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.






The Quickest of Hacks with Moving Brands and Bare Conductive

This past Saturday I attended a hack day hosted by Moving Brands (#MBInkHack on Twitter). The hack centered around working with Bare Conductive’s Electric Paint (which is often referred to as the misnomer conductive ink). After accepting the invitation I was incredibly excited to learn that we would also get to try out the Touch Board – Bare Conductive’s new product not due to ship until March.

The hack day started at 10am and we were in the pub by 5pm. Certainly the shortest hack day I’ve attended. It was only 4 hours of actual hacking, but the results were amazing. You couldn’t fool yourself into thinking you could accomplish anything huge and everything was physical. It was so refreshing to not have a single website developed and presented at the end of the hack.

I worked with Ben Fields and Alan Waldock. Emilie Giles joined us around midday and was trooper working through a cold brought on by London’s change of seasons. Our concept was to create an instrument out of a paint roller where you roll the paint roller over a score to play the music. Like a physical audio scrubber. We had hopes of implementing a copper tape and brush rotary system to actually allow the roller to freely rotate, but that just wasn’t feasible in our limited time. We instead painted conductive paths with Electric Paint using a stencil Al created.

The Touch Board has onboard capabilities to be a MIDI instrument and handle capacitive touch sensing all programmable from the Arduino toolchain.  We had 12 stripes of paint each hooked up to a capacitive input which triggered a MIDI piano note.  The board has an amp and direct audio out along with a connector for a LiPo and built-in charger, so the whole thing was entirely wireless.  We plugged in a little portable speaker and a LiPo and we had “music”.

There was a lot of video and photos taken with some quite expensive cameras, but that’s not released yet. So here are some photos from phones.

Rock 'n Roller


There were 7 groups of 3-4 people.  All of the resulting hacks were amazing and are easier to explain via video and photos rather than awkward text, so I’ll update this post when videos are put up online.

I’m just so impressed by the thought behind the board.  There is nothing shiny and brand new on it; it’s a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster of various open source projects.  But it’s all put together with so much consideration.  It fits beautifully within existing open source hardware projects, which Nick Ludlam (CTO of BERG) noted when he brought along BERG’s Devshield.  He popped it on the Touch Board and both played nicely with each other right away.

Thank you to Moving Brands for putting on the event and thank you to Bare Conductive for being brave enough to let a room of designers and devs loose with your still beta tech!


Below is a short video documenting the day!

Ink Hack! from Moving Brands® on Vimeo.

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.

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.