TEDxUCLA 2011: Minding, Mining, Mending, Mapping

Sketches gone awry


About Michael

Michael develops and designs original content, brand identities, interactive experiences, and creative solutions for major entertainment companies, unique start-ups, well known ad agencies, and the U.S. Department of Defense.


So I want to start today by asking everybody to go ahead and take out your cell phones if you don’t have them out already. I want you to turn up your cell phones, turn on your ringers, turn the volume up nice and loud. And what you’ll see is I have a phone number up here and I want you guys to send a text message into this phone number. Something short “Hi, howdy,” what have you, doesn’t matter.

And also, I want you guys to take note of where you’re seated. So your seat number should be on the front of your seat between your legs. Might have to stand up to see it. Good, we’ve got phones going off. It’s a good sign. And also take note of your row. I passed around some letters to let you know what row letter you’re in. You’re gonna get a text message that asks you to input your seat number followed by the letter.

Now, as you do this, I want you guys to give some thought to what’s actually happening here. So you’re gonna text back the seat number, followed by the letter. The text is gonna start in your brain, it’s gonna go out through your hands, it’s gonna go into your cell phone, from your cell phone out to the cell tower, up to the cell phone company. It’s then gonna go out into the internet and then it’s gonna be sent to my server. My server is then taking these text messages and displaying them up here on the screen.

So what you’re seeing here is, as your messages came in, they went from your brain into your hands, into your cell phone, out to the cell tower, out to the cell phone provider, into the internet to my server, to my database. And then my computer here is pulling down that information. I’m grabbing your messages, I’m displaying them on the screen. It’s then sending messages right back to you. And then as you text in your seat location it’s locking them up here, it’s highlighting them in green. Pretty cool, pretty geeky.

The reason I’m here today is to talk to you about this concept of making things. I — creative director, designer, tech guy — what I’m really excited about right now is making things with this. It’s an arduino board.

An arduino board is a little computer board that allows you to connect to your computer and send and control things in the external world. I’ve got a little board that I built. It’s got capacitors, it’s got a voltage regulator, a MOSFET — it’s a semiconductor that I sautered together and hooked to it. And that’s going to let us control things.

So why don’t we take a look at that, why don’t we turn the lights back down and down, down.

So we’re gonna play a game. The game we’re gonna play is a word scramble. I’m going to place a scrambled word up on the screen. You guys are going to unscramble it and then text that word back. The first person to text back the unscrambled word is going to win one of these arduino boards. They’re very cheap, they’re really fun. I just wanted to do something kind of cool. I figured if you didn’t like my talk, you’d at least want the arduino boards. Text number’s still up there. And here’s our scrambled word so you guys unscramble it.

And while you’re doing that, think about the process of actually what’s happening. This text message is going through, it’s being sent back, it’s going into the Internet. There we go! Seat number 110T, you’re the winner! You’re the winner. And not only are you the winner, your text message popped the balloon here on stage.

So the message went back through all that nonsense I was talking about into the computer, out to the Arduino board, to a servo I had hooked to it and popped the balloon. Pretty cool.

So now you know, and there you are, your seat lit up. So now you guys know that my system knows where you are in this room. My system can send and receive messages. The system can also control things in the external world, out here on the stage.

You may also have noticed I’ve got a Nerf fully automatic machine gun. These things are perfectly safe, they, they make them for kids. Let me go ahead and turn this on here. And I’ve got this power supply. It’s going to send nine volts of DC current into the Nerf fully automatic machine gun. Let me give you just a little demo here, just something we can do, I hope I don’t press the wrong button. There we go. It’s going to target somebody over there. Don’t worry, you’ve got your safety goggles, don’t worry about it. It’s going to target somebody over here now and then it should go back to the neutral position. Awesome.

So let’s play another game. Let’s raise the stakes a little bit. Word scrambles are great. I’d like to play a game called Hot Potato. Remember when you were kids we have a red potato? It’s got a timer, you turn the timer on, you pass it around the room, and the last person holding the hot potato when the timer goes off gets shot with a fully automatic Nerf machine gun.

So I actually don’t have a plastic hot potato here today. But what I do have is I know where you’re seated. I got your numbers, it’s in the database. We can send and receive messages. So what I’m gonna do is I’m going to start the timer. Timer is gonna count down, you guys are all going to get an SMS message that’s letting you know that you’ve got the hot potato. All you really have to do at this point is text something back: A message, anything. “Not me,” “Oh, no,” “Don’t shoot,” “The guy on the stage is an idiot, “Where’s my arduino board,” what have you, doesn’t matter. Just text something back in. The last person to text in when the timer goes off is holding the hot potato, gets the machine gun. You know how the game goes.

So I’m gonna start this, and there we go. The gun’s pounding the room, acquiring the target, we’re counting down, we got 27 seconds.

And why am I doing this? I just like making things. I spend a lot of time working, we all spend time working. We’re lighting up here where we’re targeting. And in this time, you know, working, I get bored often and I want to play with things. I want to do new things. So text your messages in.

It’s really important to me to, you know, just take that time. It’s that childlike wonder just to be able to, you know, experiment and do things that are new. Text your stuff in, we should be getting the target right about now.

As you know, I didn’t text in, so I guess I was left here with the hot potato. But my name’s Michael Newman and I wanted to thank you guys. Get out there and play with things, break things, don’t be afraid to y’know, have fun and do new stuff. Thank you guys.