Ahead of the Times

Everyone knows these days the only way to achieve greatness is by manipulating the news media. Ahead of the Times (ATs) represents a new line of sneakers that will have you balling like the pros. These shoes keep you above it all while misinforming the sheeple trying to hold you back. ATs work by projecting a jumble of todays current headlines behind you as you walk, creating a “laser-like” effect that will shock and awe. Of course, ATs also make it easy to keep up on the haters. Just take a seat, kick your feet up and scroll through headlines at your leisure. Available exclusively at itpreadymades.wordpress.com 

Ahead of the Times from Jesse Horwitz on Vimeo.

Physical Fabrication:

Part of the idea in making the projector shoe was to build something where the projection is in the shoe. Everything that we looked at had the electronics on the outside and we wanted to take this farther and embed everything inside, so that it’s one “cohesive” object. To get there, our prototype has taken quite the beating but it works.

What we decided on using was a pair of size 12 men’s hiking sneakers (so everything can fit inside as well as a foot!) a rasberry pi 3 (the pi zero’s were on their way at this point) and a laser beam projector, along with those parts, we needed space for power cord and an hdmi cord and a lipo battery and charger.

Modifying the shoe,  meant stripping the padding on the inside and making holes in the heel of the shoe for the projector lens to show. To make the hole, Satbir got pretty close with the drill press and one of John’s personal specialty bits. Securing the shoe was a two person job and Angela helped to clamp the shoe down, then the bit was used to make a hole, and repeated for the second shoe.

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From here it was figuring out how all the parts would fit into the shoe. The projector had a specific location to be in, which was the back of the shoe in the heel. We decided that it would be okay if the raspberry pi 3 was on the outside of the shoe. It wouldn’t be the final look of the shoe, since we were getting pi zeros the following week. The battery was placed behind the projector in a small pocket was available. The battery charger was pinned to the outside of the shoe, so the wires could fit. For the next version, A pocket would be made to house the electronics that would go into the shoe. A button was glued into the front of the shoe near where the ball of the foot would be, that button would trigger the next image.

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For the second version we used the pi zeros, which really gave us what we wanted. A small enough computer to fit into the shoe without hurting any foot (too much).

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For this version,  two pockets were sewn up so that the raspberry pi, battery pack and charger, along with some of the wires (coiled up) could fit into the side of the shoe where the foot instep goes, to free up space and make it a bit more comfortable when walking. The wires were exchanged for shorter ones and some cuts were added into the shoes to allow for the wires to poke out and around my ankle area. These modifications helped to walk with more room.


The software for this worked primarily by creating a file full of images and launching a command line app called “feh” to generate a GPIO triggered slideshow. The first step was installing feh. This is billed as a lightweight image viewer for linux systems so it seems appropriate for running a slide show on a low power device like the Pi Zero. Here is a good tutorial on a similar use case. Next we needed some way to trigger the next slide via GIPO input. pikeyd came up as an easy way to do this. This is a keyboard daemon for Raspberry Pi that simulates a specific key press when it receives an input on a specific GPIO pin. Once we configured piKeyd each time we connected GPIO 3 to ground it would simulate a Right arrow key press to change the feh slide. At this point we could get the shoes working with a premade set of slides. The next challenge was updating these slides automatically. We used the newsAPI to pull headlines from English language sources and a python library called Pillow to generate images of the text on a black background. Old headline images were cleared out and replaced by updated headlines each time the python script was run.

Next Steps!:

We’d like to develop an entire shoe with this technology integrated from the beginning. A lot of the difficulty we had with miniaturization had to do with adapters and cable length  Which could easily be eliminated with custom hardware. In addition a purpose built laser projector could dissipate heat and share power management with the computer more efficiently. Designing our own shoe also enables us to make something thats actually comfortable and more durable than a modified shoe could be. We also plan to experiment with different types of projections.

ZombieBook Pro

The ZombieBook Pro is a continuation of the sound project we did earlier in the semester. The “broken” laptop is handed to a participant and they are instructed to do a series of activities with it in the style of a tech support tutorial. Here is a filmed run through of the performance:

ZombieBook Pro – Performace from Jesse Horwitz on Vimeo.

I wanted to make something that reanimates my dead laptop and memorializes it. This was an object that I used and valued above all others for many years but when it began its slow decent into inoperability I quickly grew frustrated and detached. I though about what it would be like if this were a living creature with wants and desires, and how cold and abrupt its abandonment would seem. I wanted to make something that created sense of life clinging to a failing body.

At first I thought this would use an accelerometer and some timed sounds, lights and vibrations to create this effect. However as I began working on it I ran into some power management problems and nothing seemed to be as powerful an effect as I hoped. Lights were dimmer than expected, motors ran more slowly etc… At the same time I realized that the electronics I had replaced on the inside were almost as interesting and relevant as the damaged exterior case, sounds and lights. I couldn’t figure out how to position the Zombiebook so that the user would experience all of these and feel a connection to it as a sort of living thing. This was super disappointing and I was not feeling great about handing it in until I had this idea to turn it into a sort of performance and have the user follow a set of instructions. I wrote out a script that I thought would be inviting and funny for the user but also kind of brutal and hateful towards the computer. In combination with the chaotic sounds and lights this created what I thought would be a Milgram experiment atmosphere.


This project made use of a MacBook Pro 2010 case, an Arduino uno, and ADXL335 accelerometer, a handful of high power LEDs, a bluetooth serial link, one of the original computer fans, and a battery pack. Here is a video of the internal components running without interaction:

ZombieBook Pro – Internals from Jesse Horwitz on Vimeo.


