Things meter

I’ve been using the Things app for a while for tracking projects and next actions with the goal of Getting Things Done. I wanted something to help me pay attention to the things I need to get done, and decided that a physical representation of daily progress would be an interesting thing to try.

The hardware build was really easy. More of a bodging together of components than anything. I dremelled out the back of the voltmeter to create a bit more room, fitted it to a small enclosure box, and squeezed the dev board into the remaining space, with the ground pin and an analog output connected to the voltmeter.

 Untitled   Untitled

The code is pretty straightforward. The Teensy runs a small program that listens for lines of text via the USB serial port and simply sets the output of the voltmeter to whatever percentage value arrives. At this stage I’ve got a simple multi-purpose percentage meter controlled trivially over USB.

Next is a Ruby script that listens for changes to the Things app, works out how many of the tasks in the ‘Today’ screen have been marked as completed today, and sends that percentage to the USB serial port. It’s like a physical progress bar for things I want to get done today. A done dial for life.

I’m going to try it for a while and see how it works. There are probably lots of other things that a progress meter would help with too.




I made a thing.

Jargone is a bookmarklet for highlighting jargon words on any web page.

The list comes from the Government Digital Service GOV.UK style guide, specifically the plain English and words to avoid sections of the guide, which has this to say about avoiding jargon

We lose trust from our users if we write government ‘buzzwords’ and jargon. Often, these words are too general and vague and can lead to misinterpretation or empty, meaningless text. We need to be specific, use plain English and be very clear about what we are doing.

While the guide is very helpful, and includes alternative suggestions for many of the words to avoid, I wanted to be able to spot jargon more easily on the web.

The bookmarklet is very simple. It just adds a bit of CSS styling and javascript to the page and then checks all the words on the page against a list of known jargon words and phrases. Once you run it on a page, offending words are highlighted and, borrowing heavily from the design of Gmail’s handy spellcheck feature, any entries which also have notes associated (suggestions for alternatives, for example) also let you click on them to see the suggestion. It doesn’t (yet) let you replace with a suggestion, mainly because it doesn’t even pretend to be clever enough to get it right. In fact, the implementation is so simple that it’s quite likely to think there’s jargon on a page even if there’s not. For ‘impact’ it gives the advice “Don’t use it as a verb” even when you’ve used it as a verb. It could probably be made a bit cleverer, but as a quick automatic highlighting of things to watch out for, it’s hopefully already quite useful.

Although I based the list on the GDS style guide, I’ve already accepted several contributions from elsewhere. Thanks to everyone who has already contributed.

You can find out more about Jargone or just install it here if you want to try it in your own browser. Enjoy.


I made a thing.

Inky-Linky makes web pages 100% more useful and irritating when printed. It’s a bookmarklet that adds a QR code to the margins for each external link in the page.

It came about because I wanted to make it easy to visit a link from a printed page, and also wanted to see if I could find an actual useful use for the much (rightly) maligned QR code.

Although it just about works there are, or course, quite a few things wrong with it.

  • It really doesn’t work very well on very busy pages with lots of links.
  • The layout algorithm could be a bit smarter when deciding which margin to use (e.g. links on the right of the page should ideally prefer to be shown in the right margin, rather than blindly alternating).

If that doesn’t put you off, and you want to try it for yourself, here’s the Inky Linky repository and installation page. Enjoy.

(Oh, hello Boingboing!)

P5 Glove – Rock Paper Scissors and other fun

The P5 Glove is a consumer wired glove (tactile but not haptic). I bought one boxed as-new on eBay a while ago for not very much, and I’m glad I did as they now seem to be increasingly hard (and expensive) to get hold of.

P5 Glove

P5 Glove    P5 Glove (Rock!)

It contains five analog bend sensors, 3 buttons plus in theory x, y and z coordinates and yaw, pitch and roll (it emits IR which is picked up by a big USB IR tower so it knows where your hand is in space).

Here’s the P5 Glove intro movie…

I say in theory because while the p5osc Mac drivers handle the bend sensors very well the x/y/z output is jittery and yaw/pitch/roll sadly non-existent.

