About: My name is Randy and I am a Community Manager in these here parts. In a previous life I had founded and run the Instructables Design Studio (RIP) @ Autodesk's Pier 9 Technology Center. I'm also the author ...

Let's pull the time machine out of the closet and crank the dial way back to a much simpler time. Yes, today we are traveling back to 2004. You may wonder why we are going to 2004? The answer is quite simple. In 2004, I built, and for the first time satisfactorily documented, one of my strange electronic art projects. As you may have guessed this project was called "Trigger".

"Trigger" is built inside one of the infamous Hanging Chad voting machines (that threw into disarray the 2000 presidential elections). It was modified to read-out right or left wing propaganda, depending on user interaction. Towards what side of the political spectrum it swayed, and how extreme it became, depended upon three factors; the direction that the case was rotated after it was picked up, the severity of the degree to which it was turned and also the amount of time in which it was rotated to that position. In this way, users could pick up the case and choose their own adventure through the political spectrum.

In the fall of 2004, "Trigger" was on display at Parsons School of Design as part of the "Voting Booth Project." It was surrounded by artwork submitted by much more reputable artists like David Byrne, Christo, Frank Gehry, Milton Glaser, John Maeda, and Diane von Furstenberg. To this day, not a single one of them will return my calls.

"Trigger" was made in collaboration with Raoul Rickenberg.

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Step 1: Go Get Stuff

This was documented in 2004. Some knowledge was lost to time, but here is a basic outline of components that you will need:

- A Hanging Chad voting booth from the 2000 presidential election.
- A Dinsmore 1490 digital compass
- A 2 axis accelerometer
- SPST switch
- Small portable radio
- PIC16F877
- 20mhz resonator
- SPDT switch
- A cheap radio
- An iPod
- An iPod remote
- Some circuit boards, components, batteries and stuff...

Step 2: Compass

Get a Dinsmore 1490 digital compass. Realize you can't stick into a breadboard. Solder a bunch of wires to it and get it working with some LEDs in four cardinal directions.

If you happen to be in Manhattan in 2004, like I was, you can find North by determining which direction is uptown.

When you are done, solder the compass and LEDs to a PCB. The LEDs are important because it will be near impossible to troubleshoot later without them.

Step 3: Accelerometer

Once you know which direction is which, finding left and right should be easy, right? WRONG!

The reason this is not easy is because left and right is dependent upon your orientation when you pick up the case. In other words, walk up to an object and pick it up. Note which side is left and which side is right. Put it down. Turn 180 degrees and pick it up again. Notice that left and right has changed.

So, how did I determine which way was left and which was right? If you read the step heading you would know... acceleration. If you knew in which direction the case accelerated when it was picked up, you could guess 9 times out of 10 which way the person was facing. From there you could use the compass to assign values for left and right.

Thing I learned about accelerometers:
- they don't work well on breadboard/prototype boards
- they like a long "leash" as you have a tendency to toss them around while prototyping (even if you don't need to)
- They can be a pain in the neck sometimes.

Step 4: IPod Remote

My collaborator was really insistent upon using an iPod. I felt there were better ways to solve the problem of audio playback, but I guess he just really liked the sound of the word. Remember, this is 2004 and people were still getting shot over their iPods. They were killer. So, everyone say it with me... eyeeeee-poddddd.... Doesn't that sound good?

Anyhow, the fastest, cheapest and easiest way to control iPods at the time was to hack a wireless iPod remote and use a PIC chip to hit the buttons (via 3 relays - forward, backwards, pause/play).

So, I opened the remote up and added two wires to each of the buttons and put the case mostly back together.

Problem solved.

Step 5: Intermission

Now that you have those 3 elements working, go back to your West Village apartment and spend all night sitting on your futon and writing a lot of code to get them all to play nice with one another.

Step 6: SPDT Relay

Add an SPDT relay to switch between two audio inputs. One audio source is direct from the iPod and the other source is a "static machine."

Remember, this is 2004 and audio storage and playback is not yet a solved problem. However, radio noise is a solved problem. A "static machine" is basically a $2 radio radio that is tuned to a frequency with no signal. It makes a noise that sounds like "SSHHHHHHHHHHH....."

Step 7: Put It on Cardboard

Wire everything together and line it up on a long piece of cardboard. This should emulate it being inside the case and will make it easier to test directionality.

Step 8: Insert the Chip

Transfer the chip from the development board to the circuit board that you have been building. Expect nothing to work right, as not to be surprised when nothing does. Spend many hours troubleshooting until you are back to where you started from. Don't stop now! There is still some more work to be done!

A note on the program:
I don't have the code for this project any longer and couldn't even begin to tell you what it looked like other than it being a heckuva-lot of MBasic. However, to give a brief summary, the code calculated the initial relative position of the case when someone picked it up and then calculated the relative direction it moved from the initial position. All of this data then triggered the case to flip through dozens of audio recordings of political speeches on the iPod. When the case was put down, the iPod would be re-centered.

Step 9: Put It in the Case

Build out the inside of the case with Styrofoam. Put all of the electronics neatly inside and discover that it mysteriously stops working. Insulate everything with electrical tape to keep it from coming into contact with static electricity on the Styrofoam. Duct tape the "static machine" and 9V batteries hastily to the side of the case.

One last detail! Install a SPST momentary switch into the bottom of the case. This will determine whether or not the case is being held or sitting on the ground (I was initially planning on using an FSR, but the switch worked better).

Step 10: Close the Case

Close the case and run it over to the gallery with 15 minutes to spare.

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    28 Discussions


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Imagine using this with the "shake to shuffle" feature of the iPhone/iTouch!!!Then it would be impossible to pick your propaganda LOL


    9 years ago on Introduction

    I think it is a close presence triggered bomb system.

    In 2004 there was a huge bomb attack in Madrid, at the train station

    How tasteful :(

    10 replies

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

          So, people should stifle their art because it looks similar to a terrorist's weapon? I literally cannot even begin to describe how ignorant that is. Yes, human suffering is an awful thing, but we cannot let that stop us from creating. Living in fear of creating, or offending someone is exactly what the terrorists want.

         @randofo: Nice work. Not my thing, but hey. Do you happen to know if they still make that compass? Also, does it run on 5v or 3.3v, or even perhaps some kind of positive/negative/ground voltage?


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Just now read your other comment. Sorry, I jump to my guns quite quickly on things like this. Point still stands, just not at you. 

    Lithium Rainrandofo

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    I didn't see this and think "suitcase bomb". It didn't cross my mind at any point. I don't think it's distasteful at all. 


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    I'll admit, the first thought that crossed my mind was "suitcase bomb".  Then, "I would run like hell from this thing", and "would randofo leave this lying unattended for people to pick up and be startled by propaganda mp3's?".  I'm guessing your user-interaction was confined solely to your display booth instead... 
    It is an interesting idea for its time, though.  Do you remember what types of propaganda messages it broadcasted?  I know my old high school poly-sci teacher would have loved a gadget/art piece like this.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    It was confined to the gallery and most people were too scared to pick it up because they thought you weren't supposed to touch it.

    Basically, it was just reading out loud popular politically slanted websites at the time.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Just for my information...

    Where do I get a 2000 Hanging Chad voting booth? lol.

    It just seems like something that wouldn't be at the local wal-mart.

    1 reply

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    You pick it up and it gives right or left wing propaganda depending on which side it is moved.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    At first i thought it was a bomb haha that would have been cool

    I think i get how it works though :)