making mscape analogue

Part of the quest to find out what might make mscape interesting, a continuation from here.


I think the keys to interesting mscape projects (as far as my practice is concerned) are either in some seriously nifty programming, or in the interface. I currently lack the programming skills, however I did save a load of cardboard boxes from when I moved house…

The Anticipator wraps a PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) in a new housing and uses locational information from the GPS (Global Positioning System) to light some, none or all of a series of LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes).

The Anticipator will be used on the first day of a project involving 60 year 3 pupils in a Leicester school: working in teams of 5 for about 10 minutes, all the pupils will be required to help a Special Agent (me) use The Anticipator to sweep the school grounds looking for whatever it is that The Anticipator detects. (At this stage all the pupils will know is that something unusual is brewing, we’ll use this contact time to get them to speculate on what they think is about to happen and what The Anticipator is measuring.)

The Anticipator will indicate 2 large areas of high Anticipatory activity: one is where we will put the investigation shed, and the other is where… well, who knows what could happen in the other location…

Anyway, that’s the background, here’s how it’s done…

Except for a few lengths of dowel and some bolts, all the structural stuff is made from supermarket fruit boxes. I love this stuff – I don’t have a studio or workshop so it’s great for layering up and using as pseudo wood.

The Anticipator

The main block holds the PDA mounted on top of an array of 6 LDRs (Light Dependent Resistors: when light hits their top surface their electrical resistance falls allowing current to pass more easily around the circuit). Each LDR is wired in series with an LED and all the LDR/LED pairs are wired in parallel in a circuit with a 9V battery and a rather nice switch I got from a chandlery (it’s got a very satisfying feel to the switch action!). The LEDs are housed about a metre away in a smaller block.

In the video below you can see how the amount of light hitting the LDRs controls the brightness of the LEDs. I’m using a really simple mscape consisting of concentric regions that show one of 6 .gifs with between 1 and 6 small white squares on a black background. When there is a white square above a LDR it lights the corresponding LED. It turns out that there’s enough light coming from the black background that LDRs without a square above them still make their LEDs glow a little. Placing a few layers of tissue paper between the screen and the LDRs cuts out enough of the ambient glow that the contrast between “on” and “off” LEDs is adequate for use outside in daylight.

The Anticipator from nikkipugh on Vimeo.

And that’s it really; it’s not rocket science. Well, it might be, but that’s up to the imagination of the kids interacting with it.

There will be one child either side, carrying the main block (thereby stopping their bodies from getting too close to the PDA and affecting the GPS signal) and a third carrying the LED block. The LEDs will need shading from direct sunlight (it’s a project about light and shadow – can’t hurt to get them thinking about stuff like that right from the start!) and there will need to be people noting down how many LEDs are lit and whereabouts in the school grounds we are.

I’ve deliberately not labelled anything so there’s enough space for it to be whatever each child wants it to be. This is part of a very deliberate strategy to try and leave as many gaps as possible where there are no right or wrong answers. Using the principle that “the pictures are better on radio”, leaving details to the imagination makes for a vivid experience. Each child can have their own interpretation of what’s going on and that’s what makes it powerful: it’s theirs.

Working with the children and The Anticipator on day one will allow me to plant whatever seeds are necessary and see what direction they’re growing in. It also gives the children a space in which they can meet my character and ask any questions they have. I’m not saying I’ll be able to answer them though… that’s for them to do by the end of the week!