CakePHP and Twilio: Receiving and Replying to SMS

We recently started updating a project that will be re-released, with a new face, and a new back, in June. Re-released because it’s been around for many years, and until last month, it relied on an SMS modem to receive messages, and then forward them to a database to be processed. Every time we wanted to install this project in a new city, we had to run around to find a SIM card, adjust the modem’s settings if we were in a country with a different infrastructure than Canada, and make sure we found a plan that wouldn’t cost us a limb. Then came Twilio. That’s all the back story I’m going to cover for now, more on that project later.

This post does NOT cover the use of the Twilio library, because we simply haven’t had the need for it for this project. The next steps explain how to receive, and reply to SMS messages that are sent to a Twilio number, with Twilio set to make requests to a CakePHP app. Continue reading

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Favorite tools for less than $100: Post-it glue

One point that I try to drive home when talking to people about design research, especially “indy” research done at small businesses like Wyld Collective, is that research in our area doesn’t require incredibly costly or dangerous equipment. No linear accelerators or biohazards here. So we’re starting a series of blog posts, to be published here once every week or two, about our favorite tools under $100. And we mean legally obtainable for under $100. We will not be urging you to bittorrent CS6.

We’re kicking this series off with something very inexpensive. The item I’m writing about today is post-it glue, available from Staples for $2.04. I mean, obviously post-its are useful, everyone knows that. But not many people know that you can actually buy glue sticks that will let you turn anything into a post-it. Seriously, try it. It’s a little bit scary how satisfying it is to postitify all the arbitrary pieces of paper in your life. We found this stuff a little over a year ago, and have been using it since. Whenever we do any paper prototyping, it goes into heavy rotation.

The fun and challenge of sketching and prototyping is to craft something that’s at the proper resolution to teach you something. A prototype that looks too polished is liable to intimidate the person you’re asking to critique it; it looks too close to done, and suggestions for major changes would feel out of line. Anyway, too much detail too early is a waste of time, since you’re going to revise everything as you go. And yet, at least parts of your prototype need to be detailed enough to discern opportunities and problems, to imagine what it would be like in use. How much detail to include, and where to put it, depends a lot on what you’re trying to learn from the prototype. In my experience, you may need to include a convincing-looking animation in a prototype, even when everything else can look sketchy and wireframey, if (for example) you’re trying to figure out how a certain component can grab the user’s attention.

So the great thing about post-it glue is that it gives you unlimited ability to create removable and replaceable parts for your paper prototype while retaining just the look and feel you want. This helped us stretch the principles of paper prototyping to apply not just to conventional screen interfaces (though we do those, too), but to prototyping spatial and tangible interactions. If you’re testing, say, the playability of a scavenger-hunt type game, you can’t just sketch components onto a post-it and expect them to be legible from across the room… you want to print out something clear, clean and iconic and turn it into a post-it.

In the gallery below, you can see how we used post-it glue to fake a sequence of system actions and reactions scattered among many screens all around a room.

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Cosmodôme: Le Rêve Impossible

I admit it, I was doing a vanity search.

A while back we did this really fun project designing an exhibit about the International Space Station with some guys from gsmprjct, due to open at the Cosmodôme in Laval this last winter. We helped brainstorm the concept for the ISS portion of the exhibit, and then came up with some game mechanics and put together the interaction design to get a whole group of visitors to work together gathering components from all over the world to assemble the International Space Station. We also developed a deep and abiding love for cosmonauts and their moustaches.

So we ran across some promotional videos and some pictures of how the exhibit turned out. (The video’s in French, FYI.)

And there are some lovely pictures up on the Cosmodôme’s Facebook page. (#9 and #1 are the room we worked on.)

We’ll have some more photos of the final project to post here soon!

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Our latest project: luciole

We’ve been holed up for a while, here at Wyld Collective headquarters, madly prototyping our very first, very own line of products.

luciole is simplicity itself. It’s a kit for building adaptable, rechargeable lights. It’s a great first-time project for someone who wants to learn about electronics (or teach their kid). But we wanted to go above and beyond what most electronics kits offer you.

We’re putting a lot of thought into the design of the circuit boards for luciole, aiming to create something that you can assemble and reassemble into lots of different shapes. This gives you the freedom to create whatever form you want for your light, and to change that form if you change your mind.

Moreover, if you want something with a little more polish, we’ll be offering a few different kinds of cases designed specifically for luciole. Forget about finishing your assembly and ending up with a bare PCB, or stuffing it inside an altoids tin (which, OK, sometimes conveys a sense of DIY-chic, but you want other options, don’t you?). luciole gives you the sense of know-how and ownership that comes with hacking your own electronics, but if you’ve got it on display when your grandparents come over, they won’t think you’re a crazy bomb-maker. They’ll just think you have great taste.

You can assemble the components on these guys in various different ways — whatever suits your purpose. The center piece of the PCB where the LEDs attach can pop out of the board.

With LEDs separated from the base and batteries, you can use luciole to make yourself a focal desk lamp. Or you can make something like the cute little hockey puck pictured above for ambient light, using the exact same electronics kit.

The IQ light is versatile, good looking, relatively easy to put together, and in the public domain, so you can do whatever you want with it. Using just a single shape cut from thin plastic or thick paper, you can put together some pretty cool modern-looking polyhedrons. luciole works great inside of these.

We anticipate that we’ll be able to make the bare-bones kits available around May, with some beautiful cases to unveil at the end of the summer. If you are a product designer and/or an awesome crafter, and you’re interested in having some of your work featured on our site, get in touch with us at info [at] wyldco.com

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Research with a Hacker Ethos

We’re holding in our hands a brand new issue of the ACM’s interactions magazine, which contains our article “Research with a Hacker Ethos: what DIY means for tangible interaction research“. (This is a scan of the magazine article, but we hope to upload a nicer PDF soon.) The lovely and talented Alicia Gibb and David Weekly also contributed their considerable smarts to this article.

What we’re saying here is basically that innovation and original design work is certainly not limited to university and corporate research settings. This isn’t a competitive threat, it’s awesome for all of us! Open-source hackerly devices like Arduino, Xbees, Makerbots, etc. are making it much easier to create cool tangible interfaces than it was when I started out back in 2004, so we can focus on great interaction design instead of trying to be electrical engineers (which we’re not).

We wrote about Open Source Hardware and hackerspaces in particular. While one is about licensing and the other is about physical space, both of these things allow for the dissemination, development and maturing of good ideas among researchers, professionals, hobbyists, community members, and all kinds of smart and motivated people from a variety of backgrounds.

So this doesn’t just make things easier for professional researchers in tangibles and in interaction design, it means that small-businesses and hobbyists are increasingly turning towards custom-made tangible, spatial, in-the-world interactions. Which is just how we like it.

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