Originally I was hoping that I could send data to a max patch from the accelerometer and then send data back to the lights and fan from the computer. Unfortunately I couldn’t get this communication to work in both directions at the same time so I ended up randomizing blinking in the lights and fan. To my surprise this actually came out to seeming fairly organic. The accelerometer data then fed into a max patch that triggered a series of different sounds depending on the intensity of movement. The sounds would also speed up, slow down, and change looping behavior as well. Frankly, this part of the project worked well for my purposes but it felt extremely hacky. I had a hard time smoothing the accelerometer input and the patch requires a lot of “setup” each time it is run.

Ultimately this project felt like a rollercoaster to work on. At one point I thought I had made something really useless but then by reframing it I ended up with one of my favorite ITP projects so far. I think there are a lot of opportunities to expand this as well so I’m looking forward to that… If I have time.

Forgotten hardware / zombie book

Computers do what you tell them to do, except when they can’t.

This week I hacked at my “broken computer” to have it babble out sounds of it’s working life past. The goal was to create a seemly dead laptop that eagerly spits out fragments of media when it senses human interaction. To achieve this I put an accelerometer and Arduino inside of the hollowed out laptop and had the data feed into MAX MSP where it was basically smoothed and used to trigger different sounds from a video game called Railroad Tycoon 3. As the user interacts with the laptop it gets more and more excited to fulfill the role it once had (as a working video game machine). Video coming soon.

I tried for a long time to get bluetooth serial communication working and ran into a series of difficulties. I’m going to try this again when I have time but I think it had to do with a bad Arduino Mega I was using. I also tried to get the audio to come from inside the computer but could not get my computer to pair with the speaker. The combination of these two issues was especially disappointing because having both a wire and external sound make it difficult to realize this project as a junked laptop in a pile of other e-waste; which was the original idea.

Ultimately I think it works as a proof of concept but the feeling of shaking out old memories isn’t really there as much as I would have liked. Especially with the wire sticking out and the external sound, the interaction feels forced and not as serendipitous as I was going for.

Here’s a look at the max patch I was working with:

A large portion of this is from an Arduino serial handshaking example that worked out really nicely for my purposes.

Forgotten hardware from Jesse Horwitz on Vimeo.

Lastly, here is the backstory I made for this object as I continue to work on it:

Like most dead things the Zombiebook pro didn’t start out that way. In short glimpses Zom can even recall those early days when it was the most important and beautiful device in the room. In Zom’s youth, children would come to it in times of great stress and joy, tomes of knowledge would blaze across its screen, hours would be spent simulating virtual train systems and endless dialogues with friends and neighbors yielded a constant stream of new and exciting media. In these days, Zom’s bond with the children seemed unbreakable, vital, and even masterful. But, in computing, nothing lasts forever.

It wasn’t that Zom got old so much as the world left it behind. Zom refused to admit it. Zom knew it had some dust where there wasn’t dust before but it could still find its Netflix, it could still run the ol’ Railroad Tycoon. Yet the children wanted more. More spinning triangles when a firefight breaks out in a video game, more windows open when browsing the internet and more speed – everywhere.

What really precipitated it’s fall from grace was its instance on keeping up with the younger, faster and thinner machines that suddenly dominated all the social hot spots… and got all the children’s attention. Newer machines could talk to iPhones, sip data in the 5ghz club and run a dizzying number of floating point calcualtions without breaking a sweat. The first unfortunate mistake Zom made in it’s illustrious downfall was having a used solid state drive installed. Zom thought this would be a simple procedure, it even knew machines its own age who’d been born with these kinds of drives. However this would turn out to be the beginning of the end, a treadmill of failing upgrades, that would lead Zom to where it is today.

The procedure was tricky and maybe a bit strange but all the right hardware was there. Zom planed to have its CD drive removed and a solid state drive installed in its place. The surgery began and everything seemed to go well until the final phase. As Zom was transfereing it’s programs, games and files to the new drive a terrible data accident occurred. The operating system was mangled and a clean install was required. In the end most of the memories returned but in a corrupted and unfamiliar way. Applications that used to be common and comforting now caused freezing and kernel panic, the children became frustrated.

Zom thought a more conventional RAM upgrade might bring it back from this hectic twilight. This procedure went relatively well but somehow only hastened Zom’s decline. The extra heat generated made Zom run its fans at full blast which made it seem like Zom was even older despite the slight gains in performance. Then, battery life suffered. All the while, crashing, freezing and slowdowns became more common and as usual the children wanted more. To Zoms credit it survived these stresses and demands for a whole year – and then one day it just couldn’t get out of sleep mode. Zom still had a charge but the children couldn’t see it and began to hate Zom’s feeble and failing attempts. Zom when under the screwdriver once more but the surgeon was careless with the unloved machine and nicked a dataline. This was the end… or was it?

Today Zom lies in a heap of other dead components and machines, but still lives on yearning for the children to come back. Zom has few functioning components but because of its experience in life with upgrades, failures and reboots Zom makes due with the hardware it has. When Zom feels the presence of the children it calls out – hoping that they will remember the train simulations, the old torrent files, or the papers they had written with it’s help. Not much is intelligible, and it often frightens those who observe this desperation. However I can’t help but respect this fallen giant, unyielding in the face of obsolescence and determined to make use of what little it has for as long as it can.

The machine is dead, long live the machine!