Fistful of Wires

I like breaking down boxes. A nice box cutter and a bunch of boxes that need to be made flat can help dissipate my crankiness. Years ago, after a satisfying session in the store room, as I worked though a bug in my head, I mentioned this to a coworker at a job. He looked baffled. Another colleague came up and we bonded over the idea of constructive destruction.

A  week ago, I was in a black mood, breaking down the debris of Amazon packages, and was reminded of this episode. Sometimes I just want to burn the world down. I suspect everyone has these feelings. Channeling them into improving my environment is better than the many other ways I could handle them.

Unrelated, a few nights ago, I was watching cartoons with my husband. J'onn J'onzz reached into an evil robot's head and pulled out a fistful of wires. The robot's behavior changed as it died. J'onn looked satisfied. A few minutes later, he admitted to Superman that he was having a good time wreaking havoc.

And that was the moment I realized I wanted to make something new for OSHPark's post-Maker-Faire Bring-a-Hack dinner. This was far more joyful that it sounds. I haven't been wanting to do anything technical lately. Work is currently boring. Writing has been fraught. The podcast can be fun but occasionally feels chore-like. When I dig a hole of unhappy busyness, I try to make it both deep and wide.

All this together added to an idea for a personal project: Fistful of Wires. I used an mbed LPC11U24 to control the system, a Neopixel stick to provide light, and a sound FX board with a small speaker to make noise. I set the pins to inputs with pull-ups then connected 14 jumper wires to ground. Every time a wire was disconnected, the system changed its lighting pattern: color, blink timing, blink pattern (blink to white, black, random, or opposite the main color). The system also played a random audio clip, ranging from Number Five’s “No disassembly” to C3PO’s “There’ll be no escape for the princess this time.”

It was ridiculous and fun. I made crazy complicated gew-gaw wires so the user pulled out a handful instead of just a plain jumper wire.

I made a video just before we left for Bring-A-Hack.

So, how did it go? Really? Well… The restaurant was very loud (of course!) so the audio was mainly lost, bummer. But that wasn’t the worst part. Overall, my audience seemed a little confused by and quite gentle with my creative destruction project. Bring-A-Hack is full of engineers who have worked long and hard on their projects. They were very tentative about taking my hack apart. And if they did, gently pull out a wire, they tried to insert it back in (usually both ends landed on the easier to access ground pins so the next person to carefully yank that wire got no response, sigh). Maybe this was the wrong audience for gleeful annihilation of electronics.

That’s ok. I had a good time building it and I sort of love the nest of tangled wires. That is enough.

Code is published on mbed. And there is a little more build info and ramblings at