Barcelona Music Hack Day – Project Jane

Google announced its Project Jacquard recently. The project covers several research and development topics leading to the mass production of fabric sensors that can detect hand gestures. I think it’s a defining moment in e-textile research as it’s attracted the popular press and introduced the field of e-textiles to a consumer audience that might not have been aware of it before.

However. The announcement came via a video largely starring Ivan Poupyrev, the project’s founder. I don’t really think of project managers in Mountain View when I think about e-textiles. I think of the amazing work grown from a grassroots level that is shared with the community. Work that has historically had far more women involved than what is typically seen in tech spheres. Project Jacquard feels a little like an erasure of those contributions, so I wanted to honour them in my hack.

I decided to make a soft sensor that detects hand gestures in 24 hours at the Barcelona Music Hack Day. This is Project Jane.

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Music Festival Bag – Midem Hack

This weekend I took part in the Midem Music Hack Day and I made this:Finished Bag

UPDATE: I won the hack! Here’s a video of my pitch presentation (starts at 9:25).

It involved flying to Cannes and enjoying this view:

View from Midem

Working on a hardware hack involving stitching was advantageous as it meant I could just sit outside and do a bit of hand sewing.

The Concept

I was inspired by the start of the music festival season in the UK and made a bag for wandering between stages. The bag is embedded with LEDs that are controlled to relay information to the wearer without needing to look at their phone.

LEDs on Bag Turned On

The bag starts with an animation to indicate it’s waiting to be connected to a Bluetooth LE device. Once a connection is made by selecting the bag from the phone’s Bluetooth device list, a general light animation starts.

The phone can send messages to the bag and instruct it to light up for particular notifications. I had it light up as all red and all green as a demo. This could be a notification that you’ve received a text message or that a show you indicated you want to attend is about to start. It alerts you to look at your phone for more information.

All the physical interactions with the bag use the tassels at the end of the drawstrings. Touch the pink tassel to the beadwork along the bottom of the to change the animation or to clear a notification and return to the animation.









The blue tassel will send a message back to the phone. A potential use case would be if you ended up near a stage at a music festival and like what you heard, but didn’t know the artist, you could touch the blue tassel to the beadwork to tell a festival app on the phone to record the current GPS and time data to determine what artist in the schedule you heard. You could later refer back to that “bookmark” in the app.

The Details

I bought the bag from the Stratford Westfield from a generic mall store. It was on sale. I was looking for a patterned bag that was on trend fashion-wise and had parts that could be easily adapted into a soft-circuit interface. The woven fabric proved to be an excellent choice as it was very easy to work with.

Purchased Bag

I was lucky that the bag was constructed well and had a layer of interfacing in between the outer fabric and lining fabric. It was also complete luck that some of the beads were conductive (I hadn’t taken a multimeter with me to the store).

Bag Build

The whole thing ran on an Arduino Micro on a breadboard. It was connected to a strand of 50 WS2801 RGB LEDs and talked with a phone via the Adafruit Bluefruit nRF8001 Breakout Board. The phone ran Nordic’s demo app for working with their chips. It was a great tool. I just sent messages to the Arduino via the app’s UART interface.

Code is available on my github.






A Necklace

Necklace Exhibition

Stephanie Posavec was invited to contribute to the Futures 10 – the closing exhibition of the Wearable Futures Conference.

I was given the theme of ‘memories’. As an urban pedestrian, I often walk by memorable locations from my past, and imagine how my memories are layered upon the city over the memories of those who lived before me. I wish I could experience these memories more clearly, so I decided to create a device that would make one’s memory traces more physical and tangible. This device tags memories to a location, gathering audio and emotional data and providing a 3d-scan of the memory space. Memory maps are created over time, as personal or shared maps, and maps of past lives can be accessed by loved ones as a form a remembrance. Later, through the use of audio and haptic feedback, while walking through the city a user is able to ‘brush up’ against a 3d-texture of a memory and feel and hear important moments from their past.

Stephanie on Memories in Wearable Futures

Stephanie is an amazing visual designer and largely works with data visualisation for print, so designing an inactive wearable piece was outside her comfort zone. I think she did a great job, but she wanted some help to bring her concept off the page and make a physical prototype. We spent a day together creating the pendant for her piece.

