard.

To have an idea of the size of the board, keep in mind that the big metal thing in front is an Ethernet socket and the two meta ports on the right are USB sockets (perfectly working, by the way).

 

To develop on the Foxboard LX you need to use a development machine that runs a specialized SDK environment. This is where you do most of the programming and configuring. The results of your effort are converted into an "image" file, that consists of a complete image of the board’s filesystem. The image is then written into the flash memory of the board. The board then boots in about three seconds and does what it has been told to. To get to this, there are a few hoops to be jumped through.

Continue reading

© 2011 TU Delft