Wiring Is Hard: Piecing Together E.C.H.O.

Even with a group of 6 tech-savvy college students, only one of us had any prior experience with physical tech. Equipped with his toolbox of secrets and wires, Will set out to piece together one of the most vital components of this project: translating all of the instructions we are creating on the computer to our sound devices.

Originally we intended to have 6 audio inputs using 3 tape players, each with a LEFT/RIGHT channel. In order to accomplish this, Will needed to wire each audio source to the Arduino so that it could then trigger when the audio should be on/off (depending on if there was a tweet or not).

Early Problems:

  • Will had originally envisioned the project using a Bipolar Junction Transistor  rather than a Field Effect Transistor  Essentially, a BJT is always “off” until you turn it “on”, while a FET is always “on” until you turn it on “off”. While this was a relatively quick fix in the Arduino code, it took some tinkering to figure out what was wrong.
  • Wiring is hard. The bread board holes are very small, so as will discovered it is extremely difficult for standard core wire to be manipulated into these holes. Because we are using mostly audio equipment, most wiring is typically standard core because it is less prone to breaking. While this may be good for the wires themselves, Will had a really hard time making it all work together within such a tight space.

Once the actual bread board was constructed and connected to the Arduino, we met to try and piece it all together. The final breadboard consists of 4 NTE 2343 transistors, 4 resistors and a ground.

Arduino for the E.C.H.O. Project

Arduino for the E.C.H.O. Project

Emerging Difficulties:

  • After we met to combine it all together, all the pieces worked separately but not when combined. Currently we are still working on trying to make sure that the sound only plays when triggered. It looks like some of our audio inputs are stronger than we expected and need to either be grounded separately, or we need to add more resistors. 

ECHO

The ECHO Theory

In the modern age, we are constantly inundated with a plethora of information. When accosted with this constant stream of consciousness, it is necessary to filter out and focus on only the topics that appeal to you. However, this human defense mechanism has its downsides, as often times, more “important” issues will be overshadowed by shallower, yet viscerally satisfying topics. For example, a quick look at the Yahoo front page will reveal a scroll bar of “top stories” that the editors feel are most likely to be read. Near the top of the list are banal tales of Celebrity weddings and shallow fashion advice. In contrast, more “important” stories, like political upheavals, are thrown to the wayside.

According to DailyBeatsMotion.com, these are the top trending topics from September 2012:

Here are the top 10 Twitter Trends for September 2012, ranked by the number of days on which they trended in at least one major metro area in the US.

  1. #nowplaying: (29 days) –
  2. Bonanza: (26 days)
  3. Cali: (26 days)
  4. #job: (26 days)
  5. #oomf:  (24 days)
  6. #blessed: (23 days)
  7. Facebook: (22 days)
  8. Calm: (22 days)
  9. Netflix: (21 days)
  10. #news: (21 days)

The goal of this project is to expose this unfortunate truth, which is accomplished by counting the number of Tweets under the hashtags: #firstworldproblems #humblebrag #yolo; allowing us a glimpse into the true concerns of the modern age. These concepts are going to be represented by a droning sound, which represents the numbing drone of the twitter feed. To draw attention to this, we will also monitor the hashtags of a few, more “important”, tweets: like human rights and the like. When our program detects these tweets, instead of a comfortable droning noise, a bit more dissonant, looping sound will play – hopefully jarring the listener.

These sounds will be playing all at once, which will cause a hellish cacophony – but this is the point.  We contribute to the noise of media with opinions and discussion every day through our tweets, but how many of them are making a difference?  By hacking the Twitter system and hashtags and making more of a clear dichotomy between “first world problems” and “real world problems,” and converting them into sound to make a little more sense of the scale of this problem, perhaps people will take pause and really consider how they perceive the world.

This is a social experiment and an exercise in observing the digital environment that has become an integral part of our lives. The Echo Theory is our attempt to drag the gems of decency from the shallow black lake of escapism. While, in and of itself, E.C.H.O cannot change the world, the resulting insight may bring our society to a higher state of digital and social awareness.

Finding Early Solutions and A Lot More Problems

We finalized our plan and finished our proposal document. Originally started with VH Mutant Subtitles as our name, but after a brainstorming session we changed it to something more reminiscent of our project purpose– E.C.H.O (Emerging Chatter Heuristic Operator). “Emerging” refers to the immediacy of the twitter posts; “Chatter” refers to the unending stream of droning information that spews from the social media outlets; “Heuristics” describes the project’s goal, to translate the unnoticeable droning on the internet into audible sound; and “Operator” refers to the arudino itself, it is the instigator of our little social experiment.

Will and Robert talked shop about the conceptual side of the production and are looking for transistors. The sound system will have 6 channels comprised from 3 cassette players with Left/Right outputs. Aside from the wires, we tried to figure out what the thing will look on the outside – but that’s still pretty vague.

Alex started writing a formal justification for our project by connecting our intentions with past readings and documenting our progress in a more comprehensive manner.

Belinda worked on the code, and tried to get the script to capture hastags instead of a home twitter timeline that we used in our original project. As always, the internet is a wonderful place and we found an already written program to help us with this side of the project. It’s called Tweepy and it’s a Twitter API library that may be invaluable to us in the coming weeks, at least that’s what we hope.

You can find it here: https://github.com/tweepy/tweepy
It supports Python 2.5 and up but not Python 3.

from tweepy.streaming import StreamListener
from tweepy import OAuthHandler

Future Goals

We need to know how much current has to pump through the transistors to power our speakers. This might be one of our earliest snags in the design. There were a lot of sites that detailed HOW to use the transistors in this way, but not really WHERE to get them or the specific models. After a bit more searching, we learned we need to use a FET (field effect transistor) and change our code to accommodate this. The way we did it before (on a BJT), the channel closes when you add a current, but a FET closes when you take current away. We need to switch it so the script turns it ON instead of OFF.

In our last project, the code was one of the hardest parts but now it seems this project will have a much heavier on hands component that may prove challenging.