Amanda Ghassaei is an editorial assistant here at Instructables and she's our resident music and light master. Every single one of her instructables is beautifully documented! She was also a key player in Psycho Scooter Scramble (watch the videos!) - and she means BUSINESS.
I think every time I look across the desk at her she's building something new and awesome that I don't entirely understand. (and the testing is often quite funny for the rest of us) The project she mentions at the end of the interview is fantastic - I can't wait for you guys to see it in action! :D You should check out her website, too!
When did you first start working with electronics? What was your first project?
I actually haven't been doing this for too long, I starting doing electronics during my junior year of college. I was in a physics class that had a big, self-directed final project at the end of the semester, and I was determined to make something awesome for my dorm room. I remember searching on the internet for ideas and reading about all these things I'd never heard of before: LED cubes, maker faires, and 3D printers… wasn't long before I landed on instructables for the first time too. After a lot of searching I found a project called the monome, an open source grid-based controller that plugs into your computer and controls various audio software. I ended up building an Arduino-powered multitouch coffee table that was compatible with all the monome software. So it was basically a coffee table that you could make beats on, play songs, mix video… all kinds of stuff, it was a lot of fun. I'm in the process of fixing it up and instructablizing it now, so expect to see that project soon!
What inspired you to start posting projects?
I learned a lot of this electronics and programming stuff online from people who are openly sharing documentation for the things they've made. There's no way that I could be working at the level I am today without these people, and I wanted to start contributing my own content back into this community. I also wanted to make myself a more visible woman in tech by posting some badass electronics projects :) Since I've started posting it's been really exciting to see other people working on and learning from the projects I've designed; I'm especially excited about the ways people are spinning elements of my projects into entirely new projects. Last week I had someone ask me about turning an electronic instrument I'd built into some kind of wearable project, I'm excited to see how it turns out!
What is your favorite thing to build? And is there anything you'd like to try that you haven't done yet?
I love building audiovisual stuff! I've always found myself especially drawn to projects with light and sound. I think in the future I'd like to experiment more with new sensors, materials, and technologies to try to create some life-like effects. I really like the idea of animating a project by giving it some human qualities- responding to heat, touch, sound, and orientation, being able to sense the things around it or communicate wirelessly with other objects. There are a bunch of advertisements running in my BART station currently about a phone that you can tap to other phones to share data instantly (which would make me so nervous btw!), I'd love to try to replicate an interaction like that and use it for some weird applications. I'd also like to incorporate more of my physics and science background into my projects. I'm especially fascinated by evolution. There's some interesting work going on right now using genetic algorithms, computer generated 3D models, and 3D printers that I'd love to get involved in.
What piece of advice would you give to new authors on instructables?
Don't be intimidated if you have to learn new things to finish a project that you have in mind. When I started my first project (the musical multitouch coffee table), I had no idea what I was doing, I remember the first thing I googled was "how to use a breadboard." Yes it will take time to learn, but there are tons of great learning tools out there and lots of people who are willing to answer your questions, Instructables is a great place to start.
In the short term- spend some extra time composing an enticing main photo for your Instructables, this makes them much more "clickable."
Is there anyone or anything has been particularly influential towards your work?
Yes, I mentioned the monome project before. There are quite a few similar electronics instruments out there now, but this one is really special. It's an open source project and most of the software for it was written by various users all over the world, I've written a handful of applications too. There's a huge amount of creativity coming out of that community, I recommend checking it out. The monome also introduced me to a program called MaxMSP, which I use in almost all of my projects at some stage of development. I learned almost everything I know about programming in MaxMSP from taking apart awesome programs people have posted on the monome wiki.
oh yeah, and Trent Reznor or course. I hope to release a Pretty Hate Machine sample pack for my Arduino drum machine soon!
Best tool in the lab?
Though I've recently become a huge fan of laser cutters, I'm going to have to stick with oscilloscope on this one. I use that thing almost everyday, and I basically consider myself blind without it. If you don't know how to use one you should learn!
What's your favorite project you've posted to instructables?
So far my favorite is definitely the "Electronic Instrument." It's an Arduino-powered drum sampler, sequencer, and looper that's a lot of fun to make beats with. I love that project because it's totally portable so I can take it on the train, plug my headphones in, and mess around with it. I also like how curious other people are about it. I end up talking to tons of random people on the train about it, if there's time I let them play with it too, it's fun.
What do you have planned for the future?
Tons! Right now I'm working really hard to finish up an Arduino based MIDI controller that's coming together quite nicely. I'll also be posting my first experiment with realtime digital signal processing using Arduino soon- it's an effects box that modulates an incoming mic signal to create androgynous vocal effects and distortion.