She decided to represent the interaction through a pulsing light embedded in a necklace. She designed the light pulsing pattern and colour to show different types of memories and I got an RGB LED mocked up with an Arduino and breadboard.Prototype of Necklace

Once the colour and tempo was finalised, I programmed an ATtiny45 to do the same as the Arduino. We wanted the piece to be as small as the tech would allow, so I soldered the LED and resistors directly to the microcontroller. The pendant was constructed from two pieces of walnut wood sandwiching a piece of acrylic to diffuse the light. The circuit board was created from pieces of copper tape. The adhesive of the tape made a fairly strong contact against the wood.

Construction of Necklace

The finished pendant had a roughly 30 second cycle of 5 memories with different attributes of being personal, shared, or in remembrance.

Necklace Colours

Stephanie turned the pendant into a full necklace along with designing two boards to explain the concept. My photos and video of the exhibition aren’t great, but hopefully sufficient to get an idea of the finished piece.

It was kinda funny, and quite characteristic of those in attendance, that everyone felt very comfortable touching the pieces. The circuit on the back of the pendant was not intended for public viewing; it was supposed to hidden against the body when worn. But the necklace kept getting flipped over by curious attendees to inspect the tech.

Futures10 Necklace from Becky Stewart on Vimeo.

A Onesie

To round out 2013,  I’m going to post three projects I completed in November and December. All three were ideas that had been thought about for varying lengths of time, but were each executed in a single day. The first two, both wearable technology pieces, are more related than the third, a bingo card game.

Baby Onesie

This project was a very quick commission to provide a proof of concept for what wearable technology for children could be. It was part of an investigation for a funding bid into whether wearable tech could enhance play between parent and child.

Babyglow Onesie from Becky Stewart on Vimeo.

It was a very quick turnaround. I was approached on a Tuesday and the piece was needed the following Saturday. It was requested that the garment be a onesie or baby-grow, but that the interaction was largely up to me. The point of the piece was to demonstrate to parents in a workshop what a finished piece of wearable tech could look like as they were going to be shown other sensors and actuators outside of a finished piece.

I ordered in some kit on the Wednesday and Thursday then started and completed the piece on the Friday.

The concept was very simple: an appliqué of three balloons that appear white when the garment is not powered, light up in three different colours and then change colours when the child jumps up and down. This movement was detected by an accelerometer on the right leg.

The onesie was purchased off the high street. The appliqué was created by using several layers of white tulle as a diffuser and white cotton fabric. The tulle was an ok diffuser, certainly acceptable within the time limits and materials on hand for experimentation, but I would want to improve it if the project were to move forward. The photo looks less diffuse than it appears in person.


The underlying electronics are three Adafruit NeoPixels controlled by a LilyPad SimpleSnap with a LilyPad Accelerometer on the leg. The NeoPixels were the breadboard-friendly version as opposed to the ones explicitly designed for soft circuits as they were the easiest to get ahold of quickly. They don’t ship with the header pins soldered on, so you can use the via holes for the header pins for sewing.

Onsie LEDs

As there were some longer runs for the circuit, I decided to try conductive ribbon for the first time. The type I chose advertised a low resistance and that it didn’t short if folded on itself. Overall, it was much better than working solely with conductive thread, but the transition from the ribbon to the components is a little awkward.

The Lilypad was attached to the lower back using snaps. The placement was in hope that it would be the most difficult place for the child to reach. It was placed low on the back so that it wouldn’t poke into them if they leaned back against something.

The SimpleSnap comes with female snaps already soldered onto the pads, which seemed convenient as I would have done that myself anyway. However, it didn’t actually come with the corresponding male snaps which was a big pain. It took a while to track down the right size snaps and now I have a handful of females snaps leftover without male pairs. However, the integrated battery is a big plus.

Back of Onesie

If I had more time, I would have created an appliqué to cover the accelerometer as well.

There is nothing particularly clever or groundbreaking in the code, but it’s up on Github.

Finished Onesie

Campus Party Berlin and Music Hack Day Reykjavik Hacks

This is long overdue, but this past August I attended Campus Party Berlin and in October I participated in the Reykjavik Music Hack Day in Iceland. It was my first visit to Berlin and I’d also never been to Iceland before – and late October is not really the best time of year for a visit – but I loved it and can’t wait to go back to both places.

