ITP – PhysComp – Stupid Pet Trick

As with my fellow first-years at ITP, I have been working on my Stupid Pet Trick assignment for the Intro to Physical Computing class. The assignment proved to be much more of a challenge than I expected. I think in large part this came from the project I chose to pursue, which required much more building and much less coding than I expected and actually wanted.

My goal was to produce a product that had a scale with a Big Mac on one side and a piece of fruit on the other. It would be like having a devil on one shoulder and and an angel on the other. Depending on what the person picked, the scale would tip and trigger one of two buttons. Behind the scale is a black board with a head-sized mirror. When the person makes his choice, one button can trigger a set of horns or a halo.

I got the buttons and the lights to work. There were 30 LEDs in total, 20 in red and 10 clear/white. In hindsight, I didn’t realize how much time it was going to take to wire these. I spent hours soldering, something that I do not have a lot of experience doing. It also took me some time to work out the resistor and short circuit issues.

I also had to spend more time that I expected with the other build issues. I couldn’t find a scale to buy, so I tried to build on one my own. In the end, the buttons I chose needed more weight than the scale plus Big Mac/fruit.

So triggering the buttons ran into challenges. I tried weighing them down with dozens of coins, but this was not the right answer.


I also tried to use magnets to draw the scale closer and push the button. This solution also ran into challenges. At the end, I simply ran out of time and did not get this completely resolved.

As much as I still like the idea, I think there are a few lessons learned for me. First, I need to pick a project that is better structured to building the skills I should be working on. For a computer class, I should have been spending less time with all this unrelated building or basic wiring issues. Nonetheless, the experience with soldering this week will be valuable in the long run.

Next, I need to simply get going earlier on these projects. The entire process took much longer for me than I expected. These leaves little or, in this case, no time to address a potential late-game problem.

I see this trend in being overambitious with projects happening in other ITP classes for me. I need to be better about starting with a limited scope that directly addresses the class material. I can always scale things up should I get this first phase done early or on time. This would be a much better outcome than my current state, a semi-functioning project.

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