I’ve been experimenting with bridging the outputs for the buttons, fingers and thumb into MIDI custom controls so that I mess around with them in ControllerMate. Here’s a demo of a simple setup which detects whether each digit is straight or bent, and uses that to determine whether your hand is describing a rock, paper or scissors shape. For now, it just displays ‘Rock’, ‘Paper’ or ‘Scissors’ in large type on the screen but it would be pretty straightforward to turn this into a simple game.

P5 Glove – MIDI Rock Paper Scissors from rooreynolds on Vimeo.

Here’s the ControllerMate patch I made to do it (click through for the annotated version on Flickr).

ControllerMate VR Glove MIDI Rock-Paper-Scissors

Lots more fun to be had here with virtual pianos and guitar strings too; arpeggiating the MIDI guitar, for example.

Yo-yo tuning; tangible audio

I’ve been thinking about augmented reality and tangible stuff in relation to music recently. A while ago I hacked together a RFID reader and rotary encoder (using cheap-ish off the shelf USB kit from Phidgets) into a virtual knob. Ian captured me giving a quick (“it’s me knob demo!“) demonstration in the office a couple of weeks ago. The idea there was that one rotary encoder could act as more than one controller if it knew it had moved between different positions. In this case, using RFID tags.

More recently, I have been playing with reacTIVision (the software behind the reactable, and incidentally what the SLorpedo team used in their Hack Day entry). It’s incredibly fun and ridiculously easy. To avoid my hands getting in the way of the tags, I threw together a picture frame, a cardboard box, a 25 watt table lamp and a Logitech quickcam (actually, the LEGO Vision Command camera, which is a nasty manual-focus quickcam with nifty LEGO extrusions).

Yo-yo, camera, Altoids tin Side-on Fiducials viewed from below Yo-yo tuning (video thumbnail) The (trivial) setup in Reaper

For tangible objects, I grabbed three things relatively close at hand. Here’s a video of me having fun in C major with a red wooden yo-yo, a tin of Altoids and a hidden surprise.

Having installed reacTIVision, I run it like this:

reacTIVision.exe -m midi\demo.xml –midi-device 10

An argument of -l midi will list all the available MIDI devices. Something like MIDI Yoke is handy here (which is device 10 for me). The MIDI output is optional, and the default OSC output is more flexible, but for today I wanted to play directly with MIDI and this made it really easy.
To use the three different inputs shown in the video, I first described the controls I wanted in the xml configuration file. I just edited demo.xml to include

<map fiducial="0" type="hfader" channel="1" control="1"/>
<map fiducial="0" type="note" note="72"/>
<map fiducial="1" type="knob" channel="1" control="2"/>
<map fiducial="1" type="note" note="76"/>
<map fiducial="2" type="vfader" channel="1" control="3"/>
<map fiducial="2" type="note" note="79"/>

Which, as you’d expect, means…

  • tag 0 (the tea bag) plays a C when visible, as well as treating its vertical position as MIDI controller 1 on channel 1,
  • tag 1 (the yo-yo) plays an E, as well as treating its angle as controller 2, and
  • tag 2 (the Altoids) plays a G, as well as treating its horizontal position as controller 3.

Next, I needed something to handle the MIDI notes and commands. I love Reaper for this kind of thing. (Annotated screenshot which explains a little more of what is going on here). For an instrument, I used the lovely Tapeworm from Tweakbench.

Finally, I trained Reaper (though you might prefer Ableton or whatever) with the controls I planned to manually twiddle. I set controller 2 to affect the fine-tune knob in Tapeworm and controller 1 to change the volume for the track.

The possibilities here seem endless. Throw in a Monome 40h, a couple of Wiimotes, an P5 Glove and the RFID reader / rotary encoder knob I was playing with before, and I have more physical controllers than I could ever need. All of which talk MIDI and/or OSC. Expect more demos (hopefully with some actual music rather than just proof of concepts) as I continue to experiment. I already like reacTIVision a lot, and it makes me want to buy a better camera.

It’s me knob demo! – RFID reader + rotary encoder = virtual physical control

Thanks to Ian for recording this:

I used a Phidgets RFID kit, a rotary encoder and Reaper.

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