Campus Party was a weird experience. It’s an overgrown LAN party that has turned into a conference. My strongest associations with LAN parties are from high school where my male friends would hold 24 hour LAN parties at each other’s houses playing various video games in their parents’ basements. Girls were explicitly not allowed to attend and were never invited to play. Campus Party wasn’t a a complete throwback to those days and the organizers had tried to better accommodate a variety of participants. Though I know the intentions were good, the execution was just awful.

Leading a Codasign Arduino workshop at Campus Party.

Leading a Codasign Arduino workshop at Campus Party.

I attended Campus Party to lead a workshop on Arduino and to give a talk. The workshop was meant to be for 20 and ended up with about 60, but everyone had a good time and I hoped learned a bit. When I proposed to give a talk, I was asked to give it on the “Women in Tech Day”. I was a bit confused as I didn’t propose a talk that had anything to do with gender, but it was clarified that they were trying to fill all the parallel stages with women speakers on the same day. I know they were trying to increase visibility, but it ended up creating a ghetto. As a result, there were almost no women speaking the rest of the week and I had to miss several other women speakers because of my own talk. I even missed the networking event set up by the Berlin Geekettes as it was away from the venue and against my speaking slot (meaning also that most women went to that event and not my talk). I know it was an attempt to increase the visibility of women in tech, but I think it ended up worse than if they hadn’t bothered at all.

Anyway, my slides for my talk:

During Campus Party Soundcloud hosted an Audio Hack Day. It was very small, just 11 hacks, but that was nice change from the huge attendance of most Music Hack Days. After the hack presentations there was a Q&A session for the audience and hackers to discuss the hacks in more detail while the judges deliberated. I made a doorbell that plays a different doorbell sound from Freesound (and thanks MTG for the headphones!). The full hack listing is up on github along with the code.

View from the whale watching boat outside Reykjavik.

View from the whale watching boat outside Reykjavik.

The Iceland Music Hack Day was one of the best organized hack days I’ve ever attended. Much credit to the organizing team! The hack was located in a local university which also hosts a hack space in the basement, Hakkavelin. Having a hack space and its facilities so close to the hack day was great and gave physical hacking a much bigger presence than it would have otherwise had. My team for my hack ended up including two lovely lads from the hack space – Gummi and Jason.

Reykjavik viewed from the walk to Reykjavik University.

Reykjavik viewed from the walk to Reykjavik University.

I brought along something like 30m of digitally addressable RGB LED strips leftover from a previous project. Each LED can be programmed and controlled individually to be any color. I didn’t have grand plans for them when I arrived, but inspiration struck for our team when we combined the LEDs with a coat rack (and we weren’t the only coat-rack-hack).

Testing LED Display from Becky Stewart on Vimeo.

We created a makeshift LED panel by draping and taping the LED strips onto the coat rack and diffusing the light with napkins from the breakfast buffet. We then controlled what the lights displayed via Processing and an Arduino communicating over serial. I wrote a little Processing sketch that queried The Echo Nest for artist images and then let you browse them and select one. It then was sampled to fit on the “digital poster” of LEDs.

There were a couple issues that could have been sorted with a bit more time, but we found a compelling demo image and it was good enough. The displayed images consistently came out too red. I think this could have be calibrated into submission, but the sampling method I implemented was incredibly simple. I think just a touch more sophistication in the algorithm would have gone far. But Dark Side of the Moon saved the day.

Wallify – Music Hack Day Iceland 2012 Hack from Becky Stewart on Vimeo.

Badgify at MIDEM Hack Day 2012

This past weekend I participated in a Music Hack Day-esque event. It’s not quite a regular hack day as it is not an open invitation – you have to apply and have attended a hack day before. It’s because it’s a higher pressure event and you’re expected to output a quality hack with a good demo by the end of it for the music business conference attendees. The hack day is also much smaller – 30 people instead of 100+. The result was that it was easier to meet the other hackers and the demonstrations went just amazingly well. Everyone was well spoken and gave a clean demo.

