Look at my latest project

Inside an electronic artworkBeing a web developer is descriped as a powerful gift: they get amazing ideas like everyone else but they have the ability to build an implementation of the idea direct from mental notes and see what actually happens. To tell the truth, it’s a dangerous gift: if I just take the unique ideas I bother to research and build only one of those, by the time it reaches “minimum viable product” my mind is itching away at the next great idea, and ooo I have the gifting to build that! Over time I’m left with a bunch of could’ve-made-it websites feeling unloved and just wishing I would check-in to see if they’re being used at all.

So I had another idea. What if there was a framed piece of artwork sitting subtly in my home office or living room that was part of the furniture. Inside the frame would be a 3D scene of different models that represented websites I had created, as each of them got a visit to it’s respective website the model would respond by lighting up, moving, or some other display. Novelty would cause me to look at it constantly, but that would ware off and perhaps the framed art would connect through my subconscious giving feedback to the popular projects deserving of more love.

Artwork lit upA change from other ideas, this one took me to the garage and gave a break from the computer screen. A simple script on my Raspberry Pi is run every 5 minutes to check an online file containing the last access time of each website. In the frame, a silhouette of a dragon appears when LivingWithDragons is visited, beside a cotton wool cloud that lights up when the Dreams website is visited. On the ground, the papier-mâché hills shine green to represent the figurative vineyards of No More Grapes. A wobbly cardboard house has lights shining yellow for Stuome website visits.

The deepest frame I could find posed quite a challenge to build miniature sculptures in. A revolving salt shaker was just a little too fat, so I closed off the project for now by adding 3 lights in the sky that shine to represent a website each. The next hardware step would be to build a similar but custom frame/box & with better access for maintaining and extending the display (as I kill off projects or start on new ones). The Raspberry Pi is handy in only being wallet size, but a better case is needed with a gap for the GPIO ribbon cable. I could incorporate a case/mount on the back of the custom picture frame, and some form of terminal block for the connections to each item in the display.

I’ve not lingered on the software side. An ideal solution would be a push notification system so the display is triggered to react when websites are visited, not on the 5 minute interval. One exciting suggestion was for lights to stay on for a duration relative to their popularity. Websites are just one facet of my work, so I’d also like to link into the Twitter API to grab mentions. The only way to shutdown the piece is sending a command from my laptop or if the power cable is pulled out in frustration. One button could be used to request light flashes for websites visited in the last hour, or hold the button longer for visits in the last day. Hold the button for a whole 8 seconds and it shuts down. Programming this needs a stretch of my C language skills, so we’ll have to see how it goes.

Animation of the RPI artworkIt’s taken a year of occasional work to get it this far. I’m hoping it will continue to be a work in progress, as much as the projects highlighted within it. Perhaps a future update post will include an animated gif where the camera angle doesn’t change.

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