Rebecca Stewart
Photo by Thomas Bonte

I worked with Suzie Blackman to produce Badgify. It was an Arduino and Android hack inspired by an Internet of Things approach. There are many ways to broadcast what you are listening to: Spotify,, Facebook, This Is My Jam, and so on. But all of those services require online connectivity for others to learn what music you are listening to. Our hack lets you share what you are listening to with others in the same physical space as you. Using Bluetooth, your Android phone can communicate with a LCD screen “badge” that you can pin on your coat or bag. It displays the artist you most recently listened to (and scrobbled to

Below is the video of our presentation and a video of the badge and app in action. Our presentation is about 37 minutes in.

The hacks have also picked up a little bit of press.

I’m really glad I attended. Last year’s event was the first MIDEM Hack Day and it was invite-only; there wasn’t an application process. I was vocal in my disappointment in conducting an event this way and was happy that an open application process was adopted for this year. I wholeheartedly encourage you to apply next year.

Final Intro to Programming Slides

Here’s the final set of slides from the third introductory programming class I did with MzTEK. You don’t get to cover a lot of material in 6 hours, but we managed to introduce the idea of functions and how to use them. Writing functions was well beyond the scope (groan) of this short course. I was repeatedly asked what “void” means, so the goal was to try and answer that at some shallow level.

Teaching Programming Part 2

It’s taken longer to put up the slides from the second week as there was some significant re-structuring of the content. It takes a lot of concentration to decide how to present comparators and boolean operators – or at least more than I initially thought. What I originally put together and presented last Monday blurred the lines between too many subjects within discrete math and I think it came across as confusing. I hope this version is much clearer.

It’s funny how the knowledge inside your head mixes together. It can become difficult to explain fairly simple subjects without relying on a large base of information assumed to be understood by everyone. You just can’t expect people from an arts background to understand a mathematical explanation. It does force you to understand the information better yourself.

As this was the first time I’ve taught this material, I was expecting there to be rough patches. Overall though, I think it’s going very well, or at least that the feedback I get directly to my face. Our last class is tomorrow evening. How the time flies! I’ve had students say they are sad it’s coming to an end so quickly and I have to agree. It’s amazing how little you can truly cover in 6 hours.

I think the next steps are to work out a longer version of this material and then start looking at where I can teach it.

Teaching Programming to People Who Don’t Want to be Programmers

I have started a bit of an experiment this month: I am trying to teach basic programming and software engineering to women that more closely identify as artists than coders. I have a number of motivations for attempting this.

  1. A small amount of motivation comes from attending workshops where the instructor doesn’t entirely understand the tech they are dealing with. I think coding is a craft and new digital media art is a new form of craft. If you work with other traditional media such as clay or oil painting, you are expected to understand the material (to a reasonable level). The same should be true with technology.
  2. People seem eager for this kind of instruction.
  3. I think there are some problems with the way we teach programming to CS students, this is a way for me to test some more experimental practices.

One thing I do struggle with is that tools that help attract new practitioners by working out of the box and being ready to go (Processing, OpenFrameworks), can encourage bad habits. I think by excessively hiding the details of software, you restrict the ability for someone to learn about those details. I haven’t entirely formalized my irritations nor come up with solutions. Well, I guess my initial solution is to teach the course I am teaching right now and try to bring more traditional programming instruction to non-traditional forums.

Below are the slides (with some corrections and additions) that I used last night.

Culture Hack Day

This is now a bit overdue, but three weeks ago I attended the Culture Hack Day.

My hack used the data made available by the UK Crafts Council.  Just before the last general election, they created a website asking the public “Why does craft matter to you?” and provided a space for people to submit their answers.  While some of this data is exposed on the website, most of it is not.  As there has been over 1000 submissions, I wanted to create a new way to explore the responses that focused on the content and not external data such as the city of the person making the submission.

The result can be seen in the video.  When you visit a website, a submitted quote about why craft matters is shown.  You can then click on any word in that quote and a new quote will appear which also uses that word.  If there isn’t another quote with that word, the same quote is shown.

The hack is built using the Python library xlrd to read in the Excel spreadsheet containing the Craft Matters data into a Python dictionary. The nltk library is used to tokenize the words in each of the quotes. A Cherrypy server then randomly serves up a quote with each word being a link to a search for another quote containing that word. A little css makes it pretty, and that’s it. All of the code (but not the xls files with the data) is available here.